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PROFILE : Rabbi on Line : User-friendly Alan Greenbaum communicates Judaism to his flock via computer.

December 13, 1990|ELAINE WALDORF GEWIRTZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While logging in Jewish wisdom for his Torah and Talmud computer club, Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks imagines the following friendly scene.

It's 168 BC in the Middle East, three years before the first Hanukkah.

Jewish leader Judah Maccabee perches at a "Mac" keyboard. His friends, the Maccabees, crowd around munching chips and salsa.

Suddenly, in one swift thrust of the joystick, Judah's green "PeaceMan" joins hands with blue Syrian emperor "AntiochusMan." The two graphics hop across the screen chatting with one another.

"Hooray!" shout the Maccabees. "We just saved ourselves three years of saddling up the elephants and fighting the Assyrians. Now we can do our own religious thing."

Never mind that there wouldn't be any Hanukkah. If this software program were available, Rabbi Greenbaum said, he would now be loading it on his IBM-compatible.

Wait a byte. A rabbi using a computer named "Chaim" in the rabbinate? With a modem to boot?

In Hebrew the word rabbi means teacher. Rabbis are supposed to spend their time studying Jewish laws and visiting the sick. They don't have time to chase religious cursors. Enter 41-year-old Alan Greenbaum--possibly the most user-friendly rabbi in the country.

"Nine years ago when I was a rabbi in Texas, my bar mitzvah students talked about their computers so much, I knew I had to get one just to keep up with them," he said.

Within two years Greenbaum had surpassed them. He had relocated to the bustling Thousand Oaks pulpit and was word processing his weekly sermons and business correspondence, and inviting children waiting for Torah lessons to play Hebrew computer games.

"One day one of my students, Adam Lasnik, gave me a program called BibleSoft that indexes the Old and New Testaments. I was thrilled because I could quickly access facts to use in sermons and for the Torah study class I teach," Greenbaum said.

Soon after, the affable rabbi added a few programs, a modem and one or two information networks. But unlike some computer trivia junkies, Greenbaum uses "Chaim" to communicate Judaism and help save time.

The father of three grade-school children who likes to shoot baskets and go for bike rides with his family, Greenbaum is one busy rabbi. Aside from caring for the 400 members of his congregation, he works with the Conejo's homeless shelter project, is on the community advisory board for Hillcrest Inn and is a member of the Westlake Village Clergy Assn. Along with his wife, Cathy, Greenbaum is an active member of Hospice of the Conejo. Greenbaum's normal workload is 75 hours a week.

"If punching up my home computer at 5 a.m. saves me a trip to the library, it's worth it," he said.

Greenbaum's IBM-compatible has also proven itself invaluable to a San Fernando Valley woman who was unaffiliated with a synagogue when she learned she had breast cancer.

"A temple member asked me to call her," Greenbaum said.

"The woman and I spent a lot of time on the phone and I asked her what time of day was the most difficult. When she said the pain would keep her up all night, but she didn't want to wake her husband or disturb me, I thought the computer could help," Greenbaum said.

The rabbi suggested she write her feelings into her computer as if she were typing a journal and send him mail messages via modem. He promised to respond as soon as he read his screen in the morning. The two have been corresponding this way for the past year.

"I found it was easier to use the computer than it would have been to share my feelings in person or on the phone," said the woman, who did not wish to be identified.

"People bad-mouth computers, but I think of them as another form of communication," Greenbaum said. "You can do a lot of good if you can find more ways to communicate with people."

Comfortably moving from psychologist to educator, Greenbaum takes pride in the 20-member Torah and Talmud club he initiated this year by using Prodigy.

Using his modem, Greenbaum transmits a page or two of commentary on the week's portion read by Jews around the world. Club members electronically write their responses, which Greenbaum circulates again. A sort of Jewish dialogue develops.

If it's hard to imagine people feeling connected to one another by modem, Jerry Lasnik, Temple Adat Elohim, club member and biology teacher at Agoura High School, doesn't agree.

"I'm amazed with the wide range of topics Alan comes up with on the computer and how everyone else responds" Lasnik said. "I always try to add some humor. Then when I run into someone in the club, the two of us have a great time going over the material."

What's next on the rabbi's computer menu?

Perhaps nothing as exciting as Judah Maccabee making peace with the enemy, but Greenbaum puts a lot of faith in technology.

"I'd love more T&T members, and my Prodigy ID No. VEKS26A is always open."

UP CLOSE ALAN GREENBAUM

Vocation: Rabbi of Temple Adat Elohim, Thousand Oaks.

Reason to get up at 5 a.m.: Dispense Jewish wisdom via computer modem.

Hobbies: Biking and collecting Haggadahs (Jewish books containing the Passover service).

Reason to study Torah by computer: "This is just another way to bring people closer together."

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