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April 4, 2012 10:58 am

‘Information Age’ Lessons From Passover

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Partial map of the Internet. Photo: The Opte Project.

Passover, billed as ‘The Festival of Freedom’, is upon us again. When one observes the way it is practiced today perhaps another apt label could be, ‘The Festival of Communication.’  We ask questions and we answer them, we sing, we engage in query inducing practices and we tell the historic tale of the Israelite exodus, searching for contemporary relevance and application in it. We debate, we discuss, we thank G-d for His blessings and we grumble about the bitter herbs, the staleness of our Matzah and the mountainous workload of incessant cooking and cleaning.

Today we live in an era that has been dubbed by some as the ‘Information Age,’ and we face Jewish challenges that largely center around communication. These include the struggle to convey Jewish pride and identity to our children and to combat the ever growing tide of vile anti-Jewish and Israel hatred bubbling in the media, on college campuses and among diplomatic elites around the world.

So perhaps within the ancient Passover rituals is contained the secret to staking the Jewish claim in the global battleground of ideas.

  1. Don’t limit your market. During the Seder ceremony, we make an effort not to preach purely to the converted, by addressing four sons, some of whom are not at all predisposed to our messages, and we also proclaim that all are invited to come in and eat with us around the Seder table. How many Jewish groups and organizations preach to the same audience over and over again, using the same email and mailing lists? In today’s world the extent to which our messages can be spread is only limited by the degree to which we are willing to apply new age communication mechanisms to this end.
  2. Use all tools. Throughout the Passover experience, just about every prop you can imagine is thrown into the mix, a feather, a bone, horseradish, a bonfire, matzah, wine, eggs, salt water, charoset, a pillow, a cup for Elijah and more. No aid, tool, apparatus or theatrical ploy should be off limits to those engaged in spreading the Jewish message; applying creativity in drawing people in can go a long way.
  3. Don’t stop. He who shouts loudest will be heard. The Passover message is conveyed in an almost incessant fashion, the practices are all consuming, beginning weeks in advance and applied for eight days straight. The Seder itself goes on until the wee hours of the morning, and we read how certain sages kept going all through the night. Today the flow of information is so rapid that in order to have a real impact, conveying an idea only once is no longer enough. Messages must be passed on through constant repetition, utilizing many different channels both overt and discreet.

Amazingly the opportunities that are at Jewish fingertips at present are unprecedented in history, especially in the arena of publishing and information proliferation. A recent study conducted by professional networking website LinkedIn on the evolution of our economy, ranked the fastest growing and shrinking industries. Not surprisingly, ‘Newspapers’ were right at the bottom, dropping close to 30% from 2007 to 2011. Incredibly however, three out of the top 5 growing industries are largely relevant to the consumption and spreading of ideas and information and the other two are partly relevant. The list from top to bottom is as follows: Internet, Online Publishing, Philanthropy, E-Learning and Public Policy.

Jewish efforts to harness these platforms and tools are incredibly limited relative to the opportunities that are available. Many major Jewish organizations will pay lip service or even set aside a restricted budget to address internet strategy or set up social media feeds, but in truth in many cases a seismic shift is in order, strategy must center around new age mechanisms if it is to have maximum impact.

The Jewish Sages of old implemented rituals of remembrance and practice that utilized all possible communicative stimulants that their era presented them with. Perhaps as Jews around the world observe the holiday this year, we will be inspired to apply their historic challenge to the trials of our age.

The author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at

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