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Israellycool Meets Jewsweek

Jewsweek have a story on the Jewish corner of the blogosphere, including a few words of wisdom from yours truly. 

Rebbitzins, olim, and chassids, oh my!

 

The Jewish blogosphere is a many-faceted universe expanding at warp-speed and here’s what we have to say about it.

 

Andy Warhol was right when he wrote in the 1960s that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. This was prophecized in a time before the notion of the PC or the Internet, when blogs, and indeed the blogosphere itself, was still a twinkle behind the bifocal of some computer nerd’s eye. How could Andy predict such truth? Well, what can we say? The man did a lot of drugs.

 

The reality is that anyone with a computer and at least one finger can become their own online publisher. One is able to publicly excogitate in real time and by extension can generate their own cult following, perchance ‘fame’, with the potential to extend beyond Warhol’s lean prediction of fifteen minutes. All you need is a blog.

 

Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English defines a blog as “an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page that may include updated news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, as well as journal entries, commentaries, and recommendations compiled by the blogger.”

 

Blogs are more than this, though. They offer your average ‘shmo a chance to have their 15 minutes – to curate their lives and the world beyond themselves onto the page. Motivations vary; some people are looking for interactive political debate among others focused on the same hot issue, while others simply want to share with the world what they ate for breakfast this morning. With an unlimited audience available, the list of motivating factors extends beyond imagination, but all of the blogs have one thing in common, they are part of the growing phenomenon known as the blogosphere.

 

The blogosphere’s borders stretch from the sacred to the profane and back again, yet somewhere smack in the middle of this continuum lives the maddening hive of the Jewish blogosphere. With rebbitzins, olim, and chassids (oh my!) as well as your garden-variety North American Jews posting their two shekels online, the Jewish blogosphere in all its variety, still seems to embody one very Jewish ethic: community.

 

Many bloggers know eachother. When Esther Kustanowitz, of MyUrbanKvetch and contributor to Jewlicious, commented on the landslide that brought AriGoesDown the award of ‘Best Personal Blog’ from the 2004 Jewish and Israeli Blog awards, she noted, “That’s okay. Ari was the first person to invite me to cross over from the virtual “I read your blog” world into the actual “we’re having a book club, why don’t you come and meet other bloggers” world.”

 

“I do have relationships with other bloggers. I also have real-life friends who have become fellow bloggers,” says Dave, the man behind israellycool and the Annual Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards, “I have also become friends with some bloggers after communicating online with them, such as David Bogner of Treppenwitz, and Harry from TheViewFromHere. Blogging has definitely helped establish a virtual community of like-minded people, allowing for relationships that would not have been previously possible.”

 

Lisa Goldman, of OnTheFace adds, “I’ve developed close offline friendships with several Israeli bloggers who have enriched and changed my life immeasurably. Even though we have a lot in common, it’s very unlikely that we would have met in offline circumstances just because our paths would not have crossed. We bloggers have, of course, introduced our friends to each other, thus creating an even wider community of people. Blogging is an awesome community-building tool; it is difficult to overestimate its significance or importance.” She also notes that blogging has enabled her to develop relationships with Arab bloggers – and that having the opportunity to expose her readers to their other voices has been “fascinating and gratifying.”

 

Morality. Israel. Shakshuka. It’s natural for Jews to come together and form something good. Some bloggers have joined forces to form online communities in the form of mega-blogs such as Jewlicious and Jewschool with multiple contributors and often clashing opinions. Many of those contributing to these mega-blogs also have their own individual sites elsewhere online. But how to get the traffic of the larger sites? For increased visibility indie J-bloggers have the option to join Jewish webrings; networks that help users navigate from one Jewish blog to the next. Yet while the webrings have their use-value, some also have rather precarious guidelines. One says, “This webring is for everyone who considers themselves Jewish. If you feel you’re Jewish, then you are…I am not going to quiz you on your family history. ”

 

Regardless of halachic pedigree, or lack there-of, Jewish bloggers can also generate traffic from sites such as jewishblogging.com and jrants.com, both indexical resources offering links to scores of Jewish blogs organized chronologically, by headline. Jewishblogging.com even organizes links under a variety of headings ranging from ‘Gay Jewish’ to ‘Women.’ If you’re looking for Gay Jewish women, however, you can point your browsers here.

 

The blogosphere isn’t only limited to building online community, it also creates real world opportunities for Jews to come together. David Abitbol, founder of Jewlicious, notes that although the community of bloggers is a virtual one, the site has still enabled him and his contributors to create connections with other Jews by organizing both a Jewlicious birthright israel trip in conjunction with IsraelExperts as well as an annual Jewlicious conference in conjunction with the Long Beach Hillel. Jewschool also has made material appearances in the form of a recent joint benefit event with the Jewish Fund for Justice to aid victims of Hurricaine Katrina. The party included DJs, give-aways, drinks, and a virtual (ha.) who’s who of young Jewish New York at an East Village watering hole.

 

In their best moments, these blogs can give us a snapshot of the Jewish world through the prism of the individual, while in their other incarnations, J-blogs can function as insular and vindictive little cyber-societies when blogger goes against blogger in acerbic written attacks. “The Jewish blogosphere has allowed for some very interesting and passionate discussion,” says David from israellycool, “It has enabled Jews to not only spread the truth about Israel and Judaism to the world at large, but also turn a critical eye inward at ourselves. On the downside, different political views have sometimes led to online pettiness and ad hominem attacks.”

 

“Well, Jews are very opinionated people!” Abitbol explains, “Folks who disagree with me will take a tone on the Internet that they would never use in person. It’s easy to pretend to be big and tough when the ordinary conventions of society no longer apply and the object of your cattiness is hundreds of miles away.” Recently, Jewschool and Jewlicious came to a self-proclaimed sulha (Arab mediation process of forgiveness) regarding their nasty online squabbles in the interest of diminishing lashon hara (negative speech) amongst bloggers – but forget not that sulha has also been described as a time when both sides of a conflict retreat and cool off, only to strengthen themselves and then re-engage with an even stronger fervor. Time will tell with these two…

 

Nevertheless, Abitbol thinks the Jewish blogosphere is a force to be reckoned with. “As it stands we get more traffic and interact with more young tech-savvy Jews than any official organ of the organized Jewish community. Community events like the GA have accredited members of the press but have no official blogger presence. Smart organizations have already made use of our traffic to publicize their events but I feel the bulk of the organized community fears us because we are grass roots and not beholden to anyone.”

 

It’s this independence that allows for a greater authenticity than what we have come to expect from traditional news sources. Blogs can give a sense of the current state of young Jews and possibly even offer us, as Abitbol suggests, “a glimpse into the future of mainstream Judaism.” OnTheFace’s Lisa eloquently articulates how this kind of freedom can offer insight when talking about the blogs specifically coming out of Israel. “As anyone who lives in Israel can attest, if all you know about this country is what you read in the newspapers and see on the nightly news, then you really don’t know anything. To get a true picture, you have to read what ordinary people on the ground – people who write honestly and who are not being paid for expressing their thoughts and opinions or censored by an editor – are seeing and thinking. I think that Israelis who blog in English are doing a great job of presenting a complex, multi-dimensional picture of what it’s really like to live in Israel.”

 

But the blogosphere isn’t just open to seasoned professional web designers like Dave at Jewlicious or active freelance journalists like Lisa from OnTheFace, look at the blogroll (where other blogs are linked) on any blogger’s webpage and you’ll see that anyone can get in on shaping this online Jewish community. The more voices that it has, the more accurate its portrayal of contemporary Jewish life.

 

Andy Warhol, always the prophet, seems to sum it up in a quote from the late seventies. In relationship to his idea that everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes, he took a step back and reconsidered. “I’m bored with that line, I never use it anymore,” he said, “my new line is: In fifteen minutes everyone will be famous.”

 

It takes about that much time to set up a blog. Here’s one place to do that. Go raise your voice and make Andy and the Tribe proud.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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