…Synagogues remain eons behind churches, at least when it comes to technological savvy.
“Partly it’s economies of scale,” says Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, director of the Center for Congregations, an institution that assists all congregations in Indiana. “Of the 300,000 congregations in the U.S., synagogues represent such a small percentage.”
“Most synagogue Web sites are glorified brochures,” says Spiegel, who blogs at http://mahamatzav.org. Churches, on the other hand, tend to view their Web sites as tools of outreach.
“There’s potential power to communicate with the world, not just membership, using basic social networking tools,” he says. “The synagogue world hasn’t embraced that just yet.”
If anyone’s figured it out, Spiegel says, it’s the Orthodox. “The earliest adaptor of Web technology was Chabad.” That makes sense, since Chabad is so focused on outreach.
Chabad.org currently powers 1,172 Web sites in 52 countries and 21 languages, according to Moshe Rosenberg, manager of affiliate sites at Chabad.org.
Chabad’s emissaries around the world have the option of creating Web sites using Chabad.org’s existing templates, and Chabad’s headquarters provide free phone, email, and live chat technological support.
In addition to posting local family programming, classes, and minyan times, each Chabad Web site has the option of featuring regularly updated syndicated content, which includes primers on Jewish lifecycle events and holidays, news from Jewish communities worldwide, weekly Torah portion, and interactive videos and games for kids.
“If you can send an e-mail, you can publish a good-looking and useful Web site,” Rosenberg says.
The flailing economy hasn’t gotten in the way of this shift toward professional Web sites for Jewish synagogues, says Lisa Colton, the founder of Darim (www.darimonline.org), an organization that offers technological and social media training to Jewish nonprofits.
“I was pleasantly surprised. The economy has not negatively impacted the number of dollars Jewish organizations are willing to invest in upgrading their online presence. To me, that signifies a recognition in the community that this is no longer optional.”
Yet as synagogue membership continues to be seen as optional (and is increasingly becoming an option Jews simply aren’t choosing), the question is whether a dynamic Web site is enough.
Social media technology can “serve as a tether to help reel in” unaffiliated Jews and those who no longer see membership at a synagogue as a necessity, says Rabbi Charles Klein, president of The New York Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island.
“Is the technology going to turn the tide? I’m not certain,” he says. “But will it help? Definitely.”