Why I’m Not Ready To Drink The Birthright Kool-Aid

Whose Birthright is it anyway?

Today I got a text message from Birthright letting me know that registration for winter trips is now available. Registration and assignment for these trips is extremely competitive due to a limited number of spots, yet I took no action.

For those of you who don’t know, Birthright is a program that sends Jews under the age of 25 (who have never been) to Israel for free. Friends of mine who have gone on the trip swear by it, and regale me with stories of adventures and partying. “It was so fun!” they say, “and it’s free!” My non-Jewish friends also harp on this point when birthright comes up. “It’s a free trip to another country!” I’m unsettled by the propagandic spin of the Birthright trip, during which the organization hopes participants will (in the course of ten days) find “nice Jewish partners to have nice Jewish babies with.” When I express my feelings about this friends retort with, “just go on the trip and extend your stay so you can see Israel on your terms.”

Sure a free trip to a foreign country is a sweet opportunity, but to be completely honest, I’m just not ready to drink the Kool-Aid.

As a child I attended Hebrew school twice a week, learning the merits of Reform Judaism and bagels. From ages 5-16 I accepted the explanation that Israel was the rightful home of the Jews, a place we were assigned in a religious housing lottery by (none other than) God, and a mystical faraway land accurately depicted in various Rugrats Jewish holiday specials. My basic viewpoint as a child was thus: Jews and Israel = good, people who oppressed them = bad.

Then I went to college.

I thoroughly studied the history and politics of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the ground up. Ironically enough, this resulted in my feeling entirely unqualified to form an opinion on the matter. Who am I to decide which group is in the right, and what does being right even mean at this point? From what I understand a vicious cycle of hate has been spiraling out of control (for a very, very long time). The worst part is that the situation seems to be largely perpetuated by government politics (and interests), leaving peaceful Israelis and Palestinians caught (literally) in the crossfire.

If you think you are ‘right’ about one side of this conflict or the other you will never be part of the solution.

Every day Palestinians are forced to wait hours in checkpoints while Israelis (and Birthright participants- ahem Americans) can move freely throughout the country, crossing whatever borders they please. I can’t help feeling like I’m being stared in the face by the sad and sick irony of the Israeli government treating the Palestinians with actions that echo the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Talk about bad karma. (Not to mention breaking the 6th commandment).

I may decide that I want to go to Israel someday, but when I do it will most certainly be on my own terms.

For those of you eagerly applying to the next round of Birthright my hope is not to discourage you from doing so. My aim is simply to encourage you to remove your blinders, to keep an open mind to the interpretation of history, and to stick to something more natural than Kool-Aid,

like water.

If Marissa Mayer Succeeds…

If Marissa Mayer succeeds in bringing Yahoo! back from the grave will it be attributed to hard work or good advice?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she be compared to Steve Jobs (in his 1996 resuscitation of Apple) or will she be heralded as “the female Steve Jobs”?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will her haters still hate her or will they applaud her with the pretentious false air of having known she would succeed the whole time?

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will I have a better chance of being considered a person working in tech first, and a woman working in tech second?

And most significantly,

If Marissa Mayer succeeds will she go down in history as the person who saved Yahoo! or the woman who saved Yahoo! ?

In Case Of Emergency, Alert Social Media

In Case Of Emergency

I found out about the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday from Twitter, while sitting in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. My Twitter stream and Facebook news feed were flooded with hopes, prayers and news stories about the ongoing crisis. Googling “Boston Marathon explosion” brought me to a New York Times article posted two hours earlier. Flipping back to Twitter I saw someone had posted a Vine of the actual explosion. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was really something I wanted to watch, before clicking play. Police are now requesting videos or photos from anyone who witnessed the event in an effort to piece together what went so very wrong.

 With the slew of social media evidence of this atrocity joining the Internet’s infinite photo album of human suffering I have to wonder, to what extent are we being negatively desensitized by social media? It is obviously important to understand what is happening in the world, but how much is too much?

Another recent event comes to mind when considering the effects of social media on emergencies. One month ago a vigil was held in Brooklyn for a 16-year-old who had been killed by police. The shooting, however, was not the main story. Residents who participated in the vigil marched to the 67th precinct as a form of non-violent protest. Social mediaites present or following the story began to tweet about the protest with the tag “#brooklynriots.” Participants quickly became active on Twitter requesting that those tweeting about the event use “#brooklynprotest” instead, in order to prevent any misunderstandings about the nature of what was occurring. This points out the fragile nature of social media in emergency situations, and has opened up a debate about the use of specific words.

When social media acts as a rumor mill, it can have devastating effects. To me the real problem, however, is the effect that constantly updated news is having on the attention span of empathy. It is a safe bet that in one to two weeks from now the social media streams will be clear of mentions about the Boston Marathon explosions. They will be refilled with other information, likely including a few new disasters or catastrophes. My concern is that we are losing the ability to care about anything for more than a few weeks. Aren’t families still suffering from “superstorm sandy”? Once individuals confirm that their own loved ones are safe via text messages or phone calls, do they stop paying as much attention to a catastrophe if it doesn’t directly affect their lives?

I do believe social media has proved itself to be a valuable tool in times of emergency, but at the end of the day I still wonder, are we only concerned with what everyone else is talking about?

Facebook Is What You Make Of It

Facebook Logo

One of my close friends recently deactivated her Facebook account. When asked for the reason she told me, “This morning I saw a status update from a girl I haven’t spoken to in years. The status was about how bummed out she was about being unable to take her puppy back to school because it hadn’t had it’s shots. That was the moment I felt completely over knowing minute details about the lives of people I barely know.”

Fair enough.

I think it’s a safe bet that most people who have been on Facebook since the early years (ahem 2005) have at one time or another considered deactivating their accounts. Although I have seen a number of friends deactivate, most have reactivated. The most common reason for re-joining the herd is FOMO (fear of missing out) related to all those events, handily posted to Facebook.

Fact: It’s hard to be in the loop and not on Facebook at the same time.

What I want to advocate here is not settling for being bombarded with useless nonsense about people that you barely know.  I want to advocate for curating your Facebook accounts to deliver you relevant information about people you actually care about. (That shouldn’t sound as refreshing as it does.)

Do some spring cleaning.

I regularly go through my “friends” list and try to delete anyone that I can’t remember talking to within the last six months. For those of you worried about cutting out people permanently, Facebook has added a nifty “unfollow” feature that will allow you to remove said “friends” from your news feed. The “review tags” function is also handy, especially with so many employers scouring potential employees’ Facebook accounts for incriminating photos. On the note of employment…

Facebook as a professional tool? Yes you can!

When I started working in the Bay last summer I was unsure how to approach being “friends” with my employers on Facebook. The obvious solution was to make a second, professional account. Before you write this off as too much effort, let me say it was one of the smartest things I’ve done in a while. My professional account is kept on public, and allows me to share blog posts with the family members, teachers and colleagues who don’t necessarily need to know every detail of my personal life. If you search for my name on Facebook you’ll find my professional account, not my personal account. Oh, and the best part? You know every time you’re asked to log-in to a site through Facebook? I use my professional account, with no worries that my private information will be accidentally shared with the world.

The last point I want to make is in relation to a somewhat disconcerting trend I’ve noticed recently. Not only is “Facebook stalking” a real thing, a waste of time, and (very) creepy, it is also proven to affect overall happiness and self-esteem. If you find yourself wasting time on Facebook doing this I’d recommend adding a Google extension like StayFocusd. Another good trick is to not keep your Facebook automatically logged-in.

Now log off your Facebook and go play outside, it’s Spring!