Local Jewish blog attempts to unite communityby amanda ogus, j. intern
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With a Jewish community as diverse as the Bay Area's, only a miracle-worker could possibly consolidate all topics of interest. With his new Web site, Oy-Bay.org, rookie blogger Tomer Altman attempts to do just that.
Specifically, he wants to connect the Jewish young adult community in the Bay with more opportunities to attend events, share opinions, and develop relationships with other Members of the Tribe — "MOTs," as he calls them.
By posting information about an ovarian cancer blood test "crucial for Ashkenazi Jewish women" one week and a notice for an after-party celebrating the first Israeli Playboy model the next, Altman certainly offers a look at diverse community.
"More traditional means of connecting the community haven't been a raging success in the area," Altman said. "This blog is about uniting like-minded individuals and getting them in the know."
Oy-Bay combines writing from Altman and two other staff writers — Sarah Tuttle-Singer and Lilya Mitelman — while describing upcoming Bay Area events and news of note with an organized list of numerous links to other blogs, Jewish sites and activities.
Professionally a computer scientist, Altman spends about an hour or two per day on the project, and the site is logging more than 1,000 hits per month and climbing. The blog is based on a non-profit model — Altman says he never expects it to make any money.
In a sense, that ensures creative autonomy. "Keeping the site independent of any Jewish organization gives it a larger degree of freedom for what people can say and write," Altman noted.
Recently, the site added a Google calendar to be more inclusive, and to organize the social gatherings. Altman believes that broadcasting those events online to showcase diverse opinions is more in sync with what youth are apt to seek when browsing.
After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in 2003, Altman had to search too hard to find age-appropriate Jewish activities in the Bay Area. Having found what he considered a hole in the information terrain, he decided to plug it. Voila — Oy-Bay.
Altman hopes his Web site will boom into a place not only to list events but to foster relationships. He cites a 2005 study released by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, which indicated that although the Bay Area is home to the third-largest Jewish population of the country, it is spread so thin that an all-encompassing "community" is almost non-existent.
"People are very disconnected, and there's a need for [a single] spot on the Web for the community," Altman said.
Altman's Jewishness began in the South Bay — today the fastest-growing Jewish area locally — with "fairly observant" Israeli parents who attended a conservative synagogue. However, Altman decided to have his bar mitzvah at a more observant shul.
A participant of the Hebrew Free Loan Association's teen fellowship program, a project to train and educate young Jewish leaders, he later witnessed anti-Semitism and anti-Israel feelings on the Berkeley campus that strengthened his identity as an Israeli American and a Jew — and heightened his interest in the Jewish world at large. He joined the Israel Action Committee at Berkeley, and for a while served as its chair.
His tight-knit circle of friends in the South Bay and San Francisco served as an inspiration for the Web site via their varied conversational topics.
Altman also contributed to, and learned from, popular Jewish blogs. For example, members of Jewlicious.com ran a weekend conference in Long Beach, to prove that bonds of virtual communication go deeper than a click of the mouse. Though Altman had never met the Jewlicious team, he found them to be like family.
"I saw the power and potentioal of this means to build a community," he explained. "I had found such a camaraderie with them, an instant rapport."
With the aid of friends, Altman is currently helping to bolster specific Bay Area institutions, including Hillels, fraternities, and Jewish-living facilities such as the Moishe House in San Francisco. He especially wants to expand those institutions' physical presence — to "strengthen a disconnected core in the South Bay."
That power, he says, ultimately is "what the blog is about; there's a synergy to it."
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