Jews Go Surfing
Several months ago, at a Hillel conference, someone passed out notes that said they’d found 74,000 references to the word “Jewish” on the Internet. Given the exponential rate of growth of web sites, the figure could be double that by now. Clearly a lot of information is available and one can easily be overwhelmed, but the World Wide Web is now as essential to a Jewish home as any text or prayer book.
Books are still wonderful tools, and you can learn a lot from browsing through a Jewish encyclopedia, but the things that you learn on the web, and the places you sometimes inadvertently visit, are wonderful. I am working to create an online Jewish encyclopedia that will be a one-stop shop that saves people the need to visit thousands of sites. Still, surfing the Web you’ll discover amazing information, and when you get started, you sometimes never know where you’ll end. Let me give you some examples.
One thing our Jewish Student Online Research Center (JSOURCE) aims to do is offer visitors information on breaking news stories and original documents on significant issues. We don’t try to replace the Jewish Telegraphic Agency or Associated Press, but to provide some talking points for people after reading stories about controversial issues. When the Vatican released its statement on the Church and the Holocaust, I thought this would be a document people would want to see in its entirety. I searched all the logical Jewish sites and even the Vatican’s site, but couldn’t find it. Finally, I located it on the “Catholic Answers” (http://www.catholic.com/index.htm) web page.
One of the largest collections of documents on JSOURCE relates to the Holocaust. During my research, I ran across a link to an article on the Nazi treatment of homosexuals. That took me to the page, “People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans History” (http://pwh.evansville.edu/).
The Jewish organizations are all putting their material up on the web, but the most interesting material is coming from individuals who just feel passionately about a subject or have a particular expertise. For example, Tracey Rich has created an extraordinary site on the basics of Judaism (from an Orthodox perspective) that she calls “Judaism 101” (http://members.aol.com/jewfaq/index.htm). I’ve also found several really good military sites with information and photos, such as Matt Miller’s on the Israeli navy (http://www.usa.pipeline.com/~albatros/ins.html).
Some of the best looking -- and sounding -- sites are being done by students at Jewish day schools and universities. For an example of music, try The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (http://www.cesjds.org/) in Rockville, MD, which offers you a choice of seven Jewish songs to listen to while you browse their site.
For the millions of people signed up with America Online, the Jewish Community Online that is part of AOL is a marvelous resource. I have availed myself many times of the “Ask the Rabbi” feature that allows you to ask any question you want and receive a thoughtful answer. Many of the most frequently asked questions are posted permanently, but the rabbis AOL has recruited to respond to specific queries are terrific.
I find myself easily lost in cyberspace. When you go to one site that interests you, it is likely to have links to others, which, in turn, take you to still more. When you look up a topic on a search engine such as Yahoo! (http:/www.yahoo.com), you may get a list of thousands of sites to choose from. The first one you choose may take you to others so that you never get back to that huge Yahoo! list.
One of the best things about the Web is that it reaches anyone in the world with Internet access. People in far off lands can learn about Israel and get information on other topics that might not be available from their local press or bookstores. It is immensely gratifying to receive email from people in places like Russia thanking me for making material available. I’m sure other webmasters have similar experiences.
With the prices of computers dropping, now is a good time to get connected. If you’re intimidated by technology, take heart that it is not beyond anyone’s ability to reach the Web. My father retired a year ago and now spends a lot of his time on the web monitoring his portfolio, looking up fishing reports and following the news. The explosion of information on the Web related to Judaism and Jewish history makes it an essential resource for everyone. Chances are your kids are already surfing the Web at home or at school, so it behooves you to learn about it yourself and help direct them to sites where they can have fun and learn something about their heritage.