community, conferences

Jewish Futures Conference: Reimagining Jewish Life in the Connected Age

0 Comments 06 June 2012

photo by Janine Berben, Creative Commons license

I attended the Jewish Futures conference on Monday, and I continue to ponder some of the themes from the conference: reimagining community and Jewish life, smashing idols, questioning institutions, and rethinking education. I “live-blogged” a few of the sessions, and am sharing them through this blog. My live-blogged post from the first keynote, Courtney E. Martin’s presentation on Community in the Age of Social Media, is published hereAllison Fine, the final keynote speaker, urged us to “Reimagine Jewish Life in the Connected Age.” My live-blogged notes from her idea-packed 20-minute session follow.

Allison begins by explaining that, though she thinks about networked nonprofits and social change, she is also the president of her local synagogue, which gives her an unique perspective on Jewish life in the connected age. Temples, she explains, are traditional institutions, with internal default settings, and operational insides and outsides.  Examples of these insides and outsides include: how Hebrew is used, who knows/does not know ritual, who knows what to do inside the sanctuary, members/non-members, and of course the institution that is “the most inside,” the board of directors itself. These are some of the traditional institutional trappings that make taking the walls down of the institution difficult.

Allison implies: what if there is no inside vs. outside? If that were the case, how would the institutions look and act differently?

She asserts: Judaism is robust and thriving, while the institutions are struggling. In much the same way that journalism is robust, while papers are struggling. If you go online, it’s a very exciting moment in time: there are inspiring Jewish programs, activism, communities, and more.

Part of the problem is looking at all of this through a lens of scarcity. This is the “if Jewish day school wins, the synagogue school loses” mentality. When your lens is scarcity and fear, the reflexive action is to try and control: to hold members in tight and not let them go. (e.g. “I own these people…I own our mailing list.”)

Whatever you think you want to control, Allison asserts, the fact is you’ve already lost it…if you ever had it. You cannot control people leaving your institutions, what people are saying, or the robust online environment that already exists. You have a choice: you can switch your lens from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

One group looking through a lens of abundance is the DC-area Metro Minyan that engages people in DC where they are, along the various DC Metro stops. Another example is The Social Sermon. Rabbi David Levy holds a social sermon online every week, and asks people to participate online in different ways. In Allison’s synagogue’s Facebook Group, there’s a great community growing. “It’s an oneg all week!” she exclaims.  The Facebook Group is community outside the walls, and an example of a Temple that is not acting as if it is afraid to lose control.

The one place where her synagogue has changed an institution is by changing how people ask for financial aid. In her synagogue, the process of asking for financial aid made people want to leave the Temple. Allison said to the Board, “We have a choice: Do we want to continue the old narrative that someone, some time ago, asked for assistance and then took a luxurious vacation? Do we want to continue thinking ‘other freeloaders are out there and some of us pay the full share?'” The other alternative is: “We have congregants in need. We ought to reach out to them and see how we can help. We ought to thank them for continuing with us, and make them a part of our community. We want to offer acts of loving kindness for members in need.” This was a huge shift in the default setting of what people “out there” are worth to us.

Allsion concludes:

We are facing a world where the membership model does not work and where we have to prove our value by creating relationships with them.

We need to create a conversation internally first, before engaging in social media:

  • who is in our network?
  • who are they?
  • who are we missing?
  • who are we not as well-connected with as we should be?

F0llowing that we must consider: what kinds of relationships do we want to have next year? The only way to know is to ask them. And start those conversations.

In order to engage online, you have to remake yourself and your institutions as real, approachable human entities.

Allison is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and The Networked Nonprofit. She tweets as @afine and blogs at



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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