From Network Judaism to Platform Judaism

by Rabbi Hayim Herring

In 2000, I wrote a paper called “Network Judaism“, later published in 2001. MySpace was launched in August 2003 and Facebook in February 2004. It’s hard to recall that social media platforms didn’t exist that long ago! But if you were tracking trends, you might have anticipated the potential emergence of networked organizations. What we still haven’t fully grasped is the many implications of living in such a socially saturated environment.

And that’s no exaggeration – here are a few current stats on some popular social media platforms:

  • Facebook – 1.15 billion registered users
  • Flickr – 87 million users, 8 billion photos
  • Pandora – 200 million registered users Twitter – 500 million registered
  • Word Press – 66 million blogs
  • Angie’s list – 2 million users
  • Yelp – 12 million users per day
  • YouTube – 500 million visits per day

The numbers tell a story of how rapidly socially media sites have been adopted and how embedded they are in our lives. Yet, synagogues, federations and other historic organizations have not shifted their structures to enable themselves to become platforms for people to connect socially, spiritually, philanthropically and educationally.

As we are now in the networked era, it’s imperative for Jewish organizations to shift their paradigms to a platform model. Otherwise, the great the work that many are doing around making Judaism more relevant, inspirational, personally significant and accessible will be inhibited or fail. Unlike many Jewish start up organizations that have blossomed over the last ten years, established Jewish organizations need Platform Judaism, or more accurately, platform Jewish structures.

What is an organizational platform (and I can highlight only a few dimensions in this space)? A platform is an enabling space for people to interact and act upon issues. An organization that becomes a platform enables individuals to self direct their Jewish choices and express their Jewish values within the organization’s mission. That is a radical shift from organizational leaders directing people how, when, where, why and with whom to be Jewish – in other words, the dominant paradigm of more established Jewish organizations and synagogues!

Becoming a platform is also a mindset. It means embracing the aspirations of individuals to co-create their experiences, opt in and opt out of Jewish life, do new things and do old things in new ways. This mindset operates within the building, outside of the building, on the website and wherever the synagogue or organization leaves a fingerprint.

Most critically, restructuring as a platform requires a relentless focus on a compelling mission and purpose. When organizations can clearly define their purpose, they have the opportunity to help individuals activate their latent hunger for community, experientially educate them about the difference between a discrete cause and an enduring commitment and provide opportunities for deeper relationships that transcend Facebook-type “connections.”

Talking about organizational structure isn’t sexy. But the payoff for paying attention to can facilitate:

  • deeper and broader connections
  • deeper and broader meaning
  • deeper and broader impact.

In part, I wrote my book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Creating Vibrant Centers of Jewish Life, to stimulate thinking around the urgency for organizations to move to a platform model. (Soon, my publisher will be releasing two related publications designed to help organizations practically apply the concepts of Platform Judaism to the real world settings of synagogues and Jewish organizations in an authentically Jewish way.) I have every confidence that we have the ability to shift our organizations to platforms for fostering Jewish communities infused with purpose. But the question remains – are we willing to do so?

Rabbi Hayim Herring is C.E.O., at