When I was a rabbinical student, we were taught not to talk about ourselves or the people with whom we work; never use personal anecdotes since they may border on breaching confidentiality and trust. And since we were all young and our life experiences were not that significant, no one was really interested in hearing about our life experiences (in school, for example). I followed that advice for many years. Even in my writing, I was very careful about the use of anecdotes as illustrations, and waited until I, in fact, had some life experiences from which others might learn, before sharing anything with others. Then when I was teaching rabbinical students, I often told them, “If you are doing things right, then no one knows what you are doing.” In other words, rabbis should protect the confidentiality of their work with others. It should not be the subject of conversation.
Of course, we had all read George Orwell’s 1984. It became an idiom, part of American cultural literacy, as had the phrase “big brother.” We did not want someone else to know what we were doing or where we were doing it. It was part of our personal freedom, something that animated even our religious lives. I even refused to enter one particular school because it required me to sign a document about my personal observances. I figured that was between Gd and me, not the school and me.
None of that seems relevant any longer. We don’t have to worry about someone else watching what we are doing; we tell the world through Facebook and Twitter. We even update our statuses so that everyone knows where we are throughout the day and broadcasts it to others. (Why would anyone care about my daily schedule and routine in the first place?) There are even television programs—we call them reality shows—which have insinuated themselves into the private lives of others—all for entertainment value.
At JOI, we still take this notion very seriously. Funders have asked to sit in on our Mothers Circle program—for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children, in the context of an interfaith relationship—and we have declined. Journalists have asked us to interview participants in our Grandparents Circle program—for Jewish grandparents of grandchildren being raised in interfaith homes—and we have declined. Research scholars and communal professionals have asked to lurk on our listserves—and we have declined.
This approach may hurt us—since funders and board members often want to hear about our programs and testimonials from participants. And it may be more difficult to maintain this position as social media continue to shape the way we think about our personal lives. But for the benefit of all those with whom we work and the often sensitive nature of what we do, we will resist the new culture of disclosure.
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