Rabbi Idan Scher, spiritual leader of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, is preparing to launch a virtual Jewish learning platform.
The website – scheduled to launch at www.rabbischer.com on August 26 – will include videos, podcasts and more and is being launched with the support of a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Innovation and Capacity Building Fund.
Rabbi Scher said he sees the platform as the “perfect synthesis between our age-old Jewish traditions and the technology the modern world has to offer.”
Rabbi Scher says he got the idea for the online learning initiative after his experience streaming Facebook Live videos for his congregation. When he went back to review his videos, Rabbi Scher saw he was getting over 900 views for each.
“There were more people listening to my message in that Facebook Live video than I had coming to my synagogue at the busiest time of the year,” he said. “So I thought I was obviously not sharing my message in the most effective manner, with the tools technology gave us.”
Rabbi Scher said this inspired him to think about doing something “far more high-quality and really exciting.”
According to Rabbi Scher, his e-learning platform will include a “beautiful website” connected to social media, new content posted every week, and six different modules for Jewish learning.
One of the modules will be “Quick Takes,” short videos of two-to-four minutes, in which Rabbi Scher speaks about relevant and compelling issues “in the time it takes you to drink your morning coffee.” The “Deep Dive” module will be 20-minute videos with more in-depth analysis of important contemporary issues.
The “Rabbi2Rabbi” module will feature Rabbi Scher and Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, the rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, discussing key issues, while “In Conversation With” will feature Rabbi Scher discussing various issues with Jewish community leaders, as well as with leaders from various other religious and cultural groups.
Sarah Beutel, Federation vice-president of community building, said Rabbi Scher’s project was one of five “very exciting and interesting” projects to receive a one-time grant from Federation’s Innovation and Capacity Building Fund.
“This project was perceived as a way to take what the rabbi is doing educating within his synagogue to a greater number of people,” Beutel said. “It’s a unique and creative way to take the work already being done within the synagogue and enable it to be accessible to more people.”
Rabbi Scher has also received assistance in creating the platform from others at Machzikei Hadas, including a student intern who has been developing the website.
“It’s a lot of work from a lot of people, but I think it’s going to be a great product,” he said.
The website will allow visitors to sign-up for email notifications about each week’s content and Rabbi Scher hopes to eventually create content that responds to questions and feedback from participants.
The platform will be made available to a wide audience, he said. This will include members of his congregation, Ottawa’s Jewish community, Jews from across Canada and around the world, and anyone who “has an interest in the values and ethics that have carried a people for thousands of years.”
Rabbi Scher said he thinks the platform will be compelling to anyone, “whether you are a student of religion or philosophy or ethics, or whether this is a part of your own heritage.”