Internet Asifa a Great Kiddush Hashem
A guest post by Yosef Drimmel
May 20, 2012, Flushing, NY – A gathering of Ultra-Orthodox Jews from the New York tri-state area was held today at Citi Field. 40,000 men gathered here as approximately 40,000 women followed the events in their neighborhoods via satellite connection. This remarkable event filled with excitement and optimism offered a unique reflection on almost twenty years of Internet use and its effects on a generation.
Leading Rabbis spoke passionately about the various problems facing the community today and urged people to use the Internet and any tools available to address them. An introspective atmosphere was created that united laymen and leadership fostering a commitment to truth and transparency.
The leaders acknowledged they were short-sighted and unrealistic when in the past they attempted to ban the Internet entirely and that methods such as forced signatures on school applications were inappropriate and ineffective. Instead they expressed that many schools need to focus more on the academic and social growth of their students and less on their ability to conform to exclusive rules.
In a humbling manner, some rabbis went so far as to suggest that in the past they felt threatened by the dissemination of information and opinions over the Internet. But in the end they realized that transparency and open dialogue are in the greater interests of Klal Yisroel.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the day was the public apology issued by the leadership in the name of the entire community to the victims of decades of sexual abuse that occurred within our community, noting that it was the Internet that gave a voice to those who had none in the face of the establishment. A new covenant was drawn promising complete cooperation with law enforcement and advocating tougher laws to prevent and report child abuse. A number of enablers were removed from their positions and a new fund to support victims was created.
Some of the speakers also brought attention to the problems of Internet addiction. Expert psychologists and social workers discussed the pathways and pitfalls of excessive use of the Internet, a human challenge more than a religious one. Emphasis was made for teachers and clergy to be aware of individuals suffering from emotional problems of all sorts and to understand the best ways to help people. The disastrous stories of well-meaning but incompetent rabbis who offered counseling proved to be very enlightening to many in the field.
Some attention was paid to the unfortunate availability of pornography on the Internet. While no rabbi wanted to make a fire-and-brimstone rant against basic human instinct, even-keeled advice was offered regarding coping with this distraction and enjoying a healthy lifestyle and fulfilling relationships. A new program was presented to educate brides and grooms on the subject of positive attitudes about intimacy, mutual love and respect.
In the final remarks, the rabbis pledged to move forward with the continuous forging of new ideas. Future gatherings will probably be at a lower cost and scale but focused on actual changes and improvements the community will need to make. Future agendas will include problems and questions such as attitudes towards education and employment, proper allocation of charity funds, funding Jewish education as a community, today’s shidduchim system, agunos, extremism and intolerance, segregation of Ashkenazim and Sefaradim, participation in the Israeli workforce and armed forces, the system of Halachic rulings in Israel and America, reliance on subsidies, and integrity and honesty.
Many of the attendees left the event feeling invigorated about their future and that of their children and grandchildren, echoing the sentiment that through justice and kindness we may merit the coming of the Messiah.