It Takes a Village (and a Little URJ Help) to Build a Congregational Website



With people doing so much of their shopping online these days – for everything from clothing to electronics to groceries to books, and just about everything else – it’s become evident to my synagogue’s board that temple shopping begins online, too. Prospective members no longer wait to drop in unannounced at Shabbat services or attend open houses. People no longer want to waste their time with a temple that doesn’t provide what they’re looking for. They want to know right off the bat: Does the synagogue have a nursery school? When are Hebrew School classes? Are there activities for the parents and grandparents?

Until recently, my synagogue had a very plain website, with our basic information laid out in simple language alongside a photo collage, a music video, and… not much else. The information was there, but it was uninviting.

When our temple president began the process of creating a new website, it all sounded so simple. We sought a volunteer who would create a professional, easy-to-navigate website that would attract new members and be a useful tool to give our current membership up-to-date information about temple activities and services, as well as to showcase who we are and what we are about.

Needless to say, volunteers weren’t exactly lining up. I, for one, ran the other way! Thankfully, a husband and wife – Ben and Sharon, respectively – team stepped up to help. They brainstormed a number of ideas, researched other temple websites, and ultimately came to the conclusion that they faced a long and winding road ahead.

Although knowledgeable, Ben and Sharon knew they needed expert help. That is where the Union for Reform Judaism stepped in. Their RJ WebBuilder 2.0 service offered a number of different templates to work from, as well as the help of an experienced contact person versed in creating temple websites – rather than one that sold, say, clothes or electronics – our synagogue began to find some direction in its quest to update our online presence.

Our board was pleased to find that the URJ-provided templates were not cookie-cutter molds. One size did not have to fit all. We could shift categories could be shifted, place and replace information with ease, and personalize the site to truly represent our congregation.

In the beginning, our web mavens had a set of blank web pages. They recruited temple members to help gather the information. Our temple photographer began emailing photos from the last few years of events, special services, and celebrations. Various congregational committees were requested to send information about what they do. Throughout the gathering process, the expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day” came to mind.

Little by little, though, Rome – I mean, our site! – began to take shape. A number of common web- and synagogue-related phrases were thrown around: dignified, inviting, easy to navigate, easy to update, informative, fewer bells and whistles. Sneak peeks were provided along the way. Constructive criticism and commentary was taken into account in the form of changes and improvements. For every question, there was a solution.

When the new website was finally unveiled, Sharon and Ben beamed with pride as if they’d just become new parents. Of course their work is not complete; they are constantly tweaking, adding, and deleting, as is the nature of the web. Overall, though, the new site has been instrumental in bringing our synagogue into the modern age of providing information – and we’re the better for it.

Our congregation now boasts a website that portrays us in a positive, welcoming light. It started with two volunteers, plus some help from the URJ. Come visit us and see what can be accomplished when people step up to the challenge!

If your congregation is interested in learning more about RJ WebBuilder 20.0, the URJ’s custom platform for building state-of-the-art websites, please visit www.urj.org/rjweb.

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Howard Lev

About Howard Lev

Howard Lev is a long-standing member of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh (Long Island), where he is the press representative and serves on the religious education and rituals committees. Married with two children, Howard is a theatre professional who has worked on a number of Broadway and off-Broadway shows including the national tour of The King & I. In addition to his contributions to URJ.org, Howard's writing has been published in Newsday. It is his unique perspective, as both an active congregant and a Reform Jew, that fuels his work, views, and commentaries.

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