The Trial of Abraham on YouTube

Posted on: August 14th, 2013 by Hayim Herring


I’ve enjoyed working with Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio as they face some exciting, unprecedented opportunities. They’re worth paying attention to because some very wise leaders in the congregation and at the Federation (Jewish Community Board of Akron) worked to relocate the congregation inside of the JCC. I don’t mean on the campus of the JCC, but literally inside of the JCC –but that’s a story for another day.


Today, I highlight Beth El for its creative use of YouTube to build congregational participation on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. And if you’ve been in any Conservative synagogue on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah, you know that you can usually find a choice seat! The reality is that many American Jews outside of the Orthodox community don’t feel the need for a second day of experiencing what they already did the day before.

Beth-El-Synagogue Akron Ohio

Beth El Congregation in Akron


The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah is about Abraham’s willingness to accede to God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Rabbi Stephen Grundfast, Beth El’s rabbi, decided to put Abraham on trial for this near act of sacrifice, a willingness that defies basic parental love and theological beliefs about a God who cares for life. Rabbi Grundfast is not the first to hold a court-like trial in synagogue on Rosh ha-Shanah, with witnesses, a prosecutor, a defense attorney etc. (Search on the web for “trial of Abraham, Beth Judah Congregation, Ventnor, N.J.,” for an earlier example.) But as an educational and marketing vehicle, he and his volunteer leaders have done some very thoughtful work that is likely to stir curiosity and interest in being at Beth El on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah.  You can click on this link to watch preview interviews of the mock trial by congregants who will be in role.


Here are my takeaways on how Beth El is thinking strategically about the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah:

  • The rabbi has cultivated a multi-generational group of individuals who are engaged in serious Torah study in preparation for the trial.
  • These individuals are using their unique talents to contribute to the congregation.
  • YouTube is being used to generate interest in an upcoming event.
  • A group of leaders involved in broader transformational work is experimenting with a powerful social media tool. They understand that the tool is not an end goal in and of itself, but a vehicle to share the work of the congregation.
  • While it doesn’t cost money to use YouTube, it does take time to consider how to use it thoughtfully.

How is your congregation strategically using social media? I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks!


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