Digital Judaica

While there aren’t many Jews living in the hilly, sagebrush and juniper desert of Southeastern Idaho, something happened a few years ago that changed the way I was Jewish forever, and I really can no longer say I’m isolated from the greater Jewish community. That happening was Facebook.

Within six months of Facebook opening the gates to the non-college community, I had reconnected with probably 95% of my Jewish pals from the Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute Camp, Hebrew school, and the Chicago ‘burbs. One of my earliest observations of this unprecedented social access was “Jews love Facebook—and I am no exception.” Last year, I wrote a column in the Idaho State Journal on the subject of Facebook, if you’d like to learn more about my obsession with this social networking site.

So, take the “2 degrees of Jewish separation,” digitalize it in a format where we can post embarrassing summer camp photos for all to see, and there is Schmoozapalooza on-tap, any time of day or night. Merely a decade ago, our past was the stuff of old photographs and wisps of memory, as life filled in around us. Now, our past is at our fingertips, and it’s dizzying for me to ponder how that will resonate through humankind in the future.

For now, it’s a constant time-warp, seeing how people’s lives have unfolded over the last decades, one status update and sliver of new information at a time. And with every round of home page Shabbat Shaloms, holiday greetings, and celebratory mazal tovs, my inner Jewish life, on my own terms, grows richer and more complex.

As part of my feminist (also on my own terms) streak, I enjoy the opportunity that Facebook has provided to reconnect with the many Jewish (and non-Jewish, of course) girls and women of my past. As I look back on my emotional development, there was clearly a long period of time when my insecure quest for boyfriendship shadowed out other potentially-fulfilling social relationships. It’s not that I have any deep regrets—I love my memories, I love where life has taken me. I am simply overjoyed that the digital era lets me connect with the amazing women of my past, now that I can fully appreciate them. It has been such a deep blessing.

Facebook has also allowed me to peek into the windows of Jewish motherhood. I never intended to be single until I was 35 and lose my job ten seconds before I got married at age 37, so while I still ponder the question “to breed or not to breed,” I currently can only appreciate motherhood-by-proxy. And what Facebook motherhood-by-proxy it is. Challah recipes, parental groans about Sunday school, sending the next generation of kids down Lac La Belle Drive. I am excited that, should motherhood in some form be my destiny, I will be able to swim in a vast digital lake of deep Jewish female wisdom—until these women who have gone through diaper-changing before me stop responding to my neurotic rookie questions.

I am reminded of a Doors lyric when I think of those earlier days in my teens and 20’s, before the Jewish hippies became rabbis and Jewish partiers became professionals, scholars, and parents. “I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft,” Morrison recites. Sometimes this digital feast of friends is empowering, sometimes it’s inspiring, sometimes it’s amusing, and sometimes it’s intimidating.

And it’s always so fun to be a participant. Thanks to Facebook, the raft can be as vast and as sturdy as I want it to be.

–Nancy Goodman