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Tweeting For Atonement: Sharing Sins On Social Media


And now it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. You probably know that today at sundown begins the holiest time of the year in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. That's a time when observant Jews fast and seek forgiveness from those they've wronged over the past year. Now there are a variety of ways that you seek to atone, but the members Shema Koleinu synagogue of Miramar, Florida are putting their own spin on this tradition. Congregants are invited to use social media like Twitter and Facebook. Here to tell us more about it is Cantor Debbi Ballard. She is the founder of Shema Koleinu synagogue and she's with us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

CANTOR DEBBI BALLARD: Thank you, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What gave you the idea to do this?

BALLARD: Well, I am a technology nut. I love all things social media. So with the real rise of Instagram and hashtags and now being able to use hashtags on Facebook, I created a hashtag for Shema Koleinu's High Holy Day services this year and I just really thought that maybe there was a way to make social media an even more profound integration into our High Holy Day services. So I knew that my congregation is mostly young children and their parents. So I had to do something that really was going to be attractive to the young kids. So what young kid doesn't want to go to synagogue and have you tell them that they can take their cell phone out and use it?

MARTIN: That's true, a lot of adults too. You can certainly see, though, where for some people this would really push their buttons. Number one, the idea that some people feel that part of fasting is fasting and abstaining from technology and social media. Some people feel that should be part of the experience is abstaining from those things of the world. So I just wanted ask first, how do you address that?

BALLARD: Michel, we can use technology in a lot of different ways. We can use it to take our minds off of things and to just kind of numb out. Or we can use it to have fun and for entertainment and to pass the time. So I'm not saying use technology all day long. I'm saying let's use the technology and have it enhance our atonement today by tweeting or texting our sins away, and looking at those sins on a big movie screen. And then letting them roll past us so that we can let them go, so that we can live a more powerful life this year. I think that's what Yom Kippur and atonement is about.

MARTIN: Help me see it. Help me visualize what's going to happen. And I do want to emphasize for other people who are observant, who may be listening to our conversation - we are having our conversation in advance of Yom Kippur. So we're not talking about this right in the middle of the day.

BALLARD: Exactly.

MARTIN: So what do you envision is going to happen?

BALLARD: We have our services at the beautiful Miramar Cultural Center. They have a flyaway movie screen. Four times throughout the service, the movie screen is going to fly down, and my community has already been given four questions in advance that they could ponder. So for instance the first question is going to be, what limiting behavior or belief do you need to let go of this year in order to live a more powerful life? And so they'll have about four minutes to text their answers. They'll have full instructions as to what number they need to text to, and they will get to text their answers to our text-to-screen platform. And their answers will roll through the screen.

And there are three other times throughout the service that they will be asked to answer the other questions. And the other questions are, what does more powerful look like to you? Does that mean that you might have more time, more friendship, more love and just more happiness? And then we'll ask them, what are you sorry for and who should you apologize to? Because when you really can acknowledge, you know, I need to say I'm sorry to my sister 'cause I hurt her feelings. When you acknowledge it - when you put it out there, when you see it on a screen, it makes it more real. It makes it more doable, that you can atone.

MARTIN: Well, the other question I think a lot of people would have is because, you know, these days parents are all telling their children, you know, what you put out on social media stays there forever and be careful about what you say because it'll follow you forever. How are you going to ensure confidentiality - that people are actually able to speak freely to the people to whom they really want to speak. I mean, I think that's one of the other concerns that some people have about this is that people really should talk face-to-face because that's the only way they can really say what they need to say.

BALLARD: Well, I do agree with that. I am not saying that just saying that you should say you're sorry to your sister is your full salvation. I am just saying that it's the first step. And as far as that identity goes, we chose a platform that would - that guaranteed 100 percent anonymity.

MARTIN: Can I ask you a question that may be a stupid question? I think many people believe and understand that Judaism requires, particularly on the High Holy Days, a renunciation of the use of such devices as phones or even turning on the lights. Is that not part of your tradition?

BALLARD: Honestly, Michel, it's not part of my tradition. To me being Jewish is many things. It's ritual, it's commandment. The community that I serve is an unaffiliated community. And it's hard to define what makes you Jewish. Is it that you don't eat or you don't cook or shop or turn a light on on Shabbat? Or is it that you treat others with the golden rule? There's a lot of rituals and commandments that didn't make it to the year 2013. So the community I serve that they're concerned with - they're concerned with just being good people.

MARTIN: Well, let us know how it turns out. I don't know what the right words are.

BALLARD: I definitely will do that.

MARTIN: And what is the proper way that I should greet you on this important day?

BALLARD: L'Shana Tova.

MARTIN: L'Shana Tova. Cantor Debbi Ballard is founder of Shema Koleinu synagogue. We caught up with her in her home office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our very best wishes for a meaningful holiday. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

BALLARD: Thank you so much, Michel. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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