If Jewish children knew how the adults in their lives behaved this past week, they would be terrified to the extent that they would not sleep at night. Jews who have dedicated their lives to the Jewish people found themselves on the attacking and attacked sides of Twitter in ways that are truly unprecedented. Very quickly, these social media wars began taking on very real consequences. Individuals were doxxed, addresses began circulating, and workplaces were contacted with the attempt to destroy livelihoods and lives. All gloves were off. Like in any tribal warfare, very quickly, allies took sides and threw their hat into the fight, and quickly a digital bloodbath took place.
While so many aspects of the background of this debate are complex and deserve much elaboration, one thing is simple: things have gone way too far. This all-out skirmish has brought me too to reflect deeply on the role of social media in my life and how we should be interacting with social media.
How did we get here? How did so any otherwise respectable people descend into behavior that would get any high schooler suspended for the year?
Because we got good at it.
We are so used to fighting those who attack us from the outside; we have seen so much hate and antisemitism attacking us from the outside that we got really good at fighting. We saw so many causes we decided to promote and defend, that we got really good at fighting for those. A tragic outcome of Jews learning to fight really well is when those skills are turned on our own brothers and sisters.
Thus, individuals that are great at fighting online antisemitism because great at online fights even against Semites, individuals and organizations dedicated to fighting antisemitism, threw their hat in and used those same tools to fight Jews they deem antisemitic, and individuals who are really good with online and digital content used those same skills to skillfully attack those they disagree with. This is how we ended up in what is, in my opinion, the most shameful episode in American Jewish life in decades.
Sure, there is so much to unpack in this sad episode. Sure, there are so many important questions and debates it brings to light; sure there are the usual questions of “who started?” or “who is worse?” but when you see a gas station catching fire, the first priority is to extinguish that fire.
Further disturbing in this episode is the lack of grown-ups in the room, which is understandable since those involved were supposed to be the grownups. Nonetheless, seeing such a crisis melt into such proportions warrants the question of who the bigger grownups in American Jewry are.
The Jewish people had recently lost Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Much has been said about his intellectual and philosophical greatness. Yet to me, one of the greatest things about him emerged when speaking to a young and inexperienced rabbi who had ended up on the rocks with his new congregation in the UK. He shared with me how Rabbis Sacks called him in, spoke to him, and provided him with encouragement. I came to believe two things in that conversation: the young rabbi believed rabbi Sacks had his back and was fully supportive of him, and that the troubled community felt rabbi Sacks had their back and supported them. Communities in the United Kingdom did not experience decades of flourishing under Rabbi Sacks because of his books or sermons; it was because of his political brilliance that allowed for the peace to be kept and matters to be resolved.
My first and foremost hope is that this fire be extinguished, that we come to realize to use the skills of war we have acquired only against enemies, never against our own or anyone else, and that American Jewry sail into the future with stronger unifying mechanisms that allow for bitter sparks to be extinguished before they become forest fires.
There are dozens of Jewish sources I can quote to support my points, yet none of those is unfamiliar to those involved, which is the tragedy of this all. And so, from the depths of my heart, I make a request to everyone out there, myself included: let us be sure, we do no evil.