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This question recently came up in an online group I'm part of (this is an edited version of the ask, keeping the questioner and the group anonymous):

What is the benefit of "Jewish" learning and conversation about social media, online comms or video when the content is arguably secular?
...I wonder if... we aren't collectively imposing a filter on learning from outside the Jewish community. A cognitive tax penalty on useful information that isn't overtly Jewish, from Jews, for Jews, or in a Jewishly convened space. A way of moving slower, on purpose, because a particular useful info-nugget or best practice didn't come from a Jewish authorized source.
The best real world evidence for this might be the proliferation of synagogue membership software that is often more expensive, harder to use, with less features, than what is available to anyone willing to browse the database market...

It was a prescient question. Here's what I wrote in response:
A couple things (and I can't guarantee this is going to be any different than what you've heard elsewhere, but hey)-It's because there is value to learning about social media from/with other Jews because of commonality of language, environment, experience, community, goals, etc. (The same could be argued about the nonprofit community - yes, learning about the ways businesses, governments, individuals, and other kinds of groups are using these tools is valuable, but there's a different set of concerns or values or a worldview that it's also important to address.)

It's because social media isn't about technology (well, it is, but you know), it's about people, and we're all talking about one particular group of people. (Not to suggest that Jews are at all homogeneous.)

It's also because it feels safe. And maybe validating. And it's just what we do. 

And I'm sure there are other reasons. 

And, to be honest, I think a lot of us are actively learning about these things outside of the Jewish world - individually. I went to NTEN (and the #SM4NP conference, and New York Social Media Week) and can name 10 other "professional Jews" from the area off the top of my head who also went. We're bringing that learning back to our community, and groups like this, and even keeping up ties with those folks we learned from/with in those spaces. 

I do think the Jewish community does a lot of "navel-gazing" (not a term I've ever really used, but I keep hearing it). We too often look to ourselves - and only ourselves - for answers and fall behind because of it. And I think many of us who work in an open, social, networked way, and rely on these technologies, and see the benefit in them aren't necessarily the ones deciding which synagogue membership software is best. In that respect, you're touching more on a generational/leadership issue than a social media one.

I'm glad you asked the question; I think it's an important and relevant one. I'd be curious to hear others' responses.

And I'd be curious to hear yours...
originally posted on JewPoint0, Darim Online's blog

Any “Sex and the City” fans out there? Me – guilty as charged. Skip down to the paragraph that begins with “in talking to” if you’d prefer to avoid the fabulousness that’s about to ensue…

The following clip does an especially great job of illustrating a point I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. (Be forewarned there is some naughty language sprinkled here and there.)
Carrie, the show’s witty protagonist, has just been broken up with by a depressingly lovable fellow writer, Berger. But she’s not so much upset about the break-up as she is bewildered at the medium through which the break-up message was conveyed: that most ubiquitous of office supplies, the Post-It. It’s clear to the stylish gaggle of ladies who lunch that the message and it’s delivery do not line up.

In talking to both individuals and groups about social media, many colleagues and I tend to stress that “it’s just a tool.” At the same time, we all know full well that social media is much more than that.

Here’s an analogy; let’s talk about food. Here in the U.S., eating is primarily done with forks and knives. Those are our tools and we don’t think too much about it. But what happens when those tools are traded out for a row of six different forks, or a pair of chopsticks, or a communal piece of flat bread? The cultural implications of the tools with which we eat are suddenly brought to the forefront.

Change the tool, and (to some extent) you change the culture. Or, similarly, to quote Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.

To touch briefly back on the aforementioned saga, Carrie later goes on a rant about how a break-up should ideally be handled. She stresses that the message of ending a relationship should be delivered in a way that honors what the two people had together. Essentially, the message and the medium should match.

I’m confident everyone reading this post has had moments like this – moments in which we’ve questioned what is appropriate to share (or find out) via Facebook, or over email, or in a text. The screenshot below illustrates a very mild example.
And it’s not only due to issues of public vs. private in these spaces, but something deeper. There’s something about posting certain messages on Twitter, for instance, that feels like the digital equivalent of breaking up on a Post-It. But these media are all developing so quickly, becoming so deeply ingrained into our lives and even onto our physical selves, that’s it’s often unclear how to draw these boundaries. Or whether it is a fool’s errand to try to do so.*

How can an organization keep up and be successful in this environment? I’ll give you my thoughts on this in a follow-up post. But now, I’d love to hear yours. Have you ever had a Post-It moment? What are your impressions of the relationship between the medium and the message? What are the implications for Jewish organizations in the connected age?

*To further complicate the matter, “social media” is not some monolithic beast. The term refers to a field, a loose configuration of platforms and spaces that allow for certain kinds of interaction. Each space has developed a culture of its own. There are behavioral and conversational norms that are perfectly acceptable in one space that would seem quite odd in another. For instance, sharing pictures of your breakfast has become fairly acceptable on Facebook; doing so in LinkedIn may not go over so well. (But now I’ve gone off about food again…) 
originally posted in EJewishPhilanthropy
written by my colleague Rebecca Saidlower, Associate Director of Marketing at The Jewish Education Project, and me

The social media revolution means big things for nonprofits. Social media demands a kind of openness and authenticity that can be challenging, but also empowering. Now more than ever our friends, fans, and followers can connect with us (and we with them) immediately and personally. The recent release of Facebook Timeline for Pages provides a new opportunity for your nonprofit to share your story in a rich, engaging way, with both those outside and inside your organization.

Here are a few ways you can take advantage of your Page’s new Timeline:

  1. Document the history of your organization since way back before Facebook. You can add milestones with short stories, links and photos going back to whenever your organization was founded. Visitors to our page can now learn, with just a few simple clicks, how our agency has been transformed since its original founding in 1910 and how BJENY and SAJES became The Jewish Education Project.
  2. Make major events and accomplishments in recent years stand out from your Facebook chatter. You may have posted about that successful conference or big award when it occurred, but chances are those posts have since been lost amongst all of your other daily conversations. Now you can add those events as Milestones, and include a big glossy image, so that your major accomplishments will stand out when a visitor scrolls down your page. We chose to highlight the Jewish Futures Conferences and the day we were included in Slingshot ‘11 – ‘12 as one of the top 50 innovative Jewish Non Profits in North America, along with other big agency events.
  3. Choose a cover photo that represents your organization’s mission. Before, most Pages had organizational logos on top. With the inclusion of a cover photo in addition to a profile picture, you can add a picture that showcases who you are and evokes an emotional reaction. We chose an image of an educator working with children, to showcase both the educators we work with directly, and the children whose lives they impact.
  4. Pin important news items to the top of your Page. Making a major announcement or promoting a big event? You can pin certain posts to stay at the top of your page for a week at a time. That way you can continue to post interesting links or stories without worrying about your key messages getting lost on the page.
  5. Take advantage of Facebook’s apps and tools! Now is a great time to make sure you are using your Facebook Page in the best way possible. We finally added an app to connect our Page to our e-marketing tool so that visitors can join our email list in one simple click. The new Timeline also let us select specific organization that we “Like” so that we can feature our more prominent partners, or other organizational sub-pages.
While we focus on the newness and excitement of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in anxiety over the future – what’s the next big thing, where should I focus my efforts, etc.

Facebook Timeline offers a unique opportunity to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments, to see how far we’ve come. It’s about new tools and technologies, yes, but it’s also about affirming your voice, vision, and values as an organization. Building the timeline could be a great excuse to bring together staff, new and seasoned alike, to explore the history of the organization. Perhaps there are personal stories, little triumphs along the way that wouldn’t normally be recorded that now have a place to “live.” Perhaps you will rediscover shining moments, seemingly insurmountable challenges, questions asked and answered and asked again, and find avenues to share those stories with your followers in ways that add meaning and depth to their relationship with you. The internal conversation that ensues in crafting this space may be just as valuable as the product that emerges.

Developing your Facebook Timeline is both an exercise in organizational memory and an opportunity for deeper engagement, and we hope you’ll dig in and try it for yourself. We also invite you to check out our new Facebook Timeline and post feedback so that we can learn from one another, and continue to improve the way we connect with our audience!
It’s funny how many of my high school vocal lessons translate into guidelines for social media. Here are a few tips I've learned as a singer that have also helped me think about social media in useful ways:
  1. It’s all about the song. I can run scales and hit divalicious high notes till my nose bleeds, but if it doesn’t add to the meaning of the song, it’s all in vain. So too in social media. We are capable of all kinds of fancy, flashy things. But if they’re not adding to the meaning, the value, of what we’re trying to put out in the world, why waste the effort?
  2. Practice. Some are more naturally gifted vocal artists, some have social artistry down pat, but we could all do with a little refresher course. 
  3. Give your voice a break now and then. Same with social media. Turn off, recuperate. It'll do your voice (or eyes, or mental health) good.
  4. Sing your own songs. It’s your voice, literally and metaphorically. Be who you are, be real, and be heard. People will appreciate it.
  5. Sing other people’s songs your way. A couple years back there was a contestant on American Idol who sang “I Will Always Love You” pitch-perfect. The judges’ criticism? She sang it too much like Whitney Houston's version; she didn’t make it her own. There’s always room in the world for a really clever, fun, unique, poignant, unusual, or just damn good cover. How does this translate into social media? Curate good content. Comment on it. Make it yours.
  6. Learn from great voices. When I was first getting in to singing, I focused a lot on being a great belter - it was all about hitting notes high and strong. And that has its place. But then I would listen to Billie Holiday and her deep-blue swing, or Willie Nelson’s southern sentimentality, or Ani DiFranco’s chatty interludes, or James Brown’s vocal fireworks, or any number of unique voices. I took a little bit here, a little bit there, learned from each one, and developed my sound. So too in the social-digital world do I keep my eye on the voices of those I admire, and imitate them, and learn from them, and they help me find my own voice.
  7. Sing with others. It’s hard to give up center stage. But I tell you, nothing teachers you more about being a good singer than having to sing with someone else, and there are few things more rewarding than a really beautiful chorus of human sound. One would think this piece would be easy online; social media is inherently social, right? But you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget this, and how often we can fall into star mode, losing sight of the chorus.
Any singers/social media gurus out there have something to add or amend? Or, has anyone else transferred lessons from another activity, hobby, or talent into the online world?  
I'm assuming that this would be a good thing, of course...
Whaddya think?
I have been digging into different educational technology tools in preparation for a webinar I'll be giving shortly, which is really fun. I am super excited about one in particular - Cinch.fm. It's basically a super-easy, low-barrier to entry, share-friendly podcasting service that allows you to record your messages from your computer, iPhone (Android on the way, perhaps?), or a standard phone via an 800 number. You can attach a photo to your message, share it over social networks or via a unique URL, or embed it with custom HTML, as I have here:
It was so ridiculously easy to create this. The implications, I think, are awesome. Here's one idea I thought would be cool: imagine this in a classroom. Kids are working on an art project and the teacher comes over, takes a picture of their piece, and does a short phone interview with them about their work. Record that and send it home. Or attach the link to the interview to a QR code displayed at the school art fair for a guided tour.

I love it, and I'm excited to play with it.

And you should come to our show. :) (Buy tickets here!)
This year I am going to learn code. And I'm going to do it for free, on my own time, thanks to the good folks over at Codecademy.

Jewish tradition has a lot to say about words and language. Lashon hara, or evil speech, is in particular a topic of (perhaps not enough) discussion. (Heard that story from the rabbi on Yom Kippur about the woman with the pillow and the feathers? Yeah, me too. Every year.)

Words are powerful. The Bible has long declared that the entire universe was created with a few simple words spoken by a pretty powerful deity. "Let there be light," and there it is. This idea, surprisingly enough, is not totally counter to the scientific understanding of the Big Bang. Here's a picture (please don't ask me how this was taken, ask this guy) of the sound of the big bang, one big speech bubble...
In essence, speech creates worlds. It can also destroy them. 
Remember the story of the Golem? That lumbering, clay man created for the soul purpose of saving Jewish lives during tough times? He is brought to life with a words on parchment, and destroyed when those letters on his forehead are changed from "emet" (truth, a word made up of three characters - the very first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, because is not real truth the beginning, the middle, and end?) to "met" (death; interesting study in opposites, ain't it?). The loss of a single letter, aleph, brings the poor beast to the ground. 

The Internet is quite literally a world built with words, but written in a language I don't quite understand. It isn't the only one, by any means, but it is the most tangible example of humanity's ability to create our own universe, to imitate God's work (however you understand God, or the work which was - is continually being or will be - done). I want to do that. I want to create worlds with words. So I'm going to learn how to code.

Join me?
We're pretty excited about it. :)

But you, dear Thumpers have until the END of CHANUKAH to order your copies of "Biblegum Pop" and "The Revelation Will Not Be Televised" at the PRE-ORDER PRICE (2 for $25), so...

Click Here to Pre-Order Now (They make a great last-minute gift!)

In the NYC area? Then we hope to see you at our super coolALBUM RELEASE PARTY at The Hester TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 22nd)!  Music, drinks, food, fun, and special guest artist Doris Cellar of Freelance Whales - what could be better? More info here! 

Is "The Revelation Will Not Be Televised Tour" coming to your town? Shoot us a message and bring the coolest biblegum pop on the planet to your community.

Wishing a marvelous, joyous, musical festival of lights to you and all our dear Thumpers! 

Grab Your Free Download of "Who Can" ("Mi Yimalel") Here!

(With thanks to the good folks at MyJewishLearning.com)

The header art (entitled "Stereo Syborg") is brought to you by the great Todd Jelken of Chicago - way to go, Todd! Want to display your creativity to Thumpers the world over? Send us your re-imaginings of a picture, our Tablets logo, or anything else you can dream up and you could be featured in next month's email!


Other exciting Stereo Sinai events coming up:

NYCers - Saturday night, Dec. 24th, we'll be performing at Leviticus Studio in Williamsburg! Check out the eventand join us for a Saturday jam with cool folks amidst some amazing artwork.

We're thrilled to announce that we'll be performing and presenting at Limmud New York 2012! It's an amazing gathering in which everyone is a teacher, everyone is a student, and everyone has an awesome experience. Planning on going? Email usand we'll tell you how to get $50 off your registration!

Chicagoans - Join us at Schuba's on Jan. 22nd for a local release party with special guest, human beatboxYuri LaneGet more info and buy tix through Kfar Jewish Arts Center.

Phew! And there is much more to come... Until next time, have a joyful holiday full of light and warmth and wonderful things.


Miriam and Alan 

Stereo Sinai

p.s. Got questions?  Looking to book Stereo Sinai in your community?  Just want to shmooze?  Talk to us!

EmailTwitterFacebook, or phone (262-6SINAI6). 
A bit of Torah for you, dear readers...

This week's parsha is Miketz, in which, among other things, Joseph (of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame) interprets Pharaoh's dreams, rises to power, saves the nation, and is confronted by his family.
The Haftarah is also amazing - about the wise Solomon and the baby dispute.

But that Haftarah is almost never read because Miketz coincides with Chanukah. So we read a special Haftarah which has to do with lights and menorahs and the Temple and all kinds of fun stuff.

I would like to take a moment and talk about Joseph, dreams, and networks.

Joseph has had his share of ups and downs. He's favored by his father, but scoffed by his brothers; he gets superior treatment, but winds up in an Egyptian jail. But Joseph is a unique, persistent character and doesn't let his confining walls hold in his talent. He begins interpreting dreams for his fellow prisoners and word eventually reaches the Pharaoh that he's got someone very special locked up in his dungeons. And the rest is history... Joseph is called to Pharaoh, interprets his dreams, gets appointed viceroy, and saves the land from famine.
So what does this parsha imply for Jewish professionals working as network weavers in the 21st Century?

Well, lots of things...
Here are a couple of lessons I've drawn from this text (and I would love to hear yours):

Pharaoh found Joseph in jail. So? Your next big idea could come from anywhere, and anyone. When we talk about social capital (the trust, the things we do that hold us together in relationships, communities, and networks) we can either bridge or bond (or both). In a nutshell, bonding brings together folks with things in common, like a synagogue sisterhood.  Bridging brings together more varied perspectives or types of people, like at an interfaith event. Really we're always doing both; bridging and bonding are like a continuum (and it's all a matter of perspective, anyhow - how different are we, really?). When Pharoah found Joseph, that was radical bridging. 
Where are we building these kinds of bridges? Do we recognize the potential when we see them?

Not only that, both Pharaoh and Joseph listened. Either side could have been completely disregarded for any number of reasons. Joseph could have used his influence to undercut Pharoah. Pharoah could have dismissed Joseph's talents as irrelevant or silly. But somehow they found a way to trust one another. 
When we bring new voices to the table, are we listening? Are we kicking off our relationships on a foundation of trust AND mutual benefit?

They connected, they listened, they acted. The famine was seven years down the road! But they had a vision, developed their system, and implemented it, step by step, to save the country.
Do our partnerships end with words, or do we take action?

Finally, there's something juicy in here about the power of dreams and networks. Network-weavers, cheesy as it may sound, are dream-weavers (cue the 80's soundtrack). Our job is to listen, interpret, connect, and empower our networks to action. We are part-Pharaoh in recognizing the Josephs, part Joseph in listening and interpreting, but mostly we are the shomrim (watchers? keepers? guardians? there's not really an English translation I'm happy with) of the web that allows those players to connect. Those with dreams, those with the power to interpret, those with the drive to action.

Here's a quote from the brilliant NetworkWeaving blog:

Network weavers do three things.

1. They constantly learn about the assets and opportunities in the network. This includes the tangible and intangible, shared and isolated, well-engaged and unengaged talents, resources, funds, space, expertise, and knowledge available within the network.

2. They constantly learn about the dreams of people in the network. These are the passions inspiring what people are striving to create and pursue.

3. They constantly introduce and connect people with complementary dreams and assets.

We are dream-weavers.

One last thought - the "ketz" bit of Miketz usually means "end." The opposite of a beginning. But of course the Torah is without beginning and without end... Another word for ketz is "edge" - a possible ending, something a little scary, but also the potential for beginning something entirely new. I like that.

What other lessons can we draw from this parsha?
Do you see network weavers as dream-weavers? How has this connection played out for you in your work?