By Lionel Mitelpunkt
Our Jewish world and community as we know it revolves around a cyclical calendar of events: Jewish holidays, annual gala dinners, conferences, retreats, conventions, summer camps, and more. As Jews, these are markers of the time of the year, reminders of familiar people and places, and indicators of when and where we will gather.
Among the consequences of COVID-19 is a massive disruption to how we gather. We have been forced to adapt from our typical ways of convening and have already begun to adopt new practices, habits, and tools to gather as communities in virtual & hybrid (part virtual, park in-person) spaces.
As a tech enthusiast and also a Jewish Global community builder based in Israel, I view this shift as an opportunity, rather than a constraint. It is an opportunity to create new programs, experiences, connections. An American architect Buckminster Fuller is quoted saying, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” So, collectively we are learning to embrace the existing reality and discovering new formats and models to gather.
So what will it require to adapt to virtual and hybrid gatherings?
The New Roles in a COVID-19 World
As Jewish professionals, we must rewire the way we approach and go about producing events and gathering people.
As part of rewiring and shifting to virtual & hybrid spaces, Jewish communal institutions must invest in retraining and upskilling workforces. Tech savviness is no longer reserved for millennials and GenZ, but rather is an essential cross organizational skill required to maintain the strength of our communities in this time of crisis. As your organization considers how to upskill, consider the following four roles that have become most relevant for institutions: (Taken from Event Manager Blog: New Roles Are Emerging for Virtual Events)
- “Tech evangelist” responsible for sourcing and implementing the technology used for events, and they will be the point-of-contact for event technology suppliers.
- “Virtual event tech support” responsible for managing tech support issues in real-time.
- “Virtual event production specialists” manages the tech platform with audio, visual, live streaming and more.
- “Virtual MC/moderator” helps to stitch together the information delivered during the different sessions, preserve the flow, and keep the energy high.
Where Methodology Meets Technology
In the early days of the pandemic, many of us experienced a common phenomenon termed “ZOOM fatigue.” Zoom became the most frequently used platform and ubiquitous term for any video conference activity. I quickly felt the limitations of ZOOM as a technical platform. It wasn’t able to maximize my support and services as a community catalyst working with Jewish communities around the world. However, it became clear to me that with the right platforms, some tech-savviness and production preparation, we could reimagine the way we gather and the way we have experiences.
For the past 3.5 years I served as the Content Director of 248CAN, a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether platform, connecting ‘Jewish Do-ers’ globally, much of it using Zoom as our regular virtual gathering place. When COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, we shifted our annual conference to an online conferencing platform that enabled 1-1 networking, breakout sessions, main stage, live streaming and ultimately connected hundreds of Jewish do’ers from over 15 countries across four time zones. I found myself playing a new role as a virtual event producer in our annual conference, assuring that the technical infrastructure and production needs were in place to synchronously engage all participants virtually. We succeededto demonstrate early on that a new exciting and engaging model for virtual & hybrid gatherings is feasible and even compelling to its users..
So, together with a team of fellow tech lovers, creatives and community builders in Israel, we formed a collective called Merachok (which means “from afar” in Hebrew). As a collective, we are event producers and community entrepreneurs using a variety of virtual platforms with unique features that enable new ways of connecting and engaging. Some of these platforms include Hopin for virtual events, Remo for virtual conferencing and offices, StreamYard for live streaming, OBS/xSplit for live streaming, Social live (FB, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram), ClickTo, Comonitize, Weavr and more.
Since COVID-19 began, we have been supporting businesses, organizations, and programs to translate their originally scheduled in-person gatherings to virtual and hybrid spaces as event producers and consultants, sharing our knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.
With a variety of platforms and tools out there, it is possible to curate virtual and hybrid Jewish spaces that will connect communities and even engage people at a distance who otherwise wouldn’t be physically connected.
As we reimagine how we curate community gatherings online, considering these four essential roles and associated skill sets will support us to develop a new business model for Jewish community engagement. At Merachok, we pride ourselves on playing each of these roles and we’re excited to share our knowledge of how to upskill and retrain employees and staff.
As community entrepreneurs and Jewish do-ers based in Israel, we feel deeply bonded to our Jewish partners in communities across the world. On the one hand, the lack of travel to or from Israel has made us feel more distant. However, as tech enthusiasts who have uncovered the limitless potential that virtual an d hybrid convening enables, we believe that our communities can be as strong, vibrant and connected as ever.
Lionel Mitelpunkt is a freelance consultant, strategist, educator, and artist, using technology as a way to create, nurture and advance authenticity, empathy, change, and innovation. He works with individuals, startups, NGO’s and corporations in creating clear channels of communication and framing their narratives using new world tools and accessible wisdom.