Monday, August 03, 2020

Learning New Tech Can Help Us Connect During Covid-19


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has expedited our adoption of new technology and forced us to put it to use to stay connected.

COVID-19 has affected people’s lives in tragic ways. The pandemic has also caused us to adjust to new realities like our kids being home from school for the final few months of the school year. There have been countless events canceled, including vacations, summer camp, concerts, fundraisers and sporting events. Our children have been disappointed because of commencements and graduation parties that could not take place.

However, there are “silver linings.” One of the unintended consequences of working at home for the past few months, in addition to increased family bonding time, has been an increased reliance on technology to stay connected. For many in our local community, that has been positive, allowing them to learn new skills and become more comfortable with virtual work technology. Some business owners have even questioned why they should continue to pay rent for their office if they can be just as efficient working from home.



“I saw firsthand how video conferencing technology like Google Meet was beneficial in enhancing the learning process,” said David Hack of Farmington Hills, whose son recently graduated from Hillel Day School.

“Watching my son use Google Meet and Zoom to have virtual interaction with his teachers prompted me to look into using Zoom to meet with my clients in my dental scrap business. When dental offices were closed at the end of March, I was able to connect with my clients and not miss any planned sales meetings. I’ve learned a lot lately about new ways of having meetings.”

For Jeff Dwoskin, a local standup comic from West Bloomfield, technology tools like social media and video conferencing have long been part of his communications arsenal. However, he learned new ways of utilizing mobile apps to shop for his family’s groceries.

“Our family went all in on Instacart. At the beginning of the governor’s ‘Stay At Home’ order, it was near impossible to get a time on Instacart, but I became an expert on figuring out the timing of placing our shopping orders online. We literally didn’t go anywhere for months and Instacart was our lifeline.” Dwoskin also used the time away from his office to launch his own podcast.

Risha Ring, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, said she has been grateful that the pandemic has forced her to push the organization to begin using technology like Zoom. “All of JHSM programming and our meetings (locally and throughout the state) are now on Zoom. That technology has saved our organization. In fact, now people from as far away as Iron Mountain and the Soo [Sault St. Marie], plus the whole west coast of the state, are now our partners in sharing Michigan’s Jewish history. That couldn’t have happened without our quick embrace of video conferencing.”

At Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, the entire catalog of programming and prayer services has become virtually accessible through Zoom. The congregation’s communications director, Susie Steinberg, explained that her unplanned move home from the synagogue office came with many challenges, but it has also expedited her dependence on the internet to do her job.

“I was thrown in headfirst to master new skills to effectively do the job at hand, which was to communicate virtually,” Steinberg said. “I learned how to fearlessly (and I started with great trepidation) use AnyDesk to remotely connect to my office computer, how to multi-task with only one computer screen and, most importantly, to Zoom.”

Steinberg added that now that the synagogue’s staff has moved back into the office, she and her colleagues have a “new bag of tricks, but, most importantly, a confidence that we can meet challenges and create new and often exciting outcomes.”

Some of the new technology adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic is specific to certain industries. Clio Software, a comprehensive case management tool for law firms, has been around for many years, but these months away from the brick-and-mortar office compelled attorney Jamie Ryke of Bloomfield Hills to become dependent on it. Ryke, a partner in the Probate Law Firm of Thav Ryke and Associates, said that he has fallen in love with Clio because it’s a “complete management system for lawyers. It has combined the most important things I use daily to be organized and successful, namely my calendar, email and billing software.”

Ryke added that he has never been as organized as he is now. “Learning to maximize the Clio application has made life easier. I also have appreciated being able to attend legal hearings from home on Zoom, since it means I don’t have to drive all over the state anymore.”

Technology will continue to make our lives more organized and allow us to feel closer to others, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has expedited our adoption of new technology and forced us to put it to use to stay connected.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Jewish Live, the 24/7 Festival of Digital Judaism

The Covid-19 pandemic has made us feel physically distant to each other because we cannot congregate at our synagogues, community centers, or summer camps. However, the Jewish community has not shifted away from community during the quarantine. Rather, we have been brought together virtually thanks to the Internet and streaming video conferencing. While we cannot pray inside the local synagogue buildings we are accustomed to, we are able to virtually “attend” just about any synagogue we want using applications like Zoom, Facebook Live, or YouTube.

Three cutting edge Jewish visionaries saw this 21st-century phenomenon as a prime opportunity to launch a website that is “one-stop shopping” for those interested in plugging in and learning or praying with a community of Jews anywhere in the country. Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg of the Judaism Unbound podcast linked up with Apryl Stern to create jewishLIVE.org, which is a project of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future with funding from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.

JewishLive Website


The three out-of-the-box thinkers saw in early March that Jewish events were suddenly being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They wondered how they could help fill the void of in-person Jewish events taking place, like conferences, synagogue services, Jewish musical concerts, and lectures. These in-person events would have to migrate to the digital landscape, they realized. Libenson and Rofeberg were already familiar with this landscape because they migrated there when they launched their popular podcast.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Jewish Legal Matters in the Age of Coronavirus (Covid-19)

We are all learning what it means to live in communities in which we need to exercise social distancing and enhance our typical personal hygiene regimen to safeguard against the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Hillel Day School, the Jewish elementary and middle school I attended in the 1980s and the school two of my children currently attend (they will graduate in June), has suspended classes amid the positive Covid-19 test of a member of the faculty. In the Jewish community, the closing of synagogues has raised halakhic (Jewish legal) questions about how to constitute a minyan (quorum of ten individuals) so that those in mourning and observing a yahrzeit can recite the Mourner's Kaddish.

Thankfully, I just concluded my year of saying Kaddish for my beloved father, Gary D. Miller of blessed memory, so I don't have a personal need to recite Kaddish right now. This week, however, I have been asked by many people about the ability to have a "virtual minyan" (using video streaming services) because I have written on the subject in the past and helped my Talmud teacher, Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner, do research on the issue when he was drafting his teshuvah (rabbinic responsum) on the Virtual Minyan in 1998 and 1999. I think that if there has ever been a time when it is acceptable to offer virtual minyanim, that time is now. The technology has advanced so much since Rabbi Reisner first began to look into the matter back in the late 1990s so that many of his initial concerns about lagging video feeds and buffering internet connections are no longer concerns. Further, with so many synagogues shuttered until at least after Passover and people being self-quarantined, it will bring much comfort to so many in the community.

I learned so much from Rabbi Reisner in my first year of rabbinical school and his interest in the halakhic feasibility of the Virtual Minyan on the Internet helped me to begin my own quest to look deeper into the intersection of Technology and Jewish law. Another teacher who taught me so much that first year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary was Rabbi Robbie Harris. Rabbi Harris has written an important piece on how the Jewish community should proceed during this time when we're dealing with the implications of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). I think it's worthwhile to share his thoughts in their entirety below:

Pikuach Nefesh, Social Distancing and a Rabbi’s Case for the Need to Protect Life
Rabbi Robert Harris

A caveat before I begin:  I have hesitated from responding to the Coronavirus since news of it first broke, since I am neither a scientist nor a public health official, but now…  as a rabbi, a faculty member of the Jewish Theological Seminary and as a former member both of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and of the Israel Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee, I want to say clearly and unequivocally:  we must take drastic action to enforce social distancing, in the absence of clear governmental directives. Now is not the time to debate, for example, the fine points of use of electricity on Shabbat, or other, now trivial, matters that typically divide us one from another; we are talking about pikuach nefesh, the saving of human life.

I share these sentiments — not quite a teshuvah, for there is no time to calmly research one, but more than just an op-ed — with a great amount of respect for the various ways in which people of all faiths are struggling to respond to the virus and its implications for our individual, family and communal lives.  But at the same time, I want to shout from the rooftops:  rabbis and clergy people of all faith:  E-services, everyone!!!  Social distancing!  Virtual congregations!  All public religious worship should be set aside until the crisis passes.  If the NBA is canceling basketball games, out of its concern for the sanctity of human life, then how much the more so should we follow suit for the purpose of gathering in worship.



For those of you unfamiliar with the rabbinic principle of pikuach nefesh, let me describe it in the most general of terms:  the Torah states (in a context that has little meaning for the subsequent talmudic discussion or my purposes here): “you shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which humankind shall live: I am the LORD (Leviticus 18:5).  A midrash, or rabbinic interpretation, teaches:  “to live by them — and not die by them!” (Babylonian Talmud, Treatise Yoma 85b).  The Sages considered many applications of the principle they found in verses like these; I will share just one of them here.  It is from the same section in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 84b:


Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Holocaust and Antisemitism

When I was in college I took a course called "The Holocaust and Antisemitism." The professor, Ken Waltzer, explained that you can't learn about the Holocaust without having a thorough understanding of the history of antisemitism. He was correct.

I'm now teaching my own college course about the Holocaust and much of my syllabus is based on Professor Waltzer's course from over twenty years ago. A few weeks ago I took my class on a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center of Metropolitan Detroit (the nation's first freestanding Holocaust museum). As we walked around the museum I explained to the students that while the Holocaust is a historical event that happened decades ago, the antisemitism that led up to it continues to this day.

There were 1,879 acts of antisemitism in 2018 according to the Anti-Defamation League, including the attack on the three congregations sharing the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Over the past week alone, we have seen the antisemitic incident of anti-Semitic graffiti carved into a door and drawn on a stairway at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington. We have seen Amazon.com selling Christmas ornaments, towels and mousepads with glorified photos of the Auschwitz death camp. Jewish students are threatened on college campuses and the Jews in London are considering emigrating en masse if Jeremy Corbyn is elected.




Yesterday, as I was on a conference call discussing the upcoming #WeRemember campaign that the World Jewish Congress is launching for the 4th straight year in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I walked into the university building where I teach my weekly Holocaust class at the University of Detroit Mercy. It was ironic that I was about to teach 34 non-Jewish students about the Holocaust while I was talking about the need for more Holocaust education so the atrocities of the Shoah won't be repeated. Still on the phone, I walked down a stairwell and saw a swastika drawn on the wall next to six neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbols.

I brought my entire class into the stairwell and we crowded there as I showed them the symbols of hate on the wall of their university. I asked them what they thought we should do about it. I asked them how they would take what they learned over the course of the past semester in our Holocaust class and use that knowledge to educate their peers, their future children, and their future coworkers. How sad is that only seven decades since the Holocaust there is still so much senseless hate in this world?

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The 5 Most Important Books to Be an Educated Jew

Moment Magazine recently asked me to choose what I thought to be the five most important books to be an educated Jew. This was not an easy request and I took it seriously, going through my Jewish library several times and narrowing down the list. Obviously, the primary texts of our tradition, the Torah, the Talmud, Midrash, and the legal codes, are all necessary to be an educated member of the Jewish people, but I understood that Moment Magazine wanted me to extend beyond those texts.

I considered important books of Jewish history, books about the Holocaust, Jewish cooking books, and even books about Jewish athletes (an educated Jew must know about Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg). Ultimately, these are the five books I chose to recommend. Of course, I could have chosen hundreds more since we are the "People of the Book," but I think this is a good starting point.

The Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel, one of the great theologians of the 20th century, published The Sabbath as both about theology and spirituality as well about modern Jewish life and Jewish law. I first read this short yet eloquent book when participating in a discussion with other Jewish high school students.  At summer camp I recall that the study session brought much meaning and spirituality into my Shabbat experience. Heschel brilliantly explains how our faith is about balancing space and time, creation and rest. Originally published in 1951, Heschel’s words are just as powerful and meaningful today as they were almost seventy years ago.



As a Driven Leaf, by Rabbi Milton Steinberg

To understand the Talmud, one first must understand Jewish life in 2nd century CE. Certainly, this could be accomplished with history books, but it’s much more enjoyable to get this knowledge from Steinberg’s beautiful novel. The protagonist is Elisha ben Abuyah, a Talmudic rabbi who was excommunicated for heresy. Steinberg takes this little-known character and allows us to enter his confused head and heart. We become immersed in the community of scholars who gave voice to Rabbinic Judaism and we see the clash between religious faith and the modern, secular society of Rome. Steinberg’s novel is not only captivating but also a wonderful theological and philosophical work.



When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner

One cannot understand Jewish theology without reading Kushner’s well-known work. Published in 1981, less than five years after Kushner’s son died from an incurable genetic disease, the book addresses the problems of theodicy. If we believe that God creates and controls the world and is good, how are we to explain evil? Why is there pain and suffering if God loves us? Kushner offers his own theology.




Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish TextsEdited by Dr. Barry Holtz

Back to the Sources is more than a primer. The authors explain the text and then dissect examples to teach the reader how to learn that core text. Holtz, one of my teachers at the Jewish Theological Seminary, believes that each text requires a different learning approach. In editing Back to the Sources, he found foremost scholars to explain the importance of the text and how it informs Judaism. I first used this book in college, referred to it again many times in rabbinical school and have recommended it to countless others.




Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

I was tempted to simply list five of Telushkin’s works here because one can learn just about everything there is to know about Judaism from his books: Jewish Literacy, Biblical Literacy, Jewish Ethics, Jewish Wisdom and Jewish Values. I chose Telushkin’s book about Jewish humor because these jokes teach us more about the Jews and Judaism than most history books. Telushkin chose the best Jewish jokes and then analyzed them to explain their source, why they are funny and why they’re accurate. The book is funny but is also an informative read on important topics like anti-Semitism and other faith’s view of the Jewish people.

This article originally appeared in Moment Magazine

Monday, November 11, 2019

What We Won When We Lost at the JCC Maccabi Games

Another exciting professional baseball season has come to an end. The World Series showed us that the champion can come from behind. And the playful nature of the Washington Nationals, particularly watching grown men sing “Baby Shark,” showed us that there is joy to be found in the game itself.

For me, one of the clearest experiences of relationship building through sports is as a three-time participant, multi-year host family, coach, and parent for JCC Maccabi Games. I have seen the myriad of ways that the JCC Maccabi experience promotes Jewish engagement for young people. Using sports competition as its hook for Jewish teens, JCC Association of North America, through JCC Maccabi, offers real relationship building, which was demonstrated to me this year.

Players from the Detroit and Boston baseball teams at the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games


This summer, the Metro Detroit Jewish community hosted the JCC Maccabi Games and by all accounts, it was a very successful weeklong event. As coach of Detroit’s 16U baseball team, I can attest to the fact that while neither team boasted winning records, their players left the games with wonderful memories and a life lesson about camaraderie and sportsmanship.

After our team was eliminated from the tournament, I led our boys to the bus back to the Jewish Community Center. As fate would have it, we would be sharing the bus with Boston’s 16U baseball team and the bus hadn’t yet arrived. As we waited in the hot sun, I met the Boston coach, Aidan Arnold. I already knew three of his players since I was hosting them in my home for the week.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Planning a Simcha in the Digital Age

This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my bar mitzvah. As I reflect on that memorable life-cycle event, I think about how much has changed in the planning of a bar/bat mitzvah since then thanks in no small part to technology. In fact, technology has improved so rapidly that much had even changed from my oldest son’s bar mitzvah in early 2017 to my twins’ b’nai mitzvah in late 2018.



The planning process for a bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding, including the hiring of vendors, has become much easier because of the web and mobile apps. This is true when it comes to wedding planning as well. From sending out invitations and getting responses back to creating table assignments and figuring out who wants the vegetarian meal, there is no shortage of applications to help make planning a simcha (Jewish celebration) go smoothly in the 21st century. There still will be stressful moments, but technology has certainly alleviated much of the simcha planning anxiety.

The creators of the web applications that help us plan bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings experienced the hassles of those endeavors themselves. It was that anxiety-producing experience that led them to find ways to disrupt the party planning industry using new technology. Let’s look at some of the innovative ways you can save time and energy planning your next simcha.

RSVPify – Managing your guest list and keeping track of responses can really add to the anxiety of planning a simcha. Now that it’s considered appropriate to use online invitations and responses for weddings and mitzvah parties, RSVPify has stepped in as the most advanced online RSVP website. With RSVPify, you can still use traditional invitations, but your guests can respond to the invitation online. This makes it easier to keep track of your guests. RSVPify also has secondary events management to help you keep track of additional events during your party weekend, like a Shabbat dinner, Sunday brunch or rehearsal dinner. Additionally, you can ask your guests custom questions, like whether they require a special meal or home hospitality for Shabbat, size of giveaway clothing, or who needs a ride from the airport. RSVPify also has clever features like a seating chart maker, built-in menu options for dietary needs and food allergies, and the ability to send reminder emails to guests who haven’t responded. Guests are even able to give a monetary gift or make an online donation directly from the invitation. https://rsvpify.com

Mitzvah Organizer – This website really has it all when it comes to planning a bar/bat mitzvah. It is created by Mitzvah Market, an online vendor directory that has ideas and resources for parents planning a mitzvah. The Mitzvah Organizer costs $69.95 and allows you to manage the guest lists for all aspects of the celebration weekend. The user interface looks like nothing more than a branded Microsoft Excel database, but it allows you to effortlessly manage everything in one app including table assignments, a candle lighting ceremony, party favor sizes, the song list for the DJ, the synagogue honors for the service, and many other things that are easy to forget. For many parents, Mitzvah Organizer’s budget feature will help them figure out which vendors have been paid and which are still owed, in addition to how close they have kept to their original budget. Plus, the budget feature allows you to compare the costs of different vendors. Mitzvah Organizer has predesigned reports that will prove helpful to stay organized and to provide necessary information to the vendors. Like most online apps, Mitzvah Organizer can be used on a desktop, tablet or phone. https://www.mitzvahorganizer.com/

Zola – Wedding websites like Wedding Wire and The Knot are nothing new. They’ve been around for a long time and continue to add more features. Zola seems to have taken what those websites offer up a notch. Zola is a free service and does not charge for couples to create a custom wedding website. The company does sell invitations and charges a fee if wedding guests use the website to gift money to the couple. In addition to an online wedding registry (something Wedding Wire and The Knot offer as well), Zola offers expert advice for weddings, like which venue to use and how to find an officiant, how to create the guest list, what creative innovations to include in the ceremony, which activities to offer before and during the wedding weekend, reception d├ęcor, and how to choose the right photographer. Couples can send updates to guests, have a countdown clock on their website, and post videos to get their guests excited for their big day. These customized wedding websites also make it easier for the out-of-town guests, as well as guests at a destination wedding, because everything they need to plan their vacation is on the wedding website. https://www.zola.com/

Mint – Although not directly related to the planning of a bar/bat mitzvah or wedding, Mint does cover one paramount aspect surrounding the planning process – money. The successful planning, hosting, and executing of any event is a feat unto itself. However, if you’re the one paying for the lion’s share of it then you may be left with the financial impact from an event such as this for months (or even years) down the road. That is where the Mint app comes in. Mint is a budget tracking and planning app that can help you take the guesswork out of planning and saving for any event. The app allows you to view all of your financial accounts in one precise, consolidated platform and allows you to track any income arriving or departing from your account(s). You can also view your credit score which might bolster or holster your plans on using a credit card to fund the event. Mint goes the extra mile by offering tips and informed recommendations on maintaining, saving, and/or growing your money. They analyze and vet thousands of financial services so you can learn how to find the best credit cards, choose a suitable high-yield savings account, pick a reputable brokerage, and so much more. Whether the Simcha you’re planning is large or small, being financially prepared to undertake such an endeavor will not only mean a wonderful celebration, but also a decreased financial burden when everything is said and done.  

Technology has changed so much about bar/bat mitzvah planning for the better and it’s done the same for weddings. Personalized wedding websites have dozens of features that weren’t even dreamed of when I got married twenty years ago. The Jewish people will continue to celebrate life-cycle events like mitzvahs and weddings, as we have for generations, but thanks to the Digital Age, we’ll be doing it easier and in a more organized way.

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Jewish News. Rabbi Jason Miller is a local entrepreneur and educator. He is president of Access Technology in West Bloomfield and officiates at weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. Visit his websites at www.mitzvahrabbi.com and www.rabbiforweddings.com.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Israeli Technology is Answer to Flint Water Crisis

Earlier this year I stumbled upon an intriguing company exhibiting at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company, Watergen, had an impressive booth that drew attendees in, but they had an even more impressive claim. The company, which is only a decade old, creates fresh drinking water from thin air using ground-breaking Israeli technology.

As I listened to the spokesperson tell me about how Watergen can create clean drinking water for entire cities, I naturally thought about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which is an ongoing problem for the residents there even if the news coverage has declined recently. Rather than trucking in countless plastic bottles of drinking water to Flint, why not allow Watergen to set up their innovative technology and end the crisis? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to think of this solution.

Yehuda Kaploun, who is the president of Watergen USA and responsible for coordinating strategic development and partnerships throughout the United States, also was puzzled as to why his company wasn’t putting their solutions into place in the one American city that needed it most. Apparently, Watergen tried to convince city officials in Flint to use their technology, but they were resistant. They were content with continuing to distribute plastic water bottles to Flint residents, which is obviously not the best financial solution or the most environmentally-conscious option.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Social Media Conundrum

I recently binge-watched CNN’s three documentaries on Netflix, which focus on the three final decades of the 20th century. Watching “The 70s,” “The 80s” and “The 90s,” I was left thinking about how CNN would characterize the current decade. No doubt, our love-hate relationship with social media would be a principal highlight this decade.

As an early adopter of social media and an active user, I find the love-hate relationship that people have with social networks intriguing. The people who condemn social media as an evil that has plagued our way of life are the same people who scroll through their Facebook feed before they fall asleep at night and while eating breakfast in the morning. There are aspects of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. that we despise, and there are aspects that we have embraced and don’t know how we managed without. This social media conundrum is fascinating to me and I have been curious as to how we can view it through a Jewish lens.

Jewish people are less than 0.2% of the world population and yet most of those who have led us into the social media universe are members of the Jewish faith. Sergei Brin and Larry Page founded Google, which opened the door to Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook and Noah Glass joining his friends to launch Twitter. Certainly, their intention wasn’t to do harm in creating new forms of communication, search and sharing.

Mark Zuckerberg Jewish Shabbat Family


Zuckerberg was an avowed atheist who has begun to embrace his Judaism more since becoming a father to two daughters. His public posts about celebrating Shabbat and Jewish holidays with his family have led some to question whether core Jewish ethics are at odds with the way Facebook is run as a company and how this social network has created harmful outcomes in our culture. In its almost fifteen years in existence, Facebook has been blamed for an increase in teenage depression and suicide rates, altering a presidential election, giving racists and anti-Semites a platform to spew their hate, disseminating false news reports and suppressing actual news, ruining millions of friendships, and Russian intervention of our political process.

There’s no doubt that Zuckerberg, along with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, has been in the hot seat for the past few years. Both have demonstrated they are strong proponents of free speech and they also believe in core Jewish ethics. Have those two mantras come into conflict at Facebook? How can the Jewish community see the light amidst the darkness in social media? While Facebook, under the leadership of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, has pledged to correct the harmful aspects of the network, they have largely failed. But should they be held responsible?

If there’s one thing that Judaism has taught us over the millennia, it is that there are shades of grey in everything. The social network that Zuckerberg created has a lot of positive aspects to offer us as a civilization. It has helped us communicate with people around the world and find ways to bring us closer together. Facebook allows us to keep in touch with long lost friends, wish each other birthday and anniversary greetings as well as condolences on the death of a loved one, view photos and videos of our family at life’s celebrations, and engage in respectful dialogue over the issues that matter most to us.

Sadly, Facebook and other social networks have also aided those who perpetrate evil. Social media has a dark side as we know all too well. It has amplified the voices of those who hate and threaten our democracy. It has given a much louder voice to bullies, who damage our wellbeing and sanity. However, social media hasn’t created anything new. It has just brought more of that darkness into the mainstream.

We must recognize that social media, whether in the form of Facebook and Twitter or something else down the road that will replace those networks, is now part of our world. It is up to us to use these tools for good and to shut out the evil that tries to enter through our internet connections. Ultimately, we must remind ourselves that social media engagement will never replace real-life human interaction.

In a recent New York Times piece, Bari Weiss wrote that it seems “the organizations and the people who get the most attention are destructive. On social media, this isn’t just speculation. Outrage and negativity are the most ‘engaging,’ and so that’s what we’re fed. The disciplined among us — and I’m hoping to get there — might get off these platforms entirely. One thing we all can do is make the effort to engage in real life.”

I don’t believe quitting social media activity cold turkey is the solution to what plagues our society. I think we must seek out the positive outcomes that exist in our experiences on social networks like Facebook while working to collectively shut out the darkness that has been so pervasive. While Zuckerberg might have created this game-changing network, he shouldn’t be fully blamed for where it has taken our society. We must show responsibility and direct social media toward the light – overwhelming the evil with good. That is the Jewish ethic.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Best Hanukkah Videos of 2018

The number of Hanukkah music videos has really gone down the past few years. There was a time when I would come up with a list of at least a dozen fun and creative Hanukkah videos. This year, there are really only two that are worth mentioning. Six13, the Jewish a capella group from New York clearly has this year's best video for Hanukkah... and maybe the best one for the entire decade. With the recent success of the biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, Six13 was very smart to use Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their Hanukkah video this year. Of course, The Maccabeats produced another great video this year for Hanukkah, which is more of a mishmash of different type of music. Happy Hanukkah everyone!


Six13 - Bohemian Chanukah (a Queen adaptation)





The Maccabeats - I Have a Little Dreidel - Hanukkah