Jewish Journal

There Are Many Walls On Facebook

by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

July 2, 2014 | 3:18 am

I write this from Israel, from the city of Jerusalem -- and even more precisely, from the upscale neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha'anim. It is a rarified, beautiful zone of artists and intellectuals, with spectacular views of the old walled city.

Mishkenot sits on top of the valley of Gehinnom that separates west Jerusalem from the ancient walled city and from east Jerusalem. Before 1967, it formed part of the order between Israel and Jordan. Gehinnom has a dark and grotesque history. It was where the ancient Canaanites sacrificed and burned their children as offerings to the god Molech. In the Jewish imagination, the valley of Gehinnom, the place where children are sacrificed, becomes Gehenna, the closest equivalent that Judaism can offer to the concept of hell.

And so it is that Mishkenot Shananim is perched over hell, a place where children were sacrificed to Molech. As if the sacrifices ever really ceased. This week, three young boys were sacrificed to the ever living god, Molech.

Such is the mood in Jerusalem, and in all Israel, in the wake of the brutal murder of the three boys. Yes, the streets are still filled, and yes, the restaurants are still filled. But the nightly folk dancing at the renovated train station, which earlier in the week was exuberant and light-hearted, has at least temporarily stopped. No one is in the mood -- not when our dead, and the memory of our dead, lie before us.

Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I reside in another universe as well, one that transcends space, and that is Facebook. My busy and exhilarating schedule in Jerusalem (I am studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute, which is my intellectual and spiritual drug of choice) makes it difficult to stay Facebook-connected. Some would say that a Shabbat from Facebook, Twitter and all of my other digital distractions would itself have been holy.

But Facebook taught me something this week.

I have more than a thousand "friends" on Facebook. I say "friends" because I regularly meet my Facebook friends and need to introduce myself to them, sometimes numerous times.

And here's what I have noticed. In the last few days since the bodies of the three teenagers were discovered, almost all of my Jewish Facebook friends who have posted something about this unmitigated tragedy. It doesn't matter who they are or how closely they are connected to the Jewish community, whether they are Jewish professionals or not -- their Facebook posts have been tear-stained. And why wouldn't they be? These boys were our sons, our cousins, our classmates. Their deaths reminded us of the fragility of Jewish life, and the notion that we might be a small people, but we are a very large family.

OK, so that's what I am reading from my Jewish Facebook peeps. Understandable, laudable, expected.

But I have many gentile Facebook friends as well -- high school friends, college friends, and various other people.

And when I read their posts, something is very clear. They post the usual stuff -- updates on their lives, cute photos, those maddening games in which you get to figure out what city you should be living in or what American president you would have been.

With rare exceptions (in my case, a college friend and a high school classmate who expressed outrage over the killings), my gentile Facebook friends have not seemed to have noticed, or have not deemed Facebook worthy, the murders of the three boys.

For them, life seems to have gone on as usual.

Their hearts are intact. Ours are broken.

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for all of my Facebook friends. Facebook has allowed me to revive long dead friendships, reminding me why a Jew thanks God for "reviving the dead" when re-encountering a friend whom you haven't seen in over a year. Try forty years. In some cases, Facebook has created new friendships for me, even retrieving genuine connections for me out of the ashes of long-forgotten adolescent rivalries and high school caste systems.

When something goes on in my life -- usually something good and sweet, for which I am grateful -- they all post sweet and kind things on my wall. And if, God forbid, something sad happened to me, I have no doubt that they would be "there" for me as well -- as long as we can figure out what "there" means in the world of the Cloud.

But something sad did happen to me, and to us. These were deaths in our families.

I would have hoped for a syllable of comfort.

Look, I get it. For so/too many, these deaths are not only deaths, but political and politicized deaths. Perhaps my gentile friends believe that there is a time for silence. Perhaps it is respectful distance. Perhaps they (rightly, understandably) have no words.

We are, as the pagan prophet Balaam notes in this week's Torah portion, a people that dwells alone.

I don't mind dwelling alone.

It's the dwelling lonely that gets to me.

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Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is one of America’s most prolific and most-quoted rabbis, whose colleagues have called him an “activist for Jewish ideas.” An award-winning writer...

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