When the first pandemic-era Rosh Hashanah arrived three years ago, many synagogues found themselves struggling to adjust to a radically different High Holiday experience in which much of Jewish communal life had moved online.
Fast forward three years, and American Jewish communal life has returned in full force — yet online programming and outreach is as important as ever.
Hybrid synagogue services offering both in-person and online experiences have become common; Jews are flocking to online classes and minyans; and a growing number of communities are trying to harness the power of the internet and social media to engage with members both old and young in new ways.
Many synagogue professionals and lay leaders are still figuring out how to capitalize on the opportunities this new landscape presents.
An upcoming High Holiday boot camp aims to help. The half-day online conference on July 20 hosted by 70 Faces Media is designed to help synagogues navigate these challenges and make this year’s Jewish communal holiday experience as successful as possible both online and in person.
“The lead-up to the High Holidays is the most important moment in the calendar for synagogues: It’s when they see the most people entering the building, find the most new members, and when they have the greatest potential of reaching the widest possible swath of congregants and exposing them to everything they offer,” said Rebecca Phillips, vice president of audience and digital strategy at 70 Faces Media. “Our goal is to help synagogues take advantage of this moment and leverage all the digital tools available to them.”
Among the boot camp topics: how to use email marketing effectively to sell High Holiday tickets, how to produce engaging hybrid services, how to streamline membership recruitment and renewal, how to grow fundraising with online Kol Nidre appeals, and how to design effective marketing materials for online consumption, print and social media.
The July 20 boot camp follows a three-day Jewish Digital Summit in March organized by 70 Faces Media and aimed at helping organizations more effectively engage Jews online. That event drew more than 800 participants from over 500 organizations. 70 Faces Media is the nonprofit organization behind JTA as well as the Jewish online brands Kveller, My Jewish Learning, Hey Alma, the New York Jewish Week and The Nosher.
Registration for the synagogue boot camp costs $36. For those interested in the 2024 Jewish Digital Summit to be held next February 27-29, an early-bird package discount is available: $99 for access both to the High Holiday boot camp and February’s Jewish Digital Summit.
“We want to help Jewish institutions use online engagement and marketing tools as effectively as they can,” said Leo Lazar, associate publisher of 70 Faces Media. “As an online publisher deeply involved in grassroots digital marketing ourselves, this is what we do every day. This boot camp is our way of sharing our expertise in a way that’s specifically tailored to the needs of synagogues. We’ll be putting together more boot camps in the future aimed at other types of institutions in the Jewish nonprofit sector.”
Session presenters at the High Holiday boot camp will include graphic designer and illustrator Sharon Cytrynbaum and Jewfolk social media marketing strategist Izzy Wellman, who will review registrants’ draft graphics for emails, social media campaigns and print brochures ahead of time and provide feedback during the boot camp on actionable ways to improve them. Among the tips they offer are making sure materials have consistent branding, can be read easily and are shareable on multiple platforms.
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Vancouver, who is heavily involved in the startup technology industry, will share tips on producing engaging hybrid services. Inbar Robbins of the Perrineville Jewish Center in New Jersey will talk about how to optimally equip volunteers to make everything run smoothly when a synagogue’s staff might not be large enough to do so on its own.
Emily Goodstein, an expert in online fundraising, will talk about how synagogues can offer successful online fundraising supplements to the age-old Kol Nidre appeal cards with the foldable tabs.
Rabbi Sarah Noyovitz, who has deep experience serving as an interim rabbi at various congregations, will discuss how to tailor the right plan for each community based on its needs. Online event experts will discuss what hybrid format might best suit one’s synagogue — for instance, whether live interaction should be permitted online or whether congregants should be muted.
“As someone who spent the last four years as the technology and events director at my own synagogue, I lived through all these struggles of how to engage our congregants and communities online in a way that had never been done before,” said Jennifer Rubin, the senior producer for digital events at 70 Faces Media. “So I understand how vital it is to find help and guidance.”
Given the added work and complexity of trying to manage hybrid holiday services, email communications and other tasks with online components, it’s easy for synagogue professionals to feel overwhelmed — especially if they’re tasked with responsibilities for which they’re not adequately trained, Rubin said.
“Many synagogue professionals and lay leaders are already swamped,” Rubin said. “Like many Jewish organizations, synagogues tend to have smaller staffs than are needed, and so many synagogue professionals end up wearing multiple hats all year—but especially now preparing for the High Holidays.”
The idea behind the boot camp is to give synagogue professionals the skills they need to excel both in their planning and their execution.
“We can help you determine what practices will work best for your congregation,” Rubin said. “There’s no one right way.”