Jew It at Home: A New Business Model for Jewish Institutions

Published: 
July 2, 2020

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 

 

It all started with a simple conversation that would frighten many in the world of Jewish institutional life. In early March 2020, my colleague, Rabbi Dara Frimmer, and I discussed the imminent closure of our synagogues due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We shared how we planned to offer digital worship, online religious school, and distance preschool programming. In our conversation, I posed a seemingly innocuous but somewhat provocative suggestion for Jewish institutions to date: “Why don’t we share resources? Share material? Share online classes? That way, while people are stuck at home, they will have plenty of opportunities to remain connected. And by sharing, we don’t have to shoulder the entire load ourselves.” And thus, JewItAtHome.com was born.

We launched JewItAtHome.com as a spiritual, Jewish farmer’s market of sorts. It is currently a world-wide partnership of over thirty Jewish institutions that share resources to provide high quality spiritual nourishment during this challenging time. But we have discovered a need in the Jewish world that will persist in the post-COVID-19 world. Our users can access a multitude of diverse, cost-free programing 24/7 – from Jewish yoga to text study and Tot Shabbat services to challah baking and more. Similar to a farmer’s market, JewItAtHome’s business model centers around partnership and sharing virtual space for the benefit of everyone, Jews-in-the-pews and Jewish institutions alike. Our model revolves around “free-samples” of Jewish content. Like at a farmer’s market where fromageries offer free cheese samples to entice would-be buyers, JewItAtHome partners offer a high-quality sampling of what their institution offers on a regular basis.

Like farmer’s market shoppers, JewItAtHome users can, of course, satiate themselves by taking samples from here and there. But such sampling makes a wide cross-section of Jews aware of teachers and of approaches to Judaism that were previously, not on the wider radar screen of Jews in the community. For too long, we have only lived within the walls of our own Jewish institutions.

The key to the success of JewItAtHome has been the willingness of partners to place the needs of Jewish people over the needs of Jewish institutions. We’ve framed our decisions around three core values:

  1. Integrity – all the content provided should increase the Jewish community’s trust in our platform;
     
  2. Usefulness – everything that we offer must increase our usefulness to the Jewish world;
     
  3. Freedom of Expression – there is not only one way to express Judaism, therefore our partners provide content for the entire breadth of Jewish expression.

Since our launch in March, over seven thousand unique users have accessed our site and viewed approximately twenty-five thousand pages. Jews from across the world have logged into classes from locations as far away as Israel and Amsterdam. Instead of letting fear drive the decisions made for JewItAtHome, we have embraced the plethora of possibilities that a diverse and dedicated partnership of shared resources provides. Just recently, we engaged all of our partners at JewItAtHome to host a Global Tikkun for Shavuot. We offered eighty classes throughout the evening, saw fifteen-hundred unique users accessing content and over two-hundred households attend our opening plenary.

When synagogues collaborate and partner with one another on a common platform like JewItAtHome provides, we can cultivate a more engaged Jewish community. Noted concerns notwithstanding, my experience with JewItAtHome shows that by supporting one another we can create avenues of access for Jews who are disengaged, unaffiliated and otherwise, uninterested. We can help them discover the riches of our tradition known to us, but which are often hidden from the average lay-person. But first, we have to change by letting go of our fears and collaborating.

We live in a world of physical distance, but our work–now more than ever–is to demonstrate that physical distance does not prevent us from joining hearts, minds, and souls.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy
  

Updated: Jul. 12, 2020
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