Earlier this week, I taught a Confirmation class in North Carolina…. while sitting in Canada.
I used to be a rabbi in Charlotte. Now I’m a rabbi outside Toronto. So when the Confirmation teachers in Charlotte asked me to Skype with their class, I was excited to see some former students. But it wasn’t just a chance to connect. This was a class on the role of technology in Jewish life… taught using technology! Can you be part of a minyan through the internet? Can you form a true community when you’re not in the same room? These are the questions we discussed – from more than 700 miles away.
The truth is, the internet is an amazing resource. It gives us access to more information than every before in history. It lets us connect with people we’ve never met, and stay in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. It can even allow the sick and infirm to be part of a community when they can’t leave their homes or hospital beds. But there is also a danger: If we ever allow virtual connections to supersede actual connections, if we let our cyber-communities take precedence over real communities, then there will be a real loss. We need human connection. Technology can be an extraordinary tool for creating it, as long as it isn’t our only tool.
In every generation, Judaism must struggle with the role of the latest technologies. Once it was the printing press. Today, it is Skype and the internet. Tomorrow…. who knows! As I sit here writing, my kids are in the other room watching Star Trek, a show about intergalactic space travel. I don’t know about any of you, but I grew up dreaming about the days when those kinds of technologies would be a reality. And while transgalactic travel isn’t quite here yet, and we’re still waiting for hoverboards (like in Back to the Future), the things that we can do are pretty amazing. We can communicate instantly across vast distances; we can travel across continents in only a few hours; we can share ideas, videos, music, and pictures with the entire world; we can research anything instantly. And we can teach classes in North Carolina from the suburbs of Toronto.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
The solution of man’s most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization, but in attaining some degree of independence from it.
Our technologies can help us break down barriers and build deeper and stronger connections. The possibilities are endless, as long as we use them wisely.
And to the Confirmation class in Charlotte – it was great to see you!