Synagogues Get Their Own (Scape)Goat
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Synagogues Get Their Own (Scape)Goat

Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.

When Sarah Lefton first came up with the pre-Yom Kippur app eScapegoat, she thought it would be a cute way to bring awareness to the Leviticus story behind the ritual of atonement.

But when her company, G-dcast, released the app last year, allowing people to anonymously foist their sins onto a cartoon goat, people took it seriously. So much so that this year her G-dcast released the “Mini Goat,” custom websites that allow synagogue members to share their sins only with each other.

“We were really coming at it from a light comedic vision,” Lefton said of the first eScapegoat app in a telephone interview last week. “I thought it would be so funny to have this virtual goat running around the Internet before Yom Kippur.”

But when the sins started coming in — more than 50,000 of them — she saw that people were coming from a place of earnest contemplation.

“We discovered last year that it’s a way more profound project that we had expected,” Lefton said.

“People posted things about their divorce proceedings, about their relationships — heavy, heavy stuff,” she said. “A local rabbi that I know actually read some of the tweets from the bima on Yom Kippur as part of the sermon.”

So when a rabbi suggested that she create walled-off sites for congregations, she took him up on it.

So far 54 congregations, schools and other institutions have bought the $99 Mini Goat website, which includes lesson plans for various age groups and a goat with the organization’s logo on it. Twenty groups also bought the $49 “Goat-in-a-Box” add-on with posters, tote bags, stickers and temporary tattoos.

Rabbi Larry Freedman of Temple Beth Jacob bought both products for his 140-family congregation in Newburgh, N.Y., and even made his own postcards to promote it.

“I thought it was cute and fun and spoke to a profound idea in a very accessible way,” he said.

He added that the congregation-only design would help build community at the shul, and allows people to see that they’re “not the only one who is struggling.”

Saul Kaiserman, director of lifelong learning at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, also bought both products and plans to use them in a variety of ways — ideas include laptop stations in the Hebrew school “early room,” to allow parents to post their sins while waiting for drop-off and pick-up and having teens post their sins using their cell phones after Rosh HaShanah services.

He particularly likes that the program offers the opportunity for congregants to communicate across generations.

“We’ve been doing Yom Kippur programming but it’s all very separate [among age groups],” he said “This is really takes advantage of the Internet to make it possible for the generations to hear a little bit better what’s on people’s minds.”

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