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    Open E: Thank You For Helping Build Our Progressive Jewish Gifts Shop

    It's nearing the end of January and I'm just now recovering from the Hanukkah season. Phew. With the last minute acquisition of Pop Judaica right before the Holiday season, it was a wild ride.

    First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude toward our employees. ModernTribe could not have made it without Tiffany, Patrick, and Bart and I am eternally grateful for their magnificent loyalty and dedication. I'm not exaggerating: there were many days when they worked until midnight getting packages out and doing all the hundreds of things it takes to make this business run.

    Thank you, customers, business partners, friends and family for helping us move forward toward our goal of providing identity-strengthening Jewish products. We grew significantly in our quest to make Judaica fresh, exciting and accessible to youthful Jews and to those not necessarily religious or traditional. There were also many set backs, but lessons are learned and thankfully our diversity of strengths help us bounce back from our mistakes and losses.

    We found wonderful partners in the Jewish community, special thanks to: Limmud South East, Lisa Alcalay Klug, Jewlicious/ JConnectLA, Jewish Woman International and Meredith Jacobs, and JDub Records. All of these organizations (people, in case of Lisa) are stellar contributors to Jewish American culture and wonderful friends of ModernTribe. We look forward to strengthening our bonds as we continue to grow.

    Of course, thank you, thank you, thank you to our customers for whom we exist. We served thousands of you this year and, we hope, most of you have been thrilled with your purchases and customer service from ModernTribe. Thank you for your emails and phone calls of praise and also of criticism. Yes, we've made some mistakes: sent the wrong package, inadvertently mis-represented an item on the website, failed to meet your service expectations, and others. We take our mistakes seriously and are always working to improve our processes so that we can reduce human-error. Also, one thing you should feel secure about: if we make a mistake we will always do whatever we can to make things right for you. Thank you for your continued support and patronage.

    Finally, and most importantly, thank you to my husband, Webb Roberts, whose unyielding support is, at times, so overwhelming it makes me want to cry. He not only has allowed us, as a family, to take significant (scary) financial risks, but listens and discusses the big issues (and the insignificant rabbit holes I sometimes fall into) with patience and wisdom.

    Shalom to all. We look forward to 2010.

    ModernTribe: PunkTorah Friday!

    Hey, this is Patrick. In addition to working with and singing in the Jewish punk rock band Can!!Can, I do PunkTorah, a website and activism project I founded last April. PunkTorah strives to provide meaningful Jewish spiritual connections to progressive people. The project includes weekly videos, outreach events, public speaking and blogging on several Jewish websites.

    ModernTribe is a great supporter of PunkTorah (you can buy PunkTorah shirts on the website) and is letting PunkTorah take over the blog every Friday. Each week I'm looking forward to sharing with you the best of PunkTorah. For more PunkTorah visit Shabbat Shalom and have a wonderful weekend!

    Here is a short video about PunkTorah:

    Parshat Bereishit (Shot Inside My Kitchen):

    Sukkot Party Home Movie:

    And the winner of the Call-Your-Mother Gift Box Is...

    Congratulations Michael W. and his mother who have won the Cool Mamalah's Call-Your-Mother Gift Box!

    Here is what Michael says about his mom:

    My mother would truly love this gift box tremendously - I would love to even purchase one for her for Mother's Day. My mother was only able to have one natural child (my oldest sister) and adopted three others, and treated all four kids like they were their very own blood and none differently than the others. My mother has stuck by me and supported me all my life, albeit in times when she may have found it difficult to hold her tongue, she allowed me to fail in a way that got me to straighten up and fly right. She treats my wife like a true daughter and member of the family - and puts up with all the guff and never says a bad word about it. I remember as a young boy growing up in a reform jewish home, that whenever her father would come to visit from Chicago, all the pork products would have to be hidden so he wouldnt find them. And she was such an excellent cook and baker, and even had a lock on her freezer door to keep her children from eating all the goodies she would make in advance for parties and such. She is still a trip, I am glad she is still with us, and miss her dearly between visits.

    She deserves to be remember every day, not just on Mother's Day :)

    All of the Cool Mamalahs: Jennifer, Lisa, Maya, Doni, Meredith, and I are so touched by the entries to this giveaway. Thank you for sharing the descriptions of the special women in your life.

    We would love to stay in touch with you and invite you to join the Cool Mamalah's Email Lists.

    All who join this list will receive:

    • $10 Gift Code from -- good for $10 at
    • 50% off Gift Code for the Modern Jewish Mom's t-shirt when it becomes available this fall. Meredith (the Modern Jewish Mom) & I are planning a contest to develop a beautiful graphic design celebrating all Modern Jewish Moms. We will notify you of the contest and invite you to vote for your favorite designs. When the t-shirt is available, you will be able to purchase it for 50% off.
    • 15% off Gift Code for the new Cool Jew t-shirt featuring the cover design from Lisa's book.

    Join The Cool Mamalah's Email Lists
    • The Call-Your-Mother Gift Box is presented by the Cool Mamalahs.

    Open E: Starting An E-Commerce Website

    This is the second post in a series called "Open E at MT." In the spirit of the Open Source software movement, I'll be openly sharing my learning experiences at an e-commerce entrepreneur.

    Choosing Your Business Name URL.
    Judaica Modern was second runner for the name of the website now called ModernTribe -- and strongly lobbied for by my dear friend Reid. After learning so much about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it may have been a better choice. That's because it has "Judaica" in the URL which weighs heavy for Google -- try searching for Judaica. You'll see that most top ranking sites have Judaica in the url but not much else going for them. For example, the third ranked site has a note on the home page about being closed for Passover! which was in April! But ModernTribe, I thought, would make a much better t-shirt. Oh if I only knew then...

    Fun Fact: was owned by one of those internet bottom-dweller conglomerates who squat on thousands of domain names. The asking price was $1800 and I negotiated them down to $500.

    You'll Need Two Kinds of Help to Build Your Site
    You almost always need someone who will make your site look pretty: a graphic designer. These days it's not enough to know some html to create a good looking site. Sometimes you will also need a systems programmer. Some people say they are good at both design and programming. Be skeptical. Which type of help you need depends on the solution you choose for your website platform.

    Choosing Your Website Platform is One of the Biggest Decisions You'll Make
    Platforms are time-consuming and expensive to change so you've got to weigh the options carefully. Below are the four main choices you've got. Once you decide among one of these four approaches, you'll still need to narrow down to the particular what. But making the decision among one of these below is a good start.

    Lease a site. Yahoo Shopping sites are an example. You pay a monthly fee to use their system which is hosted for you. The disadvantages are (1) the monthly fee and usually a percentage of gross sales and (2) although you can customize the look -- meaning -- you can pay a graphic designer to customize the look for you, the functionality of the system is whatever they offer. The advantages are (1) it's cheap and easy to get started and (2) the system is maintained and upgraded (I assume). Nexternal is another brand of site leasing.

    Buy a solution to configure and host yourself. X-Cart is an example. You pay upfront for the software (X-Cart Gold is $229), upload the software and configure your site yourself. X-Cart says you don't need any knowledge of php (the programming language) to get it up and running. Yah. But you'd have to pay a programmer and/or graphic designer to customize it if you want unique look or function. Advantages are that there are no monthly fees or transaction fees, you can get the customization you want if you are willing to pay for it, and there is company support and a community of users around the solution.

    Get an Open Source solution such as OSCommerce. Similar to buying a solution but you don't pay for any software. However, you wouldn't attempt to install and configure this puppy yourself unless you are a programmer -- ever -- just try following the forum posts, and there is no company support because there is no company. Instead there is large community support for your programmer. You would hire a programmer to create your site using the open source solution and you'd hire a graphic designer to work with the programmer.

    Build it yourself. For completely customized function and look you can hire a programmer and graphic designer and go for it! This requires a lot of planning and specification writing and a general masochistic outlook. This is how we built ModernTribe. Advantages are big: you get what you want (or at least you try) and you own the site. Disadvantages are big too: you pay up front and age quickly -- both you and your website. You have to always be maintaining and upgrading. You become as dependent on your programmer as an infant to his mother. And on that note, I'll say goodnight, as I need to go email my programmer.