Monday, December 22, 2008

My latest Ruthless Cosmopolitan column

This has to do with a virtual Jewish space -- on Facebook


Ruth Ellen Gruber

December 22, 2008

ROME (JTA) -- Not long ago, a Facebook friend of mine wrote that she had had a great time at a Shabbat dinner even if there had been "a wee bit much talk" of religion.

"Why all this American obsession with Jewish identity?" she wrote on her profile page on the social networking site. "Just BE!"

Her comment got me thinking.

Defining Jewish identity, refining Jewish identity, reclaiming Jewish identity, reinforcing Jewish identity -- these seem indeed to be constant concerns among many Jews, and not just in the United States.

"Jewish identity" has been the subject of endless conferences, surveys, books, articles, analyses and movies -- not to mention comedy routines. A Google search for "Jewish identity" gave me 573,000 matches!

What impact, I wondered, does this all have on who we are -- or at least on who we say we are?

I decided to carry out an unscientific study to find out -- a very unscientific study.

My methodology was simple: I used Facebook to see how Jews, or at least Jews I know, define themselves in terms of religious identity.

For those unfamiliar with Facebook, a site that has 120 million users around the world, its software permits you to connect with lists of "friends" who are in turn linked with friends' lists of their own.

Upon joining you create a profile, including information you want to make public about your age, sex, location, profession, personal views and even your sexual preference. You pick and choose what you want to post. Some people post only their name; others provide the whole megillah.

One of the choices is to state your "religious views." You can choose whether or not to post anything at all about your religious beliefs and, if you opt to post, you choose how you want to define yourself; there is a blank space you can fill in with whatever you want to say.

For my study, I simply checked how my Facebook friends I know to be Jewish chose to respond.

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