Steve Jobs vs. Rabbi Muskin

Where has paper gone? When’s the last time you got your news on paper rather than on a computer screen? I marvel at the ease of use of my iPad; I bless Steve Jobs whenever I access any of the hundreds of books I “carry” on my magic tablet, or connect instantly to one of my favorite sites, or check my e-mails at any time or do research on absolutely any subject that might move me.

I also marvel when I see young religious Jews use their iPhones to pray Mincha during the week or seek out a piece of Talmud. It’s clear the world is going digital — the advantages of speed and convenience are simply too enormous. Steve Jobs has figured that out as well as anybody.

That’s why I can’t get over this new product I discovered at my shul the other day. It connects you instantly. Requires no Wi-Fi or 3G or even batteries, and it’s completely intuitive.

It’s called … paper.

Specifically, it’s the annual program guide at Young Israel of Century City (YICC), Rabbi Elazar Muskin’s pride and joy.

This is not just another program guide; it’s more like an annual creative mission at the synagogue. They start the planning a year in advance and make a grand reveal on the night of Yom Kippur. The reason it takes so long is twofold. One, the shul takes its programming very seriously.

Except for a couple of months when things slow down in the summer, there’s something special going on pretty much every week: scholars-in-residence; history lectures; “Freylach Friday Kabbalat Shabbat” (where they “borrow” a chazzan from across the street at the Happy Minyan); “Nutrition for the Family” classes from Cedars-Sinai; “Ask the Posek” melaveh malkahs; local speakers from the Federation, AIPAC, the Israeli Consulate and other groups; community Shabbatons with charities like Chai Lifeline and Etta Israel; young couples and singles scavenger hunts; ethics lecture series; a night to see old Hollywood movies; and so on.

But beyond the actual programming, the reason the guide takes so long to produce is that it simply doesn’t look like a guide. It’s more like a piece of humorous art. It’s stylish, clever and brilliantly designed. It might as well come out of a hot creative boutique. This year, the theme is green and organic (“GO ORGANYICC!” on the cover) and the motif is carried throughout.

I throw away a rain forest worth of brochures and leaflets every year, but I can’t imagine throwing away the YICC guide. Why is that? If I’m always on the Internet, can’t I just get on their Web site to see what’s happening that week? Why bother tearing down more trees just to pretty up my living room coffee table?

Here’s why: Paper gives me something my iPad could never give me — the big picture. To continue with the tree metaphor, when I’m holding the guide in my hands, I feel like I’m getting the whole forest, not just an individual tree. I’m holding 12 months and a whole community in my hands. As I flip through the pages and see so many names and events, I’m feeling the whole community. As my eye goes from one subject to another, I’m feeling the depth and breadth of Judaism itself.

And none of it ever leaves my hand.

I’m not holding a computer and seeing one fleeting thing; I’m holding a community and feeling everything. As I’m reading about a Daf Yomi sponsorship or a new Torah to Go program on one page, I know that the “Know Your Haggadah” event or the Yossi Klein Halevi lecture are nestled safely on another page. They’re not disappearing into the digital dust. They’re still with me, still in my hands, still in one place.

When congregations around the country ask how they can develop a greater sense of enthusiasm and involvement in their communities, a good place to start would be to look at the YICC programming guide. Think about it. Any time members sit in their living room or den or kitchen, chances are the guide is with them, ready to be picked up and perused. In their home is a constant and colorful reminder of the richness and worth of their community; a constant source of anticipation for upcoming events.

Like Judaism itself, paper has staying power. It doesn’t just come and go. Of course, it can never compete with the immediacy of the digital. For one thing, it forces you to commit way in advance to speakers and events (which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing). And it costs time and money.

But I bet you they’d get a mini uprising at YICC if they tried to do away with their cherished annual guide. It’d be like losing a good friend or a member of the family.

And there’s no way Steve Jobs could ever compete with that. I love my iPad, but it’s not mishpachah.

David Suissa is the founder of OLAM magazine and You can read his daily blog at and e-mail him at {encode=”” title=””}.