What do you do with 50ish unused yarmulkes from a wedding 25 years ago?
Or a bag of tichels, scarves and half-head coverings?
Turns out local Jews on Facebook can help with that.
Arizona Jewish “Freebay” is a Facebook group, where members can exchange free furniture, books, toys or household items.
“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” said Karolyn Benger, who manages “Freebay.”
Though Benger didn’t start the group, it was born out of her suggestion to Dina Bacharach.
“I made a comment to her that, at the time, the Orthodox community didn’t have a gemach,” she said, referencing a free community exchange.
Bacharach suggested a virtual exchange rather than a traditional gemach, so people don’t have to go to individual homes, Benger said. “I thought it was a brilliant idea.”
The group was created in December 2015 and has since grown to 947 members. It’s one of almost a dozen local Jewish Facebook groups. And whether it’s locating a free item, meeting other Jewish moms, networking for business or talking about social justice, each group has the same general purpose: keeping area Jews connected and engaged.
“I try to be as in touch as possible,” said Jennifer Sosnow, who is a member of at least six local Jewish Facebook groups. “And professionally, keeping tabs of who’s doing what is very helpful.”
Sosnow is Jewish National Fund-USA’s Israel programs admissions director.
“I love that Facebook groups can bring our community together in so many different ways,” she said. Sosnow has met many “wonderful people giving away free stuff” on the Jewish “Freebay” group and gets recommendations and help from the Arizona Jewish Moms group.
AJM is managed by Lakie Blech and has more than 1,300 members.
Blech joined about five years ago, when she moved to Arizona from Maryland and started looking for other Jewish moms.
“The group gives me direct responses if I need anything,” she said. “A lawyer or a doctor or a flute teacher or whatever — there’s always an answer or advice.”
When the group’s manager left Phoenix and needed somebody to take over, Blech raised her hand.
“I am happy I did. It is something I feel is helpful and I am glad to be there and be a strong voice in the community as much as possible,” she said. Plus, she has professional social media management experience.
In an effort to minimize the amount of notifications people get and to make the page “tidier,” Blech recently began hosting two dedicated threads each month for advertisements and events.
“I just hope that it is a strong tool for the community to keep people connected.” The group is open to non-moms too, she said.
Sosnow is also active in the Jewish Women of Phoenix group.
Candy Welner, who manages the group, said it is helpful for all things related to Jewish education, Kosher food, crafts, services, camps, networking and lectures.
“Best of all is the opportunity to meet people who are new to the Phoenix area,” she said. “ A lot of interactions take place through direct messaging, so the group posts are just the tip of the iceberg.”
She even turned out to be related to the husband of a woman new to Phoenix who joined the group.
The group was started in 2012 by Mikie Benjamin and Rina Krizman, who have since moved to Israel.
“We saw there was a need so we wanted to fill it,” said Benjamin. “It doesn’t matter what shul you go to, we’re all here together and can connect and help each other.”
Welner is happy with the “low-key, laid-back feel” where “everybody is friendly, helpful, all age groups, all styles of Jewish observance.”
TribeNet, Arizona’s newest Jewish Facebook group, was created in April by Alyssa Belanger of The Event Genies and Jennifer Starrett of Jew PHX, who call it a group for “Heebs” who want to network. So far it has 547 members, including Sosnow.
It’s a site for Jewish professionals looking to share ideas and information, connect and build professional networks, hear from leading experts on topics of interest, and, of course, socialize and have fun, according to the founders.
Plans are underway to create a member directory and a place to find business and professional profiles on jewphx.com.
“I love working with Jewish business owners, and starting TribeNet gives us the opportunity to meet up, develop relationships with other business owners and help promote and support each other,” Starrett said.
Sosnow is also a member of the Phoenix Jewish Community Hub.
With more than 3,700 members, it was created in 2016 by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, as a way to create an umbrella space for community engagement.
People new to the community didn’t have a centralized place to ask questions, he said. Nor was there a place to promote events or collaborate around ideas.
The vast majority of Jews in Greater Phoenix are not part of formal Jewish institutions like synagogues or advocacy groups, he said, “So we want to find more channels for people to plug into where they can connect in ways that are meaningful for them.”
The way people use the group has evolved over time. It used to be a more conversational group, where people talked about local issues. “But we saw that it was often hard to manage, given the diversity of views,” he said. It’s become a space to share events and information about the community. He hopes to foster more respectful dialogue going forward, especially at this time of intense polarization both in the United States and within the Jewish community, he said.
Yanklowitz likes both the diversity of the membership and that everybody seems to feel welcome.
He’d love to see even more people join the group, “but I’ve also been really impressed that after all these years, it’s still robustly active.”
Yanklowitz also started the Arizona Jews For Justice Facebook group in 2015, which now has more than 2,100 members, many of whom are not Jewish. He started it because there was no other Jewish social justice group in town at the time, “and there was no channel in the Jewish community to talk about this stuff,” be it antisemitism, immigration, race relations or other issues.
He’s also noticed that fewer people are willing to post much or share their views as the country has become more polarized.
But Facebook isn’t the only place online for these Jewish connections. Yanklowitz has set his sights on Clubhouse next, a new social media platform that is based on oral dialogue.
“We do think there’s value not only in seeing each other and writing to each other, but talking with each other in a decentralized way,” he said. “People should be in touch with us if they’re interested in the Clubhouse space.” JN