Rabbi's Mobile Assistant

The words "Rabbi" and "iPhone" are not commonly found in the same sentence. Yet my 10th grade students began their Confirmation service this year by saying, "We have truly become a community, and we have the pictures on Rabbi Cohen's iPhone to prove it."

My iPhone holds my calendar, contacts, and e-mails, and those capabilities alone make it worthwhile for me. But in addition to those more typical uses, it has become an invaluable tool in aspects of my life that are uniquely rabbinic. Here are a few examples of the ways in which the iPhone has helped me in my work as one of the rabbis serving a thousand-household congregation in New Jersey.

Snapping Photos on the iPhoneI use the iPhone to snap pictures of our
preschoolers and e-mail them to their

Access to rabbinic resources—anywhere, anytime

My iPhone lets me access my rabbinic library no matter where I am. By using a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner (fujitsu.com), I have created a reference database containing a great deal of the source material that I use each day as a rabbi. For the most part I scan and save material as PDF files. When need be, however, I use ReadIris' OCR software to convert PDFs to editable text. There are a number of ways in which I am then able to save and access the material. I can access any files that I have sent to Evernote (evernote.com) through Evernote's iPhone optimized site. I can also view or e-mail any files I have sent to SugarSync (sugarsync.com). I can employ an amazing little program called iGet Mobile (nakahara-informatics.com/igetmobile) to quickly view and send any files on my home computer so long as the desktop is on. Most recently If discovered that DevonThink (devon-technologies.com)—the program I use to organize my many documents—includes a Web portal that is optimized for my iPhone and allows me to directly view any documents in its database. Finally, if need be I can save documents as images and, using iTunes, sync them to my iPhone the way I do any other picture.

Accessing Reference MaterialI use my iPhone to Access reference material and services i have previously scanned.

Having an iPhone allows me to access material I need and e-mail it to myself no matter where I am. And, because of its easy-to-read screen, I am able to read the documents directly from the iPhone itself if need be. Let me give you three examples of how this is useful.

  1. I arrive at a funeral only to discover that I have forgotten the prayer book containing the liturgy for the funeral. What to do? Well, I can see if the funeral home has one—they don't. Okay, I can ask my secretary to copy the document and fax it to me—no good, the funeral home's fax machine is broken. The solution: Turn on my iPhone, pull up a scanned version of the service, and e-mail it to the funeral home's computer for printing.
  2. I arrive at a congregant's home to officiate at a baby naming. They have given the child a Hebrew name that I have never before heard and am completely unable to spell. I pull out my iPhone and locate the book of Hebrew names which I have already scanned. Within moments, I not only have the spelling of the name, but I can give the family the history and meaning behind it, as well.
  3. A Bat Mitzvah student calls to tell me that she has lost her study materials. Although I am not at my desk, since I have scanned all of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah material and store it on SugarSync's server, I am able to locate her packet of materials and e-mail it to her within seconds.

Note-taking without taking notes

In the months since purchasing my iPhone, I have become rather proficient with the keyboard. In fact, a few weeks back I did an experiment and discovered that I prefer the iPhone's virtual touchscreen keyboard to a physical one. I now type fast enough that I find myself taking notes during meetings or lectures directly on my iPhone. Best of all, as soon as I am done, I am able to e-mail my notes to myself, my assistant, or to Evernote (evernote.com) for safekeeping. The only downside is that some people think I am texting rather than note-taking. In addition, there have been times when I was able to use the iPhone's camera to "visually document" rather than actually write down text. Let me give one example in which I did both.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a morning at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The day began with a lecture during which I took notes on my iPhone. As we broke into smaller groups to tour the museum/educational center, I e-mailed the notes I had just taken to Evernote. Then, as we walked around, I snapped picture after picture of both the displays and the written material corresponding to each display.

I then sent the images to Evernote. Now, because Evernote optically scans each piece of text sent to it, I have a searchable database of the Center's displays.

Taking pictures and posting on the run

While the iPhone doesn't have the best camera in the world, it does have a lot of file storage space and it's easy to e-mail photos to others. Because of all this, I have become quite the prolific photographer (some would say annoying photographer). I now take pictures of just about everything happening at Temple since nothing captures the power and emotion of a life-cycle event better than an image.

As my Bar/Bat Mitzvah students are engaging in their final rehearsal, I now snap pictures.

As our preschoolers enjoy a Passover Seder, I snap dozens of pictures.

Not only are these photos waiting in the families' e-mail inboxes by the time they get home, but I am able to quickly and easily post them to the Temple's Web site.

Thanks to my iPhone, I now have a wonderful collection of photographs, documenting all of the activities that take place within our active and diverse community.

Although not marketed as a "work phone," I find the iPhone to be an amazing tool for my job as a rabbi. As I move further and further into a paperless work-style, the iPhone has quickly become indispensable to me.

His iPhone lets him access rabbinic resources and stay in touch with his congregation
October 2008 (Premier Issue)
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