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.