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PEOPLE OF THE BYTE First Jewish Web Week celebrates Jewish life online

NEW YORK, Feb. 9 (JTA) — The people of the book are becoming the people of the byte — the computer byte, that is. To celebrate and promote the proliferation of Jewish activity on the World Wide Web and the Internet, the first Jewish Web/Net Week has been slated for Feb. 22-27. Jewish Web/Net Week — which, naturally, has its own home page (www.jww.org) — was created by Yosef Abramowitz and Martin Kaminer after they met at a conference on new media and the Jewish community last summer. Abramowitz, a journalist and author, has created several Web sites and Kaminer works at his family’s educational software development company. It was a perfect match — two Jewish Webmeisters in their early 30s who were frustrated that although a high percentage of Jewish homes have computers, Jewish Web sites aren’t getting more traffic. About 85 percent of Jewish homes with children have computers, Abramowitz said, but many of the Jews online are apparently not clicking their way to the estimated 5,000 Jewish Web sites on the World Wide Web. So they created Jewish Web/Net Week. After all, Abramowitz said, there is a Jewish Book Month, so why shouldn’t this medium have its own special time slot? If it’s successful, they hope to make it an annual affair. “The market place of Jewish ideas will be displayed in full force during Jewish Web Week,” Abramowitz said. The Jewish Web/Net Week site will offer original programming of its own and also serve as a central link to 613 other Jewish sites — the same as the number of mitzvot, or commandments, required of observant Jews. The organizers, including producer Alisa Schwartz, are big on “Jewish numbers.” They hope to have 600,000 Jews connected to Jewish sites that week — the same as the number of men who, tradition says, stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. “We’re creating a magical moment in Jewish life,” Abramowitz said. “We hope to spark lots of creativity.” The 600-plus Web sites linking with Jewish Web/Net Week are a diverse bunch. They range from the Satmar Chasidim to the Reform movement; from sites for Orthodox yeshivas in Israel to one for Washington, D.C.’s gay and lesbian synagogue; from a site by and for African-American Jews to one providing shopping for gifts from Israel. Participating Jewish communities include those as far away as Sweden, Japan, Brazil and South Africa. Indeed, the organizers emphasize the diversity of the participants involved in the project. “We don’t see in cyberspace the pluralism issues and divisiveness that so plague the Jewish people,” said Abramowitz. “We’re able to demonstrate a model of true klal Yisrael,” or peoplehood, he said. Still, Jewish diversity today has its limits. The Orthodox Union, which has put more money and effort into its web site (www.ou.org) than most Jewish organizations, has declined to participate in Jewish Web/Net Week because it does not want to be associated with non- Orthodox groups for fear of lending them their imprimatur. “Unfortunately, the environment being created by Jewish Web Week is not clearly defined as a Torah environment and therefore linking to it would not be part of our mandate,” explained Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the O.U. “We do not link to other sites that may profess a world view that we cannot condone or accept.” Responding to the O.U. decision, Kaminer said, “We have strong participation from across the ideological, ethnic and geographical spectrum. “Anyone who wants to participate is welcome,” said Kaminer, whose family foundation is partly funding Jewish Web Week.

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