Teenagers with cell phones are JText's target audience
It's an immutable truth of contemporary life.
"Whether you like it or not, teens are attached to their phones," said Meir Moscowitz, rabbi at Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook.
Why fight it? Chabad, 2095 Landwehr Road, is taking advantage of this technology and the teens who use it.
"We're using it as a tool for Jewish education and engagement," Moscowitz said.
Starting in 2017 with a handful of interested participants in the synagogue's CTeen program who texted their own questions about Judaism to each other, more than 300 of them now receive twice-weekly questions through the JText trivia game.
At 7 p.m. each Monday and Thursday those who've sent the message "JtextNB" to the number, (847) 752-0104 receive a Jewish trivia question, along with multiple-choice responses. The 18th person who responds with the correct answer -- 18 is a lucky number in Judaism -- earns a $20 Amazon gift card.
"I like that I get to learn a different thing every week. I'd like to think that I know a lot of the answers, but sometimes they surprise me," said recent Glenbrook North graduate Kaylee Zaveduk, who will attend the University of Maryland after spending a gap year in Israel.
"Usually the time that it comes, it's consistent every week but I'm not sitting around waiting for it. Then I stop and I see it. It's just a good time to reflect about my Judaism and different facts about Judaism," she said.
Here's one she got correct, on June 21: "Where is the only kosher McDonald's besides Israel?"
She guessed Buenos Aires.
"I've got lota family in Argentina, so I knew," Zaveduk said.
Spending her summer as a camp counselor at JCC Chicago's "Z" Frank Apachi summer camp in Northbrook, Zaveduk said she'd won the $20 gift certificate a couple times over the two or three years she's played JText since a friend told her about it.
With some 300 people playing the game that seems to be the norm, even for someone like Aaron Peer, in on the ground floor of JText in 2017.
"I'm considered the founder-slash-cocreator of JText in the Northbrook area," said Peer, calling from Lake Delton, Wisconsin, where he's working at JCC Camp Chi.
"We were sitting down at a table and basically just discussing how we could integrate Jewish culture into teenagers' lives, and middle-schoolers," said Peer, a Glenbrook North graduate headed to the University of Illinois.
"Rabbi brought up this idea and I'm like, We should definitely do that because everybody's always on their phone."
Chabad of Northbrook teams with a Chabad in Connecticut, which now sends out the questions and works with other Chabads around the country, Moscowitz said. Chabad of Northbrook was the first in metropolitan Chicago to offer JText, he said. There are now also chapters in Wilmette (JTEXT to 847-316-0108) and Skokie (cteenskokie to 847-232-6161).
Peer might be somewhat of a ringer in the JText game. His father, Eli, grew up in Israel.
"Usually I'm right most of the time because I'm part of a Jewish family," Aaron said.
Even with a simple trivia question, though, he sees it as a journey more than a right or wrong answer.
"One of the most important parts of JText is we get you to either look up or ask people questions about the answer to the questions, which can open up discussion or open up a child's mind to new stories or perspectives they haven't had before," Peer said.
"I think that's great, for the middle schooler or high schooler to open their mind to learn about their culture and their history, to learn more about the community they belong to."
It's certainly not about being that 18th caller and winning a gift card, he believes.
"More so what we've gained is bringing in Jewish children and connecting them with their culture," he said. "The Chabad is a greater reward than money in this situation."
Martin Landa, an incoming senior at Glenbrook North, might agree. He admitted he doesn't go to synagogue, but he's thrilled with JText. In fact, he just won the Amazon gift card on June 24, the second time he's done so.
He said it provided "positive reinforcement" for teens to learn more about Judaism.
"I always found it pretty cool when it would be someone that I knew who won the JText, and I remember when I won, one of my friends was congratulating me, and I always thought it was a cool achievement," Landa said.
"I always enjoy trivia, and I enjoy learning more about my culture and trivia about my culture," he said. "It is a way for me to acknowledge that, hey, I'm Jewish and this is a fact about my religion."
Trivia and cellphones, Judaism and positive reinforcement.
The Chabad realized that, at least at 7 p.m. very Monday and Tuesday, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
"The purpose is to find a creative way to connect with teens to educate them," Moscowitz said. "It's really simple. The concept is as amazing as it is simple."