The Old Shall Be New and the New Shall be Sacred

This quote from Rav Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Israel) is the theme for this year’s convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which I am attending in San Francisco. The convention, obviously, is about embracing the future and all of its social implications for Judaism.

For example, we heard yesterday from Joe Green, the founder of the Facebook CAUSES application. (That’s the one where you can raise money or awareness or invite people to join your particular cause. The causes on my profile include the camp where I grew up, our sister Reform congregation in Israel, rebuilding New Orleans, saving Darfur, and something called the Crayon Campaign that I don’t remember joining.) Green spoke about that application as a kind of grassroots community organizing, which allows regular people to organize their friends and others for the good of causes that matter. He challenged synagogues to be able to think in those terms, and not to be afraid of the immense power of social media.

Green also challenged our notion of the role of the internet as somehow separate from real life. He said that in the past (i.e. 2 or 3 years ago) we used to talk about “going online,” as though “online” was somewhere different – somewhere to go. Today, we talk instead about “using the internet.” We’re not going anywhere, because the the internet is in our pockets all the time! And what’s more, we’re no longer using pseudonyms and handles and email addresses – which mask our true identities – to connect to others online. Instead, on Facebook, you are your true self and your friends (for the most part) are your real friends with whom you have some level of relationship in real life also.

So what does this mean for Judaism. First of all, people of my generation don’t know what it means not to be connected to the internet. It’s the way that we make plans, make friends, and make connections. It also means that social networking media have the potential to be a very powerful organizing tool for Jewish life – to bring people together in very real ways around causes and events and ideas that are important to them. And to allow organic, grassroots efforts to happen more easily and more effectively. (Another big topic here is the “independent grassroots minyanim cropping up in big cities – a topic for another post.)

This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel, we means “he (Moses) gathered the people.” The word Vayakhel comes from קהל or “community.” When we gather people around Judaism – no matter how we gather them – then we create holy community. In that way, technology and social media are an instrument of holiness, and “the new becomes sacred.”

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