Josh Weiss is the executive vice president of his Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden. Like him, most of the members live nearby and easily meet up face-to-face.
But he also realizes that’s not always the case, and members of some other congregations often live far apart. To help such members connect and network, his company has created an app platform called “Wanna Pray.”
“Synagogues need new ways to reach their members other than Google groups and mass e-mails,” Weiss told NJ Jewish News. “Wanna Pray does that.” It can also be customized for use by day schools and other community institutions.
Like another app, Wanna Hang, developed by his company, the new app allows users to introduce themselves to each other from their smartphones.
The app makes it easy for members of a community — a synagogue or school, for instance — to identify other members nearby, to start a conversation, and to share information about events, prayer times, or important news — creating an exclusive network or a ‘community within a community,’” Weiss said.
“This is a way to take the best that technology has to offer and to apply it to benefit our shuls and schools,” he said.
In addition to Wanna Hang, Weiss’s company, TeliApp, has developed and marketed several mobile apps, including Ladies Night, iBox Remote File Access, Love Struck, and Trust Me.
In fact, he is one of the pioneers in the app field. Armed with a degree from Queens College, he started his career at 1-800-TOW-TRUCK, which became a national roadside assistance company. While there, in 2000, he developed one of the first mobile apps ever created, TravelerSOS.
“The app was so popular,” he said, “it was embedded in the release of the Palm7X, Palm Computing’s first fully wireless hand-held PDA.”
He went on to work as a consultant, and later started TeliApp with $15,000 in seed capital from his parents. The company, based in Woodbridge, has a staff of 10.
While Bible and prayer book apps have become increasingly popular, Weiss said, social networking apps for religious institutions have lagged behind.
“As our children become teenagers and start socializing online and on their mobile phones,” said Weiss, the father of three, “I’d rather they socialize with people in the community through the smartphone-app outlet than on some other app where they might be exposed to elements that I cannot protect them from.”
To allay concerns about cyber-bullying, a blocking mechanism has been embedded in the Wanna Pray platform.
The leader of Anshe Chesed, Rabbi Joshua Hess, is a social media user himself. He has a blog and posts regularly on Facebook. He welcomed Weiss’s creation.
“We use social media to grow the shul and the community,” Hess told NJJN. “I believe that technology enhances religious productivity and spiritual growth.”
Hess thinks the Wanna Pray platform can be used “to help foster a feeling of togetherness and unity, which is a critical component of the Jewish faith.”
As for Weiss, he has high hopes. “I would love for the app to give the self-confidence to students required to socialize and grow out of perceived shells in a healthy way,” he said. “I would love for the platform to unite us as a people. And while that may be a tall order, I can still dream.”