We have been writing for a while now that Judaism in the 21st century needs to better embrace cyberspace. Online social networking sites offer people worldwide low barrier entry points to participate in communities that share their beliefs, and the Jewish community has an opportunity to use this trend to help attract and engage the unaffiliated in our midst.
Writing for the website Jewschool.com, Jewish rapper Y-Love calls this “Post-Geographic Judaism.” He says that today, “anyone who has a message relevant to any segment of the general populace in America,” it has to be done online. He points out that its not just young people anymore – “3.2 million seniors have joined Facebook in the last year.” Social networking is a part of our everyday lives. So what does this mean for affiliation? Y-Love writes:
A decline in synagogue attendance and offline affiliation does not necessarily mean the death-knell for Jewish observance when organic, intentional online communities are seen as equally relevant and salient as their offline counterparts. When we see our online relationships not as “less than” our offline ones, but as differently-structured equally strong connections, our sense of “community” is redefined. In the online realm, a user goes from “unaffiliated” to “connected” in an instant. Every connection is intentional, yet effortless. This is a phenomenon which can save Judaism.
Using online connections has definitely seen success in the past. This past October, over 200,000 people logged on to participate in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services through the Jewish TV Network. And just last week we blogged about how YouTube is the number one method for new-media marketers to get out a particular message.
Will this “save Judaism?” That’s too hard to tell. Y-Love is right in asserting that “social media must be appreciated as equally valid and viable modes of communication.” Online communities are “no less real,” but we do need to take it to the next level and encourage people to go from online to offline. A vibrant Jewish community can exist online, but it is more inclined to grow through personal relationships with local rabbis and mentors, and a warm and welcoming real-life Jewish community.
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