By Darone Ruskay
Two brothers enter rabbinical school… sounds like the start of a joke that ends in a bar, but here is how the story continues. …they each choose a different school, one the Jewish Theological Seminary (a Conservative seminary) and the other Hebrew Union College (the Reform seminary.) Based on the length of each program, and when they begin their study, they are both scheduled to be ordained in the same year. Their parents are so proud of both of their boys, who have followed in their familial lineage by wanting to enter the rabbinate, but worry that the two will have their ordination ceremony on the same day.
This sounds like a rare case, but it is not. For organizations planning communal events, conferences, lectures, missions, and retreats, having information about the scheduling of other like-events is crucial, for a variety of reasons, first and foremost to be able to welcome the individuals who want most to be able to attend. For many years I worked at The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, planning an educator conference each summer. For those in the know, the first or second Sunday to Thursday in August would be when CAJE would take place, but most did not know which week, which area in the country. As a result, when they were planning their events, they did so in a vacuum. We would often get calls from schools and organizations disappointed by our choice of conference dates because they had an in-service for their teachers that week, or they were sending their teachers to Israel in advance of the start of the school year. The community of educators we wanted to serve could not attend.
These stories are by no means describing the full extent of the problem. I frequently see posts on Facebook from friends and colleagues asking about when other events are going on as they begin their own scheduling. It was just such a post by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, the Executive Director of Mechon Hadar, who was contemplating a Shabbaton for next Spring that was the catalyst for this conversation, and the opportunity for us to consider why a communal calendar is in our collective interest.
What might stand in our way from working together to create a Jewish communal calendar? Is it a technology issue? An interest issue? Is it an issue of collaboration? As a Facebook conversation emerged, there were a lot of comments about what had been created in the past, and why they have always failed. Dan Brown, founder of eJewish Philanthropy shared that The Jerusalem Post had invested a great deal of energy into a similar project a decade ago, but that it had not succeeded. Other Jewish communal voices questioned the viability of this effort, for many reasons, based on previous efforts. In thinking about this more fully, and with the input of friend and colleague Sara Shapiro-Plevan, network weaver and founder of Rimonim Consulting, it became clear that the issue was two-fold.
First, only a truly comprehensive calendar has any use, as without listings, it doesn’t serve its purpose. A calendar needs to be filled with events to be useful, and useful in order to be used. And second, without the commitment of organizations it won’t have listings. By organizational commitment, I mean that it cannot be something that is filled in by an external person who surveys and adds events, but really needs to be built (the content not the technology) by the organizations that would use and appreciate the use. Every organization wants to be able to use the calendar, so they need to be the ones who actively contribute their content.
Five years ago I created JCast Network, the first Jewish podcasting network. I envisioned it as being focused on creating compelling, high-quality, diverse audio content intended to educate and entertain its listeners. But when I began the network, I had conversations with anyone who would talk to me, and one of the most important ones, was from someone who asked me if I was interested in including blogs on my network. Since I am an auditory learner, I had not thought of including blogs, but he convinced me that if I was attempting to create a destination website for Jewish content, there was no reason not to cater to “readers” as well as “listeners.” When conversations began about JCast Network creating and hosting this type of calendar full of Jewish content, I initially wondered if it made sense for the network, but I was quickly reminded of that conversation, and was encouraged to consider the brand awareness that already exists around the network, and supply a new type of Jewish content. Perhaps a job listing board is next.
I want to offer the Jewish community a challenge. Let’s experiment together and see if this will work. The least we can do is play with it, and experiment and make the effort to envision a future in which we can coordinate, share information, and support this kind of new work in partnership. And it will be an experiment, one in which we will try new things, learn from what we try, and make course adjustments along the way. I hope that you will just as we do.
JCast Network is ready to step in and become the destination for the Jewish Communal Events Calendar, and figure out the technology, but it doesn’t make sense to do so unless the organizations, the Federations, the JCC’s and camps, the conference and benefit planners, the educational institutions are equally interested in supporting this, and showing their interest. If you work for one of these organizations, please visit jcastnetwork.org/jcec and submit your event to the calendar. If you already publish a calendar that can be subscribed to publicly, submit the feed. If you don’t work for one of these organizations, share with those who do in order that we can make sure that the calendar gets filled.
As we launch this project, all event postings will be free. But we all understand and appreciate that in order to make this a valuable tool, time and energy will be required to build and sustain it, and eventually, we will need to create a fee structure or other funding model to make it sustainable. As we grow, we will charge to post events for which there are costs, and work with the community to help determine how to make this affordable and useful as a tool to support your work and ours. We will make sure free events are always complimentary, and that organizations that have published calendars can share their feeds without cost. So we invite you now to join in this experiment and see where we can go together, to translate this into action, and make sure that we can celebrate the ordination of Jonah and Daniel, dance at every simcha, and include as many potential participants in our work as we would like.
Darone Ruskay is Executive Director of JCast Network.