Thursday, October 29, 2015

Emergent Self-Educating Communities in the Digital Age

In addition to the cyber youth interest, over the past few years I have been involved with multiple projects focusing on Emergent Self-Educating Communities in the Digital Age. This work has been funded by two sources, the EU Commission's Marie Curie foundation and the LINKS  iCore project. This funding has enabled me to achieve a better empirical understanding of online communities and their offline counterparts.

My research group functions as a community net lab focusing on the ways that clearly defined (primordial) communities (re)form social boundaries through the use of new media (i.e. the Internet, mobile communication) and knowledge that is constructed online. Members of the group engage in different communities (i.e. Zionist religious Jews, Haredim, Philippines in Israel, Reform Jewry, the Custodia Terrae Sanctae Franciscan order) and investigate different social aspects of their new media activities including acquiring life skills, online dating, online journalism, religious mobile app developments and more. Thus informal knowledge and its dissemination through new media are evaluated as it impacts social identities and boundaries of each community.

My research team includes, my graduate students, postdoctoral affiliates and research assistants as follows:
Nakhi Mishol Shauli
Dr. Deby Babis
Yaakov Don
Liraz Cohen
Dr. Michele Martini
Alon Diamant-Cohen
Eldar Fehl
Akiva Berger
Matan Milner
Imad Jraisy

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Article: Strategic Management of Religious Websites: The Case of Israel’s Orthodox Communities

It's been a while since I last posted. Anyway, I have just published a manuscript in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. This is a based on a study I have worked on with Professor Heidi Campbell of Texas A&M University since 2008 and draws on interviews we conducted with Jewish Orthodox webmasters. I am glad it has reached fruition and I can share it with others. You can read the full paper here


This study investigates how webmasters of sites affiliated with bounded communities manage tensions created by the open social affordances of the internet. We examine how webmasters strategically manage their respective websites to accommodate their assumed target audiences. Through in-depth interviews with Orthodox webmasters in Israel, we uncover how they cultivate three unique strategies -- control, layering, and guiding -- to contain information flows. We thereby elucidate how web strategies reflect the relationships between community, religion and CMC.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Informal Education in the Field: Visiting Bat Galim's Community Center in Haifa

Recently I conducted a visit with students to a community center in the struggling coastal neighborhood of Bat Galim in Haifa, Israel. The visit was part of their undergraduate studies as well as their training to become informal education practitioners. The students were introduced to the challenges of informal education management as they met Ehud Cohen,

Ehud Cohen - Discussing Administrative Challenges in Bat Galim's Community Center
a leading manager in the center ; Later on, they met Erez Sarig. Sarig is a young community leader and activist for green causes. During their visit, Erez discussed the activities involved in the Bat Galim's community garden. A place that fosters communal practices, agricultural knowledge, and inspires a green approach to community members,
Erez Sarig and Haifa University Students discussing Bat Galim's Communal Garden
This was followed by a workshop and lecture with Rony Keynan on community theater. It should be noted that Ms. Keynan is a leading member in the Hai-Po community theater in Haifa and introduced the group to drama-laden forms of pedagogy through a workshop activity (demonstrated in these photos).

Informal Education Students Workshop Activities

Rony Keynan explaining the foundations of Community Theater and dramatic practice
and finally Hanna Meller offered some inspiring discussion on the formation of a woman's club in the neighborhood, in collaboration with the Milav – Municipal agency in Haifa .
Hanna Meller Discussing Elderly Women empowerment in the Community Center
Overall it was a warm and wonderful day in November, which provided an opportunity to reflect on the multitude of pedagogical means and possibilities for informal education in its engagement with local communities.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Critically Acclaimed Documentary 'Pickles', with Dir. Dalit Kimor

In collaboration with Tamar Merin and Edna Grad of Jewish Studies I am organizing a screening of a documentary film at Northwestern University open to its students and scholars entitled: 'Pickles'.

The film has earned several awards, including:
  • EBS Seoul international documentary f.f. (honorable mention)
  • Crossroads international F. F. USA (first prize)
  • Saint Petersburg international documentary f.f (special prize)
Dalit Kimor will address the tensions of women torn between the desire for progress versus maintaining tradition; the status of Arab Widows; the feminist enterprise established by women with no awareness of Feminism; and the potential for financial success  change social conventions.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Book: The Social Order and the Code of Informality

Recently a new book has been published on Informal behavior and education that is a homage to the work of the late scholar Reuven Kahane. Professor Kahane was an exceptional thinker that has inspired many generations of students and researchers and has been known, among other things, for his empirical study and theoretical scholarship on informal behavior and informal education. I should add that I have been honored to be one of his students.

For professor Kahane, informal behavior is an integral part of the social order. This can be seen in his numerous articles and his 1997 book (in collaboration with Tamar Rapoport) The Origins of Postmodern Youth and is reflected in the new collection (2012) edited by his son, Professor Ahuvia Kahane, and his first PhD student, Professor Tamar Rapoport. Together with a renowned group of students and scholars this new collection has been launched entitled The Social Order and the Code of Informality (in Hebrew, Tel-Aviv, Resling Publishing)

The books' collection of manuscripts entertain a large array of social arenas that are analyzed through professor Kahane's unique lens and/or in an intellectual dialogue with it. This includes social activities: excursions, dance, school ceremonies; different social groups (ultra Orthodox Jews, former participants of youth movements in Latin America, Palestinian youngsters) and more. For my part I added a paper on Online trust and the code of informality among Israeli Youth.

Finally I should add that the publishing of this book attests not only to the powerful theoretical tools that Kahane's legacy bequests but also to the attention that Israeli scholars have given to the field of informality. Kahane's teacher, the late Professor S. N. Eisenstadt, has contributed to this volume. Also, the late Professor Diana Silberman – Keller, a committed scholar in informal education, added a manuscript before her untimely demise. My hope is that the legacy of professor Kahane persists and that scholars in Israel and beyond continue to use these tools and others to advance the understanding of informal modes of behavior and education.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

‘Wildcats for Israel’: Reflections on Jewish Students in America

Last night I spoke at the ‘Wildcats for Israel’ event. The event consisted of an audience of Northwestern University campus activists and leaders. Most of the participants were Jewish, but certainly not limited to, sharing an interest in Israel’s well being.
The event was further distinguished by two prominent figures speakers – Illinois’ Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (Democrat) and Congressman Joe Walsh (Republican).
Both speakers discussed the American consensus on commitment to Israel and praised this bi-partisan agreement on this issue.
Jan Schakowsky spoke of her recent trip to Israel and of the importance of promoting a two-state solution to enable peace and to uphold the state of Israel’s democratic legacy and for its future, as well as the Palestinian’s well being.
Joe Walsh discussed the risks and affordances that the changes in the Middle East hold for Israel’s future. He was less optimistic on the short-term prospects for peace and emphasized Israel’s right to exist as an important premise for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; the Palestinian crises of leadership and the importance to fortify Israel’s security, before engaging in peace negotiations with an unstable partner.
Closing the evening, I decided to reflect on my experience of engaging Northwestern students, and the complexities of Jewish Identity today in the Diaspora, as compared with the Israeli experience. I summed my lecture in the following text. Please write if you have more to add to this topic.

‘Wildcats for Israel’: Reflections on Jewish Students in America

As a visiting scholar from Israel, I see it as part of my mission to introduce American students to the vibrant world of Israeli culture and society. However, arriving here I began to find the similarities and differences between Northwestern and Israeli students intriguing. I should add that I am less than a year at Northwestern University and have been privileged to meet with students in formal occasions in classes, but also had the opportunity to talk to students on a much more informal basis in corridors, university cafeterias or at the wonderful Hebrew table that is sponsored by the Jewish Studies Center every Wednesday on campus.
Through these conversations, I encountered firsthand issues I only read and heard about in Israel. I got acquainted with the identity dilemmas that many Jewish students face here.
Let me be more specific. In Israel, most students you meet are after their army service, which means they are a bit older and have confronted their identities partially through their military commitments to the state and its values. Furthermore, most come from Jewish families that have little connection in their daily lives to non-Jewish people. So in that sense they are not confronted with the same challenges of choosing their identities. These things are more of a given nature to them and not a source of consideration or anxiety. This is not to say that they don't have issues with identity formation – just that they are very different…
At NW I’ve met Jewish students of a different kind altogether that face other dilemmas.  These youngsters are often born to families of dual faiths. Many come from families that have divorced and remarried, leading to ‘half siblings’ that may be of a different faith or may differ in their Jewish orientation (e.g. ‘Frum’/religious, secular) and have made different decisions on the ways they would choose to celebrate their identity. Some of them may ask: how do I connect to my family’s identity (if at all), do I accomplish this through religious practices? Are there other options open for me? What kind of identity will I forge for my offspring?
The seminal question of ‘who is a Jew’ as well as how or if does one express her/his Jewishness, is as central in the lives of such American Jewish students as it is in today’s Jewish world at large. This is extremely challenging for youngsters who are more secularly inclined or from interfaith families, who may have had limited Hebrew schooling, were perhaps bat/bar mitzvahed, but after the age of 13 had few further opportunities to experience Jewish life.
From conversations, some research I have conducted on the Jewish internet, and reading the literature on these subjects I can note various ways of connection that are not religious and that occasionally converge and occasionally diverge in their ties to their Jewish legacy.  These connections seem also to typify the Jewish Wildcat youngsters, and I hope you will add to my knowledge by email or by personal conversations whenever you can.
Let me list some of these venues:
The 1st form that I observed (that is American and non-Israeli geared) is:
1)     Participation in the Jewish Heebster community. A fluid and undefined subculture of American Jewish youth is evident and can be illustrated by two sold-out events in Chicago of the popular Maccabeets group, just a month or so ago, or hip hop reggae  experimentations of Chassidic artists such as Matisyahu playing live; the fervent dating scene on J-date, frumster and countless expressions and performances of Jewish youngsters on YouTube videos, blogs and Facebook.

2)     Connection to Jewish associations on campus, most notably that of Hillel or Chabad.

The second form (geared towards Israel) includes 3 aspects: 

1.      Political mobilization (through Aipac – America’s pro-Israel lobby, J-Street and others), or supporting pro-Israeli representatives in the local or national political arena.

2.      Direct Experience - Participation in trips to Israel. Especially notable is the famous ‘birthright’ program that enables youngsters to travel to Israel at a very low cost, facilitates students’ fun-filled activities with other youngsters while enjoying the breathtaking views and learning about the geography, history and the “Israel experience”.
3.      High Education - Through Jewish studies, and of late, ‘Israeli studies’ that has been flourishing in the US.  Let me elaborate on this.

While Jewish studies are sadly in a state of decline in Israel with less students, and fewer hires of staff members in universities, programs for Jewish studies and Israelis studies have shown particular fervor and striking growth in the past few years in Harvard, Berkley, Brandeis and many other leading universities in the US.

This academic field has become a field for Jewish students to learn as well as network among themselves, and perhaps even a nice way of meeting nice Jewish girls J – on campus. These classes are often sponsored by prominent Jewish philanthropists such as Charles Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman and the Crown family. In fact, there are now eight institutes or centers for Israel studies in North America that are separate or connected to Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies.
I would like to suggest that these programs have a lot to offer. Just as some may find their identity through religious practice and belief, a wealth of knowledge also lies within the corridors of Jewish thought. They enable one to explore their identities through the rich experience of others that have pondered on these questions before – albeit philosophers, poets and various scholars. Studying history, sociology and literature – all have bearings to the experience of Jews and non-Jews that have faced similar situations and have struggled with the possibilities of meeting these challenges.
These lessons won't be taught on twitter J. I think that a close look at Jewish history and the revival of the state of Israel through the eyes of philosophers, authors, ethnographers and others can provide some much needed perspective for us and for our offspring.
At any rate, I must say that I am excited about meeting you wildcats and look forward to learn more about your lives, interests and concerns, to enrich my perspective about the mysteries of Jewish life around the world.  

The Daily Northwestern Just published an article on the "Wildcats for Israel Event" See

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Digital Religion: Chabad Online

This isn't about youth, however I have been working on online religion for the past couple of years, with a particular emphasis on the Jewish Internet, and and thought I might share some thoughts about it with you readers.

I might disclose that I recently got a paper accepted for publication that I have collaberated upon with Dr. Heidi Campbell of Texas A&M University entitled: "Creating Digital Enclaves: Negotiation of the Internet Amongst Bounded Religious Communities" in Media Culture and Society. I'll talk about that paper another day.

Today I want to share with you the abstract of a paper I have written for a book Heidi is editing. Its' still a draft, so there may be changes, however I thought some of you might be interested. It stems from my last year of ethnographic work in New York and interviews with Jewish website operators. In this case, the Jewish-Chassidic Chabad movement that offers a rich and fervent tracts over the Internet, particularly in websites such as or The paper is entitled: Charting Frontiers of Online Religious Communities: The case of Chabad Jews. Here is its abstract, please let me know if you have any comments or ideas about it all:

Late modernity and its new media forms place the religious world at an ongoing tension to accept the Internet for advancing their community building efforts or actively avoid its adverse effects. By examining the case of Chabad Jews the study aims to show how religious communities use the Internet to invite new members and expand their influence while catering to their own communities and consolidating existent membership. A comparative examination of three key websites:, and that include net observations and interviews with 15 website operators in Israel and the US between 2009-2010 unveil a ‘division of labor’ between websites that either emphasize outward exposure towards a transnational community through Jewish education or are oriented inward and focus on communal rites (e.g. weddings, bar-mitzvahs), safety and inner doings. The community building that occurred in Chabad illuminates the ways these websites act as institutional builders that fortify solidarity and reinforce its values and religious zeal.