Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jewish History, Torah, and Rabbis in the Twitter Age

This is Jewish History Month.  As a High School student, History was always something that I loved to know and hated to learn.  What I mean by that is that I was always fascinated by the unfolding of events and the significance that one thing could have on another. I always loved social and cultural history especially - the way that people used to live.  But I've never been very good at remembering the facts.  In fact, one of my repetitive stress dreams used to be that it was just a few days from a major High School history exam (A levels - the exams in the UK that determine where you will go for University) and I am faced with two extra-thick lever files of handwritten notes that I have to memorize that consist of endless lists of dates and European wars.

We are blessed to live in an age when engaging with our history, learning, exploring, and studying, is more accessible than it has ever been.

This past week I have been having fun learning a great deal of history, and helping to share the amazing resources of the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Women's Archives.  The full archives are online but, in a wonderful, innovative project using technology at its best, a team consisting of anyone who chooses to participate have been tweeting individual entries of the encyclopedia this month.  For those already using Twitter, just follow #jwapedia and you'll be able to tune in to the entries being shared, re-tweet them to share them with your followers, and explore the encyclopedia yourself to take part in this community educational project.  If you don't use Twitter, keep reading! I want to make the case for why you might want to get into Twitter, but first, here's another great upcoming project to wet your appetite.

In the 24 hours leading up to Shavuot (which begins in the evening on June 6), many individuals are planning a mass Tweeting of verses and teachings from Torah.  As with any topic that you want to follow on Twitter, you'll just be looking up #Torah.  The goal is to Tweet Torah to the top of the things that people are sharing on Twitter, just as we prepare for the peak experience of Receiving Torah again at Sinai when we reach Shavuot.  Its a great way to be reminded of the 'greatest hits' of Torah, and be introduced to lines, stories, characters, ethics and ideas that you might have never known were in Torah.

Here's my case for why Twitter is something that might be for you (and at the bottom of this post will be some instructions to help you get started if you are new to this medium).

There are a number of organizations and publications whose materials I like to read online.  Some of them I receive via an email directly from them.  Others are things that I have 'liked' on Facebook and so, when they post something new, it will appear on my Facebook wall.  There are other great articles I am introduced to when Facebook friends post the links with words of encouragement about why others might want to read them too.  But the other way that I get great information is through the links to news, blogs, articles and TV interview clips that individuals and organizations post on Twitter.  It would be overwhelming for me to try and follow every single blog or publication that sometimes posts a particular piece that catches my attention.  But by following them on Twitter, I can log on, skim through the brief headings and descriptions that have been posted in the past couple of hours within a couple of minutes, and perhaps find 3 or 4 online articles that I'd really like to read.  Think of it as subscribing to a magazine where you are the Editor - you get to decide whose content you want to include.  Of course, as the author of a blog and local newspaper articles, its also a way to distribute things that I write more widely, but you can still get a lot out of Twitter even if you just want to be reader.

When you first open up a Twitter account, you can search for potential individuals or organizations to follow by general topic, but the best way to go is to zero in on someone who shares similar interests to you and then look at who they are following (much in the same way that you build up Friends lists on Facebook).  To make it even easier, many of us have created 'Lists' of categories of Tweeters.  So, for example, if you follow me @RabbiGurevitz, you'll see that I have a list of Jewish organizations that I follow and Jewish professionals.  I also have a list of interfaith resources.  There are also several online resources that will tell you who some of the 'top tweeters' are in a particular field of interest, helping you to build your network of individuals and organizations that are of particular interest to you.

So, give it a go! See below for more info on how to get started.  Join the Jewish Women's Archive #jwapedia project this month and learn about some fantastic Jewish Women who have done astonishing things.  Follow #Torah in the first week of June and immerse yourself in our Holy text and heritage to help get into a Shavuot state of mind.  And go and explore the great network of Jewish individuals and organizations who are sharing great ideas, great teaching, and great commentary on our community and world affairs on Twitter.

There are a number of good online tutorials for using Twitter. takes you through every aspect, step-by-step.
If 'seeing' it done via video is more helpful, then check out the video below:

How To Use Twitter on Howcast

And, if you are a 'local' at B'nai Israel, and would like a personal demo, drop me a line and I'll do what I can to help you get started.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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