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Creating Community, REAL Community

by Rabbi Elizabeth Wood, Reform Temple of Forest Hills
Originally published on her blog, Sects and the City

I have a friend. Her name is @knitgrlnyc. You see, that's how we first met. Online. On Twitter. Let me tell you about her.  She lives in my neighborhood, is married, has an adorable little dog, works from home,  and likes to knit and take photos.  Now, let me really tell you about her.  She's Cuban-American, an only child, and she's an incredible friend: She listens well, gives great advice, and will drop anything at a moment's notice if you need her.  She is fun, giving, and incredibly intelligent and hard-working.  Even though she is not Jewish, she knows a lot about Judaism and is always the first to wish me well on a Jewish holiday or to ask about it so she can learn more.  Basically, she's an awesome friend.  And yes, we met online. But now, we're real friends.  In Real Life.

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I've been thinking a lot lately about community.  And I've been thinking even more about significant friendships and relationships in life. Over Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) I gave a sermon about love.  One of the things I spoke about was the importance of building and acknowledging love that exists between friends.  How often do we say how much we love and care for the people who support us, day in and day out? It's easy to tell a spouse or partner that we love them, but what about our friends who provide so much for us, as well? I also stressed the importance of love when building community. You cannot create trust and togetherness without a little love – either for one another or for a common cause/purpose.

Community and friendship can happen in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.  In fact, it can even happen online. Social media, by its very nature, is intended to make our relationships with others more accessible, more ubiquitous, and more frequent.  And these relationships can be just as significant, if not more so, than our relationships that we build in person. After all, you get to know your online friend's thoughts, feelings, habits, musical choices, food preferences, favorite quotes and updates on a daily basis.  And, oftentimes, when you see these people “in real life”, you feel more connected to them because of what you know about them.  Personally, I find it very hard when people blame technology and social media for our lack of being able to relate to one another, these days.  I think that when we use it properly, the possibilities for building friendships, community, and even sacred spaces are endless. We just have to get outside of our comfort zone and recognize that there is validity in creating relationships in non-traditional ways, like through our virtual experiences. 

Let me be clear – I am not a wallflower.  I am bubbly and friendly and I like interacting with people.  But I also love making connections and creating community and friendships online. It's just another way to get to know someone and to get to know what matters most to them – which is at the heart of creating community (both personally and with others).  And it helps strengthen/maintain/reinforce relationships that you have with people once they are taken offline.  And there are several people in my life that I never, ever, would have gotten to know if I hadn't met them through social media (and then eventually in real life).  I might have seen @knitgrlnyc around the neighborhood, but I might not have ever met her and I would have lost out on all the blessings and love of this beautiful friend.  Many weddings that I officiate include couples that meet online. After getting to know each other through emails or chat, they move their relationships offline and their love blossoms and grows.  You never know who might be just a click away….

I'm sad that @knitgrlnyc will be moving out of the neighborhood this next month.  But I'll be okay.  Because I know that I will still talk to her, see her updates, chat with her through facebook and twitter. And I know that our real friendship, in person, will endure because when I don't get to see her, I'll still have a way to connect with her. That's the beauty of social media – to me.  Even when our community and the people who create community in our lives are not sitting right next to us, we can still always be close to them. 

And to me, there is nothing more special and nothing more sacred than the love and relationships and community that we create for ourselves and others through our connections – no matter what the source.


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