Synagogue Embraces Digital Age

April 3, 2014
BY Rabbi Benjamin Sharff

040414_sharff,-benjaminOver the last several years, the world has indeed changed with the power of social media and the Internet and all the revolutionary new ways of connecting people interactively. Synagogues today need to stay in tune with the times and learn how to connect congregants to the synagogue community and each other. Communication today focuses around reaching members where they are and in ways that they can relate to — whether on their smartphones, iPads or laptops. People want real-time information and want to be able to respond and be part of the dialogue, and we at Har Sinai want an engaged congregation.

A robust interactive website is a given these days and must be kept current and updated for people to return to it. At Har Sinai Congregation, however, we have also tried to embrace other new ways of communicating and engaging, both with our members and the Jewish community at large. We use social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and hashtags.

We are especially excited about the new mobile app we have launched, which has allowed us to communicate with our congregants in real time and keep congregants informed and connected to the synagogue. We created the app to make congregants’ lives easier and information more readily available to them. Available free on iPhone and Android devices, the app features instant congregational news updates, a calendar of events and event registration. We’re one of first synagogues in the Baltimore area to offer a mobile app. In addition to news and event information, the app offers a marketplace directory in which users can list their businesses. The app also features photos, direct contact to the synagogue office and links to the congregation’s social media sites. We are very pleased to see how many of our members have signed up for this new app.

I have a weekly rabbi’s blog, which can be accessed through our website, and people can also sign up to receive it via email. I discuss a range of topics from religious practices and issues to more contemporary subjects such as the Jewish connection to Wonder Woman and superheroes. Recently, I started a video blog.

The use of technology in the synagogue is a true work in progress. I would like eventually to be able to do virtual tefilah. At services, I envision having the prayer service projected on a screen during worship as people are so comfortable today looking at screens. Congregants can easily follow the service and always know where they are in the “prayer book.” They will be looking up at the bima and, I believe, will be more engaged. There are so many possibilities in today’s interactive world, and we have to start thinking out of the box to keep people engaged and grow our congregations. It is important to remember, however, that we must also keep the lines of communications open for our congregants who have not embraced the digital age, and we at Har Sinai Congregation continue to be sensitive to those congregants’ needs when we discuss our communication methodology.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff is the rabbi of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills.

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