Is community the same… on a computer screen?

Is community the same… on a computer screen?

Twelve hours later, it was already old news.

Much of the world learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden late Sunday night, May 1, while another chunk of the world didn’t find out until Monday morning. I was one of the former. We found out from the chatter — inquisitive at first, but soon deafening — that flooded the Internet, whether it was Facebook statuses or Tweets or headlines showing up in our newsfeeds.

Who’s the ‘we’?

We are, whatever our age, the generation of new media.

I wasn’t watching television or even sitting at my computer, plugged into any of the numerous social networking sites I frequent Sunday night. I was folding laundry. It was my roommate’s quick, sharp “Oh my god. Dude, Osama Bin Laden is dead” that tipped me off. But where did he find out? Facebook.

Just a few minutes later, my girlfriend and I had picked up a six pack and were camped out on the couch — TV tuned to CNN, computers open to news sites, Facebook and Twitter — ready to stay up and watch what would unfold as one of America’s defining nights of this century, and one of Obama’s finest moments. I felt an American pride that I hadn’t for a long, long time. It was founded in the notion that we’d finally, and successfully, found the man that caused so much pain in this country, but almost more profound was the sense of unity, of community that emanated from friends and strangers online, of all places.

As Jews, we sure love this idea of community. Just check any ad in this paper for a Jewish event around town. We’re constantly looking to ‘build community,’ we’re proud of our strong community; we want to give unaffiliated Jews a sense of community.

In Lee Chottiner’s cover story this week, we learn how technology is even influencing the way we pray, something that Jews have long done together, whether in a synagogue or around a dinner table. There are few areas in Jewish life where technology isn’t changing things.

But is the feeling the same when community members — in this case, the night owls awake watching the Bin Laden news pour in or the iPad devotees who are ready to pray electronically — are separated by computer screens? Of course it isn’t, but the feeling is no less palpable; around a Shabbat table we might exchange hugs and pass food, but on that Sunday night, we passed Tweets in all caps and wrote “USA! USA!” on Facebook.

In the past decade, social media has changed what community means, at large and in the Jewish world as well. Namely, social media has made community building quicker.

As a friend of mine Tweeted Monday morning, following Bin Laden’s death: “Bought a newspaper today for the Bin Laden story and realized that its useless; I heard all this on twitter as it was happening.”

One Twitter user actually live-Tweeted the attack on Bin Laden’s compound, and he did so unknowingly — 33-year- old computer programmer Sohaib Athar, resident of Abbottabad, took to Twitter when helicopters invaded his town Sunday night.

But whereas the sense of community felt so resoundingly after the death of Bin Laden may fade (I’d like to believe that we won’t settle back into partisan fanaticism and cable news inanity, but I’ve a feeling we will), the Jewish community is here to stay. And we can only benefit from taking it online.

(Justin Jacobs can be reached at

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