“There are many organizations active in the Jewish world today that are cluing into using social media,” says Mordechai Lightstone.
But though other Jewish organizations have made “strides toward success,” Lightstone, who founded Chabad-Lubavitch’s oldest official Twitter account, @Lubavitch, says Chabad is on the forefront of communications and has always been “very tech forward.”
Hassidim have been giving religious lectures on the radio since the 1940s, he says, and a Chabad rabbi, Y. Y. Kazen approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the 1980s to ask about using FidoNet and BSSes for religious outreach.
“I believe that social media is not only the perfect medium for Chabad’s work – but for Judaism in general,” says Lightstone, director of social media for the official Chabad website, Lubavitch.com.
“After all, the social interaction, the unifying nature of our faith and shared traditions have made the Jewish people the world’s ‘oldest’ social network.”
Although he allows that the Twitter handle he writes helps further Chabad’s communications and branding efforts, Lightstone says the handle’s main role is to help people, not to be a digital flack.
“Above all it’s an outreach tool,” he says. “People are more comfortable receiving a tweet from @Lubavitch at times than they may be in greeting a flesh and blood bearded and frocked rabbi.”
Lightstone did some blogging while serving as a rabbinical assistant in Warsaw, Poland, before joining Lubavitch.com as a writer.
“I saw a need for an active Chabad presence on Twitter and other social networks,” he says. He discussed the idea with some colleagues, and the site launched in time for the movement’s 2008 international conference.
Neither Lightstone nor his colleagues could have foreseen another sobering role the handle assumed over the next few weeks — keeping people informed about the tragic developments of a terrorist attack on a Chabad center in Mumbai, India.
Lightstone, whose mother Mushka Lightstone is a photographer and painter, says that art, like social media, can be used for religious purposes, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe “actively encouraged” students to use their artistic talent “as a conduit for Jewish teachings.”
“Chabad has used art extensively in its outreach activities,” he says, citing a Chabad gallery in New York as a particularly notable example of an art gallery in a Chabad house.
Official Chabad publications have always viewed design as “as important a tool as the text,” he says, and rabbis like Hendel Lieberman, Zalman Kleinman and Michoel Muchnik have prominent reputations.
Others have different sorts of reputations, which shows the extent of Chabad’s cultural reach. Several Mad Magazine illustrators have done work for the Chabad publication, Moshiach Times.