Moishe House Rocks: Looking Back and Moving Forward

[This is the third in a series updating the award recipient projects of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund.]

by David Cygielman

When Moishe House and G-DCAST first started brainstorming about a possible collaboration more than a year ago, there was a lot of excitement but not a totally clear direction on what type of project would emerge. We both knew that we wanted to do something that would reach the larger, global community and provide easy and accessible “how to” steps related to Jewish ritual, but we were not sure exactly what it would look like. Sarah Lefton, G-DCAST’s Executive Director and Producer, and members of our Moishe House team had some exciting and extensive brainstorming sessions where we hashed out all the possibilities that could come from this collaboration. Through the course of these conversations, we realized that the topics that could have the most influence on both Moishe House’s target demographic and the larger global community would be relatively basic ones – Shabbat and Havdalah blessings and guidelines on how to build a Sukkah for Sukkot.

The Evolution of Moishe House Rocks

During conversations that I had with Dr. Zvi Bellin, Moishe House’s Director of Jewish Education, and Sarah, we came across many different issues and questions such as: How should the videos look? Should we do a long Kiddush or a short Kiddush? Should a woman or a man recite it? Through all these queries, it became clear that both organizations wanted pluralism to be the biggest overarching theme of the collaboration and conscious decisions were made to promote it. In the end, we wanted to create a product that supported the mission of both organizations, showing our dedication to building a place where all Jews feel comfortable learning and ultimately becoming confident in their own knowledge and abilities.

We started production of the videos last summer and decided to really make it a homegrown experience by having residents from the Bay Area Moishe Houses help narrate the videos. Most of the residents were from Moishe House East Bay and not necessarily ones who tend to run toward traditional Jewish experiences. Engaging them creatively provided an exciting opportunity for all of us.

On September 5, the videos were posted to YouTube. By the end of the month we had reached nearly 3,000 views, collectively. By the first day of Sukkot, October 12, the Sukkah How-To video had been viewed nearly 2,000 times alone. The numbers speak to the importance of timing – by releasing the video around six weeks before Sukkot, we were able to provide a highly applicable resource for celebrating this fall holiday.

The other two videos have seen a steady climb in viewers since they were posted. As of March 26, 2012, the Sukkah building video has been viewed more than 2,900 times, the Shabbat blessings video more than 3,500 times, and the Havdalah video more than 3,700 times. Collectively, Moishe House Rocks has reached more than 10,170 views. The videos have been viewed from more than 65 countries and have reached a wide age range, many of those in our target demographic (20-30). We expect these numbers to continue to grow, with the implementation of keyword advertising and continued promotion.

Utilizing Moishe House Rocks & Lessons Learned Along the Way

The Moishe House Rocks project has helped us re-evaluate the ways we effectively deliver educational opportunities to Jewish young adults. Moishe House Rocks has been used at Moishe House Learning Retreats and as a follow-up take-home tool, post-retreat. We have encouraged Moishe House residents and participants to use the videos as a way to practice the blessings on their own and become comfortable leading them. We believe that Moishe House Rocks provides our residents, as Jewish leaders in their communities, with a confidence-building learning tool for Jewish traditions. We know that 78 percent of all Moishe House residents had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but just 39 percent say they were active in Hillel during college; Moishe House Rocks allows our residents to experience a fun and relatable refresher on some of our most important communal blessings and rituals. And as we have learned, for many, this is the first time they have been given the opportunity to learn the blessings and rituals in an accessible, low-barrier way.

Something we have learned over the course of the past year is that it is not enough to just make a Jewish new media feature; the media must also be promoted through the appropriate avenues. We are proud of the number of viewers who have seen Moishe House Rocks, but we believe we could reach an even broader audience by allotting more resources for strategic outreach and using keyword advertising to drive new viewers to the videos.

Where We Go from Here

Even as Moishe House continues to evolve, the Moishe House Rocks videos remain relevant and applicable to our mission. We will be using the videos frequently with the upcoming launch of Moishe House Without Walls – a program for Jewish young adults who do not have access to a Moishe House or alumni and past participants who are inspired to create Jewish experiences in their own homes. Moishe House Without Walls will rely on resources like these videos to promote Jewish community for young adults internationally. At our National Resident Training Conference, held at the end of March, we used the videos to help lead and teach the blessings. We will continue to promote the videos through increased social media and internet outreach, at Learning Retreats and Training Retreats and through our relationships with our various partner organizations. We are proud of the contribution Moishe House Rocks has made to the repository of pluralistic Jewish media available online and grateful that our partnership with the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund enabled us to creatively engage viewers and active learners around the world.

David Cygielman is the co-founder and CEO of Moishe House. Moishe House Rocks is a 2011- 2012 recipient of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot collaboration of the Jim Joseph Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation that supported projects offering innovative ways of using new media to encourage the next generation of Jews to engage in life and community Jewishly.