The ingredients are simple enough. Take one part Facebook with a heaping portion of Jewish life, mix in a bit of culture, a dash of debate and some strong marketing and toss in a former Israeli military man in Irvine to stir it all together.
The result is Schtik.com, the brainchild of Ofer Ben-Menachem, who operates as something of a superhero – by day working as a financial consultant, but by night working hard to connect Jews to other Jews, whether those Jews are artists, businessmen or students. It’s a fragrant broth of people.
“It’s a Jewish soup,” he said with a laugh.
It’s his experience being in the Orange County community that inspired his website. Over the years Ben-Menachem saw the events of UCI play out, where anti-Israel activities have been rampant. He also saw similar things on Facebook, with many hate groups potentially threatening members of the Jewish community and their ability to speak up and run their groups in peace.
As someone who came from Israel and was proud of the country he came from, he was alarmed at the misinformation and hatred that was being strewn across the social networking site.
“I wanted a place where we couldn’t have these hate groups,” he said. “Where Jews can express without fear of what people would say about them.”
He started Schtik two years ago with a small investment on his part, and it has grown to connect Jews on five different continents, excluding Antarctica and Africa. He has expanded the website to include ten different news sources, including the Jerusalem Post and the popular Jewish blog, Jewlicious. It also includes music apps, games, video chatting, chat rooms and an events listing for Jewish events.
In addition to these resources, Ben-Menachem will send out e-mails to members about different upcoming Jewish holidays with short explanations, ranging from Yom Ha’azmaut to Passover.
“We wanted to inform Jews,” Ben-Menachem said.
One of the most important elements that the site provides is room for debate – something that is particularly important for Jews, as there are many different topics in the community that need addressing, ranging from Israel to the current state of Judaism around the world. And there is room for everyone.
“It’s really creating an environment for all Jews,” he said. “I don’t care who you are.”
In addition to the debates, Ben-Menachem encourages marketing. Since posting advertisements is free on Schtik, he feels that it is a good place for Jewish business owners to engage with the community and provide a place to advertise their products with no cost involved.
The inspiration for the site’s design was from Facebook, and Ben-Menachem sought to have similar features to the uber-popular social networking site. However, he would like to have Schtik not be a competitor with Facebook, but rather a complement to it, narrowing down the focus to the Jewish community and being able to share ideas in that space. In fact, the programming of the site allows members to post as easily to Facebook alongside their Schtik account, thereby enhancing the original’s staying power.
However, between the two sites, there is an essential difference: No spamming, no hate groups and definitely no profanity.
“If anyone’s trying to be a schmuck, he’s out,” Ben-Menachem said, adding that the most important goal is to have a website that everyone feels comfortable going to, no matter their religious definition, be it Orthodox, Conservative or simply secular. Also, since kids 13 and up are allowed on Schtik, he wants a place where parents can feel comfortable that their children are on and are safe.
Currently, the website has operated almost exclusively on word-of-mouth marketing, but Ben-Menachem sees that changing as membership increases. Others have taken expanding the network into their own hands.
Recently, members of Schtik in Chicago created a party for other members of the service to meet and spend time together outside of cyberspace. Artists who have displayed their work on the website have been frequenting each other’s gallery openings and performances, creating an outside network of people supporting each other in pursuing
Overall, Ben-Menachem has great hopes for his broth of Judaism that he has created for people all over the world.
“I’d like to see it a vibrant, large community where there are thousands of Jews getting together and referring one another,” he said. “Telling each other that they should join the community because they feel safe and great to be among other Jews.”
Ben-Menachem wants the community to take charge of Schtik and shape its direction, and as far as he is concerned, it’s just a service he is providing to Jews around the world.
“I don’t want anything in return. I’m proud of being Jewish; I’m proud of being Israeli. I’m against the hate groups everywhere,” he said. “I wanted a place where we are Jewish and we are proud, and we are going to say what we are going to say without a problem.”