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Why Your Synagogue’s Video Went Dark on Yom Kippur
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Why Your Synagogue’s Video Went Dark on Yom Kippur

ShulCloud, which provides streaming services for Jewish institutions, acknowledged that it made mistakes.

Thousands of people logging on to their synagogues' virtual Yom Kippur services Sunday night got this message instead, informing them that the tech provider ShulCloud was experiencing technical difficulties. (Twitter)
Thousands of people logging on to their synagogues' virtual Yom Kippur services Sunday night got this message instead, informing them that the tech provider ShulCloud was experiencing technical difficulties. (Twitter)

(JTA) — Synagogues across the country vented their anger at the web services company ShulCloud after their websites went dark on Erev Yom Kippur.

The outage came just as countless congregants were preparing to tune in virtually to what is normally one of the most well-attended synagogue services of the year. ShulCloud declined to specify how many synagogues were affected by the outage this week, but announced  Wednesday that it was taking steps to shore up its systems.

ShulCloud provides tech services to about 1,200 synagogues around the world. Parent company CEO Neil Platt acknowledged that the company had made mistakes in its planning, attributing it to the unprecedented nature of a mostly online Yom Kippur and the surge in web traffic it generated.

“If there was like a Super Bowl for online synagogue access, it was Sunday night,” Platt said. “It just never happened before.”

“This was the biggest day of the year,” agreed Marc Rothstein, the executive director of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. “They knew it was the biggest day of the year. And they failed. I would call it a failure on their part.”

In an email to users the Monday prior to Rosh Hashanah, the company announced it was taking steps to shore up its systems in anticipation of increased activity, including adding servers and enabling real-time monitoring to watch for disruptions in service.

After several synagogues reported slow response times over Rosh Hashanah, the company sent another email saying it had faced a scenario “that could not be anticipated or used to test our preparedness.” The company promised still further enhancements for Yom Kippur, including a doubling of its capacity and the launch of a status page on its website to report known outages.

But it wasn’t enough to keep the ShulCloud-powered website of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, from going down on Sunday night. Fortunately, the Reform synagogue had implemented an extensive contingency plan, including contracting with other providers in case the platform failed, and was able to quickly pivot.

“We were lucky,” Rebecca Rund, the synagogue’s virtual community chair and sisterhood president, told JTA. “We avoided catastrophe.”

They knew it was the biggest day of the year. And they failed.

ShulCloud is the dominant player in a highly niche market, providing a range of back-end tech services to about 1,200 synagogues around the world, including web hosting and design, content management, membership, billing, fundraising, scheduling and more.

In 1993, the company merged with a competitor to form Shulware, the umbrella company for ShulCloud and two other software platforms, Congregation Connect and Chaverware, aimed at synagogues. The entire platform is now under the aegis of Togetherwork, a family of businesses that provide administrative software solutions.

Even as the anger simmered online this week, synagogue execs acknowledge there’s little alternative to the platform, which for all its shortcomings over the past week remains the best product of its kind.

“There’s not really much to jump ship to,” said Caroline Dorn, the membership director at Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts, and one of the administrators of ShulCloud Users, a 500-member Facebook group for synagogue leaders who use the platform.

“This is the best of the synagogue management software. We’re much more interested in seeing ShulCloud’s success. We don’t believe there’s a better product out there that can better serve our needs right now.”

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