Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community
Pirkei Avot, 2:5
Social media. For many, this is a way of life. For others, it is an non-entity. Or worse, it is an evil. But social media existed long before the internet. I remember from my childhood history class that in early America, news was spread by posters on walls. In Israel, deaths are announced by posters on the fences outside of homes. We have always found a way to spread the news and it is through the modern iteration through the internet that news is not just spread, but discussed.
I recently heard a story of how a rabbi attacked Facebook (fb) in her sermon a few weeks ago. She hates it and doesn’t like the way people present things on it. She felt that people say things that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and that it was better not to respond to comments. Presumably these were comments about her and the sequence of events she set into motion in her congregation. Certainly, this is one view of Fb, and unfortunately for this rabbi’s community, a view of her (and the board) that is probably accurate. Yes, I admit it. Facebook can be used to speak one’s piece or air one’s complaints, especially when one is part of a community that is not open to discussion. But this is just one side of this virtual community.
Even from people who do not have to face dissension, I hear that they don’t like social media because they want to have more personal relationships. But really, how many personal relationships can one have?
As an avid Facebooker, I would like to speak for the wonders of Fb. You may be reading this blog because you saw a link on Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+ or Twitter. So if I have ever said anything worth reading on this blog, it was only shared by social media. But that is the impersonal beauty of Fb. Sharing political ideas, world events, and community news is easy. And there is the fulfilling of real needs: Who has a contractor? Who has a dentist? Who wants a playdate?
On the personal side, I have felt that Fb has enabled me to build, strengthen, and renew relationships. There have been the renewal of relationships with old friends. Yes, some are just for the yent factor: What are my high school friends doing? Are they successful? Do they still have all of their hair?
And there is the relationship building piece which leads to community. Over the years I have attended many conferences and seminars. In pre-Fb days, we would get an address list or phone list and maybe I would keep in touch with one person for a short time or search for the paper list when I had a specific need. Now, in addition to receiving the lists, we “friend” each other immediately. It is through our reading of postings, which in another setting we might call “sharing,” that we get to know each other better. In some ways, it enables us to strengthen the connection. It makes it easier to reach out and create real, in-person relationships. For example, “I’m in coming to New York.” You respond, have lunch, and what would have been a casual meeting at a conference becomes a friendship.
And then there is news that you don’t want to hear, but that you were glad you did. I met Cantor Sharon Kunitz at Hava NaShira last year. We were put together as roommates and hit it off. I was impressed with how she changed her life midstream. A parent of grown children and grandchildren in Huntsville, Alabama, she decided to become a cantor. She attended HUC-JIR in NYC and then took a pulpit in Harrisburg, PA. We had some emails after the conference. Then she had a health crisis which I followed on Fb. It was a way to communicate with a large group of people. I heard her downs and then ups. And then I heard about her shocking, untimely death. If not for Fb and listservs, I’m not sure that I would have heard this sad news. It was through Fb that I heard about the death of a friend’s brother-in-law and in that case, I was able to attend a shiva minyan and fulfill the mitzvah of comforting the mourner. I’m sure that I would have not made the “call list” for either case.
Fortunately for every case like this, I get to see pictures of friends’ babies or grandchildren that make me smile. One can not underestimate the power of the daily smile.
It is easy for many to say, “I don’t do Fb” or look down on those who do. But I think that my life is richer for the sharing.