Expanding the Use of Social Media: URJ’s Eric Yoffie Sermonizes on Technology (and food)

blog-bug.jpgby Rabbi Paul Kipnes
(Originally posted on Or Am I?)

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, gave his Shabbat morning sermon at the URJ’s 70th Biennial Convention in Toronto. Read the full text. Just after he delivered it in Toronto, I read the text of his sermon in West Hills, CA (isn’t technology wonderful?). Thoughtful, eloquent as always, Rabbi Yoffie launched two Biennial initiatives:

  • Just Table, Green Table: Rabbi Yoffie calls for a commitment to ethical eating, asking synagogue leaders to “carefully, thoughtfully, Jewishly” formulate new eating guidelines for their communities.
  • Embracing Technology: Reform Judaism’s opportunity to engage with communities and help congregations relate to members in the online space has reached a tipping point. At the Biennial in Toronto, Rabbi Yoffie urged the Reform Movement to create congregational blogs and experiment with a range of creative technological approaches to strengthen community ties and help build community.

Each of these initiatives offer food for thought (pun intended). I am particularly taken with his interest in expanding the use of technology within the synagogue world. We are finding, at Congregation Or Ami, that – through eNewsletters, this blog, our Facebook page, Twitter (newly using it), photo page and videos – we are reaching more people than would ever walk through the doors (except, perhaps, on the High Holy Days).

Recently a social media sub-committee met to prioritize our use of social media. We set out these goals:

  • To build community and deepen connections among Or Ami members and “friends”
  • To further the Or Ami’s Vision and Values, especially regarding: Henaynu, Life-long Learning, Accessibility of Clergy, Social Justice and Openness
  • To shine the light of Or Ami into the surrounding community, including publicizing our events
  • To create a conversation about the joys of being Jewish

Further, we decided to focus in these areas:

  • Deepen the use of our Facebook page to meet our goals
  • Expand the use of E-vites to publicize programs
  • Develop more online videos and to collect them in one place
  • Enhance the synergy between our blog, Facebook, and website

My colleagues often ask me how I have time to do all of this social media and technology. I answer, simply, that our congregants are communicating this way, so shouldn’t we be utilizing their modes of communication to spread Torah, communal caring and deep Jewish spirituality? That’s what motivates me. How about you?

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Rabbi Paul Kipnes

About Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.

3 Responses to “Expanding the Use of Social Media: URJ’s Eric Yoffie Sermonizes on Technology (and food)”

  1. avatar
    Kenneth Averack, MD Reply November 11, 2009 at 11:39 am

    I attended the Biennial in Toronto and was very moved by the meetings and learning sessions. I have two comments though that I felt needed to be voiced. One, I was able to travel to Toronto on my budget and felt very disappointed that Tony Blair was present via video link. This is a reflection on the URJ leadership and their lack of concern for the community in general. Second, during shabbat service new hymns for traditional prayers were used which is fine. We must always be aware of not chasing away the Shechinah with our desire to entertain. I suggest that a traditional tune for the Mi Chamocha chant would bring us all to Mt. Sinai.
    Thank you for allowing me to communicate via this blog. Great idea.
    Ken Averack

  2. avatar

    One of the positive changes in Biennials in the 26 years I’ve been attending them is the introduction of the Jumbotron projection system, which allows the people in the back of the hall to see as well as if they were up front — and once you get used to following the proceedings that way, it really makes very little difference whether the speaker is in the room, or in New Haven as Tony Blair was, or in Amman as I presume King Abdullah was. With that as preamble, I’d like to put another spin on Dr. Averack’s disappointment, not only in the video link but in the URJ leadership.
    I commend the URJ leadership for modeling the use of technology, and for using it to deliver exclusive programming that would not otherwise have been available to Biennial attendees. Because Rabbi Saperstein went to New Haven to interview Mr. Blair, the appearance was energy-neutral. Had the questions also been posed to Mr. Blair by video link, our very green Biennial would have been even greener.
    I also have to wonder how Dr. Averack would have the music planners determine which traditional prayers may be sung with new music and which ones may not. I don’t mind hearing or trying to learn a new Mi Camocha, but don’t tamper with the “old” Adon Olam (noting that my old Adon Olam may not be your old Adon Olam).
    The most important thing the Biennial can do for us is to send us home with new stuff — music, ideas, knowledge, friends, demonstrations of the application of technology. The success of the URJ leadership in doing this reflects well on them, and benefits the community in general.

  3. avatar

    I came to the Biennial and loved it! I loved the new music and the energy these events always send me home with; the awesome speakers and the humbling feeling of being with the great leaders of our movement.
    Personally, I am an avid conservationist and was very happy to hear Rabbi Yoffie give the environment such a prominent place in his address. However, I must object to the “facts” in the address. First replacing red meat with fish is not the answer. Industrial fishing depletes fish populations dramatically, and fish farming is one of the most environmentally damaging industries to the oceans that exist. Certainly, reducing red meat consumption is a good idea but using fish as an alternative is not. Furthermore, talking about conservation while drinking out of a plastic disposable water bottle is more then slightly hypocritical. That is one of the easiest conservation moves to make – drink tap water out of a glass!
    I agree with the sentiment Rabbi Yoffie expressed but more research was needed into what he said. Given his great intellect I was astounded.

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