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It Takes a Temple To Make a Website

Friday, January 1, 2016

GREENFIELD -- Temple Israel Greenfield just created a new website for itself -- for free.

After many difficulties with external providers, the Temple's IT Committee -- joined by new member Bram Moreinis and new consultant Chrissy O'Connor -- decided to take matters into their own hands, choosing "Open Church" - a free site for religious organizations built with Drupal, an open source platform popular with Valley developers and universities.

"The look and layout of our former website just was not a match for the vibrant programming and community building we are doing now," said Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener. "Recreating this communication tool was a huge effort for the congregation - a task that actually brought us together. We worked to create the site pages that tell the public who we are and who we are becoming."

Open Church offered the temple many money- and time-saving options, like the ability to publish weekly newsletters directly from the website, rather than pay for online newsletter services. Drupal's popularity meant that thousands of free "design themes" were available, so that the new site would look professional from any web browser or machine. There is even an online store for membership and event payments for phase II of the process.

However, no matter what the platform, the new content had to come from somewhere. This is where the Temple community stepped in.

Beginning with the November board meeting, the IT committee put out an APB for people to write about the aspects of Temple life they cared most about -- whether managing building use requests, running the Hebrew School, or performing sacred rituals -- and commit to providing updated information by a December 15th deadline. Moreinis was given the task of managing the project, and used the Temple's Google Apps for Nonprofits platform to help everyone submit and edit page content before the site was even built.

"This tool may be very useful for us as we move forward to improve our communication at Temple Israel and help us to become more efficient and organized," said Board member Shirin Morris. "Planning events with a committee using email can be very confusing and overwhelming with all the many, many, many emails...It seems that if we use a Google doc format instead, much of this overwhelm and confusion might be avoided. I do see the potential now and hope that we get there!"

"If we can get everyone on the Board using this, it should greatly improve our communication," agreed Board president Jean Cherdack.

A site map was presented to the Board for approval, and became an outline for all new pages, with links to Google Docs being developed and ultimately, pages on the new site. After an initial set of trainings in writing, sharing, and commenting on Google Docs, the eighteen copywriters submitted their work, responded to requests, and made it possible for the new site to launch by the January 1 deadline.

A new site banner, typography, and other design adjustments were suggested by Board member Peggy Davis and cantor Joe Kurland, both of Gan Eydn Jewish Art and Music. Bram Moreinis, previously of Gameface Web Design in Kingston, NY, is hosting the site on the company server.

"This was the most enjoyable and successful large-group collaboration I have ever been a part of," said Moreinis. "It was a pain point for everyone, and given the fresh energies and visions of our new Rabbi, a time-sensitive need. But what made it work so well was the deep value this community holds for volunteer service and a focus on detail that is a part of this tradition. We all learned a lot and enjoyed each other in the process."

The new website is a rich source of information about news, events, and ongoing activities for members and the broader community. Members with speciality areas (like the library, the school, or adult education) can very easily add new events and news items that automatically show up in newsletters and calendar listings.

View the new website at