JewishLIVE is described as “the Grand Central Station serving the new land of online Judaism.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us feel physically distant to each other. 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.
Three cutting-edge Jewish visionaries saw this 21st-century phenomenon as a prime opportunity to launch a website that’s a “one-stop shop” 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 of the Institute of the Next Jewish Future to create jewishLIVE.org, which is a project of INJF with funding from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah.
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.
In an effort to curb the sense of loneliness and social isolation they sensed the quarantine would create for many, they wanted to create a website that would serve as a portal to all sorts of learning, prayer and entertainment. The website, jewishLIVE.org, has a schedule of live streaming experiences broken out into categories like Soul Stage, Earth Stage, Mind Stage, Sensory Stage, Kids Stage and Music Stage. Imagine a full-scale Jewish culture festival taking place seven days a week and being able to choose your engagement point each hour of every day.
Libenson, Rofeberg and Stern also recognized that everyone staying home and becoming more accustomed to Zoom conferences created a natural opportunity for many Jews, and non-Jews, to connect to Jewish experiences they might have been intimidated to join in person. They describe jewishLIVE as “the Grand Central Station serving the new land of online Judaism.”
The portal, a digital Jewish Community Center of sorts, may remind some of the Jewish community’s first portal on the internet when America Online (AOL) first launched with a Jewish community in cyberspace. jewishLIVE curates Zoom programming presented by organizations, summer camps, synagogues, JCCs, and youth groups, but it also offers Zoom rooms to individuals and organizations who want to produce live events but may not have enough Zoom capacity or the technical ability to do this on their own.
“The website,” explained Libenson, “which we created very quickly, combines a calendar of events with beaming from Star Trek because if you discover that something is happening right now, you can just go there in a single click.”
The group produces its own live events as well, working together with individuals and large organizations. “Thousands of people have participated in our programs,” Rofeberg said, “and we’ve heard a great deal of feedback that we’re helping people to learn and grow and connect during a time when so many of us are struggling to find meaning.”
While COVID-19 was the impetus for launching the website in March, Libenson and Rofeberg had envisioned the creation of a digital hub for Jewish programming for some time. “It had been more of a long-term vision, but a couple months ago, when COVID-19 really ramped up and altered all of our lives, it became clear that it was imminent for something like that long-term vision to come to be much sooner than we had expected,” said Rofeberg.
The team has been pleased with the response to jewishLIVE so far and so have national leaders in the Jewish community. Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of Clal, an organization dedicated to bringing Jewish wisdom to the public, said he applauds the jewishLIVE initiative because it is “aggregating, curating and enabling access to high-quality live content on one trusted platform, which has long been necessary.”
As jewishLive continues to get funding to grow the website and add content, there’s no doubt that it will live on once the Jewish community is able to return to a sense of normalcy.
“What’s clear to us is that the changes we have experienced are not going to be simply erased when social distancing wraps up,” Rofeberg said. “We are still going to need digital Jewish programming, and we are confident that many people who just found their way into the digital Jewish ecosystem for the first time will be excited to participate. Hopefully, many of them will create their own programming.”
Rabbi Jason Miller is a local educator and entrepreneur. He is president of Access Technology in West Bloomfield. Follow him on Twitter at @rabbijason.