With new app, Marin Jewish life at ones fingertips

Didn’t know about this weekend’s klezmer concert or next week’s panel discussion on Israel? Missed the talk by the bestselling author who gave a sold-out reading at the JCC?

GrapeVine, a new app for Jewish events launching this month in Marin County, promises to help individuals better plan their free time and help Jewish organizations reach new audiences by making personalized recommendations for local events based on each user’s interests.

“In the same way that Netflix and Amazon will make recommendations to their users, the platform is able to match programs with user profiles based on their interests and specifications,” said Jill Zenoff, GrapeVine’s national director.

Setting up a profile on GrapeVine

Launched on the East Coast four years ago, GrapeVine currently serves New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Portland.

As of the first night of Hanukkah, the service will expand to Marin. Seven local Jewish organizations — the Osher Marin JCC, Congregation Rodef Sholom, Congregation Kol Shofar, PJ Library, Brandeis Marin, Chabad of Novato and Reboot — have signed on to list their events on the app; the Marin JCC is staffing the effort and is in the process of adding new organizations, according to Joanne Greene, the JCC’s director of Jewish engagement.

Her hope is that GrapeVine will “elevate Jewish life throughout the county.”

She explained. “If someone’s a member of Rodef Sholom, they don’t know that next week Kol Shofar is having this really interesting Israel program that they might be interested in going to, and you can’t be checking 15 websites every week.”

Furthermore, she added, many Jews in Marin aren’t affiliated with any Jewish organizations and they might not hear about events — such as the JCC’s small-scale winter film festival — that would interest them.

People can download GrapeVine on their smartphones or access it at www.grape-vine.com. After they create a profile that includes the types of activities they’re interested in, the algorithm does its magic and GrapeVine makes customized recommendations for each user.

Users can register for events on GrapeVine and help the app improve by indicating whether or not they’re interested in the events funneled to them.

“I like to think of it as a silo buster,” Zenoff said. “Jewish communities tend to silo their participants by age [and life stage]. This knocks down those walls.”

The Osher Marin JCC received a three-year grant from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation to fund the implementation of GrapeVine, which has attracted more than 105,000 users and 400 organizations in its four current areas. The money goes to GrapeVine for the use of its service, as well as to fund the salary of a half-time coordinator who works with participating organizations, finds events and helps put out a weekly email.

One of the benefits, Zenoff said, is that participating organizations will receive data about who registers and attends events, allowing them to understand what types of events are in demand and better tailor events to local residents. They can even use the data they collect through GrapeVine to bolster grant proposals, Zenoff said.

“It would be successful if we saw people at events that we don’t normally see,” said Meredith Parnell, Rodef Sholom’s director of communications. “It would mean that we were reaching them in a way that worked for them.”

But Parnell emphasized that while algorithms and data are helpful, it’s essential that organizations reach out personally to newcomers who learn of events through the app. “You can’t ever get away from that personal touch,” she said. “Most people are searching for belonging and meaning in their lives, but some people need to be invited and coaxed in a particular way.”

The official launch of GrapeVine will occur at the Marin JCC’s Festival of Lights celebration on Sunday, Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Zenoff is hoping other regions in the Bay Area come aboard when they see it succeed in Marin.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Parnell said. “If we have people coming to events saying they heard of it on GrapeVine, that would be fabulous.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.