Engaging congregants through CJP Technology Grant Fund

Local synagogues got some help this fall keeping their communities connected for the High Holidays – and beyond.

With a generous donation from the Lee L. and Judith E. Selwyn Foundation, CJP distributed $172,000 through the Technology Grant Fund to 75 synagogues of all denominations, so that thousands of community members could participate in the celebrations.

Over the summer, synagogues applied for grants of either $1,000 or $2,500 from CJP to be used for tech enhancements such as Zoom accounts, cameras, computers, audio equipment, consultants, and more. The Fund aimed to bolster technology in advance of the High Holidays and also help synagogues continue to virtually engage their congregants in Jewish life throughout the pandemic.

Each congregation was able to choose how they used the funding, with the only requirement being that it aid in technology upgrades. Some synagogues used the money to stream live services while others launched new or improved virtual Jewish learning opportunities.

At Temple Etz Chaim in Franklin, congregants were thrilled with the chance to virtually connect to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, said Isaac Chartoff, the congregation's volunteer Technology Coordinator.

“Without CJP’s generosity, it is doubtful we would have had the resources to present such a fulfilling Rosh Hashanah experience,” he said. “Without exaggeration, everything worked better because of the grant.”

In Braintree, Temple B’Nai Shalom used the funding to buy a PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) camera, which allowed them to stream the service from the temple for those participating online from their homes. Temple President Peter Kurzberg was able to operate the camera from his home.

“The camera was capable of turning 180° and could focus on the Cantor while he chanted Hineni from the back of the sanctuary walking towards the bimah,” Kurzberg said. “It was also able to focus on the Cohanim as they came from the side door to approach the bimah for the Cohanic blessing. Having well over 100 congregants see this — and the entire service from their homes — with high-quality video was wonderful. The service was a huge success.”

Temple Emanu-El of Marblehead received $2,500, which was used to fund enhanced audio equipment. According to Rabbi David J. Meyer, “Having the resources to be able to effectively stream our services to our community is so vitally important.”

“We know that the future well-being of synagogue life is very much in the balance as we confront today’s challenges,” he said. “This funding gives us confidence going forward, and we thank CJP and the Selwyn Foundation sincerely for helping us fulfill our mission and vision.”

Many synagogues reported back to CJP that incorporating technology into their High Holiday services has taught them valuable lessons that will help with their ongoing virtual offerings, said Marc Baker, CJP President and CEO.

“Synagogues have been so nimble in these difficult times,” said Baker. “The funding allowed many congregations to innovate and adapt, which is so important to our Jewish community moving forward. We may not be together in person for a long time, but we will most definitely stay connected.”