}

Will Social Media Save the Jews?

Uhm… no. Probably not.

The Jerusalem Post coverage of the recent GA in New Orleans verily gushed at the conference’s convergence of youth inclusivity and technology when it reported “…over 700 students, of course, meant over 1,400 thumbs eager to communicate with fellow electronic communicators. And so, the scene was set for a semiunderground burst of chatter on Twitter throughout the sessions.”

Florence Broder, who tweets on behalf of the Jewish Agency, wrote in eJewish Philanthropy that “…this was a much younger GA and there was simply a fervent energy in the air. There were 600 Hillel students and more NextGeners than ever. With them they brought their tech savyiness (sic.) which filled a significant void. They were armed with their smart phones, laptops, and more. Additionally, their presence demonstrated that they are interested in sitting at the Jewish communal table along with everyone else.”

Sounds awesome right? So why did Caroline Kessler’s blog post on the GA in the student oriented New Voices Web site sound such a sour note? Titled “It Wasn’t a Conference For Us, But We Were There,” it repeated a litany of complaints about the lack student and young adult involvement in the GA that seemed out of touch with what others had reported. Ariel Beery of Presentense repeated this sentiment in a tweet that stated “Yup – #nolaga seemed to have lots of window dressing but little actual content bridging the generations.” Nathan Gilson, a Fellowship VP at TAMID and a student at University of Michigan tweeted that “Lots of my peers at #NOLAGA (students) had frustrating “Are we spectators or participants” feeling.”

So what actually happened? Well… there were in fact about 4000 GA-related tweets. However, most did not come from students and young adults but rather from professional and organizational twitterers. And yes, the students and Next Gen people I spoke to at the GA did feel sincerely out of sorts but it wasn’t for the Federation’s lack of trying to make them feel included. Many simply came down to New Orleans not knowing what to expect and were thus ill prepared for the experience.

A productive General Assembly experience requires research and preparation. It’s your one opportunity to corner the top leadership of countless important Jewish organizations and engage them in hopefully constructive dialog. It seemed to me that no one told the kinderlach that all the really important stuff at the GA happens in the shmooze. They felt that as “leaders” they ought to have been given more attention because they are the Next Generation that everyone was paying lip service too, right?

Well. No. Not really. The term “leaders” implies the existence of followers and a lot of the youth representation, well scrubbed and eager as it may have been, was not representative of the Jewish student and young adult population at all. Most people in that cohort have no idea what a Federation or a General Assembly is. Most of the students that participated in the GA came from their local Hillels who themselves struggle to engage the bulk of their Jewish student population.

The funniest aspect of all this for me, is the fact that most Jewish students and young adults, even the more tech savvy ones, do not use twitter. Over the past summer, I must have spoken to close to 500 Jewish students. No more than 10 had twitter accounts. Pretty much all of them however were on facebook but since facebook is more of a closed system compared to twitter, no one was able to track status updates discussing the GA – and if you can’t track it then what? It doesn’t exist?

Clearly there is a gaping disconnect between reality and perception here. And on so many different levels as well. Who and what is to blame for this? I think the little video at the top of this post is a good starting point for such a discussion – well one has to hope that there will indeed be a discussion at all – but I guess we’ll see, eh? In the meantime, I am already like, totally stoked for #COLOGA 2011 yo! Woohoo!

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Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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9 Comments

  1. EstherK

    11/28/2010 at 11:07 am

    There are, as you note, a number of issues here. Your rehash of the “social media guru” text-to-video clip in a Jewish framework is clever, although disturbing that it’s Larry King and Sarah Palin who embody the roles. (And that your Sarah seems smarter and more “with it” than the “real” Sarah.) Plus, I fully agree that the stated correlation between students’ presence and the 4000 Tweets was a mis-statement, which I posted as a Talkback on the article on JPost.com, but which is for some reason no longer there. (Harumph.)

    But with all due respect to the students who were there and felt like it wasn’t a conference for them, it is my opinion that it WASN’T. Not every Jew or every Jewish professional goes to the GA, and each person who goes goes with an agenda in mind – promote your organization, meet influential people, attend sessions that get you thinking about your work and national trends in Jewish communal discussion. As Caroline noted in the first part of the title, quoting a student, “this wasn’t a conference for us.” Perhaps the students should have been oriented to the GA before they arrived – given some sense of the conference’s history and goals, and to the organizations that they would come into contact with, so they could approach the sessions and people with some context and respect. (More on this on my blog soon.)

    I am certain that all of this will form the base for discussion about next year’s GA and invitations to/use of students at #COLOGA (although I’m not loving that hashtag…would love an alternate).

  2. Rabbi Laura Baum

    11/28/2010 at 8:27 pm

    I wasn’t at the GA this year, but as the rabbi of the world’s first contemporary online synagogue (www.ourjewishcommunity.org) I would say social media can save the Jews, sort of. Social media is a wonderful thing when used at the right time and place and with the right philosophy and values driving it. Using social media and technology for their own sake makes little sense. Using social media as a current tool among others – and using it in ways that fit within a larger philosophical framework – can be an extraordinary way to build community.

  3. ck

    11/28/2010 at 11:47 pm

    RLB: But you can say the same thing about Heroin. Under the right circumstances it’s not so bad! Now I’m not saying that the convergence of social media and Judaism is bad! Nope. Just that when a big idea comes along, there’s this kind of desperate groupthink where notions are uncritically accepted. “Facebook is huge! Let’s build a Jewish facebook and that will appeal to the Next Generation of leaders!” or “Our kids are online all the time! Let’s put Jewish life online and that will appeal to the Next Generation of leaders!”

    I guess it hasn’t quite worked out that well for us so far. In desperate times it’s only normal to grasp for seemingly simple solutions. Yet we often ignore the tried and true solutions that have sustained us as a community for thousands of years.

    Esther: Thanks for the link to The Social Media Guru vid. I never actually saw that before! But yeah, better pre-GA prep would be a good thing. And all that.

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  5. K. Yovela Hershey

    11/30/2010 at 1:10 pm

    There seems to be a tendency in collective human nature to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were. Social Media does have its uses. It can make interaction between an organization and its people more two-way than the usual email blast or newsletter or website update. It can be used for marketing and perhaps outreach purposes, simply because there is a demographic that is more likely to come across your message on Facebook or Twitter (I don’t use Twitter, so this is not experiential) than via another medium. But it can’t stand alone. I live in a small town with an aging Jewish community and I make use of social media to give me a taste of the wider Jewish world. But it does not replace community – it supplements. And I think that’s a proper use of social media – not to replace anything, but to work (hopefully syngergistically) along side what we already have.

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