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Dear Friends,

I was reading a fascinating article this morning on the use of Artificial Intelligence in synagogue life. The article, “Reviving Synagogue Communities Using Smart Technology,” suggests that “smart tech,” a phrase coined by the article’s authors Allison Fine and Beth Kanter in their book “The Smart Nonprofit,” can help synagogues clear the workload of emails, calls, etc., thereby leaving room for what matters most— relationship building.

As the authors put it,

“Walk into any synagogue back office and you will find a frantic game of whack-a-mole in which volunteers, clergy, and staff’s days are eaten up by answering endless emails and phone calls asking for help or information. Too often, the ‘real work’ of building stronger relationships and problem solving is done after hours.”

They point to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s “Repentance Bot” as one example of Jewish life moving into this space. (The Repentance Bot uses Artificial Intelligence and responds to ‘fauxpologies’ [on Twitter] with encouragement to do better.”) I know! Crazy right?

While using Artificial Intelligence in synagogue life may seem like a bridge, or a silicon chip, too far, the article’s authors see it as an aid to the work already being done rather than a replacement. As they note,

“Synagogues understand that their fundamental purpose is to build community.”

And that,

“Incorporating smart tech into your organization is worthwhile because it can free clergy, staff, and volunteers from the time they currently spend on administrative tasks. In our book, we call this the ‘dividend of time,’ which can be used to build stronger relationships with members, share stories, and solve problems.”

As many of you know, I love technology. At the same time, I’m not sure how I feel about all of this. If the technology aids in deepening connection, it is valuable. But I fear it will often be misused, and become a replacement for the very contact and connection we seek in synagogue communal life.

What struck me most about the article, however, was a line toward the end: “When used well, smart tech creates this opportunity.” Clearly the authors understand that the technology they are suggesting we embrace is merely a tool to free time and thereby facilitate deeper human connection. But the reality is, we don’t need to move into the tech space for this to be true. The wisdom of that sentence is also true if we remain rooted in an analog world.

For example, Shabbat is a weekly opportunity to reconnect with family and community.  Thus, “When used well, Shabbat creates this opportunity.”

Similarly, Yom Kippur is our annual opportunity to clear away some of the shmutz that may be creating a sense of distance with others or with God. Thus, “When used well, Yom Kippur creates this opportunity.”

But that is the point. Whether it is the age old traditions of Yom Kippur or the groundbreaking emergence of Artificial Intelligence, the goal remains the same. We seek to create connection with one another and with God and, together, work to build a world that better reflects God’s love. But we need to use the opportunities before us.

As we find ourselves halfway through the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I am reminded that we don’t need technology to connect. But we do need to make the effort.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
​​​​​​​Rabbi Daniel Cohen

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The devastating impact of hurricane Ian on Florida’s west coast is just coming into focus. The need for relief aid will only grow in the days and weeks to come.

If you would like to help those who are helping on the ground, please consider making a donation to the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Emergency Relief Fund. One hundred percent of the funds collected will provide aid and critical support to those in need.