By Louise Szczerb
It was 2013. For five hours a week, in exchange for a small tuition grant, a Pardes student perched at the end of my desk and worked on organizing what was at that time, a limited, but slowly growing list of random online articles and podcasts.
This was the beginning of Elmad – a user-friendly, online learning library for all Pardes content: written, audio and video.
Fast-forward two and a half years and Elmad has exploded.
A strategic combination of investment in technology, the appointments of an online content manager and educational director working with faculty to produce high-level content tailored for online audiences and an aggressive marketing campaign has seen Elmad grow to almost 1,000 posts on topics ranging from Bible and Jewish law to conflict resolution and pedagogy and four podcast series with over 8,000 monthly downloads.
With so many more people being touched on a day-to-day basis by Pardes online, than in our beit midrash, are we now moving away from being a bricks-and-mortar institution with an online presence to becoming an online institution with a bricks-and-mortar presence?
This is a challenge for our senior management and boards. Certainly our faculty and our alumni would agree that nothing can replace spending an intensive year (or two) studying Jewish texts in Israel, and we are seeing a huge growth in numbers for our short-term programs. But we recognize that our alumni want to continue learning with Pardes long after they leave our beit midrash and there are many others who can’t be with us physically in Jerusalem, but want to access our unique brand of learning wherever they are in the world. And of course, online courses are a great taster for students who might eventually want to come to Pardes in-person.
So we are continuing to push ourselves and our faculty to get out there, even it means retraining our teachers so they feel more comfortable teaching online, piloting the length and cost of online courses and engaging the services of editors and production specialists to make sure quality is not compromised.
Really the question is no longer if and when traditional Jewish learning institutions should embrace the digital opportunity, but how they should go about doing it.
Louise Szczerb is the Director of Communications at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. She has been working in non-profit marketing and communications for over 13 years.