I admit it. I've become a techno-connector. I have a Facebook page, a blog, a twitter account, several Google + groups, numerous emails, a LinkedIn account, unlimited texting, and a web page. I'm connected to people around the world, and am not embarrassed to say I've Skyped my own daughter upstairs in her room when I saw her go online, rather than go up two flights of stairs. To her credit, she did come downstairs and say, "Really, mother? You Skyped me?" Probably should have taken the stairs.
One day a few months ago, I was streaming a conference live, chatting on the side, tweeting at the same time, and checking email and Facebook. Step away from the machine, Anita, step away.
There's a group of fellow Jewish professionals I have just started "hanging out" with for an hour or so, every few weeks. We just started this association, after finding each other virtually, and realized we have lots to share and learn from each other. We are all over the world, and, but for Google, I never would have met any of these fine folks. It's astounding how quickly we've developed relationships, and I hesitate to call them virtual relationships. They are real. Through Facebook, etc. I've re-established connections with people I grew up with and some I've performed with, some of whom are half my age. They don't seem to mind. Some relationships are all about kittens and toddlers with bags of flour. Others are about articles and headlines. And still others are about losses, and "virtual" hugs that feel just as meaningful.
Relationships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They're usually formed around moments; a shared moment. This is not a ground-breaking realization. But what about the moments that aren't physically shared, when we're not in the same place at the same time? What keeps those relationships together? And how do those relationships even come about?
There is midrash (commentary) about parashat Yitro, in which Moses relays the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people; every Jew was there, from around the world and across time. Sinai is one of two essential experiences in our history that Jews re-live personally, through ritual and liturgy (the other is the Exodus.) Whether Moses took dictation, or a huge crowd had the exact same vision, or whether it didn't happen that way at all on that scale, somethinghappened there. Otherwise we wouldn't still be talking about it.
It's a nice thought, that all of us were at Sinai. Mass experiences tend to bind the witnesses together, so we hold onto that midrash to solidify our national or faith identity. Consider the answer to the question, "Where were you when_____?" It doesn't matter what the "when" is-Kennedy? Woodstock? 9/11? The point is, few of us were actually in the same place at the same time, but we share our stories as if we were.
In the same way, relationships were formed at the base of that mountain-between an individual and the mountain, between the individuals themselves, between individuals and God, and even between the entire group and God. Those relationships are as real today as they were then, yet none of us were actually there. Yet we return to the event in Yitro day after day, generation after generation, seeking and maintaining the connection with the record of that experience: The Torah, and the communal memory becomes stronger with each retelling.
Today, technology allows for more and more relationships to be built across time and space. There are over 800 million Facebook users, and each user has an average of 130 friends. Do you have 130 friends in "real time?" In the Jewish world, there are "virtual" minyanim (prayer groups) or bikur cholim groups (visiting the sick) popping up.
They can unite isolated members of our community, which is a remarkable phrase in itself, if you think about it. Isolated, yet still a member of a community. The Jewish community is primed for these kinds of relationships, because we have been doing it for far longer than the technology has existed. By investing ourselves in the relationships forged at Sinai, and holding on to the "documentation" from that experience, perhaps Yitro is the first recorded "Google+ hangout!"
Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems, www.anitasilvert.wordpress.com.