Friday, December 30, 2011

Laurence Furic

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

A blogger since 2006, Laurence Furic now advises small businesses and non-profit organizations on how to develop their online visibility and presence and help them navigate the new means of communication and tools that are changing today's world. She also is the webmaster and blogs for the Jewish Family Congregation.

What’s the difference between a network and a community?

A community is already there when you arrive at a place – either you integrate into it or you don’t. A network is something that has a life of its own. It’s like a living organism. It’s something you have to be active in; it doesn’t exist if there’s nothing done. I like the image of “network-weaving.” It brings to my mind something colorful, like Joseph’s coat, the coat that was weaved by his mother. I envision all the colors and possibilities in it.

What are some characteristics of network-weavers?

You have to have a lot of humility and you have to have no ego. Things shouldn’t happen because of you – even if they did happen because you were there, you don’t have to take credit for it. A network-weaver is a connector that electricity goes through; it isn’t the electricity itself. You also have to avoid doing things for people – you have to stimulate them to do things themselves. Everyone has to feel how important they are. In addition, you have to be very organized, available, like people, and to listen.

I think it takes humility to be a networker because we don’t control what’s going on. Some seem afraid of social media because they are used to having control and seeing the process, but with social media you don’t see where it’s going. I like it – I like the adventure of it.

How do you measure the impact of a network-weaver?

Personally network-weaving is working when I see that someone else has my own ideas. I recognize something and feel like it’s something I had in my mind, but here it is already existing somewhere else! Sometimes it’s not because of what you have done; it’s just in the air. Either way, I believe I am successful when something I believe in takes traction.

What networks have you helped weave?

I moved to the US from France 14 years ago. I belong to many communities – Jewish, French-speaking, hometown, family, and I’m also very involved in the autism community. Within all those communities, I’m a networker.

In 1994 – before Facebook was even born – someone in Israel started a small community of French-speaking olim. He put up a website where there was a discussion board, and I got very involved in it. I’m still involved – it’s a huge network now. At the same time, as a young mother participating in parenting groups in French, I was part of a group of Jews who got fed up because of anti-Semitic remarks. We decided to get out of that group and create our own group, Pilpoul. It still exists, we are all best friends, and we have meetups in Belgium, France, and Israel. Each of these has developed its own networks as well.

How will technology affect American synagogues?

Coming from France, I was a little taken aback by American synagogues. Belonging to a synagogue seemed more like being in a social club, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I think this is what’s going to change because of the new tools: from belonging to a close club to really being involved in Jewish learning and discovery. In time, synagogues will definitely use all those tools in a more integrated way, and it may allow someone who is not observant to become engaged in reading things from the Mishnah or studying the weekly parshah.

I hope the tools will also allow for more of a blend between the denominations. In my networking efforts, I’m trying to advocate for less polarization between Orthodox and Reform Jews. I was raised in country where everyone was officially “Orthodox” but a lot would be called Modern Orthodox or Traditional. I think new networking tools will show that there are so many paths between people, and you have more in common than you might think. I’m a big idealist – I think in the end technology will allow us to make peace between different peoples, and to understand that we have more in common than what’s separating us. It’s something I’ve taught my children – I can see how open they are to other people, and I really love that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Aftermath: Roles of Hubs

As promised, I’ve been processing my research in order to see how a basic understanding of the mathematical properties that govern networks can be applied in real-life networks. I believe that the key to understanding networks is to understand the functioning of the hubs. To review, hubs are places in the network that evolve to have lots of links (relationships) emanating from them, which they gained because they were either there first, are competitive in how they stack up against others, are already popular, or in most cases some combination of the above.

While this theory clearly explains why hubs exist, the next step is to understand the different kinds of hubs and what they actually do – i.e. how and to what extent they maximize the potential of their links (relationships). To do that, it is essential to realize that the most important commodity that hubs gain access to and, if they choose, can strategically share is information. Hubs form relationships, which lead to trust, which leads to access to information. This information can be leveraged in linking those who have or need it – or it can be applied toward a particular purpose or cause.

Taking this into account, here are three different types of hubs:
  • Community Organizer: A community, as we know, exists when there is a thoroughly interconnected cluster of nodes. In practice, these connections might exist because of geographic proximity or concern for a common interest or cause. A community organizer works with such an interconnected group, and also can recruit new entities, if appropriately interested or placed, to join in the community and likewise make lots of connections within it.

    A community organizer serves as the hub of up-to-date information within that community – think of the family member who keeps track of the family genealogy, or the college friend who knows everything going on with a particular crowd of your former college buddies. While everyone is already connected to each other, a hub is differentiated by its access to information, and others in the community are aware that such a hub is the place to go to share and to gain any information – whether it’s if you have relatives in Argentina, or if any college friends are in a particular industry and could help you out professionally.

    Community organizers can also strategically leverage their access to information about skills and other resources to effect change in a given place or for a given cause. Think of your local political activist or any activist for a local issue.
  • Network Weaver: A network-weaver is someone with access to many different communities and, as a result, a great deal of information. The gift of a network-weaver is the ability to manage and make sense of this information in such a way as to develop a keen understanding of the needs and resources of all sorts of geographic and interest-based groups. Thus, it is able to make connections as is necessary and beneficial to all parties in the network. While the resulting connections may appear random, they in fact represent a great deal of intentionality on the network-weaver’s part to ensure that it is connected to certain people and in turn can connect the right people where connections will be impactful. If you look at a visualization of a network-weaver’s network, you will see clusters of twos and threes who have been connected to each other – as opposed to the case of a community organizer, not everyone in the network is connected. Neither is the network-weaver necessarily connected to everyone in a given community – it will often suffice to be connected to one or two people, preferably community organizers, who can give information about who and how to connect in the community as a whole. Because the network-weaver has so many strategic connections, these connections tend to be more like weak ties, which are a tremendous source of information and new ideas, as Mark Granovetter observed.
  • Broadcast Hub: A broadcast hub is a hub that attracts an astounding number of followers – whether it’s by being a movie star, having expertise and therefore fame in a particular area, or by sheer force of a shining personality. Broadcast hubs are capable of playing a crucial role in disseminating information and ideas, setting trends, and ultimately shaping culture and society as a whole (as documented in Tipping Point and elsewhere). If you visualize a broadcast hub, it consists of a hub with lots of spokes emanating from it. These spokes are on average not themselves connected, because while broadcast hubs have enormous rolodexes, they do not usually devote the time to weaving networks or organizing communities, or at least don’t do it in a conscious and intentional way. 
The distinction is not always absolute; some hubs may behave in a combination of roles or in different roles over time. Yet the differentiation between network weavers, community organizers, and broadcast hubs means that different skills, goals, and perhaps even personalities are factors in each. Whether you are or aspire to be or to interact with any of these types of hubs, it is helpful to know the typical characteristics and methods and visualize each kind of social networks. I hope to delve more deeply into understanding these and look forward to continuing to share my results!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rachel Honeyman

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Rachel Honeyman is Director of Communications at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning. She has a master’s in English from Florida International University.

What is the difference between a network and a community?

I think of communities as trees. Any time you meet someone, you plant a seed. Deepening relationships form the roots of the trees, and the community branches out from there. When you network, you don’t just pick up the phone and start a conversation with a random person. The conversations emerge from your community. In building a community of learners, hopefully we will develop a larger network, which will flow back into our community. From my perspective, community is the end goal.

What is the role of social media in building networks and community?

I think social media is key for building networks. One challenge I’m facing in building our network is how to engage and translate our social media network into an in-person community. But I can see that, with enough time, effort, and commitment, the social media efforts will lead to a real sense of community and draw even more people into it.

Do you think social media will change the nature of community in today’s world?

Ten or fifteen years ago, you had to go to events to network. Today, you can sit on your computer and network. It’s changed the game. I wrote a blog post about the challenges of social media in building community – it makes it harder in some ways to convince people to get off their computers and talk face to face. At the same time, it’s actually leading to conversations that couldn’t happen otherwise. I’ve met people through twitter, and Miriam Brosseau is holding #jewpronet G+ conversations through twitter. It’s not necessarily a bad challenge – we just have to rethink how we approach our community.

In developing a network, do you have other goals beyond the creation of community, or is community the ultimate goal?

At Skirball, our goal is to provide people with a place not only where they can learn, but also where they feel comfortable actively asking all their questions about life and Judaism. They need a place to have a community where they can have those discussions. That’s an important part of community – it fulfills a need that couldn’t be fulfilled without that community.

What are the challenges of adult education?

Many adults are coming to us without a lot of prior knowledge about their own Jewish identity and no other connection to Judaism. They are not necessarily members of synagogues or attending Jewish events. They’re coming because they have a thirst for knowledge and dealing with the faulty education they received as kids. They are coming to terms with that and saying: I am Jewish – what does that mean? How do I fill in the gaps in my education?

What are your goals for your adult learners?

We’re giving people the tools to do what they want with their Jewish identity. Our hope is that they will learn at Skirball and then take action in whatever way they want, whether it’s getting involved with the amazing Jewish organizations out there or with Skirball. Action gets stalled without knowledge – we are offering that knowledge.

Rachel Honeyman tweets for the Skirball Center as @JewishLearning and blogs on the Skirball Center blog. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Peter Eckstein

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Peter Eckstein is the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth David in Palm Beach Gardens. In the past he has served in national leadership roles in CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) and is currently involved in other initiatives. He holds a master’s in Jewish education from Hebrew College.

What is the difference between a network and a community?

A network is the connections people have with one another, whether face to face or virtual. A community is qualitatively deeper. It’s a group of people, however they’re connected, sharing information and moving with each other in the same direction. A community is a kehillah – there’s an emotional connection to that. Right now in Jewish education we have a network, a loose network. I want to create a community, a kehillah.

In your post “Occupy Jewish Education,” you talk about raising the voices and profiles of complimentary Jewish educators. How are you doing that?

I started a Ning site, where I’m taking a stab at creating a professional learning network for communities. I’m also teaching a class once a month called “Mondays in the Cloud,” where I’m introducing programs to use in the classroom to a group of congregational and day school teachers. Complimentary Jewish education is by definition part-time. The educators don’t have the time or resources to explore the new tools available, and they also might be afraid to play with these tools. I’m trying to raise consciousness and get this on the agenda.

How will you measure the success of these initiatives?

I taught a class last week where I introduced a comic strip program, and the next day a teacher shared it with the class and they loved it. But I think it’ll be a success when the teachers start helping each other on their own time. That’s when you really create a community.

What is the current state of networks in Jewish education?

There’s a lot of ferment happening in the Jewish community right now, with the Jewish Futures conference and other ways individuals are coming together, sharing their visions, and then going back to their communities and working on their own platforms. There are so many different energy points around the country and around the world.

In the world of Jewish education, CAJE was the closest thing we’ve had to a broad-based movement. It was a community more than a network. You saw people only once a year, but it was an emotional experience. I’ve spoken with people about creating a global Jewish education community, but I’m not sure if we’re ready for that or even know what that means. In the secular world of education, I don’t think there is anything like that either.

I think what emerges will be decentralized. I do work on the national level, through the Conservative movement (JEA-Jewish Educators Assembly) and Reform movement (NATE-National Association of Temple Educators). Tip O’Neill said “All politics is local” – and I actually think that maybe the way to get educators engaged is to work on the local level.

What are some barriers to using technology in the classroom?

The biggest is the resources and funding to get the equipment you need into the schools. Many schools can’t invest in the technology I’d love to see. Also, people are afraid of technology, but less and less – people beginning to realize that it is a way of enhancing what they’re trying to do. There’s a myth of digital natives vs. digital immigrants, grouped based on age. I don’t believe in that. Everyone relates to digital technology differently. It has to do with whether you like to play and experiment. At the same time, I do believe that in the next few years more people will embrace technology as the true digital natives come of age.

How deeply do you think technology will change the classroom? Is it just a matter of the means to learn, or will it also influence the actual content? 

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” The way we communicate can determine what it is we communicate. It shapes the way we look at the world. When I was in college and I had to do research, I pulled out tomes of abstracts. Now, the way we do research has changed, and as a result, what we find has too.

The ISTE Conference talked about revolutions in history that affected how we approach the world. The invention of mass-produced books caused more and more people to learn to read, which changed how people approached knowledge and ultimately changed the world. What is 21st-century literacy? How are we teaching kids collaboration and how to create knowledge – or is knowledge so readily available that that’s already happening?

What is the role of technology in today’s Jewish education?

Right now we’re there with everyone else – not necessarily ahead of the curve. We are trying to figure out the best way of creating a Jewish tomorrow. It’s not longer the cheder or Hebrew School; it’s now something very different. We’re experimenting – with games, b’nai mitzvah tutoring via Skype, and web-based platforms. Whether it’s a virtual school, distant learning, or the prosumerism Jonathan Woocher talks about, we as Jewish educators need to embrace the trends that will take us to the next level, and who knows where we’ll end up.

Peter blogs at The Fifth Child and tweets as @redmenace56.

Naomi Less

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Naomi Less – Jewish rock singer, experiential educator, and ritual facilitator – founded Jewish Chicks Rock to empower and ignite young Jewish women and girls to express themselves through music. She is a founding company member and director of education and training for Storahtelling and recently released her new CD, “The Real Me.” Naomi is a strong proponent of “the butterfly effect,” whereby her actions as a network weaver create a ripple of effects that even she may be unaware of.

What impact will adopting a networked approach have on the Jewish world?

There have been major – and I think positive – implications for the Jewish world. For existing networks, once participants in a program or project know that they can ask each other for support and share resources themselves, they don't need to rely on big trainings, top-down infrastructures, or in-person gatherings. Instead, they can find help, and get results, much faster. This is not a new innovation, but now the pace is much quicker due to access to information.

Network-weaving also allows new ideas to scale more quickly. Instead of working in isolation, you can easily find others in different communities who might be interested. Then, for example, from one Rosh Hashanah event or potluck Shabbat dinner, an interesting idea can gain traction and move quickly through the Jewish community, possibly helped by the creation of a network on facebook. Another example: This could explain the quick emergence of Occupy Judaism events across the US – the different cities are not dependent on each other, but know we can safely talk to each other and share ideas.

How has network-weaving benefited the field of Jewish education?

There has long been the complaint that Jewish education is 5-10 years behind the secular curve in terms of technology. Networks have shifted that. Networks like Darim convene people, connecting them to each other; Jewish Futures is sharing ideas, connections, and practices. Ideas that would have taken an in-person conference to explore are now moving around much more rapidly. For instance, Darim recently held a webinar on using QR codes. I predict that you're going to see QR codes crop up pretty quickly – because of the network around Darim, and because of people like me who attended and are network-weavers who will quickly adopt, use and share out that information, layering network upon network. Especially when these networks are made up of people who also manage networks, the dissemination of best practices happens at an exponential rate – and this has revolutionary power.

Can you describe some characteristics of successful network-weavers?

For me, there are two core ideas of practice: authenticity and insatiable curiosity.

Insatiable Curiosity: You need to ask questions not because you stand to gain from the answers but simply because you honestly want to know; you are insatiably curious about the other. Inherent in insatiable curiosity is deep listening: listening for what's there, what’s not there, and drawing people out in the process. The information you find leads you to the next question, and the next (that’s why it’s called insatiable) – you enjoy “interviewing” people without pressure, just for fun. Most likely, somewhere down the line the information you find out will be helpful to someone – but more importantly, the conversation will help build the relationship.

Authenticity: I work with teens a lot, and teens can smell authenticity a mile away. So can anyone else! The definition of authenticity is being your true self, being the real you, and being real about situations when you’re dealing with others. If you are asking someone for information, for instance, you should be honest in what you’re asking and why. Authentic requests cause people to place trust in you, and it’s likely they’ll come back to you if they need something as well.

What advice would you give to someone looking to weave networks?

If you're only interested in making connections to get a project done, network-weaving isn’t the job for you. You need to fundamentally like and be interested in people. As a successful network-weaver, those you connect will be more invested in you as a person than in your organization or product – it’s important to understand that, and the power of it.

The more we learn about what networks can and should do, the more we can anticipate and use the space of our networks to achieve our goals.

Naomi Less tweets as @jchicksrock and her website is  
Her music can be found on itunes and

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Do the Math

While I’ve been having lots of fascinating conversations about how terms like “community,” “network,” and “network-weaver” are actively experienced, to get to the bottom of some precise definitions, inevitably you have to do the math.

Fortunately, I can help you do that, with thanks to Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s Linked for enlightening me (including with some quantum mechanics and molecular biology which I actually hope not to get into here).

Imagine a group of nodes which are connected by links. Now, here are the definitions:
  • A network is simply a map of these nodes and links.
  • A community exists amongst a group of nodes if there are links between all of them – resulting in there being more links between those nodes than to outlying nodes. 
  • A network weaver is someone who works to raise the number of links within this map of nodes and links (i.e. network).
There is an easy way to measure how tightly-knit a group of nodes is. You simply divide the number of links that currently exist between the nodes by the total possible number if they all were connected – this is called the clustering coefficient. In a community, the clustering coefficient is 1. In increasing the number of links between nodes, network-weaving should raise the clustering coefficient over time.

There, that was easy. Now, what are some of the mathematical properties of how a network connects links between nodes?

Among the first mathematicians who set out to tackle graph theory, Erdos and Renyi, created models where they connected nodes with the assumption that there’s an equal probability that any node will get a link – resulting in a rather democratic and geometrically patterned network. Subsequently, their assumption was proven untrue in real-life networks, as Barabasi documents in networks as diverse as actors in Hollywood and links between Web pages. Here’s why – nodes and links are governed by certain properties:
  • Growth: The number of nodes in a network is observed to change over time, as new ones appear on the scene (and old ones exit). This gives an advantage to those who showed up first – there is a higher probability that they will get the links.
  • Preferential attachment: Nodes actually prefer to link to nodes that already have lots of links (we will call these the hubs). In fact, it was found that the probability a node will link to a second node is proportional to the number of links the second node already has.
  • Fitness: Even given the last two properties, there are nodes that show up late in the game and yet at the end of the day lots of nodes end up having a preferential attachment to link to them (think Google). Why? Each node has a fitness: an ability to attract links compared to the ability of everyone else. Bring on the competition.
Of course, there are many intriguing lessons that can be retrieved from this math. I’d like to focus on one basic one. In their ground-breaking work, Erdos and Renyi seem to have left a legacy of a popular regard for networks as creating the effect of “bringing in the masses” – when you open up a system so that it self-organizes with equal probability that any given node will link to any other given node, who knows what will connect where (and, by extension, who will get the power inherent in the links)? However, as I’ve been saying (and I now have the math to back me up here), this is simply not the case. A network’s links develop according to probabilities that are not equal for each node – they are based on such properties as fitness, growth, and preferential attachment that enable hubs to emerge. That's what makes things interesting.

How does all of this play out in real life, in real time, say, in the Jewish world? How can it be leveraged by hubs and those who wish to become hubs? More on the applications to come – but at least we did the math!

Monday, December 19, 2011

David Wolkin

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

After serving for many years as a volunteer, David Wolkin is now the Executive Director of Limmud NY. This transition has given him an interesting perspective on networks, the value they hold for participants, and their role in the Jewish world. David has also served in a variety of Jewish educational capacities and received his MA in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

What is a network?

It’s an overlapping series of webs between people. In many cases, some subset of these webs are entirely aware of the connections that exist; others aren’t aware of how they are a part of that system that forms and shares relationships. What emerges as a result of that tends to be very organic.

To what extent is purposeful network-creation necessary in the Jewish world?

Organizers of every Jewish program should be thinking about themselves as creating space for people to connect with each other. If you just say: We’re going to create a space to put people together – you’re going to be satisfied with results of that to some extent. You need to think about the kind of space you’re creating, and as many people as possible having voices in its creation is crucial. But sometimes you don’t need anything else. A lot of programs are doing that. They’re saying: We’re here to connect people and ideas, and the way to do that is through the formation of relationships. It’s all about placing an emphasis on relationships. Networks emerge from that.

How does Limmud exemplify that kind of space?

There’s a shift taking place where we’re seeing the growth of movements based on shared experience. That’s the idea that we can all be in same room and totally disagree about everything, and still be Jews together. Our ideology doesn’t say what it means to be Jewish – I think it puts the emphasis on how to bring people together, how to figure that out. Limmud’s ideology is a set of values that pushes towards the creation of these shared experiences.

I became Executive Director of Limmud in June. Before that I was involved several years as a volunteer, and I spent 10-15 years in Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative communities, across different worlds. I can see that Limmud is a space that can bring people from all those worlds together. If you can come to Limmud, you can be exposed to a very wide spectrum of what it means to be Jewish in New York. It’s also an ideal networking space, creating a non-hierarchical environment for leaders, teachers, and volunteers.

How does the fact that it’s non-hierarchical influence Limmud?

Primarily, Limmud is place of convergence for many different kinds of Jews and the people who love them. These people fill different roles. There are people who come to teach at the conference, with various skills and backgrounds. There are people who plan the conference; they have year-round interaction with each other. And there are the people who just come to enjoy the Limmud NY experience, though we do ask everyone to volunteer at the conference. The values of Limmud indicate that all these people are at the same level. No terms such as rabbi or doctor are listed with the presenters – it’s just people’s names. There is the same emphasis on the person holding the spotlight and the person standing in the spotlight.

How does this non-hierarchical structure play out in Limmud learning?

Especially as a growing global movement, I think Limmud provides the sort of learning that is relevant to people – they want to be treated as both teachers and learners. The people who are making the decisions when it comes to creating the program are not the institutional deciders in Jewish community – but they’re members of different communities in various way. They come from all across the board. People are putting serious passions into it, and that’s the most beautiful part.

What is the role of the individual in this experience?

Anyone who goes to Limmud can create an individualized experience for themselves. They can go to anything they read about that sounds interesting. One area I want to work on is strengthening the Limmud experience for teens. They can decide what class they want to go to, which isn’t the case in other Jewish experiences they’re exposed to. Limmud empowers them in their learning decisions – no matter what sessions they choose to go to, they’re in a massive Jewish learning experience.

What do you hope will emerge from bringing people together at Limmud?

I believe fervently in the idea of positive unintended consequences. There’s no way of predicting exactly what happen when we bring people together each year, what kinds of connections are formed between them. Something different is going to happen every time – and it’s going to be incredible. Ideally, our volunteers will feel a commitment to continue being involved in some way, and other people will say: I want to help create this experience next year. Others will say: I was exposed to powerful Jewish experiences that I would not necessarily have encountered elsewhere, and I’d live to pursue these new opportunities once I get home.

David Wolkin tweets as @david_wolkin.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Response to Hayim Herring's "Network Judaism"

Rabbi Hayim Herring’s “Network Judaism: A Fresh Look at the Organization of the American Jewish Community” (Wilstein Institute of Jewish Policy Studies, 2001) puts forward the idea that we think of the American Jewish community as a “network organization” – defining network organizations basically as organizations that work together while remaining autonomous (p. 20).

This is presented as opposed to sociologist Daniel Elazar’s model of viewing the community as a magnet “that attract Jews closer to the center based on the degree of their inner Jewish content” (p. 3) – resulting in “a series of uneven concentric circles, radiating outward from a hard core of committed Jews toward areas of vague Jewishness on the fringes” (Community and Polity,1995, p. 91).

I’d like to put forward that I do not believe these two models are incompatible. In fact, I actually believe that an application of the magnet model can shed some light on the network model. Within a network, chances are that all the nodes that are connected are not equal. Herring is very uncomfortable with being judgmental on this front in the form of categorizing Jews based on how “committed” they are (which he generally views as being defined more traditionally in terms of synagogue membership, etc.) However, the reality is that those that are connected will have different “inner content” – which I define more broadly and hopefully less judgmentally in terms of the information they have, the connections, and yes, their Jewish beliefs and the degree and direction of their efforts toward Jewish causes.

What happens is that those in the network are “attracted” to others whose ideas resonate with them, with whom they can, therefore, form potential collaborations. I believe this does create a kind of “magnet effect,” which is born out through social network analysis, which shows where nodes are clustering around other nodes (the latter I prefer to think about as the “network weavers.”)

Herring’s view is that “the magnet model is based on a traditional, linear, ‘command and control’ centralized model of organization….the assumption is that a small group of people at the top can set goals and objectives for those at the bottom” (p. 12). However, this is only true when it is actually applied to a hierarchical structure. When applied within a network, goals and objectives are not set by those at the top, but rather by those who have the most clout (social capital, trust, well-received ideas, etc.)

Within the network model itself, Herring speaks of organizations being networked with other organizations. This is quite different from, but confused in the paper with, the idea of an organization working in a networked way with its own constituency. For example, Herring’s illustration of the network model does not directly pertain to how organizations could collaborate, but rather focuses on a member of the constituency, Ben Bayit, and his journey through a fictitious Jewish community. I understand that this was intentionally done to illustrate that “the network organization model places the individual at the center of the community” (p. 25). However, how an organization views an individual is, to me, a separate issue from how an organization works with other organizations. While it is mentioned that the organizations that Ben interacts with are networked, there are other points being made, which Herring outlines after the story (p. 24), as to how each organization itself could change its structures to be more “user-friendly” and less committee-reliant.

If Herring is going to speak of a network itself adopting networked practices, it should be noted that there is a tension between the very idea of organizations as Herring describes them in his illustration and networks. Organizations have a certain structure and even hierarchy to them, whereas networks may choose to coalesce and structure themselves in completely different ways. As Herring himself quotes Dent (1998), network organizations consist of “self-managing teams in a chaotic, real-time process that is organized around the ever-changing needs of individual customers” (p. 20). Are the Jewish Community Education Services Office, Welcome Committee, JCC, etc. which Herring describes networked to such a degree?

I want to clarify that I do feel that it would be highly beneficial for Jewish organizations to adopt more of a networked approach – in order to actively engage more of a constituency that already thinks and behaves in these terms. However, this may entail an organization that focuses more along lines that Herring actually outlines in his original description of networked organizations (“the role of leadership is to diffuse decision-making,” “use technology in order to organize people,” “high degree of collaboration, and form teams around specific projects,” “clarity of purpose or vision” p. 21).

In the final policy recommendations of Jewish Networking: Linking People, Institutions, Community, Herring’s two suggestions having to do with the internal networked nature of an organization are that Jewish institutions focus on a new marketing strategy and internal communications capacity. While I do believe these elements are important (particularly the internal communications), along with a new external marketing strategy it is necessary to actually shift some of the ways of thinking of the organization as a whole, and organizations should be aware of and prepared for that.

In the beginning, Herring speaks about the entire Jewish community “as a network organization, that achieves its focused mission through dynamic relationships and not through hierarchical structures” (p. 4). This, to me, rings true – after all, I would argue that the Jewish people have been a network for as long as we’ve been a people, with relationships connecting, some might even say preserving, us across space and time. The paper raised provocative questions for me as to what that looks like on an organizational level and what role organizations play in this global network.

I'd like to thank Naava Frank for directing me to Hayim Herring's "Network Judaism" - and even providing me with my own autographed copy! Thanks, Naava, for all your advice and encouragement.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Arnold D. Samlan

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

Arnold D. Samlan, MSW, is a Jewish educator, rabbi, Jewish life coach, and founder of Jewish Connectivity, which offers creative and innovative ways to link Jews to one another and to Jewish values and texts. 

What is a network-weaver?

Long before the phrase was invented, I referred to myself as a “switchboard operator” – someone whose way of operating was always to connect people to people or people to ideas. What it really means is to be very conscious of people’s strengths and abilities as well as of what you as the weaver are out there to accomplish. Then, you put this together and mash it all up, so that you are accomplishing your goals and at the same time in very powerful ways enabling the people who are part of the network to achieve theirs. It’s all about win-win: everyone wins, the weaver and all of the people in the network.

What for you is the goal of network-weaving – or do you do it for its own sake?

My whole practice of network-weaving emanates from the Jewish concept of b’tzelem elohim, that each person has been created in the image of G-d. For me, it all moves toward a goal. My goal is natural to me in terms of my training in social work, professional coaching, and as a rabbi – it’s to enable people to become more effective, in a very intentional way. In some places, there is a specific outcome I’m trying to achieve, and in that case I’m very conscious that there’s a long-term goal. For instance, in working with informal educators in Westchester, I’m building the professionalism and prestige of youth work and youth workers.

How is network-weaving different today than it was in the past?

Network-weaving is a skill that’s far more essential to how we operate today. Because knowledge and information come quicker at us than at any other time, the idea that you can be an expert in all things is passé. But if you have a network of people who can synergize with you to put together a more complete body of knowledge that can help you in your personal and professional life, that’s very powerful.

Is there a Jewish component to network-weaving?

When I study Talmud, I see a network than transcends time and space. People have been involved in dynamic conversations and knowledge-creation with people thousands of years across time. I actually created a professional learning session for Kehilliyot going through sections of Talmud and exploring the rabbis who were talking over a couple thousands years: the network of who was involved with the conversation and how they were connected to each other. You could take any conversation in Judaism that spans a few hundred years and create a great network map. For instance, Hillel and Shamai disagreed about the manner in which to light the Chanukah candles (Talmud, Shabbat); you have students disagreeing and discussing, then the students of the students – a few generations living in Israel and Babylonia across a few centuries. Today we’re still figuring out which opinion we follow; we’re still engaged in the conversation.

I’m not saying this isn’t true about other cultures, but it’s particularly true about how Jewish knowledge is built and continues to be vibrant and alive. In this sense, network-weaving is reclaiming a Jewish ability.

How are these Jewish lessons of network-weaving applicable in today’s world?

I really think that throughout history, people involved in the big Jewish conversations recognized that they weren’t just having conversations with the people in front of them, but also people all over. Today we’re creating networks in ways that weren’t as possible before we could cross the time-space continuum like we can today due to the use of technology. Hopefully technology can be used so that more people will feel empowered to join these conversations.

Arnold tweets as @JewishConnectiv and blogs at The Notorious R.A.V

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Miriam Brosseau

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

Miriam Brosseau works with The Jewish Education Project and Darim Online to help congregations and early childhood centers use social media and web-based tools to communicate and collaborate with one another more effectively. She is also half of the rocking Bible-gum pop duo Stereo Sinai

What is a network?

A network is a system of purposeful relationships – and purposeful is the key term. A network is built on a foundation of trust. In particular, you trust that by engaging in a certain network you can gain access to the people, ideas, and resources to achieve your purpose.

What is the role of a network-weaver?

Network-weavers are those who observe the network and identify hotspots where there is potential for collaboration. They tighten, loosen, and introduce new ties as needed.

What are some best practices in network-weaving you’d like to share?

1. Define your goal and know your purpose.
2. Listen first.
3. Give before you get.
4. Think in systems. As you develop your network, existing networks can either be leveraged to your advantage, ignored, or could be a hindrance. Be thoughtful and intentional as you think about how you can acknowledge and harness them – and how you and the players in your network can add value.

What does it mean to live in a “networked world” and where will this concept take us in the future?

As social networking opens up, networks free themselves of time and space. You can be pulled into a conversation regardless of where you are and when. This concept is hugely powerful. Once we’re not forced to interact based on geographic proximity, we can find people and create community based more specifically on our interests and expertise, resulting in lots of highly differentiated communities.

In the future, there will continue to be a tension between wanting to organize your personal system with a variety of general apps you use frequently in one place versus wanting highly differentiated, highly customizable apps. My sense is that networks are the mediating piece between that push and pull – and that an organization engaged in network-building can both be highly differentiated and be part of a go-to system for broadening views, thereby offering a unique added value.

Probably, in the future, social will be considered more of a feature than a platform. Right now you go to specific platforms for social interactions (i.e. facebook or twitter). But more and more social is becoming a feature integrated into different platforms. for instance in sites that are gamified. Social is moving in that direction; that potential is where its value lies.

How is this networked world impacting Jewish education?

We’re experiencing the radical democratization of Jewish education; it’s nothing short of that. It’s potentially the Limmud principle on a grand scale: everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner, and everyone adds value to the enterprise. That’s hugely powerful and really scary. The age of the sage on the stage is over. David Bryfman speaks about how we can’t look at our learners as empty vessels waiting to be filled, where we’re disseminating info and they’re absorbing it. The digital age has forced us to look at students as capable of contributing and creating.

What’s the difference between a community and a network, or is there one?

I think ‘community’ tends to ring more as a feeling. ‘Network’ can be turned into a verb; ‘community’ can’t.

To what extent do networks break down or create social barriers?

We all have our blinders and can only see so much of the world. That’s why networks, collaboration, and community are so important. When we have trusted collaborators at our side, we get a better understanding of the world and how to change it. Yet inherent to that is the desire to have control over who you’re choosing to be in your network. At the same time, so does everyone else. I think a healthy, high-functioning network will be reflective enough, with enough of a sense of self, to know where it’s lacking and how to reach those new perspectives.

Miriam tweets as @miriamjayne.

Deborah Harris

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

Deborah Harris is a technology coordinator at Solomon Schechter Middle School in Northbrook, IL and teaches religious school at the Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism. She has been teaching kids – and fellow Jewish educators – how to maximize the use of technology for the past 14 years, during which time she has witnessed and participated in the ongoing revolution of the field.

Can you describe what “network” means to you?

If I were creating a curriculum unit before there were computers, I’d call colleagues I’d had face-to-face interactions with and ask for advice. That hasn’t changed; I still go to those people if I want to talk things through. But if I’m researching something and throw it out on Twitter, I could have dozens of responses from people I’ve never met. I’ve made some really fascinating connections and now have a network of hundreds of people. After a while, I’ve gotten to feel like I really know these people, but I could be standing behind them in the store and not know it.

What does “network-weaving” mean to you?

It means intentionally forming networks, and then getting together in same virtual space at the same time for a very specific purpose. For instance, a group of us came together to decide whether or not to have a conference on technology in education. But I feel like I like it better when it’s very organic – it feels forced, otherwise.

What is the impact of a networked approach on the field of education?

Take Salman Kahn’s concept of the flipped classroom. It’s been all over the Twitterverse, with educators talking about their attempts to flip their classrooms. That’s an example of a form that used to have taken a long time to catch on – instead, you find out about those things immediately. There’s also an increased opportunity for students to be networked. I became friendly with an educator in Haifa, and we created a closed network for our students to communicate. Kids got really excited about it; I saw them posting at 10 pm.

How do you think the power of networks can be further harnessed in education?

I have this dream that we can use technology to transform education. It makes so much sense to say to students: let’s look at what it is that you’re really passionate about. Can we look more at the skills we’re trying to teach as opposed to the hard knowledge and use technology to teach those skills? We’re testing this with one 6th-grade class. In language arts class, they will research anything they want for the month of February. They’ll be assigned to a faculty mentor and create a product. Our 8th graders are making book trailers. All along we’ve been teaching them how to work collaboratively, sequence, and write narratives. Technology gives us new ways to do it using multimedia. I’m also very interested in the field of game-based learning, and how can we use the tools that are out there to infuse education.

How do your students approach the use of technology?

The Internet has been around the entire lives of the kids I teach. Their access to info is mind-blowing. It has made the world in some ways much smaller for them. We go online and find an interview with the author of the book they were assigned, and they watch it on the smartboard. We had an awe of these kinds of tools, because we saw how transformative they were. They have no awe; they’re now walking around with phones that can do the same.

What skills do you have to teach the new generation of learners when knowledge is so easily accessible?

We’re teaching our kids how to approach online access from a Jewish values standpoint, through digital citizenship classes and in rabbinics and language arts classes. We teach them to ask: Where did that information come from? Do you have permission to use it? Most important is assessing the overwhelming volume of information they’re exposed to. They have to become critical curators of information.

Deborah tweets as @tktchr and blogs at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Naava Frank

This interview is cross-posted at eJewishPhilanthropy - thanks to eJP all its work in raising the community's consciousness about the importance of Jewish network-weaving!

The interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

Naava Frank has always been interested in Jewish education and groups. After completing her doctorate at Harvard Graduate School of Education about the impact of summer Israel programs on adolescents, she worked for PEJE for 8 years and helped start PEJE’s communities of practice. She founded Knowledge Communities and was recipient of a 2006 Covenant Grant for ‘Kehilliyot Da'at: A CoP Meta Community for Jewish Professionals, to advance the implementation of communities of practice in national Jewish umbrella organizations that promote Jewish education and heritage. She joined YU to build a network of day school professionals, which is now providing them with ongoing professional development.

Can you describe what “network-weaving” means to you?

It’s an intentional effort to connect people with each other around the things they care about. It’s a mindset that understands that there’s value in that. To do it, you need to get to know people; you need to find out what they care about; you need to find out what they’re missing; and then you need to work to help people connect. The whole concept of a network of relationships is so prominent in Jewish history!

What added value do network-weavers gain from weaving networks? 

I think the network-weaver gets the nachas factor. It’s great when you help people and see accomplishments as a result. Networks create new things in the world, and being involved in the creative process is meaningful.

Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “Today we live in a networked world”? What challenges exist and what opportunities?

The communications revolution, including social media and email, has affected so much. Take, for example, conference planning. It used to be that to plan a conference you sat with a committee in a room. You couldn’t wait for people to respond to letters asking what they wanted to see in the conference, and then write back again if you needed clarification. Now we can collaborate instantaneously. We can be much more in touch with the target audience, the people we’re offering services to and want to engage. But there are challenges as well. It takes a different set of skills, a certain amount of training and sophistication, to be able to weigh input. When you’re working with a group and need to come to decisions, there’s no way to meet everyone’s needs. You need to learn how to work with a community, get input, and make decisions so that disparate constituents are satisfied.

What, to you, is the difference between a network and a community? Or is there one?

A community has a shared set of values: shared interests and passions. Members are aware of each other and committed to the strength of community in a way that at times will lead to their making choices to put the good of the community before their individual good. A network is much more dispersed; it doesn’t come with the same sense of commitment. Relationships in a network are much weaker. As soon as they become closer, it becomes a community.  Following the work of June Holley, I see communities as a subset of networks.

What is a community of practice?

A community of practice is a group of professionals who make a commitment to come together on a regular basis to learn from each other to strengthen themselves as professionals, in the process strengthening their organizations.  The term was coined by Etienne Wenger.

Are there any networks you wish you could start – or have started?

At the YU School Partnership (YUSP), the vision is to create a network of Jewish day school educators, administrators, parents, and board members. We’re in a period of enormous upheaval in education, dealing with the implications of technology and financial challenges. But it is also a time of enormous opportunity. We need to harness that energy and opportunity to advance the education of those who educate our children.

What’s exciting is that – as articulated by network theory –innovations happen at places in the network where ideas collide. At YUSP we are in touch with Jewish day school professionals around the country and help them share their work.  We help professionals face their challenges, feel supported and understand that they’re not alone, share resources, and ultimately make a difference in their work. In one of our communities of practice, a teacher posted an example of a homework assignment given to a class, and thanks to the use of technology, teachers in another school saw it and reported. It started a “homework revolution” among their teachers.  This is how helpful ideas are spread.

What are some implications of networks in Jewish education?

I think that in Jewish education, and education in general, teachers have been isolated. It’s a profession where you just enter a classroom and do your thing. But research affirms the importance of educators learning from each other. The enormous, rapid change happening means that people have to develop new skills and strategies, and they can’t do that alone. There’s some resistance to sharing curriculum and ideas, some vulnerability in that, but there’s also enormous power to strengthen the Jewish community through supporting each other. For the next number of decades, there will be rapid change, and there’s a lot to learn. One of the best ways to learn is with peers.

To what extent do you believe networks are democratizing or self-selecting?

In their natural form, networks can be open and democratizing, but they can also be the opposite. Al Qaida, for instance, is a very powerful network. The fact is that people tend to stick to their own kind, and when people full of misconceptions and prejudice come together, they can feed on each other. This is not productive. That is exactly why the role of the network-weaver is important. A network-weaver is good at bringing new people in, challenging misconceptions, and helping people over prejudice when encountered. It can be hard to listen to someone with a conflicting view, but as an educator, I know it’s important, will help you grow, and benefits the community or network as a whole.

Dr. Scott Goldberg, Director of YUSP, believes there is value created by homogenous as well as heterogeneous groupings.  We convene Modern Orthodox schools and also convene seven cross-denominational communities of practice based on shared-interest and collaborate with other denominational networks on the North American Jewish Day School Conference.

To find out more about YU School Partnership and its communities of practice go to 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dave Weinberg

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

I had the chance to talk with Dave Weinberg, a social media guru who runs Causil, which helps organizations learn best practices in marketing, technology, and communications. A serial social entrepreneur, he helps newly emerging social entrepreneurs as a SocialStart Trainer with PresenTense.

What is a “network”? What is a “network weaver”?

These days, a network is the extension of the definition of what a state used to be – a place with a defined language, space, and culture – except these days a space could also be an online space, and a culture could be defined in terms of a common passion. A network weaver is someone who can tie disparate parts of a community together and grow it.

What added value do you gain from participating in networks?

It’s the idea of a relationships bank. A lot of what I do in business is outreach and incubating relationships. By doing that, I create a bank of good will without having any expected return, at least anything specific. But if over time I have a large enough network with enough good will, good things will come of it.

What to you is the difference between a network and a community? Or is there one?

I think they’re interchangeable. I would use community most likely as it relates to a physical place, or an online place that’s well-defined. A network can be loosely organized; people affiliate around different topics or people. For instance, a network could be comprised of fans of a celebrity, and I wouldn’t call that a community.

Can you explain a little about how social media has influenced how people connect and form networks?

I’ve branded myself as someone who is both very vocal and public, and at the same time very accessible. While we’ve been talking, I’ve been chatting with someone on facebook – someone who I haven’t spoken with in 15 years, who felt comfortable reaching out to ask me for advice.

Could you describe some best practices you use to connect with others and leverage these connections, personally and professionally?

Your real-world relationships have to be just as strong as your online ones. It goes back to the relationships bank – you can’t pull anything out of the bank until you’ve put in.

I try to live by the mantra: Never eat alone. I make lunch and coffee meetings just to meet new people. Whenever I travel – and I travel a lot – I use online tools to tell people where I’ll be and when I’ll have open hours. Until you connect with someone face to face, figure out how you really connect, and try to do something together, you’ll be friends online, but that won’t be as meaningful.

Are there any networks you wish you were part of or wish you could start?

One that doesn’t exist is in the job market. As a Jewish community, we have had a hard time connecting potential employees and employers. I created ParnassaFest – we did 30 meetups around the US and Canada, which helped about 6,000 people in one year. As an extension of that, Causil Talent will have a database of applicants and organizations in the Jewish world.

What is some advice you’d give to network-weavers?

Look at successful models, both in our community and outside. Learn what’s been successful and adapt it. Also, come back periodically and assess what you’ve been doing – your model should constantly be evolving.

Dave Weinberg tweets as @weinberg81.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anita Silvert

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

I'm pleased to introduce Anita Silvert, singer, songwriter, Jewish educator, and the Co-Chair of this year’s Limmud Chicago. She holds a master’s from Spertus College and works in Solomon Schechter Day School teaching English, Bible, and Rabbinical Studies. 

Can you describe what “network-weaving” means to you?

It used to mean just knowing a lot of people. But it’s evolved to mean: being able to see how disparate things can work together. It’s being able to see a big chessboard and sense where people might fit in a bigger picture.

Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “Today we live in a networked world”? What challenges exist?

I definitely think the world has become more networked, because technology has allowed it to become that way. The sphere in which we operate now is global, and that’s different than it used to be. The challenge in this is that you can forget your own backyard.

What to you is the difference between a network and a community? Or is there one?

A network is more purpose-oriented – I network for a particular reason, and it feels like an aspect of work. Community is more about daily life – who is there for me on a regular daily basis. But I definitely think they overlap; people in your network can sometimes become part of your community. Moreover, both networks and communities are composed of people you are purposefully engaging with. We are all members of lots of communities and networks which sometimes overlap, like a Venn-diagram.

To what extent does social media influence how you connect with others and form networks and communities?

Facebook is part of my daily life – it has connected me with people I went to high school with. I’m learning about twitter. I haven’t developed friendships with it yet; I’m using it in more of a utilitarian way – I want to get my name out there, to get people to understand who I am, and to read interesting things for work. It’s fascinating to see what other people are saying and reading. It’s a real advantage to know what the trends are and what people are into. If I had always depended solely on the Chicago Tribune, I wouldn’t have found out about It Gets Better or have heard as much about Occupy Wall Street.

Could you tell a little about your blog, why you started it, how it’s been rewarding?

I was trained in Bibliodrama by Dr. Peter Pitzele – developing contemporary midrash using theater techniques of improvisation and role playing – which really meshed theater and Torah for me. When I began writing Dvrei Torah while working at the JCC, I discovered the perfect combination of theater and wrestling with the text, and I realized that I was finding my voice in doing it. I made the conscious decision that continuing it in the form of a blog would allow me to establish a professional presence in the Jewish community as a Torah-wrestler with a contemporary voice; as an educator and writer; as someone who can speak and teach. I now have a documented history of engagement with the text, and it has led to other opportunities, such as my blog at JUF News

Anita Silvert blogs at and tweets as @AnitaSilvert.

Engaging Your Network

The following is cross-posted from its original publication in eJewishPhilanthropy. Great conversation about network-weaving happening there - thrilled to be a part of it!

Jewish engagement is a goal to which many Jewish organizations aspire. Conversations around how to develop networks and harness the power of social media to gain and connect constituents are occurring in the Jewish discourse. These are encouraging trends that bode well for the Jewish world, and organizations should be applauded for choosing to expend efforts in these areas.

Amidst the hype around networks and engagement, Jewish organizations would do well to focus in on two practically-oriented questions: 1) What do you want your network to achieve? 2) How can your ideal candidate for engagement concretely contribute toward that achievement?

You want your network to contribute to achieving the big picture (the outcomes), which will further your organization’s vision and mission – “increasing Jewish identity” or “creating Jewish community.” To realize these, you need activities (outputs) – such as conferences, webinars, events, or the production of blog posts, videos, or guides.

To do any of this, you need to enlist human capital – a crucial resource that networks, and arguably organizations, are built on. Yet it can be a slippery asset, especially when it comes to lay participants, who have options as to where to invest their time and/or money. Your answer to one magic question – and your follow-through – can determine whether they choose to invest it with you: How do I get involved?

Here are some tips as to how to answer – and how to recruit even more people to ask:

Learn something about the person who wants to get involved: Understanding the needs and skills of the individual can help you tailor available opportunities – both making them more appealing to your volunteer and also making the volunteer more likely to succeed in a chosen role.

Start with offering a small, achievable task: Volunteers can get discouraged if they find themselves “spinning their wheels” without something concrete to do. Accomplishing tasks makes them useful parts of your endeavor – and enables them to feel a sense of accomplishment and progress. Of course, for this to work, it is essential that these tasks are productive, contributing directly to your outputs and by extension outcomes.

Try your best to be inclusive, positive, and welcoming: When someone is well-meaning and enthusiastic but not perfectly suited for any available tasks, there is a fine line to be drawn as to whether to spend extra energy in engaging the individual or to determine that it is simply not a good fit. My advice in making these decisions would always be to err on the side of finding ways for participation – if after all your goal is engagement, and with the understanding that each individual brings to the table a unique outlook, set of experiences, and connections (this clearly does not apply if the candidate is in any way destructive or disrespectful to others). If you find yourself turning away too many qualified and passionate candidates, it might be time to consider if you are in fact not providing enough or the right opportunities for participation. If you are not receiving that many requests to get involved, do you project an image of being inclusive and welcoming? Do you broadcast your opportunities for involvement?

It is important to think through whether you are in fact providing a sufficient number and quality of activities. Moreover, it is important to consider whether these activities do in fact work toward what you want your organization’s impact to be. Yet it may be even more crucial to effectively recruit the right participants. Any participant is a potential ally who can help you along the way – and their investment and others like it can add up to building a network which achieves success.

Therefore, learning to be a network-weaver – one adept at the steps of engagement and at otherwise converting raw human capital into results – is a crucial skill for a Jewish professional working in engagement in today’s networked world. Such network-weavers – and the networks they weave – will be essential in engaging young Jews to achieve change in the Jewish world and beyond.

A Look at Google Sites

Many thanks to Darim for allowing me to share my Google Sites knowledge in a guest post on their blog JewPoint0 - and to cross-post it here! 

Managing lots of information, relationships, and resources can be a challenge for any organization. While it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of options on the market – and their pricing – there is one platform I recommend you explore, and it’s free: Google Sites.

I came across Google Sites while searching for solutions for managing the production of PresenTense Magazine, which entailed upward of 80 volunteers collaborating around 30 articles over the course of several months per issue. Our contributors spread from Los Angeles to Jerusalem to Budapest and everywhere in between. I needed to store items as varied as drafts of the articles themselves; spreadsheets recording who was working on what; and running blog-style thoughts from conference calls and online and in-person brainstorms. It was crucial that everyone on the team could easily access the information necessary to do their job – true when working with colleagues, and perhaps even more so when working with volunteers.

Satisfying all of these specifications could be seen as a challenge. However, once the right platform of Google Sites was discovered and properly developed, managing our bountiful ecosystem of data helped enable us to convert our advantages – such as geographic diversity, a multitude of ideas, and an eager crew of enthusiastic volunteers – into opportunities.

Here are some benefits, tips, and drawbacks I’ve discovered in Google Sites. I hope you will consider them and that they will similarly help you turn your organizational assets into opportunities.

Why use Google Sites?

Everything organized in one place.
Rather than dealing with a litany of Google Docs, you can not only store them in one place, but also use article-style pages to organize links to spreadsheets, blog pages, and “file cabinets” (where you can store files such as images, documents, or presentations).

Easy to learn to customize your own site.
To set up a site effectively might take a bit of practice, but it does not take knowledge of HTML. If you spend some time exploring the different template options, you can build a functional site in just a few clicks – and it is easily customizable to exactly your needs.

Convinced? Here’s how to use it!

Learn how to take advantage of the templates
Think about how the different templates could make sense for your use. The templates can be highly effective if you apply the right template to the right purpose. For instance, the template called “List” can be a to-do list or task management tool, a spreadsheet that stores contact information, or a list organizing other items stored in the site (i.e. you can link directly to article pages or file cabinets within the site). The templates each offer great flexibility so you can customize them for your purpose.

The more organized you can be, the better! 
You can at any point reorganize the skeleton outline of your site (which pages are organized under which other page). You can also create a table of contents which allows users to easily jump to the page they’re looking for. Take advantage of these organizational methods to make sure everyone working on the project can find what they need, fast.

A word of caution: A few Google Sites drawbacks

Not the best tool for engagement
While Sites is a great way to store information such that it is easily accessible, in my experience it has been difficult to use it to start conversations. Perhaps the user interface is not intuitive, or requires a greater investment of time to figure out than people who are just looking for information to do their job are willing to give.

Sharing can be a little complicated 
If you do not have a Google account, you have to go through the extra step of creating one. While in theory this should be an easy process, I have had some non-Gmail-users unable to find how to access Sites, and this can be a source of frustration. If your information isn’t particularly confidential, you could consider making the site public (viewable to anyone) for the duration of the project. I’ve used this approach at times and it has helped overcome this obstacle.

Whether or not you ultimately decide to use Google Sites, I do recommend that, before embarking on any new endeavor in iformation management, you take a moment to answer these questions yourself, and/or survey your coworkers on their thoughts and needs:
  • What tools do you currently use to manage your projects, and if they are not working, why not?
  • What functions are on your wish-list for information management?
Then, you can more knowledgeably find the tools that will work for you – and find ways to more consciously tailor and employ them for your specific purposes. After all, at the end of the day, tools are only as effective as what we make of them!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kate Belza

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here

Kate Belza is a student at the University of Virginia (UVA), where she is pursuing a religion studies major with a minor in leadership. Her religion advisor connected her with Darim, where she now interns (showing the true power of networking!). At Darim, she has been researching the ways Millenials think and work in social media and network-weaving and how to leverage the intersections between the two. 

Tell me a bit about your definition of a network.

When I think of networks, I think of relationships and relationship-building. A network starts with one person; those people connect to other people, who connect with others. Yet there is usually someone at the beginning who puts the network in motion (a network-weaver). As an example, I started a Challah for Hunger chapter at my university, UVA. When I spoke at Hillel, someone came up to me afterwards and said he would love me to meet his friend -- and now this friend is donating ingredients for challah-baking.
What value do you get from being a part of your networks?

A lot. I have people to go to for advice or to ask for resources. But mostly I get to be a part of conversations – both to take part and to listen. For instance, twitter is wonderful way both to network and talk to other people and to listen too.

Do you have a best practice in network-weaving you’d like to share?

I look for “connectors” – the people and/or organizations who are engaged in creating smaller networks and bring these people together. By finding and listening to the connectors, you can learn a lot about who is doing what.
Are there any networks you wished existed that you’d like to start?

I’d love to create an interaction between students and professionals – connecting people looking for mentorships, internships, and jobs with people already doing great work.

Kate Belza tweets as @kate_belza.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Noemi Szoychen

As an amazing first chapter to our Network-Weaver-Wisdom series, I had a wonderful conversation with Noemi Szoychen, a Jewish educator extremely passionate about topics ranging from technology to teaching, creativity to travel, Judaism to art. Here are some of her thoughts as a "Digital Immigrant" exploring the worlds of networking, community, education, and the arts - the collisions between them and her hopes for the future.

What do you think is the state of network development in Jewish education?

The Jewish world has opened up as never before with the possibilities of networking. At the same time, in Jewish education, there is a big gap opening up more every day between those – like myself – who want to transition into new things and those who don’t make space to deal with technology.

Do you have any tips for those who aren’t digital natives?

As someone who is myself not a digital native and has learned about networking, I’m now trying to get other educators interested in it. The truth is that you can’t train others to like it. Even when convinced of the benefits of sharing with others what they are teaching, many educators see it as doing extra work on their own time, not as something they themselves can also benefit from. Networking is not for everyone. You have to be open to this new work style, interested in learning new things, and good at communicating with other people for this to work for you.

One piece of advice: get people engaged in something that interests them on a personal level, even if it gets away from the focus on Jewish education. One person I worked with is an artist, and I asked, “Wouldn’t you like to have your art out there, so people could see it?” She had never thought of that before.

Moving to the next generation, how do you see the new trends in networking playing out?

In the new generation, the ways of networking and technology are going to be a given. I see my kids networking – no one teaches them to do that. I see my daughter working as a project manager in an online architectural designing place – she’s 10 years old and directing 20 people. These kids are working while they play. In another 10 years, I predict that most people will be working virtually from home – it will be a world without borders (I’d rather focus on the positives of this rather than the negatives).

What does the idea of community mean to you? Does it still resonate in a networked world?

Even though I do belong locally and have a circle of local friends, I have never felt I’m rooted in a specific place. I was born in one country and have lived in different countries and different states. When I started lacking that sense of community in my real world – specifically in terms of spirituality – I have found I was able to achieve the type of spirituality level I wanted through people I met online. Through online networking, I found different communities that have opened up and tried to reach people globally – places that are all-inclusive, without the barriers a lot of synagogues have. I have connected with people who think like me in three parts of the world: Israel, Argentina, and Mexico. The next step is to travel and get to know the people – I feel I already know them.

Could you describe some best practices you use to connect with others and leverage these connections, personally and professionally?

If I have something in mind – not just in Jewish education, but in a wide variety of things I like, such as art and music – I usually follow certain people and what they post, and I check it out in different websites. I try to learn from people I respect. If something really catches my eye, I start a Word doc and write down lots of ideas on what I’ve learned that day. I start thinking how this subject can be useful for certain groups of people I’m in contact with. I try at least once a week to come out with something new, a new suggestion, idea, or solution to someone’s posting of a problem.

Are there any networks you wish you were part of or wish you could start?

I wish there was a network that allowed the interaction between well-known artists (from all spectrums of the non-Jewish and Jewish art and media world) and educators who would be interested in including these artists’ work as a tool for teaching without worrying about the copyrights. This open network would distance itself from any politics or politically correct Jewish practice and rather present works as was originally intended. We all could benefit to hear directly from the artist themselves their vision and goals during the creation process.

Noemi Szoychen blogs at and tweets as @jewlearnit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wanted: Network-Weaver-Wisdom

I remain captivated by this concept of network development – how and why to adopt a networked approach to one’s work, the challenges, advantages, and implications. I’ve thought about it a great deal and written about it too.

Yet in a breakthrough moment I realized that in order to be truly successful as a network-weaver, the most logical way to go about finding answers to these questions is by taking my own advice – practicing a networked approach in talking to other network-weavers and sharing their advice and best practices.

I am therefore setting out to interview network-weavers. I’ll choose a few to start with, and in true networked style, will ask each for recommendations for subsequent people to interview. However, if you have thoughts you’d like to contribute, I would love to interview you! Please just let me know.

Looking forward to hopefully contributing some research to the budding field of network development – and to learning more myself in the process!

Update: Here is list of the network-weavers interviews up (so far!) If you would like me to interview you, please fill out the "Can I Interview You?" form on this blog!
Amihai Bannett
Kate Belza
Shalom Berger
Naava Frank 
Adina Frydman
Laurence Furic
Deborah Harris
Rachel Honeyman
Naomi Less
Ayelet Lichtash
Tomer Marshall
Nicky Newfield
Daniel Petter-Lipstein
Arnold D. Samlan
Anita Silvert 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sweet Potatoes, Stuffing - But What's Inside That Pumpkin?

I put a lot of pressure on myself around the holidays. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Passover, Rosh Hashana, or Thanksgiving -- you’ll find me agonizing over menus and shopping lists weeks in advance. In fact, my husband believes it’s possible that I derive more satisfaction from the planning and preparation portion of the experience than from the experience in and of itself.

Why? I couldn’t have told you myself, until I read Joan Nathan’s article in Tablet Magazine. She writes of Thanksgiving meals: “These dishes tell you who you are.”

To come through the force of fusing tradition and a personal touch of creativity to a place where you feel: I am these dishes – if you really took that seriously (which clearly I do), then yes, that’s a lot of responsibility.

It’s also a lot of power. I think about the Thanksgiving dishes I grew up on: sweet potatoes with marshmallows, for instance. For me this dish will forever be tied up in the very essence of Thanksgiving; it is impossible for me to imagine a Thanksgiving without it. I possess the power to similarly influence what my daughter’s quintessential Thanksgiving food associations will be – perhaps even, by extension, her basic understanding of her roots, of who she is.

So who is she? I wonder. We have my American side – the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, butternut squash, stuffing, pecan pie, the pumpkin pie. We also have my husband’s Israeli side – hummus (quite good with turkey actually!), Israeli salad, pita.

Finally, we have the Jewish/religious side, which includes the kosher turkey, of course. I also find myself preparing traditional foods of the Jewish parallel to Thanksgiving, Sukkot – such as a stuffed pumpkin. The common explanation for why we eat stuffed vegetables on Sukkot is based off an image of a cornucopia, of giving thanks for a harvest of plenty. I once heard a spiritual spin on it which has to do with hidden meanings. Think about it: The most important things in life are intangible, hidden from view. Inside of everyone there is a piece of these essences – of goodness and, ultimately, of the Divine. The mysteries of G-d’s grand plan might be hidden from us – but we have this spark in each of us to help us along the way.

In truth, I don’t think it’s just that the dishes tell us about ourselves. We have a hand in curating who we want to be – not just on the holiday table, but in our day-to-day lives as well. This is what we have to be thankful for – and the ability to share it with family and friends, of course.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ballet Class

I took my 2-year-old to ballet class for the first time. I was sure she was ready for it because she loves imitating the moves in that old Sesame Street clip of kids in dance class, and doing the “Snuffle Shuffle.” But when I tried to prep her by showing her selected YouTube clips of “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake,” she watched in a silence that I was sure was pure enthralled fascination, but could also have been a blank and uncomprehending stare – and then after 5 minutes yelled “Watch Oscar!” So maybe it’s just a love of Sesame Street.

I personally had watched the clips in, yes, enthralled fascination, which was also filled with nostalgia. My parents had taken me as a child to “The Nutcracker” every year – and every year I had dreamed that I could do it too. In fact, for 10 or so years of my childhood and adolescence, I spent 1-3 days a week trying.

When asked about these endeavors, I have a standard answer: “My parents knew I was going to be tall, and they wanted me to have good posture. So they sent me to ballet class.”

Tall I definitely turned out. If you looked across a row of girls in the class, I was easy to spot – I was the aberration shooting up out of the even horizontal line of their heights. (Good posture is more debatable.) I also inevitably turned out in ways differently than perhaps my parents envisioned – religiously observant of Judaism, for one.

Now I’m the parent, and I find myself projecting. What skills, values, and character will sending my daughter to ballet class draw out of her? For that matter, how will she be shaped by being sent to Jewish Day School? What other educational experiences should – or shouldn’t – we as parents instill into her to influence how she thinks and acts?  

If observance of Judaism complicates a girl’s practice of ballet in the long run, the religious implications of sending a 2-year-old to dance class may be slight. She doesn’t understand that there will be a big recital at the end of the year that she won’t attend because it’s on Shabbat. She also wouldn’t understand the difficulties inherent in an invitation for a playdate at a classmate’s house. Unlike me, she doesn’t pay attention to the parents trying to engage me in conversation about the rationale and means for getting a head start on Christmas shopping.

But someday she will. I can’t help but play it out in my head.

Ultimately, though, I come to realize that nurture only goes so far. My daughter is blessed with her own personality, reasoning and logic skills, and has her own likes and needs. From what I can tell as of right now, she’s the leader who doesn’t care if she has followers, who enters a room full of kids watching TV and, instead of sitting unobtrusively in the back as I might, marches up and positions herself in front of the very first row. I think she’ll do fine.

More importantly, I believe that it’s necessary for one’s identity to engage in the process – the experience – of working through these questions for oneself at some point.

For now, I just got great nachas from watching her eagerly prancing around doing her darnedest to imitate the instructor’s every move. She came out of class beaming, her first words, “I did it! I DANCED!”

She’s probably going to be tall, and it’d be great for her to have good posture. I also want her to have self-confidence and strength in her own identity and abilities. I believe in her, and I want her to believe in herself.