In addition to building a new physical home, Temple Israel staff have been busy creating a new virtual home as well. Chosen to take part in a Union for Reform Judaism pilot program, Temple Israel has been designing a new website that promises more functionality and ease-of-use than its predecessor.

Offered as a benefit of URJ membership, the new website features a streamlined interface and enhanced interactivity in the hopes of providing a more enjoyable experience that both congregants and staff have been asking for.

“The old website was more of a process to get things done, to add photos and any sort of media, it was more of a pain,” said Temple Israel Graphic Designer Cassandra Hicks. “Putting content on the [new] website, and changing it, it’s going to be quicker and easier to do.”

The Union for Reform Judaism contacted Temple Israel about eight months ago, Hicks said.

“We were chosen as one of a handful of congregations to try out their new web design program,” Hicks said.

Dubbed WebBuilder 2.0 and developed by Whole Megillah, a web-based design firm that specializes in Jewish organizations, the template for Temple Israel’s new website is wholly customizable and adaptable to the congregation’s needs thanks to the Joomla content management system.

But before that could happen, the staff had to learn how, exactly, Joomla worked.

“It was a process to learn the new software,” Hicks said. “I’d never used it before. That was a little bit of a challenge, getting used to it … but once I got used to that it was a lot easier and a lot faster to put it together, and all the changes you wanted to make could be done quickly.”

The URJ has been instrumental in assisting Temple Israel staff in learning how to use the new software. Hicks has been in almost daily contact with Jared Shih, the URJ Web Help Desk Assistant.

“I’ll try my best to figure what the answer is, but sometimes I don’t know what’s going on, and so I’ll contact him and he’ll usually reply that day or the next day,” Hicks said. “He’ll go in and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it and then we can get right back on track. … They’ve been very helpful.”

While some features of the new website are still works-in-progress, much of the new content will be available upon launch, including a blog, photo albums and a calendar filled with events.

Another new feature is the cookbook, “The Missing Ingredient,” sponsored by the Omaha chapter of Women of Reform Judaism. Now online and searchable, “The Missing Ingredient” is full of recipes contributed by congregants in honor of loved ones.

Congregation members will also be able to sign in to the Chavarware database and manage their personal information. Keep an eye on your inbox for your invitation.

The Cantor’s Classroom will also be new and improved, with a database of audio files of Torah and Haftorah portions in place of the CD Cantor Shermet has been handing out. There will also be .pdf files in both Hebrew and transliterated English.

And there will be a World Jewry section full of news from Israel and around the world.

Perhaps most exciting will be the cameras set up at the construction site of the new Temple Israel. You’ll be able to watch the progress via weekly photo updates as the building slowly comes together.

And the website isn’t the only thing getting a facelift. Temple Israel’s weekly electronic newsletter, eTidings, also boasts a new look to better match the design of the website. This redesigned eTidings will  provide information about lifecycle events, members in the news, as well as celebrate members who volunteer their time and contributions to our funds.

Comments and suggestions are welcome as Temple Israel continues to grow and evolve. And if you have any personal news you’d like to share, contact Wendy Goldberg at wgoldberg@templeisraelomaha.com or feel free to post a comment to the Facebook page or Twitter account.

Be sure to check the website frequently for updated information about the religious school, adult education and the high holidays as fall approaches.

To check out the new-look website, visit www.templeisraelomaha.com, and while you’re there, be sure to sign up to receive the weekly eTidings, too, if you aren’t already receiving it.