E-Judaism and the Online Shtetl
By Merav Levkowitz
Those of us who have a Facebook roster full of Jewish friends are used to it: “Shabbat shalom” status updates, photos of apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, and viral articles or videos that are reposted ad infinitum (this week’s was Judd Apatow’s clip for the American Jewish World Service’s twenty-fifth anniversary). For many of us, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are our main channels of news, particularly with regards to the Jewish world. Thanks to the Internet, the international Jewish community has become closer than ever.
First, the Internet opens the doors of Judaism to the world. Throughout history, Jews have been encouraged to actively engage with the texts. With the Internet, discussion and the exchange of history and customs has moved beyond physical tables to online forums and chat rooms that transcend borders imposed by distance, age, and gender in traditional study settings.
Thanks to Internet media, news—general or personal—spreads quickly. In this digital age, we have access to more information than ever before. We can learn about the plights and successes in Jewish communities around the world and remain better connected and informed. New media can easily be used to “rally the troops,” thus finding great fans in the Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Any charity or service project—big or small—can use these tools to educate and draw from a wider base of people.
On a smaller scale—call it the “shtetl effect,” if you will—new media facilitates the spread of personal information. So many sites are available to trace Jewish ancestry and help people connect. Dating sites, like JDate, transfer the age-old tradition of matchmaking from Yenta’s hands to a larger, wider platform. Happy occasions, which we so value in Judaism, are magnified when everyone can share in them.
These days I find myself drawing more information about Judaism, in particular, not from “traditional” news sources, but instead from blogs and articles, comments, and discussions shared on Facebook by my friends and acquaintances. Whereas in the past these exchanges may have taken place in a synagogue’s social hall, they now thrive in the webs of cyberspace.
The Jewish community remains alive and more connected than ever before thanks to the Internet. But what challenges does it pose? Will it replace, ore merely augment the traditional venues of Judaism? Does it help or hinder Judaism? How does it stand to revolutionize the Jewish religion and international community as we know them? I hope to find some answers to these questions in the myriad blogs, forums, and, of course, the comments section below.