[This is the fourth in a nine-part series describing the projects of the 2011-2012 Jewish New Media Innovation Fund Award Recipients.]
My first child, a (surprise!) very cute little boy named Lev, was born last July. It was the second of four births to MyJewishLearning employees in 2010. Four births meant four parental leaves, which for a staff of 10 was a lot to endure in one year, but this procreative prowess was critical in helping us with another birth: the September launch of our Jewish parenting website, Kveller.com.
Indeed, babies are on our minds here, and all of sudden, Judaism and Jewishness are on our minds in completely new ways, too. Genetic diseases are scarier; the pain of circumcision is no longer theoretical; and finding a good Jewish name for your kid is almost as hard as finding a good Jewish name for a parenting website. (For those less fluent in Yiddish, Kveller comes from the word “kvell,” which connotes extreme pride, something parents are known for.)
There’s a famous Talmudic passage that suggests that there are three partners in every birth: a mother, a father, and God. Well, things have changed. Not all modern families have one mother and one father, and there’s a new partner in contemporary parenting: the internet.
My wife and I use our local community parenting listserv to find babysitters, doctors, and vacation tips. We research products online and read sleep training websites. (I have, for my own sanity, stopped using the internet to diagnose my son’s illnesses, but yes, there was a time when I did that too.)
And we’re not alone. The 2009 study “Digital Mom” conducted by Razorfish and CafeMom, found that 46% of mothers with children under the age of 5 had used the internet for baby/parenting-related research, advice, or purchases in the last three months. Yet, before September, if these mothers went online seeking Jewish parenting resources the pickings would be slim. Kveller.com was created to respond to this need.
Kveller is a website for those who want to add a Jewish twist to their parenting. Kveller features articles on everything from pre-conception through preschool – that means information on Jewish baby showers, naming ceremonies, Jewish kiddie music, and much more. Kveller also has a Jewish baby name bank, multiple bloggers (including actress Mayim Bialik), and first-person ruminations. Kveller has content reflecting all types of Jewish families: observant, interfaith, queer, divorced. In addition to the Kveller website, Kveller markets its materials though an e-newsletter, Facebook group, and Twitter feed.
But Kveller is also interested in leveraging MyJewishLearning’s web marketing expertise to connect parents to local organizations and events. Accordingly, we have piloted online communities for two New York neighborhoods: Downtown Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn. Kveller.com has community pages for these locales with calendars of events and lists of resources, as well as local Facebook groups. We hope to eventually expand these local initiatives to other neighborhoods and cities.
While Kveller has content for a lot of different kinds of parents, there are two audiences in particular that we think about a lot.
Over the last decade, millions of philanthropic dollars have been poured into programming for the 18-35 crowd, yielding innovative organizations such as Birthright Israel, JDub Records, and publications like Heeb magazine. Many of the participants in these programs are now moving on to a new stage in life: parenting. And yet, to our knowledge, no program or publication has emerged to engage these people during this important life stage. When the founders of Nerve.com – the edgy web magazine – grew up, they founded Babble.com, a parenting website for the Nerve demographic. Kveller serves as a similar home for the thousands of constituents engaged by the recent Jewish cultural renaissance.
Many of these folks are already engaged with Jewish life, but there’s another subset of people who haven’t been connected to Jewish life and, as parents starting a family, are now looking to. For these parents, Kveller provides a fun, low-barrier entry point into conversations about parenting and Jewish life.
Kveller is interested in, first and foremost, helping people be better, more thoughtful, less stressed parents. Not everything on the website is about Judaism or Jewish life because that doesn’t reflect our actual experience of parenting. But without Kveller there’d be no online home for the important conversations about raising Jewish kids.
Those of us at MyJewishLearning who all of a sudden find ourselves the guardians and guides of young, precious, bewildering little humans figured we weren’t the only ones looking for resources and peers to help us through this amazing, but challenging, time in life. Judging from the tens of thousands of people already flocking to Kveller every month, it seems we were right.
Daniel Septimus is the CEO of MyJewishLearning, Inc.
cross-posted at JewishNewMediaFund.org