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July 30, 2013 10:44 am

The American Jewish Establishment Must Embrace Social Media

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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ADL National Director Abraham Foxman, who does not have an active presence on social media. Photo: Justin Hoch.

One of the biggest challenges facing American Jewry is assimilation, which is happening at an alarming rate. Looking at the situation, it is clear that the Jewish establishment has yet to find a way to effectively connect with many of these disaffected Jews. There is, perhaps, no bigger buzz-word than continuity when it comes to Jewish communal advocacy.  Every Jewish organization is looking for a way to preserve Judaism and see it flourish. Despite this, social media (the Internet revolution – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), which is one of the best ways to reach today’s and tomorrow’s generations, hasn’t quite reached the American Jewish establishment.

A simple review of the 52 national Jewish agencies representing the leadership of the American Jewish organizations, comprised of members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, shows either very little or ineffectual activity on vital social media channels.

Perhaps a reason for the lack of appreciation for social media and its usefulness is that the leadership of the American Jewish community is by and large 60 years of age or older. The organizations have minimal knowledge of one of the most necessary tools to reach the sub-40 audience, which compromises much of American Jewry.

These organizations issue countless self-congratulatory press releases, but surely one of the reasons American Jews are assimilating in large numbers is the inability of Jewish organizations to truly connect with the next generation in ways that inspire and enlighten them. Successful social media channels could indeed make a difference. There is also the fact that few member organizations of the Conference of Presidents use a professional Public Relations Agency. Because of their internal lack of social media abilities, good PR can fill the void.

The self-proclaimed “premier global Jewish advocacy organization,” the American Jewish Committee, has no blog, a mere 4,100 Twitter followers, and a YouTube channel where the most watched video has an underwhelming 2,200 views. Their outspoken President, David Harris, doesn’t Tweet personally (although he does manage to find the time to condemn Ministers of the Israeli government).  Its Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other offices use the same website as the national organization (with the name of the relevant city on the front page), and don’t use individual or local social media channels to give their constituents personalized information – as social media demands.  An organization with nearly $100 million in net assets must have high quality and interactive websites and social media presences in order to bring its message to its donors and targeted demographics. There is simply no excuse for not doing so.

The Anti-Defamation League’s President, Abraham (“Abe”) Foxman, also doesn’t maintain a Twitter account.  Additionally, a cyber-squatter caught Foxman off guard and purchased the domain www.abefoxman.com, and notes quite prominently on the abefoxman.com webpage that the long-time ADL leader has served as the National Director since 1987 and that younger leadership would serve the agency well.

One of the worst is The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which labels itself as “the national public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community” yet has no links from its website to its social media channels. Social media is a great way for people to sign petitions, influence elected officials and engage in tasks which matter for public affairs, yet the main JCPA Twitter account (NATIONALLY) has a mere 2,936 followers. The organization has an internal page link to a Twitter account, @IsraelAdvocacy, that “works  w/150+ communities to advocate for Israel,” yet has 274 followers. Another Twitter account affiliated with the group, under the name “the Israel Action Network” has 3,093 followers. Similarly, Bnai Brith and Hadassah (The Women’s Zionist Organization of America) also each have just approximately 2,400 followers.

A huge embarrassment is the social media activities of Hillel, an organization that proclaims itself as “the world’s largest Jewish college organization.” As the leading group reaching Jewish college kids on thousands of campuses around the country, it should certainly have more than a mere 5,500 Twitter followers.  A young social media-savvy recent college graduate could earn $35,000 in a role like this, and s/he could tweet relevant information, highlight programs of interest nationally and regionally to college students, and even create web-friendly content. Hillel raises $40 million annually to serve college students; it could surely use a small bit of that to improve its social media channels.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm across the political and religious spectrum – few organizations are worthy of praise in social media. Where are the Internet contests seeking “the coolest Jew in America today,” the videos of Hanukkah songs or Facebook surveys?

If one wants to look for the legendary needles in the haystack, the U.S. Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum), an account tweeting for The Jewish Federations of North America (@Jewishevents),  and The Jewish Agency (@JewishAgency) can all be praised for being more engaged on social media.

There is no nice or politically correct way to say it – the organized Jewish community is failing miserably at reaching young Jews.  Social media is a necessary component of reaching people today – it is a major part of everyone’s life and influences people worldwide.  Being a part of the Jewish community online can help people come closer to Judaism in their real-lives.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO & Founder of 5W Public Relations, Author of “For Immediate Release,” and a board member of numerous not-for-profit organizations.

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