Communities Without Walls Develop Online


How do you learn prayers without a synagogue, or at the very least, prayerbooks? How can you connect to a community if you aren’t politically at home in your synagogue? Where do you go to be Jewish if you leave the charedi Orthodox community, and feel alone in your experience?

It used to be that without living in a physical Jewish community and being comfortable in its institutions, there were few ways to be and feel Jewish. But in a decade where Facebook and Twitter have become nearly synonymous with election interference, fake news and hate speech, it can be easy to forget that social media has also been a blessing for modern Jews.

Over the decade, Jews migrated online and built virtual communities, accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection. On Facebook, a broad network of Jewish groups, colloquially called Jewbook, has created an online address for every aspect of Jewish life, from Jewish food and Israel to mental health support groups.

For questions about Jewish law or the nature of Judaism, the Jewbook group God Save Us From Your Opinion is brimming with conversation. For Jews of color, the group Colorful Kosher is a respite from the often racism-infused interactions with the broader Jewish community.

The barrier to enter this online Jewish community is low: no transportation, membership fees, getting to know the rabbi, or awkward synagogue visits required.

Twitter, though less organized than Jewbook, also made Jewish discourse more accessible. Jewish academics, journalists, and thinkers are just a follow away, sharing their work, busting popular misconceptions, and explaining current Jewish events in an easy to understand format.

And among the most significant developments in accessibility to Jewish life has been Sefaria, a free online database of Jewish texts. Before Sefaria, the study of essential rabbinic texts like the Mishnah or the Talmud was as daunting as the wall of volumes that held them. Today, Jewish religious literature — in the original and translation — is only a click away, easily searchable, infinitely shareable, free of cost.

Now, the heart of Jewish tradition is online, free and fun to explore. And perhaps, over the course of the 2020s, the vibrancy of online Jewish life will ripple back to the physical world as well.

Lev Gringauz is a college student and writer.

More essays from The Decade In Review: 2010 – 2019 as well as snapshots from our editorial team on the last ten years in Jewish Journalism, including the key issues they covered locally and nationally.