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Thursday, December 18, 2014

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KosherTube encourages Jewish online learning

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Rabbi David Ostriker

KosherTube, an interactive video website, is YouTube’s younger Jewish cousin.

As the official website of the Electronic Torah Educational Foundation and the Riverdale Jewish Community Centre, KosherTube was established in 2007 by Rabbi David Ostriker and Michael Kigel. It officially went online in November 2008 and has content from contributors around the globe.

Rabbi Ostriker said he and Kigel created the site to encourage the understanding of Judaism through the use of participatory video. “It gave people the opportunity to learn and have insights into a world that they were curious about, but had little or no knowledge of.”

Kigel is dean of the Jewish Leadership Program at the Lauder Business School in Vienna, Austria, and is the producer and host of 10 seasons of Passages and Messages on CTS. Rabbi Ostriker has served on the executive committee of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, is a past chair of the Canadian Independent Film Caucus, and brings more than 40 years of media experience to KosherTube.

In its first three years of operation, KosherTube had more than 12 million video-hit screenings. Currently, the site has more than 400,000 video-hits per month. With more than 7,000 videos to browse, which means more than 5,000 hours of content, viewers are always up to date on Jewish topics of interest.

“We provide the technology for you to become a registered member and upload video,” Rabbi Ostriker said. “The ‘kosher’ part of our name is our promise to you that everything on this site will be kosher. Anything that fits into the observant lifestyle is appropriate. Unlike on YouTube, uploaded videos will not be viewable to the public until they are watched and vetted by our team.”

Rabbi Ostriker said the goal is to make KosherTube “a vast and wonderful source of video on all things kosher: the spiritual and the practical, and fun stuff, too. We have an archive of hundreds of hours of materials that we developed over many years.”

For Jews who are not very familiar with Judaism and its customs, KosherTube is a great stepping stone, he said. “It teaches the basics – how to make a seder or put on tfillin – and gets your feet wet. Hopefully you will get comfortable with the water. No one wants to be embarrassed with their lack of knowledge. KosherTube plays a big role in making people comfortable with learning about Judaism.”

He said the website’s target audience is “anyone interested in Yiddishkeit or anyone who wants to enjoy a kosher lifestyle – through travel, entertainment or recreation.” While the site can even appeal to non-Jews, he said two-thirds of the regular viewers are observant Jews.

Rabbis and scholars from Canada, the United States, Israel and other countries are recorded weekly and uploaded to KosherTube. The team also searches the Internet for new and unique videos to embed on their site – “kosher videos that shed light on our world.”

Users of KosherTube benefit from the site’s content, Rabbi Ostriker said. From bringing naches to family members by sending video greetings to organizing chesed projects with other users around the world, the value is endless.

Those who sign up can attend any of the online video classes available at KosherTube, including Judaism 101. “As long as it’s kosher, the only limit to the content on KosherTube is our users’ imagination and ambition. Users can post weekly vorts [words] on the parshah; host video shiurim [lessons], which other users can subscribe to, and post questions, receive responses and participate in any number of discussions on any number of topics.”

Rabbi Ostriker said users can even share “life’s joys and passages: announce births, engagements, weddings and bereavement; send video ‘mazal tovs’ and prayers for a refuah shleimah [recovery from illness]; pay video tribute to loved ones who have passed on, but whose influence continues to be felt, and create a group to offer Shabbos hospitality.”

As KosherTube grows and moves beyond a website “to a place in cyberspace that fosters genuine community, users will control much of the content,” Rabbi Ostriker said. “There is no limit to what KosherTube users can do.”

Visit www.koshertube.com to browse videos and register for free.

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