By Mike Cohen
With the launch of the Cyber Home of Torah one year ago, a new era in Jewish education and communication was born. Using the OU website, Jews the world over can now communicate utilizing the latest in modern technology — e-mail, audio, video, chat and messaging. Jews the world over dialogue daily on issues of importance and news is transmitted instantaneously.
What Is It?
The OUs Cyber Home of Torah grew out of the Orthodox Unions commitment to create an environment in the vastness of cyberspace where all Jews, regardless of their location and their educational background, their affiliation or non-affiliation, would feel welcome and would be able to study together. When OU Online released the first few pages, and sent out the word that www.ou.org was now active, thousands descended upon the site from far and near, from Los Angeles to Riyadh, from Buenos Aires to Kibbutz Ga’ash . To date, over 7.5 million requests have been serviced by the program.
A brief tour of some of the OU sites major features readily explains its remarkable popularity.
Need a dvar Torah for Shabbat or just want to learn during your lunch break? Click on the Beit Midrash for a guide to Torah on the net. The extensive listings are indexed for your convenience by topic, parshah, and author, as well as system. The Beit Midrash is equipped with state-of-the-art audio, video, chat and messaging. The first Jewish site on the Internet to provide Jewish content in the Real Video streaming format that has since become the industry standard, now includes hundreds of hours of Jewish learning and guidance.
An average of 25,000 people from 93 different countries access the Beit Midrash every week to take advantage of its resources.
In the upcoming year, the Pardes Program, the OU’s free monthly discussion/study guide, will be experimenting with the use of the Internet as a tool of communication between study groups and group leaders in various corners of the earth.
The Vebbe Rebbe
Thousands of kashrut and halachah (Jewish law) questions have been answered via e-mail over the past year by the Vebbe Rebbe. If the question concerns kashrut, it is answered by the knowledgeable rabbinic staff of the OU Kashruth Division. If the question concerns halachah or hashkafah (Jewish thought) it is referred to the Rabbinical Council of America and Kollel Eretz Hemda in Jerusalem.
The Neshama Line Its Good For The Soul
Putting a note in the Kotel, (a “kvitel”) has long been the practice of Jews and Gentiles who wish to express their prayers, hopes and dreams. A few years ago, Jerusalem yeshivot began “faxes to God” programs. With the growth of e-mail popularity, OU Online added this dimension as well. The service has been emulated many times over by others.
The Neshama Line also provides a direct link to a kollel in Jerusalem that graciously offered to learn Torah and say Psalms for the recovery of the sick and for yahrzeits.
The Orthodox Synagogue & Torah Education Networks
Finding an Orthodox shul, yeshivah, camp or day school has never been easier. The Orthodox Synagogue Network lists Orthodox shuls in countries all over the globe. It is the largest such listing in cyberspace. The Torah Education Network is a fast-growing service utilized by families that are relocating, baalei teshuvah and first-time parents who want guidance finding Torah educational environments for their children.
NCSY Interactive is the place for Jewish teens. They can create web pages for their NCSY chapters or regions, meet each other in supervised chat areas, and take part in moderated prescheduled discussions. Popular topics have been The Jewish View on Dating, Being Jewish in a Non-Jewish World, Land for Peace and Challenge the Rabbi. A variety of separate e-mail lists are available to NCSYers, advisors, directors and parents to facilitate discussion of issues that concern their daily lives.
Through its online home, the Orthodox Unions Institute for Public Affairs provides instant access to its numerous action alerts and public statements, as well as interactive ways of communicating with government officials in the United States and Israel.
Audio Visual Multimedia Center
Heard a new tune on your Jewish radio station this morning? A shiur from a popular rabbi? Need to hear it again? Want to spend a few moments with Rav Herschel Schachter or Israeli Chief Rabbi Lau, or with the great Reb Shlomo, ztl? The Audio Visual Multimedia Center and its Jewish Music Network is your answer!
Utilizing the most modern in audio and video streaming technology, divrei Torah from popular rabbis can now be heard and seen across the globe. The biggest names in the Jewish music industry have joined with the OU’s Cyber Home of Torah and Mostly Music Inc. to feature their newest releases even before they hit the stores. And, in cooperation with the Israel Broadcast Authority (Kol Yisrael) and artificia.com, we can now listen to news broadcasts from Israel 24 hours a day, six days a week LIVE!
OU Communications Center
Ever have the urge to write a note to the prime minister of Israel and cc the president of the United States? Now you can. The communications center provides direct links to world leaders as well as many other important addresses such as the White House, the Knesset and Congress. The communications center is also the place to subscribe to any of the many OU e-mail information lists such as Torah Insights, Kashruth Alerts and IPA Action Alerts.
Infobase is the place to go to find information, details and links to Jewish topics and information. The newest of the OU site features, this Virtual Jewish Database will, when launched in the fall, begin to include in-depth data on every Torah-related topic imaginable, from afikoman to zeeskeit, from Avraham Avinu to Zalman Shazar.
There is much more to see and do — so grab your keyboard, hitch up your modem and see what people around the world already have found at http://www.ou.org
Mike Cohen is the Director of Communications of the Orthodox Union.