General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Rabbi-Hacking II: Hacking Your Memory

Have you ever thought of the perfect quote or illustration for a sermon or article, and then searched for hours to find it, only to come up empty and frustrated? I think we all have. Teaching and preaching on a weekly basis requires lots of time and resources, and we could all use ways of saving both. One piece of software has helped me save enormous amounts of time by giving me a way to save and quickly access quotes, illustrations, favorite articles, commentaries and texts and much more. It is called Evernote, and it is FREE. What follows is a short overview of what Evernote does, and a quick overview of the way I use it in my rabbinate. Much much more could be said, and once again I invite you to contact me for further insights or ideas.

How To Use Evernote

Evernote is note-taking and storage application. You can use it from an iPhone, droid, mac, PC, Blackberry or iPad. You can save any type of file—sound, pdf, video, Word document or webpage. Everything you save is also searchable. So if you remember reading an article by Larry Kushner about synagogues and tent pegs, but you weren’t quite sure what the title was or where it might be on your computer, you could get on Evernote, type in “kushner tentpegs” and the complete article would pop up.

You can also scan documents directly into Evernote, creating a searchable digital PDF accessible from any device. You can even take a picture of a note or page of an article, save it to Evernote, and then have it searchable and accessible immediately from anywhere.

Among the most useful of evernotes’s feature is the ability to seamlessly clip articles from a website. Let’s say you read a particularly inspiring or insightful URJ Torah commentary. All you have to do is click a button “save to Evernote,” and a full text of the article is saved in a predesignated Evernote notebook. You could then “tag” the note with the name of the Torah portion, and over time develop several notes with the same tag that you could use for a sermon or class on that parasha. I’ve got tags for teach of the parashiyot, and that has made preparing for Torah study and sermons much more efficient.

imagesGet It Out of Your Head

Evernote really comes in handy in that it allows us to get ideas out of your head and into a system. This year right after the High Holy Days I start a new tag called “HHD 5775.” On the first note tagged with it, I wrote out my impressions and potential changes for next year’s services. Whenever I see a potential iyyun tefillah or sermon idea or illustration, I save it in evernote and tag with “HHD 5775.” Half of what I create never gets used, but when I sit down to write, I have a treasure trove of ideas and illustrations waiting for me.

I also use Evernote for storing notes for life cycle events. Every couple gets a note, and I can pull it up at each meeting. Then right before the ceremony I review the note and can speak more freely and extemporaneously with them because I just familiarized myself with the gist of our conversations. After each funeral intake meeting, I create a note and scan in my handwritten notes from the meeting. (Like many colleagues, I feel awkward using a computer or other digital device during a funeral intake meeting.) Those notes not only help with the eulogy, but they are easily accessible if a family asks for a stone dedication.

Evernote has already made a tremendous impact in the educational world, with innovative schools using evernote to story class notes accessible to students and teachers. I haven’t used it in that way for teaching, but I have used it as a repository for texts, articles, and other papers usually kept in a physical file folder or in my memory. Evernote has the capability to effectively replace a physical filing system, making our documents more accessible and safe. We can even encrypt a note if it contains sensitive information. For any rabbi that has ever dreamed of “going paperless,” Evernote is a dream come true.

Rabbi Evan Moffic is the rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL.