After returning from 18 months in Israel, Lisa Narodick experienced a great deal of frustration finding a meaningful role for herself in her home state of Vermont, where the Jewish community is small.
That caused her to think about starting her own nonprofit agency and doing something on the Web. With extensive personal experience in Internet applications and community building, she formed a business plan and Panim Online was born. Narodick founded the organization to get the community and congregations working together. With the assistance of Panim Online, synagogues can share ideas and learn from each other.
Understanding the potential of Narodick’s idea, Carol Starin of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, invited Panim Online to be a presenter at the Blueprint for Success conference on Nov. 1. The company’s other connection to Seattle is Narodick’s mother, Sally Narodick, an active local volunteer and member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s board of directors. Immediately following the Seattle conference, Congregation Beth Shalom, Temple Beth Or and Kadima expressed interest in implementing the idea. Temple De Hirsch Sinai, the launch congregation for the Panim Online concept, currently has the first site up and running and is now moving to put adult-education courses and activities for religion school students online.
The goal of the project is to build models that can be replicated nationally, with synagogues all over the country contributing and using online curricula from a central database, and participating in online study and discussion groups. “Synagogues have little time and limited resources to build and manage a Web site,” said Narodick, “and it would be impossible for any one community to develop this sort of online functionality alone. By developing resources that can be used by many synagogues, more congregations will be able to utilize the Internet for community building and education.”
Recently, the Synagogue Transformation And Renewal (STAR) Challenge Grant program, awarded Panim Online a $50,000 grant for 2001, potentially renewable for two additional years if milestones are met. As part of the agreement, Panim Online will fund a customized Web site for each of the four synagogues involved in the project.
“We are grateful for the STAR grant that will bring our consortium and its partner, Panim Online, into the nexus of 21st century communications technology and Jewish community life. This effort will reap benefits not only for Seattle and its Jewish community but for all the synagogues and Jewish communities that will be able to use our model and learn from our experiences,” said Rabbi Scott Sperling of Temple De Hirsch Sinai.
Together, the group of synagogues will develop three educational models for online adult education, including mini-courses and discussion forums modeled after the structure of the Talmud. The rabbis at each congregation will develop content for these courses and help moderate discussions, which will be shared with all members of the consortium.
“The Jewish community is asking for education and inspiration, but these individuals have little time to attend evening or weekend classes at the synagogue,” said Narodick. “By making the resources and services of the synagogue available online, and integrating these with traditional programming at the synagogue, we are able to reach more members, more frequently.”
For more information about Panim Online, visit www.panimonline.org. The web site for Temple de Hirsch Sinai can be found at www.tdhs-nw.org. The sites for the other three synagogues are scheduled to be up in late March or early April.