Synagogues, Social Media & Sandy
11/02/2012 - 14:33
Rabbi Jason Miller
During and after Hurricane Sandy synagogues that had power used social media to keep congregants informed.
During and after Hurricane Sandy synagogues that had power used social media to keep congregants informed.

Hurricane Sandy was the first major U.S. storm of the Twitter era. Like so many others, I was following the storm using social media, including Facebook and Twitter updates. Worried about friends in the East Coast, I tried to gauge just how devastating this act of nature was going to be.

One thing I noticed was that synagogues and temples along the Eastern corridor were using new media communication efforts to keep their membership informed about the storm, the cancellation of schools and programs, and to offer help to those in need (both during and after the storm).

Now that the worst is over, it’s interesting to see how local synagogues used social media both during and after Hurricane Sandy. Some synagogues are still without power, but many are returning to a sense of normalcy as Shabbat approaches.

During the storm some synagogues quickly updated their websites to explain that daily minyan would either be canceled entirely or to encourage people to come for minyan unless it was too dangerous.

Some communities in which the synagogue lost power simply moved the minyan (using social networking sites for location change updates) to people’s homes if they had power. One such minyan host wrote about the minyan in her master bedroom at the Times of Israel website

As of Friday afternoon, some congregations are without power and have had to make alternate plans for the upcoming Shabbat services. At Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ, power hasn’t been regained so the synagogue informed its membership using ConstantContact.com and its website that services will be held at a local hotel. Due to two bar mitzvahs, the synagogue will be offering two separate prayer services at the Clinton Inn in Tenafly. One service will be for members and others looking for a place to pray and reflect and a separate for family and friends of the b’nai mitzvah families.

The rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner also used the Constant Contact email to send a message to congregations, “Please be safe.  If you are in need of help, e.g. warm bed for the elderly, heat, medicines or food, please let Rabbi Kirshner know immediately.  We have had many open their generated power homes and provide food and services to those in need.“

Rabbi Kirshner’s own home recently regained electrical power and the Conservative rabbi used Facebook to let friends and family know. In the spirit of hospitality, his Facebook update included an invitation to those still without power: “The Kirshner family in Closter has regained power. We can comfortably sleep 9 people - 12 camp style. Come over. Just knock. Warm soup, pasta and food is being made now. call or pop by.”

After the storm, many synagogues in the East Coast have been inviting locals to come to their building to warm up, have a meal, and recharge cellphone batteries. Some congregations, like the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale are hosting an open Shabbat lunch tomorrow. The synagogue used WizEvents.com to publicize the lunch and take reservations:

Post-Storm Shabbat Lunch
Still in the dark and cold? Join your friends for Shabbat lunch at CSAIR on Saturday, November 3, following services and kiddush. Relax, warm up, and enjoy a delicious meat meal (with vegetarian options!).
Sign up now...space is limited.
This meal is co-sponsored by our friends at Silverleaf Caterers.

One Orthodox congregation in Silver Spring has invited anyone in need to a “Relief Shabbat” with a Community Wide benefit concert to follow on Saturday night. The Kemp Mill (Silver Spring, Maryland) Jewish community invites those affected by Hurricane Sandy to come down and join us for Shabbos. Take a short (and free!) bus ride down to our warm and welcoming community.  Using EventBrite.com, Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington set up a website allowing individuals to register to ride a free bus from either Far Rockaway, New York or Teaneck, New Jersey. The website concludes:

“Stick around for our Community-wide Melava Malka Benefit Concert. You will stay at host homes in Kemp Mill (hosting information can be entered on the form below) within walking distance of the shul. Meals will be either with the sleeping host family or another family. If you can drive yourself and don't need a seat on the bus – please get a "Shabbos – No Bus" ticket.

Hurricane Sandy was devastating, but the acts of goodwill and hospitality are very positive. Social Media has played a major role in helping synagogues inform its membership about the storm and be informed about the condition of its members. Social Media has also helped synagogues continue to perform their stated mission even if it’s meant making adjustments in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Rabbi Jason Miller is a blogger, educator and entrepreneur. He is president of Access Computer Technology, an IT and social media marketing firm in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

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