You don't need to travel to Tibet, take up meditation or contemplate a sunset for a spiritual experience. Just log on to, join your local Chabad-Lubavitch group and add some nifty Jewish applications to your profile; soon, you will be surfing in a fascinating land of Jewish thought, pondering the meaning of life all while attending to your Jewish social schedule.

Facebook probably does not need an introduction, but in the unlikely event this phenomena of social networking is unfamiliar, here's the lowdown on it: Back in early 2004, Mark Zuckerberg created the Web-based utility in his Harvard University dorm room. At first, the networking tool was only for Harvard students, but like wildfire, it soon caught on at other college campuses. Now, membership is open to everybody with an e-mail address, and estimates are that Facebook has approximately 24 million users.

None of Facebook's amazing potential was lost on Rabbi Moshe Plotkin, co-director of Chabad of New Paltz and something of a computer whiz who was a lead programmer in the transformation of's Web site about seven years ago. In addition to his role as a rabbi in New Paltz, Plotkin teaches a graduate course in relational database design at the university. For the last few years, he and his wife Bracha have used Facebook to augment their outreach efforts on campus.

The Plotkins are not the only ones. Rabbi Hershey and Chana Rochel Novack, directors of Chabad on Campus serving Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., also use Facebook to post events, keep up with group members and maintain a cohesive community of involved students. Novack, for one, asserted that most, if not all, of the more than 100 campus-based Chabad Houses in the United States utilized Facebook.

For his part, Plotkin enthusiastically declared that "Facebook was made for Chabad Houses. Facebook's creator didn't intend it that way, but G‑d made it that way."

The Plotkins post events such as Passover Seders, Shabbat dinners and classes on their Facebook page, inviting other students to join in. Last year, two students attended the Seder at the Chabad House because they saw the information on Facebook.

More Options

Not only does a Chabad House using the Web-based tool benefit from easily advertising events to an ever-widening circle of contacts, but Facebook also enables other students to see whether friends are attending or not. Chabad events are always warm and inviting, but Facebook kicks that comfort level up a notch by letting everyone see who will be at an event.

And the site's Jewish potential just keeps growing, according to Plotkin. Pointing to the opening of Facebook's platform in late May to third-party developers, the rabbi said that he's been spending a good chunk of his time programming new applications for students to add to their Facebook profiles.

The thinking is simple: There are more than 2,500 third-party applications currently available, ranging from the purely functional, as in providing a user the ability to display PDF documents on their Facebook page, to the more esoteric, like displaying a new art-related quote each day. On the face of it, added applications allow a user to make a statement: "This is who I am. I'm a rock-loving grad student, or I'm a fan of impressionist art who's into traveling the world."

But for Plotkin, you can be all those things and a proud Jewish student too. He said he sees his role as providing Jewish content to the Facebook user, so that they can express that very important side of their identity.

Several of Plotkin's applications are live, including a Jewish birthday converter that allows students to display both their English and Hebrew birthdays. That tool even shows the English date that the next Hebrew birthday will fall on.

For those who want a daily dose of Jewish learning, there's a "Daily Study" application that connects users to the page hosting the daily Torah portion with Rashi's commentary in English. The tool also displays the daily recitation of Psalms.

Another of Plotkin's programs, currently in beta testing, is called "Friday Light." In conjunction with the Chabad of the West Coast project of the same name, which can be found on the Web at, the application allows users to display Shabbat candle lighting times for several different cities at once.

There's even a "Jewish Thought" application that displays a daily nugget of wisdom in users' profiles, allowing viewers to then discuss among themselves on the native Facebook wall application.

"There's a wealth of Jewish content out there," said Chana Rochel Novack. "These applications help to channel that content and bring it to the Facebook crowd."

And with statistics reportedly showing that many Facebook subscribers spend more than 50 percent of their time online logged into the Web site, Plotkin said it's clear the demand is out there.

"We're being proactive about Judaism," he said. "This gives people more ways in which to connect with their heritage."