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Holiness, Communications & Kehilla History

by Rabbi David J. Cooper

    In one of the most sacred texts of the Torah and of the Siddur, we are commanded to love and to communicate. Really. In the Sh’ma, right after we are commanded to love, it says that these words are to be spoken and communicated daily and that the communication must be intergenerational. Go check the text and see for yourself.

   I am reminded of this text from chapter 6 of Deuteronomy as I contemplate that we need to revamp our monthly newsletter, Kol Kehilla, and rethink communications as we enter into a new generation. The post office has made the mailing of hard copy Kol Kehilla too difficult an effort. So we need our newsletter to be electronically available and its contents easily accessible. We could use some help in this effort by congregant volunteers who have the necessary skills and interest. They will be assembled into a Communications Chevra. Are you one of these? How you can help is at the end of this article.


Kehilla & the Macintosh

     But first, a little history about communications at Kehilla that you might find amusing. Kehilla’s almost 30 years coincide with the era of personal computers and electronic communications. Kehilla’s first organizing meeting happened in the spring of 1984, just two months after the release of the first Macintosh computer.

     Only two out of the 75 Kehilla households had computers. At my house, I was operating with the old Apple II+ which held our mailing list. But Joel Brody (of blessed memory) and Melani Van Petten soon upgraded to the new Mac at their house. We were totally thrilled that we were ahead of even the established synagogues in how advanced we were – and we didn’t have a building or an office. My computer could turn out mailing labels, and Joel’s could print up a good-looking master for a postcard (three per page). With less than an hour of photocopying (at a shop), cutting out the cards, labeling and putting on postage followed by a trip to a mail box, we could alert the entire membership to any event within 36 hours. Awesome!

   On Joel’s Macintosh we typed out the 1985 and 1986 versions of our High Holyday Prayerbook and were thrilled that we did not have to send it to a typesetter to look “professional.” While working on the 1985 iteration, my daughter Talia was born less than a week before Rosh Hashanah. The machzor still needed finishing touches. In one round-trip I picked up Joel’s Mac at his house, the borrowed Torah from Temple Sinai, and then Talia and Linda from the hospital. The copy masters were finished a day later and 250 copies of the prayerbook were ready for the expected crowd.

     In 1985, when the internet was dial up and text-only, Stewart Brant, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, started the WELL (the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link). The WELL was one of the first on-line communities. It attracted scientists, artists, people of esoteric interests and a huge number of Dead Heads whose dues supported the whole enterprise. I was a co-host of its Jewish Conference and participated in on-line and in-person discussions about “virtual community.” Joel was also a co-member of the WELL Jewish Conference where a substantial Jewish Renewal presence prevailed, including me, Reb Zalman and Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank. The WELL provided us with a new-fangled tool: Email!

     Initially Joel and I—the only Kehillites with email—could send each other unformatted emails for articles and announcements for the newsletter. Then the WELL developed a somewhat complicated system by which formatted files could be exchanged. It only took about ten minutes to upload and download a formatted file.

      Slowly, over the next 13 years, as the internet changed from being text-only to a graphic medium, more people in Kehilla got computers and email. In 1999, we tried to get all the Bar/Bat Mitzvah families to be able to receive email announcements and alerts. But a quarter of the class still did not have email, so we kept a list of people who had to receive snail-mail notices. By 2001, this was no longer necessary. By the mid-2000’s we had a website, somewhat primitive. In the last two years, Richard Miles upgraded us to the WordPress system we use now, which even now is showing its age. We also have made use of a Kehilla Facebook page (join and friend it) and I have used Twitter on occasion.

     Now that Kol Kehilla is mostly not snail-mailed, we have been sending it out as a PDF to our membership. This is not an ideal method of disseminating our events, articles and discussions. Time has come for a new way of sharing our information and to make our communications even more interactive. Are you interested in helping out in bringing Kehilla into its next generation of sacred communication? Join our effort if you can contribute.

    Considering what it was 29 years ago, I cannot imagine what it will be like 30 years from now.


 E-Communications Folks, ho!

       Interested in being part of the Communications Chevra—the team to help in the design of our electronic Kol Kehilla (our monthly newsletter), and other communication in the shul?

        Sasha Gottfried, Kehilla’s Communications Coordinator, is working on ideas and some initial implementation of an easily accessible online Kol Kehilla instead of a PDF of our traditional newsletter. This is a “try-on” period and it would be useful for Sasha and the staff if a “chevra” of computer and internet “mavens” could evaluate and improve what our staff comes up with during the next few months. Work on this Chevra goes to your Avodah volunteer hours. If you think you’d be an asset in such a Chevra, contact


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