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Jlife — a new initiative from Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — will make it much simpler to connect and “do Jewish.”

Every week, dozens of local Jewish congregations and organizations present a wide array of classes, lectures, religious and holiday observances, children’s activities, fundraisers and social events.

Most are online due to the pandemic, but opportunities for Jewish connection and enrichment abound.

However, it’s not always easy to discover what is available and find out how to participate.

Jlife — a new initiative from Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — will make it much simpler to connect and “do Jewish.” 

Scott Kaufman, former CEO of the Detroit Federation, said that the need for a better way to connect occurred to him a few years ago when several acquaintances saw photos of a prior Federation event on social media. They told him they wished they had known about it in advance so they could have attended. Kaufman began to think about a way to offset this “disconnect.”

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman

He started research into a new potential Jewish community connector by inviting 40 Detroit Jewish organizations to meet and discuss their common problems and potential solutions. Thirty-nine attended and many identified the same needs for reaching their audiences and providing successful programming.

The favorable participation rate and their many common needs convinced him that there was a basis to build a joint technology platform. (A technology platform is a computer/software connection point designed for specific uses — i.e. EventBrite is a platform for event information and registration.) After consulting with technology experts, Kaufman and others decided that building a custom platform — to be named Jlife — would work better even though it would take longer and cost more.

Joint Effort

Creating the Jlife platform became a joint effort between the Detroit Federation and its Montreal counterpart, Federation CJA. In this effort, a group of Federation staff members, contractors and volunteers from Detroit, Montreal, Los Angeles, and Israel have been working on Jlife development for several years. Leadership includes Kaufman, Ted Cohen, Federation’s chief marketing officer, and Brian Siegel, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit.

The family page on the Jlife platform
The family page on the Jlife platform

Full-time Jlife staff members include Julie Yaker, Jlife chief happiness officer, and Zach Weisman, head of product for Jlife. Yaker interacts directly with Jewish organizations in Detroit and Montreal that want to use the platform to reach the Jewish community and is managing Jlife’s introduction and ongoing use. She describes Jlife as a platform to widen audiences and connections that will “help Jewish people do more Jewish things.”

Weisman has been working on Jlife since its inception. A Detroit native who lives in Los Angeles, Weisman was invited to a Jlife brainstorming session when he was home for a visit. A technology expert and veteran of several startup companies, he is the “interface between development of the technology and Federation, leading a team of technology developers and designers working on the Jlife web app and website.”

Single Access Point

With Jlife, Weisman says, “There will be one place to find all the amazing events and programs in our Jewish communities.” Jlife will be accessible at Jlife.app through desktop computers, iPad, tablets, smart phones and other electronic devices. 

“We want people to do more Jewish more often,” Kaufman says. 

Jlife has tested its technology for several events during the past few months. One of the first Jlife curated components — a family programs page — will launch in May. This page (not to be confused with the JCC’s JFamily program) will offer a compilation of Jewish activities and programs for children, teens and families. 

Zack Weisman
Zach Weisman

For a parent looking for a Jewish-themed activity for a child, Jlife will save time and effort previously spent searching multiple web and social media sites to find an appropriate event. Everything is presented in an organized, easy-to-access manner. 

Mikki Frank, director of the JCC’s JFamily program, says, “We use Jlife as a registration platform for our various programs. This includes our PJ Library play dates, our Jbaby prenatal program and our JFamily parent education and music programs. We find it to be seamless and very user-friendly. Parents are busy and Jlife helps provide a one-stop shop for all Jewish family programming.”

Frank adds that they are seeing increased attendance for activities. “As more groups use Jlife, I anticipate this growing even more.”

Cohen, Federation’s chief marketing officer, says that “Our goal is to engage more Jewish people. Jlife is a technology that will support and amplify events and programs.”

Use By Synagogues

Jlife has already been used successfully by a group of local Conservative shuls, which collaborated with Jlife for Purim 2021. “It was useful to have one website with all of the information about the events, clearly display the co-sponsors’ logos and create and manage event registration,” says Jodi Gross, director of adult learning and youth engagement at Adat Shalom Synagogue. She credits Julie Yaker, their liaison with Jlife, for help with the launch page and event registration. 

Julie Yaker
Julie Yaker

The synagogues’ joint Purim programming illustrates key benefits of Jlife — the ability to collaborate — making more effective use of staff and other resources both to develop events but also to market them and efficiently register participants. Yaker reports that three Purim events were held and that 50% of participants registered for more than one event. 

Kaufman hopes that Jlife will help Jewish organizations save time, pool resources and enhance targeted marketing. “It’s all about community-building. The magic will be if it is an accelerator to engaging more Jews,” he says. 

Right now, he describes Jlife as “a car that is being built and every week or so we add a feature. COVID accelerated the need.”

The development team tests each feature and incorporates feedback from participating community organizations. When fully operational, Jlife subscribers will be able to complete a profile to indicate their interests and receive a weekly personal update about programming likely to appeal to them. Each participating organization will have its own page and maintain individual relationships with its customers. 

For those concerned about data security, Weisman provides the reassurance, “We take data and privacy very seriously. We can be sure that it’s not sold or shared.” 

Kaufman points out that Jlife’s development team includes Israeli partners with cyber security expertise. Participating organizations will be able to receive anonymized data to help them plan their programming.

Eligibility for Jlife

Local nonprofit Jewish organizations and congregations are eligible to include their events on the Jlife platform at no charge. Interested groups should contact Julie Yaker by email — Julie@Jlife.app. A marketing campaign, including Federation and JCC contacts, as well as targeted social media ads, will introduce Jlife to the local Jewish community. Through Jlife, individuals will be able to find events and programs by age group, interest or sponsoring organization. Participation will be free for participating organizations and individuals.

By helping individuals easily connect with Jewish organizations and activities, Kaufman believes that Jlife could be transformative for Jewish identity. This fall, Jlife organizers plan to expand the platform nationally.

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The Montreal Connection

The Jlife partnership between the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Montreal’s Federation CJA evolved from a visit that Scott Kaufman made to the Montreal federation several years ago. He was there for a presentation about organizational and leadership transitions and mentioned Jlife in his remarks. 

A Montreal federation staff member was impressed with the Jlife concept and asked him to meet with a local Jewish donor — Sylvain Abitbol, a former co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and former chair of the Montreal federation, who is a telecommunications entrepreneur.

Abitbol was very interested in Jlife and Joel Segal, Montreal federation’s first vice president, suggested that the two federations pool their resources — beginning a very fruitful collaboration. Initial funding is being provided by major foundations from North America, including the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation, with additional donors in both the Detroit and Montreal areas.

One program that was presented to local teens by several Detroit-area Jewish organizations was also offered to the Montreal Jewish community at their request.

When fully developed, Jlife will offer these features among others.

Individuals will be able to:

• Search for events and programs by categories such as family activities, Jewish music, classes and teen activities.

• Register and pay for any event that is listed through Jlife.

• Complete an online profile and sign up for a regular email or text feed with information about activities that match individual interests.

Jlife will help participating organizations:

• Promote and register participants for their events.

• Collaborate with other Jewish organizations to develop and publicize activities.

• Evaluate audience/community response through aggregated data provided through Jlife.