Many people have asked me, “How come you are on Facebook?” “Aren’t you afraid of giving important information about your private life to the world at large?” Here is my answer: I had no intention of getting into Facebook until the leadership of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) began to use it in order to give out a few details about last year’s national convention in Israel. If I wanted to know what was happening at these meetings, I had to go to Facebook. I did, and stayed. Similarly, I signed up for Twitter in order to find out what was going on during the popular uprising in Tehran last year. It was uncensored, immediate and heart-wrenching. (I no longer spend much time in Twitter unless there is a major event around the world). I also use Skype to communicate with my friends and family in Spain, Israel, Turkey and Argentina.
A social network such as Facebook comes handy because it allows me to connect with people I care but live far away from me. (I live in the Boston area). That is how I learned about the birth of my cousin’s twins in New York; that is how I comment on aspects of Jewish life to my friends in Barcelona; that is how I respond to queries raised to me from Buenos Aires; that is how I touch base with my Law School friends in Istanbul and Luxemburg. It is quick, personal and effective.
In the biblical world, and until recently, friends and family members lived in the same neighborhood for a long time. People rarely moved- if ever- unless forced by nature or enemies. When the Bible states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18), or when Ben Sira writes, “Help your neighbor according to your ability” (29:20), the reference, I believe, is to your next-door friend, or at least, to the member of the same community. It does not mean to your fellow human being. That interpretation came much later when the world got larger through travel, relocation or migration. That is where we are today.
Most of us move constantly from one place to another, willingly or by necessity. In my professional career I have already relocated at least six times, not to mention a move from Istanbul to Cincinnati, or Buenos Aires to Philadelphia. Only one of my high school friends lives in Turkey now. Just a few of my classmates from Law School have remained in Istanbul. Every single colleague from my seminary days in Cincinnati, OH or graduate school in Philadelphia, PA has moved away, and can be found in different parts of the world. How do you keep in touch with them? If keeping bonds are important to you-as they are to me-you have no other choice but to sign up for a social network to renew and maintain long standing friendships. Just don’t give out your social security number.