Temple Israel Gets Cyberspace Makeover

May 19, 2008
By RICHIE DAVIS, Recorder Staff 
Photo by Peter MacDonald, The Recorder
You wouldn’t think a few years would do much to a religion now marking the year 5768. 
But in the world of the World Wide Web, sites have a way of looking dated really fast.
Tamar Schanfeld of TNR Global, a Greenfield-based Web development firm, cast her eye on synagogues when she was looking for markets for designing new sites. 
It was Greenfield’s Temple Israel that got the first makeover from the TNR’s new division, Shofar Sites.
Even sites that are a few years old and are maintained by volunteers can be pretty dull, said Schanfeld, and without much functionality.
Building on an Joomla framework — an ”open ended” content management system that can be added onto with a wide variety of features — Schanfeld said she worked with board members and staff at Temple Israel to build on the attractive features at the synagogue’s existing site. 
The existing site, with a wood-grain background reminiscent of the sanctuary, included a directory staff, officers, hours and phone numbers, plus a calendar, membership information and a rabbi’s page.
But Schanfeld said the pages seemed ”static” and required a lot of work to update the information.
TNR, which set up Shofar Sites to provide installation, support and customized applications for synagogues around the country, has launched a division within the past six to 10 months to help smaller companies and schools develop Web sites, said Natasha Goncharava, one of the founders of the 4-year-old technology company that employs a dozen people.
TNR primarily provides search and system administration for very large sites with a large volume of Web traffic, said Goncharava. The firm saw the need to work with schools, including private schools and colleges, to grow and diversify its clientele. It’s developed about 20 small-scale sites, she said.
Shofar Sites, which is negotiating with two more synagogues on Long Island, N.Y. and in Texas, offers three packages, ranging from converting a site’s existing site to a Joomla framework to a complete custom makeover, said Schanfeld. It also offers six templates to modify the appearance of an existing site and content in Hebrew and Russian.
The Greenfield temple’s site incorporates the week’s candle-lighting times and Torah portions, including a commentary on its meaning and a way to hear its portion being chanted. It also includes blogs, updated news feeds from the Jerusalem Post and a way to download songs performed by Rabbi Efraim Eisen.
”For me, personally, it’s an opportunity for my music to get out to the community in a way I’ve never really had before,” said Eisen, who called the new site ”wonderful. There are lots of different applications that are exciting to me. ”The possibilities are pretty huge,” he said. ”Even somebody who’s not particularly computer literate can make their own entries.”
Among the hopes for the future are podcasts of synagogue programs and an expansion of the teen program page to include blogs, podcasts and other content by teens themselves. 
Schanfeld, who is Jewish, said, TNR decided to pursue the synagogue niche because the Joomla platform seems well suited to small organizations whose Web sites are being handled by volunteers.
”This is a lower-cost option, and it’s so darn cool,” she said. With content that can be updated by anyone who knows how to do word processing, ”It’s a great way to build community and have people talk to each other, by creating a Web site that’s really interesting.”
On the Web: http://www.templeisraelgreenfield.org
You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 269

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