This is something that came up before my planned next post was ready. While I continue to work on that, I would like to share the following.
A few introductory notes might be of use. Lena Dunham
is a young filmmaker and screenwriter. I saw her film, Tiny Furniture
, and became interested in her work. Something I read about her mentioned that she described herself as feeling "very culturally Jewish," which also interested me. I started watching her new hit show on HBO, Girls
. I became one of her followers on Twitter, which brings me to my next explanation for the uninitiated: Tweeting
is now something that humans can do between one another. It is the exchange of some sort of content that can be expressed in 140 characters or less. Finally, the word favorite is now a verb as well as an adjective. It it possible to favorite
something—a Tweet, for example, having nothing to do with the sound made by birds, but with the 140 character message I mentioned before.
Lena Dunham sent a Tweet to her 200,000 + followers that began precisely as follows: "Oh my G-d!" I was intrigued by her use of G-d, so I sent her a message asking if that was her usual practice, and if it had a religious basis. I did not expect a reply, but I got one! I responded by thanking her for replying, and she favorited my thank you Tweet (formerly known as a thank you note). I also sent her a funny Tweet which she retweeted with the editorial comment, "The Best!" In the past, I have favorited some of her Tweets.
To summarize, Ms. Dunham and I have now Tweeted each other, and we have favorited each other, neither of which is prohibited by the Torah even though I am married.
At this point in the discussion, Facebookers are likely to point out that I have only written about Twitter, and no discussion of online relationships can avoid the gold standard of online friendship: being "friended" by someone on Facebook. That's another new verb: to friend. We already had the perfectly good term befriend, but it didn't make it in the Facebook lexicon. I don't think Lena Dunham has her own Facebook page, and if she does, we are not Facebook friends. So in our twenty-first century social networking society, what's the bottom line? Am I friends with Lena Dunham?
If we use traditional definitions, Ms. Dunham and I are not even acquaintances. We've never met, never spoken to each other. Still, an exchange took place between us that is important to me.
I do not want to use this blog, or my Twitter account, or my Facebook page, as vehicles to share my personal problems like no matter how many socks are in my drawer, no two match. I don't even want to use them only to share matters of substance and interest. I want to use them to get my followers and friends exchanging ideas, having virtual online conversations, not passively reading some sort of high tech bulletin board.
That's why I'm writing about the exchange with Lena Dunham. She wrote something that made me curious, I asked a question, she responded—there was, briefly, a relationship that existed only in cyberspace, but that nevertheless made the exchange of thoughts possible.
The Rabbi's Study has a way to leave comments, and many readers have done so on various pieces. Thank you! Please keep sharing your thoughts with other readers and me. Facebook has an easy way to leave comments. Twitter allows for direct responses to the Tweets of others. I have even linked Twitter and Facebook so that every Tweet shows up on my Facebook page. I then sought out interesting nuggets of grist for the discussion mill, posted them, and waited for the discussions to begin.
Do you know what I got back? Bupkes I got back. I put out some very interesting things:
A C.S. Lewis quote followed by this question: Do we need more God and less rabbi in our services? No response.
Another great C.S. Lewis quote: "You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." That got some "Likes," but no discussion.
I got a few responses for "What was the best compliment you ever received?" (Mine was "You remind me of your mother.") But by far the most discussion was triggered by my observation that perhaps social media like Facebook are not the best forums for discussion.
Most of the comments were against using social media for discussion. Several pointed out the opportunity for misunderstanding because of the lack of cues like tone of voice and facial expression. The point is true enough, but it is not new. Even when elegant, handwritten notes were written with pens filled from inkwells on fine linen papers, there were no nonverbal cues and people seemed to communicate pretty well.
Another point was that once you put something out on the Internet with your name on it, you are linked to that post forever. Perhaps, but even Facebook allows you to delete posts, although I don't think you can take back a Tweet. (Update: Wrong again. You can. How? Do what the rest of us do. Ask a kid.)
Still, I have a vision of my flesh and blood congregants exchanging ideas and opinions with one another and with my virtual communities of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. No, I don't see or want it to replace sitting at a table with a study partner and a stack of books with real words printed on real pages, but I do know this: our young people are developing new ways to network and communicate. Rabbis who want to reach this demographic will have to learn to play by their new rules. At the same time, there is no reason why these digital forms of expression cannot enhance—not replace, but enhance—the way the rest of us share ideas.
I am happy to say that it is actually starting to happen. I'm throwing things out via Twitter and Facebook and getting responses. Sometimes just a Like, but many times actual, thoughtful responses. These are interactions that would not have happened without today's social networking tools. And maybe the best part (OK, not at all the best part but still kind of nice) of this new way to communicate is that someday, when Lena Dunham wins the Emmy Awards for which she has been nominated, I'll be able to say to the people watching on TV with me, "See that woman? Lena Dunham? Yeah, well, we've Tweeted." And I can even say so in front of my wife.
P.S. Since this was originally posted, Ms. Dunham was gracious enough to do something very kind for me through the mail. I cannot say we are friends in the traditional sense, but I can now say that I am her "favorite (and only) rabbi pal." I was thrilled. We have some sort of a relationship. Without Twitter, it would never have happened. And my wife wants to start watching Girls with me!
to follow me on Twitter.
to visit my synagogue's website, Congregation Shaarey Tefilla.
to read my sermons online.
Until next time, Shalom!