I get by with a little help from my online friends
Two months ago, I moved to a new town 700 miles from home. Because gas isn’t cheap these days and airfare never has been, I decided it wasn’t feasible for me to travel home to Ohio for Passover. That left me in a holiday pickle: Because I’ve not yet become part of a Jewish community near my New Hampshire town, I faced the likelihood of celebrating Passover alone with my cat in front of the TV, eating a matzah pizza and sipping Manischewitz straight from the bottle. Not exactly the cheeriest or most traditional way to commemorate our people’s freedom from bondage.
But in this new age of social media-based friendships, I neglected to take into consideration the power of the cloud. After tossing out one mopey tweet about my impending Passover plans, I found myself invited to a seder in Boston hosted by a guy named David—someone who had been, until that point, a Twitter-only friend (though we have mutual real-life friends and we both work within the Jewish community). I accepted his offer, and just like that, I had plans for Passover. When I arrived at his home on the first night of the holiday, slightly nervous and a little bit socially awkward, I was welcomed warmly by him and his other guests. And I pleased to discover that I wasn’t the only guest who’d made her way to the seder table by way of social media: Another attendee told me she’d posted a plea on Facebook and had been quickly invited to join in the evening, too.
My friends and family were shocked when I told them how I spent my seder. “You went to the home of someone you don’t know?!” they gasped, retroactively fearful for my safety and more than a little questioning of my judgment. Still, I maintain that today’s online communities offer much more—in terms of safety, friendship and networking – than those early ‘90s-era chat rooms that served as a breeding ground for individuals with less-than-savory intentions. Gone are the days of “A/S/L?” Today, I have established meaningful, fulfilling friendships with individuals who have made me privy to their everyday lives by way of Twitter and blogging. I’ve met them for brunch, exchanged snail mail with them and was even invited to the wedding of a friend I originally met via Twitter! It’s not surprising, then, that I would also cultivate spiritual connections online, using the social networking tools to befriend like-minded Jews not just online but offline, as well.
Exodus 23:9 tells us, “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” Today, this passage is often used as a Jewish basis for supporting social justice ideals such as welcoming immigration policies and comprehensive civil rights protection. But it also applies to an aspect of modern-day life our ancestors never dreamed of! My online-turned-offline friend David epitomized the Jewish virtue of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming the stranger and offering hospitality, and Twitter made it possible.
Want to make online Jewish connections of your own? For starters, check out the #JWA100, JWA’s (non-comprehensive!) list of Jewish women who tweet and start a conversation with someone who seems interesting. Who knows where it might lead? During Passover, we often say, “Next year, in Jerusalem!” but this year, I’d like to add a twist: "Next year, in Jerusalem—with new friends!"