An idea

There should be an app or service that collects all the links to news articles and blog posts that you’ve ever shared on Facebook or Twitter, then goes and fetches the original pieces. It would then sorts them by date, theme, topic, site, etc., creating a personal newsmagazine-time capsule-archive of sorts.

Facebook does offer you the ability to download your entire profile, but this would be a much more specific service.

I’ve been sharing links to interesting stories for nearly six years. I’d love to go back and check everything out and see how my interests have evolved.

Israel vs. the Rest, Part Two: Facebooking the way to Victory

This is part 2 in a series of posts on rallies related to what’s going on the Mideast. Part 1 is here.

I had originally intended my second post in this series to be a look at some organizations and people who actually have the guts to get dirty and actively involved in the causes they are supposedly rallying for. I’ll get to that later this weekend. Instead, I need to comment on another “rally” that is taking place right now, as we speak. I received an email yesterday from the World Zionist Organization – a group that I have been an active member of in the past – notifying me of a 24 hour “virtual rally” on Facebook for the citizens of southern Israel. I almost laughed a little. I though to myself “this is either going to be a forum for some pretty harsh vitriol, or it’s going to be a poorly ‘attended,’ with no discernible positive outcome.”

sderot-facebook1So I checked in on the “rally” a few minutes ago. There are about 4,000 people “attending,” and about 100 people have posted comments on the wall. I’d say that by Facebook standards, those numbers really aren’t much to be proud of; Zoolander and Hogwarts seem to be more pressing causes. I’m not surprised. What did surprise me was the breakdown of wall posts: about 70% were one line platitudes of Israel’s actions, 5% were anti-Arab rants, and one girl had the courage to post that she was leaving the “rally” because it didn’t offer any constructive purpose, aside from providing a forum for Anti-Arab bashing. And what about the other 25%? Well they thought that they were RSVPing to an actual rally, and posted comments regretting their absence. They didn’t even know it wasn’t a really rally. Sad.

The Facebook “rally” isn’t an ultimately terrible thing. It’s not evil, and if residents of Israel take emotional support from it, then I’m not entirely opposed. But let’s be clear: it’s not a good thing either, and it does have one pretty sinister aspect to it. A “rally” like this lives in the realm of fence-sitting, as it allows people to give vocal (or textual) expression to something they support, but doesn’t channel that support into an active cause. It’s apathy masquerading as passive activism. Like this week’s rally at the Israeli Consulate, the Facebook “rally” doesn’t accomplish much. But at least at the New York rally, people got up on their feet and went somewhere. Here, all people did was click a button online.

To be sure, this was part of the marketing of the “rally” as well. My email informed me that “all you have to do is log in and click ‘attending,'” and that that would be a show of my support and sympathy. Wow! Maybe the WZO and Facebook should partner and create a line of virtual bereavement sympathy cards. They could give Hallmark a run for their money.

What’s saddest of all about the Facebook “rally” is that it was being held on Facebook — arguably the greatest social networking tool humanity currently has at its disposal. Had there been any critical and constructive thinking on the part of the planners, this “event” could have channeled people to get out of their offices, and do something. It could have provided educational resources. It could have been a forum for true dialogue. It could have brought together pragmatists, progressives, and true activists from not only the Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli world, but also the Arab, Palestinian, and “other” world! Instead, a “rally” like this one only furthers the notion that the conflict in the Mideast can be viewed through black and white lenses, or through “Attending” or “Not Attending” mouse clicks. It’s all a virtual folly.

Shabbat Shalom.

Next up:
Part Three – A look at the dictionary definitions of the word “rally” and how that should be your first clue as to how these are not real rallies.

Part Four – A look at some organizations and people who actually have the guts to get dirty and actively involved in the causes they are supposedly rallying for.

Part Five – A review of how I got dirty and active.

…אם אין קמח

אם אין קמח אין תורה אם אין תורה אין קמח
If there is no sustenance [literally flour], there is no Torah.
If there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Pirkei Avot 3:21

Rashi comments on this perek by noting that one cannot always be studying Torah – if one does not eat, then one can’t learn. At first glance, one might assume that this means that there are times when you should take yourself away from Torah… ahh, but of course, that’s not the case. Those rabbis were tricky fellows. In short, what the rabbis are getting at is that there are multiple paths to Torah. Or for those who believe that there is a singular path of Torah living, the rabbis are noting that each person who travels it is unique. No two people walk down the same physical road at the same pace, on the same path, or with the same stride. It would be foolish to think the same of the path of Torah. Thus, the time you spend feeding yourself and taking care of your personal needs is part of paving the road of Torah. Without food, it would be a pretty bumpy ride.

To be sure, just before the above quoted line, it is written “Where there is no Torah, there will be no good conduct; where there is no good conduct, there will be no Torah.” The Hebrew for “good conduct” is derech… literally “path,” or “way.”

Now you are likely asking yourself why Jesse has suddenly delved into a drash on Pirkei Avot and Rashi. Especially after a blogging absence that Mark Swick would label “a shanda!” The answer, folks, is quite simple, and can be summed up in one word. A word which, in fact, is perhaps the single word which can be used to describe our current socio-cultural-political zeitgeist.


That’s right. Facebook. Rashi, Pirkei Avot, and Facebook are now having a party together. And I’m sure that somewhere in the Facebook universe there’s an invite that hasn’t been sent to me.

This evening, through the marvellous wonder of the mini-feed, I happened to notice that a person (who shall remain anonymous) had listed their religion as “Torah Jew.” Having long ago withdrawn the limits of what one could list their religion as, we’ve seen many things filled into that magical space on people’s profiles. From the oft pervasive secularism of the theatre crowd to my own listing as “Frum Reform,” I do believe that the customizable space is a great benefit. I’d be the last person to suggest that you can pigeon-hole something as expansive as religious beliefs into a small box on Facebook.

But this notion of Torah Jew – a phrase I’ve heard repeated many times before – suddenly troubles me. If there are Torah Jews, it naturally implies that there are Jews who don’t get to have the distinction of Torah be a part of their Jewish identity. Are some Jews more observant of the Torah’s laws? Most certainly yes. Are some Jews more involved in daily Torah study? Of course. But does answering yes to these questions make such people any less entitled to the Torah? Has the Torah withdrawn itself from them? Is the Torah entirely absent from their lives? Can it be said that there is any Jew that is devoid of Torah? I challenge you to answer yes to these questions. No human has the right to deny Torah from another. By titling oneself a Torah Jew, it intrinsically – and arrogantly so – serves to snub those who aren’t classified as such. It is yet another elitist tool of certain members of the Ortho-aristocracy. And worse, it is a silent and subversive tool.

The Torah teaches that Moses was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael because – similar to much of (but by no means all of) the current generation of Orthodox Jews – he did not speak gently to the people and tried to impose his authority via arrogance.

To quote an anonymous commentator of some ha’aretz article from while back:

This is the great failure of this generation of Orthodox Jews: instead of leading the wider Jewish people to Torah, they have decided to isolate themselves in arrogance and in judgement…

I challenge the Orthodox Jews to attract Jewish children to the Torah with the same or greater strength that they are attracted to Harry Potter. This should be their mission. Not accusing the non-Frum Jews of their failure.