Archive for the ‘Digital Dreaming: Using Technology Wisely’ Category


Mission, Marketing and Media—Inseparable, Invaluable (Part 3)

Posted on: February 10th, 2014 by Hayim Herring


Welcome to the third in a series of guest bloggers from my friends and colleagues — all experts in their respective fields. As I wrote last week, these three words — mission, marketing and media — can begin to sound like empty buzzwords unless they are clearly defined and then made actionable for congregations. The content of what they mean is easy. The key is in understanding the context. Rounding out the series, I’m delighted that my friend and colleague Rabbi Jason Miller, President of Access Computer Technology and all-around rabbinic entrepreneur, is this week’s guest blogger. He provides real-world examples of what happens when the bricks and mortar of a congregation meet the bytes and clicks of the digital age, and why social media channels for engaging people are not optional, but integral to congregational work.


“The Social Networking Synagogue of the 21st Century”
Rabbi Jason Miller – Access Computer Technology


Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit, MichiganAsk a typical Jewish man or woman if they belong to a synagogue and you’re likely to hear, “Yes, but we only attend on the High Holidays.” Nothing new there. We all know the twice-a-year Jews who only show up in the pews on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, just as we all know Christians who only appear in church on Christmas and Easter. However, something has changed as of late.


That same individual who once described their synagogue attendance in such sporadic terms might now explain that she is an active member of the congregation. Has she all of a sudden begun attending the bricks and mortar synagogue building any more than she did in the past? No. So what has changed that her answer is so vastly different? She now finds herself engaging with her congregational community in Cyberspace. She is a fan of the congregation’s Facebook page and while she was able to ignore those monthly event flyers that arrived in her mailbox on various colors of copy paper, she now sees each program the congregation offers in her Facebook feed (which she spends an hour a day on average reading!). As she’s following the lives of her friends and family, she’s also tracking the weekly happenings at the synagogue. She can see which friends are attending classes, she is learning from the rabbi who posts some thoughts on the weekly Torah portion, and she closely scrutinizes the photos that were uploaded from the last Sisterhood function (which she didn’t attend in real time, but she now feels as if she was there).


That same individual who felt so out of touch with his congregation because he only engaged the services of the rabbi a few times in the month leading up to his daughter’s bat mitzvah is now subscribed to the congregation’s weekly Constant Contact newsletter. He knows which congregants passed away, whose children became engaged, and who just became grandparents for the first time. He can now keep up with what his children are learning in the religious school because he follows the education director’s tweets during the school hours (wow, he thinks, this is way more interesting than my Hebrew School experience!). He learned from uploaded photos on Instagram that there is a monthly study session just for men at the local pub led by the rabbi and he already added the next month’s session to his calendar.



Some Things are Meant to Be—and Maybe Now is Your Time….

Posted on: January 22nd, 2014 by Hayim Herring


Last April, I read an Alban weekly newsletter about a collection of essays on Protestant seminary education, called Keeping the Faith in Seminary Education. This volume was edited Ellie Roscher, a Protestant, female millennial with personal seminary experience. Having worked for many years on rabbinical and continuing Rabbinical education, I was naturally intrigued by the topic. And I also know that Protestants and Jews have some of the same struggles in creating vibrant religious communities, so a collaboration on this kind of project would likely generate some new ideas. I didn’t know Ellie, but thought that there was no downside to tracking her down and learning more about her project. Yes – I admit that I was already thinking then about perhaps editing a book with her on rabbinical education.

Hayim Herring-WordCloud

Coincidentally or providentially, it turned out that she was moving back to her hometown in Minneapolis. Shortly after she arrived, we met in person. I can’t say that I expected that she would agree at our very first meeting to be involved in co-editing and writing a part of a book. But I guess that some things are meant to be, and not only Ellie, but her publisher, Andrew Barron of Avenida Books, also quickly came on board.


So here is your chance: especially in light of the Pew Study, if you are a rabbinical student, rabbi, or educator of rabbinical students or rabbis, we want to hear your unmediated voice on the nature of rabbinical education. Please click here to find out how you can potentially contribute an essay to a volume that needs to be written—I hope that I’ll catch you at one of those moments of interest, just like Ellie’s volume found me. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.


Thank you, Rabbi Hayim Herring


P.S.-for Ellie’s version of the story on our collaboration, visit her blog. And—first we wrote our own recollections of our meeting and only then did we read one another’s posts. Uncanny how similar and still distinctive they are!



Pew-ish and Religiously Jewish

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


Pew’s Portrait of American Jews and Ritual: A Troubling Landscape


One of Dr. Arnie Eisen’s first big ideas as Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary was “The Mitzvah Initiative.” The most recent Statement of Principles of the Reform Movement encourages individuals to reexamine the role of mitzvah (“sacred obligations”). And, who knows how much Chabad has invested over the decades trying to persuade people to add just “one more mitzvah” to their lives. But the vast majority of American Jews have rejected some core mitzvot/rituals that have defined the Jewish people throughout the ages (like keeping kosher, praying regularly in synagogue and observing a day of Shabbat—to name a few).


The most recent Pew Report reaffirms this reality (see especially chapters 3 and 4 of the report). This isn’t new, but it is a persistent puzzle despite the efforts of every religious stream, and especially the monumental efforts of Chabad. And here’s why we should be concerned about the lack of a wider adoption of consistent ritual practice and what the absence of it might mean for the long-term future of American Jewry.



According to the Pew study, when asked whether being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, ancestry or culture, six-in-ten cite either ancestry or culture (or a combination of the two).


But first, a couple of pre-emptive clarifications. This post is not about whether someone who performs mitzvot is a “better Jew” than someone who doesn’t. That’s a pointless and insulting debate because we’ve all met ritually observant scoundrels and ethical people who don’t care much for core Jewish rituals.


Second—this post is not another call to “adopt a mitzvah” or make “halakha” (Jewish law) relevant. Rather, it’s a challenge that I’m putting forth to those who value ritual to speak more broadly and openly about the nexus between personal ritual practice and ethical behavior, and to help others hear the music underneath the ritual that moves us to do more and be more than we think we’re capable of.


As noted in the Pew Report, the majority of American Jews hold that belief in God, being ethical and moral people and working for social justice are essential attributes of being Jewish—something rightfully to feel quite proud about! So why be concerned about the lack of a greater widespread adoption of a rich, ritual life? Because without it, we risk losing the very values that make us proud of who we are.


So here’s how I understand ritual….Ritual is an imperfect, evolving yet organized system that helps me develop into a more decent human being. With ongoing practice, ritual reminds me to become a more empathetic, thoughtful and generous human being. If I value social justice in my heart, then my ritual reflex must be to pay employees a decent wage and give them a day of rest. If I know that I should be grateful for the many blessings in my life that I didn’t work for, then prayer, with its many expressions of gratitude, helps me remember to express appreciation to others. Ideally, ritual transforms what are often ephemeral moral feelings into immediate ethical actions.


And ritual has other relevance today. We live in a hyper-changing present, saturated with expanding choices that clamor for immediate attention. Personally, Jewish ritual has increasingly felt like the rest notes in a score of music that help me pause, and then regain perspective on which relationships and activities are ultimately important and which only feel so at the moment. And when I’m a part of a community that practices some of the same rituals that I do, I gain the strength that I need to keep practicing, which isn’t always easy.


And that’s what leads me to my concern—for how long will Jews continue to be passionate about social justice, morality and ethics without the reinforcement of ritual? For how long can a set of today’s values be transmitted to future generations without the language of ritual? So far, so good—many American Jews are living exemplary moral lives without the fuel that ritual can provide. But let’s affirm what we know from experience: today’s “givens” can become tomorrow’s “goners” and we know that just because something is, it’s no guarantee that it always will be.


So a call to action to professional and volunteer religious leaders of all stripes: let’s make a stronger case by living example about how ritual and values are inextricably linked. Let’s make the values that underlie our personal religious practice explicit, not in order to guilt or coerce others to behave a certain way, but to stimulate conversation and inspire change. Why? Because we have no examples of sustainable secular or cultural Jewish communities. (Historians, please correct me if I am wrong. But, before you point to yesterday’s Bund or even better, today’s secular Zionism, take a look at how a reclamation project of religious texts, tunes and traditions is occurring among “secular” Israelis today.) And a call to funders: even if you personally don’t like the ritual side of Judaism, understand that it has contributed to your values and priorities, that it has a role to play in perpetuating them and that initiatives that foster practice and appreciation of ritual are worthy of your support.



Collaborate, Communicate, Connect

Posted on: November 7th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


New, Free, Hands-on Workbook for Synagogues


I’ve generally heard agreement among synagogue and federation leaders that congregational collaboration is a valuable endeavor. Collaboration can lead to elimination of redundant services, cost savings, better programs, etc. So, who would argue against it? If you’ve actually planned, implemented and helped sustain collaborative synagogue efforts, you know how beneficial they are—and also how much effort you have to invest and maintain in them order to make them work!


synergy - UJA Federation - Hayim HerringThat’s why I’m happy to introduce you to another resource that provides you with concrete, practical tools to support your efforts around collaboration, and strategies to increase communications, connections and meaning in your congregation. This free, download is titled, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: A Guide for Study and Action, and it’s a seven step implementation guide to some of the key ideas in my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today. Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life. In addition to collaboration, you’ll find six additional units, on topics ranging from becoming an entrepreneurial congregation to preparing for the future by better anticipating trends that may have an impact on your congregation.



The Bookends of the Collaboration Continuum: Independence and Integration

Posted on: July 26th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


Cross-posted to eJewishPhilanthropy


by Rabbi Hayim Herring and Debra Brosan


Synagogues and Jewish organizations always have choices about their destiny – to be proactive or reactive, to be strategic or let environmental factors take over. This applies equally to the collaboration continuum, the range of options that congregations have to remain vibrant by creating partners with other synagogues or organizations, or even ultimately merging or being absorbed into another congregation.


In our last post, we identified some emotional factors that inhibit collaborations that seem logical but never materialize. In this post, we want to define more specifically the options that congregations have along this continuum, so that leaders can recognize that they have options for remaining vital and impactful.


First, a synagogue must explore its risk level associated with independence and integration, the collaboration continuum’s bookends. Most collaborations fall within an organization’s administrative, operational and programmatic function, as well as the possibility of sharing space.



Why Angels Never Multitask

Posted on: November 16th, 2011 by Hayim Herring
How to become a SocialMediaManager

From stoneysteiner on flickr

Do you multitask? Come on, be honest!  By multitasking, I mean performing multiple tasks simultaneously, like talking on the phone, responding to e-mails and tidying your desk at the same time. I admit that I multitask, but not as much as I used to. And, it’s my goal to continue to reduce how frequently I multitask.

Good leadership requires intense focus. Naturally, leaders have to deal with multiple opportunities and challenges. But when leaders are so overloaded that they feel like they must respond to e-mails while on the phone, grab a meal or return phone calls while driving, and sleep with their smart phones because they never have enough time, they are living in a perpetual danger zone. Not only is multitasking unhealthy, but multitasking diminishes efficiency.

Apparently, divine angels know about the risks of multitasking. During these past couple of weeks, the Torah readings included the presence of angels. According to Jewish tradition, each angel is assigned to only one task at a time. Their work is so critical that it requires intense focus. Whether or not you believe in angels, in an age where multitasking has become an acceptable more, it’s good to act like one and focus fully on what you’re doing while you are doing it. You’ll be happier with the quality of your work and more productive.


Rabbi Hayim Herring

Free Social Media Tools for Your Organization

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by Hayim Herring
Social Media Logos

Image courtesy of

This summer, Facebook surpassed 750 million users worldwide. In the past year alone, the average number of tweets per day nearly tripled from 50 million to 140 million.[1] Simply put: if your organization is not yet engaging with social media, you are missing out.  But chances are you know that social media are valuable, and that the real looming question is how your organization can maximize the benefits of social media while minimizing the time needed to devote to these platforms.

The short answer is that with a little more time invested up front, your organization can have a social media presence that will add value to the organization and its stakeholders.  And the best part—most social media are free for individuals and organizations alike!

HCN advocates creating a social media strategy before jumping into the social media game.  Having a clear strategy will help keep you focused on why you are using social media in the first place and keep you from getting distracted by the chaotic environment of the World Wide Web.

In order to help you in the process, we have posted a free guide for creating your social media strategy.  You can also download our social media glossary (in case you still don’t know what an “RSS Feed” is…).  Please click here to access these free resources.

By spending the time now to create a social media strategy for your organization, you will hopefully begin seeing real results in the near future, such as driving more traffic to your website, attracting new event attendees or enhancing relationships with your existing constituency.[2]  Social media will never obviate the need for meaningful face-to-face interactions.  Yet in today’s digital environment, can your organization really afford not to make this small yet critical investment?

[1] As of March 14, 2011 (

[2] See a recent survey by Idealware on the impact of Facebook on non-profit organizations:

Mission Statement: Missing in Action?

Posted on: August 18th, 2011 by Hayim Herring

I just had the pleasure of teaching an outstanding group of rabbinical students who are participating in the Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship program. While preparing for­­­ a session on the importance of synagogue mission statements, I discovered something curious about them: only two of the roughly dozen synagogue websites that I reviewed featured their mission statements on the home page. In the other cases, I needed to hunt for them on the website. And that’s only those synagogue websites that even had mission statements!

We’re getting to the time of year when people who are not a regular part of the synagogue community will be “shul shopping.” Rosh ha-Shanah begins on the evening of Wednesday, September 28. The first place that people look to learn about anything today is on the web. If your mission statement, the most basic expression of your synagogue identity, does not readily appear on your website, what message are you communicating to potential congregants?

By the way, if you work for a national synagogue denominational office, you might want to check if your denomination’s mission is featured on the website’s home page.  You may be surprised by what you find.


Rabbi Hayim Herring

Games Children Play: A Digital Upgrade for Jewish Education?

Posted on: August 9th, 2011 by Hayim Herring

Image courtesy of

In a recent article in eJewishPhilanthropy, Rabbi Owen Gottlieb makes the case for Jewish “Games for Learning,” writing that today’s learners “are increasingly Gamers, Designers, and Builders (Tinkerers).”  He argues that the expansion of these games in secular educational settings needs to be embraced by the Jewish philanthropic community if Jewish education efforts are to successfully meet Jewish learners where they are at.

Here are some powerful statistics from the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project¹ that confirm Gottleib’s point:

In yesterday’s opinion piece in the New York Times, columnist Virginia Heffernan argues that grade-school education needs a “digital-age upgrade.”  She asserts that 21st-century American classrooms, with their orientation to “teaching tasks, obedience, hierarchy and schedules” are a holdover from the industrial-era, when the classroom was retooled as a “training ground for future factory workers.” (I wonder what she would say about Jewish education!)

Heffernan claims that we need to bring education from the industrial-era model to a digital-age one:

Simply put, we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they’re developing on their own.

Her comments suggest a serious place for gaming in the educational system. We know that many aspects of Jewish education need a digital-age upgrade.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Rabbi Hayim Herring


¹Lenhart, Amanda, et al.  Teens, Video Games and Civics.  Report, Washington, D.C.:  Pew Internet & American Life Project, September 16, 2008. (accessed August 8, 2011).

How “Getting a Life” Opened My Eyes to New Ways of Jewish Learning and Teaching

Posted on: October 22nd, 2010 by Hayim Herring

On my birthday last August, my wife decided it was time I take up a new hobby.  (Or, as she said, “It’s time you get a life.”) I had been threatening for years to start playing trumpet again, which I played for several years pre-braces, so we’re talking a long time ago. Guess what she bought for my birthday? A trumpet! And now I’m taking lessons and enjoying it tremendously. But….I still managed to find connections between trumpet playing and Jewish life.

My teacher introduced me to an online music education service called SmartMusic. I’m just learning how to use it, but as soon as I subscribed, I realized how apt it could be for Jewish learning and teaching! As a SmartMusic subscriber ($36/year), you can access a rich library of exercises and music for all band instruments. The music appears on your screen and as you practice or play, your computer can record you. Then, a playback of the music with corrections appears on the screen, so that you practice and improve.

SmartMusic doesn’t, however, replace a teacher. Among other things, a teacher can share stories about his or her teachers – that is, give you an oral tradition – and help you move from technician to musician. As it turns out, SmartMusic actually allows teachers to customize lessons for students and enables students to submit MP3 files of their lessons to teachers, so that they can monitor their progress.

My question: is anyone aware of a similar type of site for increasing your knowledge of Jewish learning and ritual?

Rabbi Hayim Herring

P.S. If you’re in a hotel room in some city, and you hear a struggling, novice trumpet player, it’s a safe bet that it’s me working from SmartMusic. Oh….and Mom-thanks for making sure that I received some music education when I was a kid!

image Seph-Outline (Joseph Ruano)