Tag Archives: Internet

Helen Schulman on This Beautiful Life

by Beth Kissileff

Helen Schulman is the author of novel This Beautiful Life, her fifth novel, which takes on the contemporary issue of privacy and the Internet. The plot is ripped from the headlines of The New York Times: A teenage girl sends an older boy a graphic video of herself in extremely sexualized positions. The boy, unsure how to respond, forwards the video to his closest friend for advice. It goes viral and he is soon called into the office of his New York prep school’s headmaster. The aftermath of the boy’s suspension from school creates extreme tension for his parents and younger sister, fraying their thinning family ties. While there are not explicitly Jewish themes in the book, the mother and children are Jewish characters; certainly Jews need to be aware of a tale of a Jewish family facing an issue that is part of modern life. It is a cautionary tale of making (potentially) public through the Internet what in all other eras would remain a solely private affair. IntheMoment spoke with  Schulman about her work.

What is the task of a novelist today?

I can only talk about my task. I’m not prescriptive about other writers’ work. Everyone has their own passions and ideas. Manifestos about fiction are kind of silly, I think, although they do draw a lot of attention to themselves, which is probably why writers sometimes write them.

What I hoped to do in my last two books (A Day At the Beach and This Beautiful Life) was write about the way we live now.

Why did you choose to write with Daisy [the character who sends the suggestive video] at the novel’s opening and closing but never in the middle?

I wanted to begin by casting a spell over the story, and I hope the prologue turns the reader into a voyeur of sorts, almost as if the reader herself were sent the video. This was something I hit upon well into the first draft of writing the book.

I ended with Daisy because I think she hovers over the whole story, the mystery of who she is and who she may become, and I hope that her resolution sheds light on some of the ideas I was wrestling with throughout the book. I found her both resilient in terms of her life force and devastatingly sad.

I want to ask about the character Liz as a mother  – is she too involved or not enough?

I think she is both too involved and not involved enough. It is extremely difficult to be a good parent. Life is very complicated, made up of rainbow shades of gray, and our internal contradictions and conflicts are what make us human. Liz needs to both let go of her children and hold on to them; it’s her timing that is sometimes off. I think she is a person who when faced with lousy choices makes worse ones. She loves her children with all her heart. In some ways she is blinded by that love.

What is going on with the women’s roles in this novel?

There is a phenomenon I have seen where many well-educated women, lawyers and Ph.D.s and MBAs, for example, don’t work. They often don’t work for good, loving, parental reasons – they want to raise their children, and their former careers and their husbands’ present ones don’t allow for much flexibility. These women are smart and capable, and I was interested in the choices that they made (because they have choices). What happens when you take well-trained people out of the workforce —where do their energies go? How do they feel about themselves? How valued are they? What happens to women when their self-worth is wrapped up in the home and in their appearance? What is the effect on the children they raise?

How do the Jewish identities of Liz and Jake [mother and son] impact them?

Liz is Jewish, and so are her children. Her husband is not. They have had a good marriage up until this point and they love each other, but there is some tension over their mixed status in the marriage, which adds  another layer of complexity to their relationship. I think moving to New York City offers both a sense of relief and new kind of self-recognition for Jake as a Jew.

Are there Jewish themes in the book?

Liz would probably identify herself as a secular Jew, and if she were to attend a temple it would be a Reformed temple. I think that for most of her life she has tried to live an ethical life and she has a lefty, liberal sense about her. She believes in social justice. She believes in the power of education. A lot of her ideas about how to live and construct a life get shaken when Jake forwards the email and she quickly realizes that they, her family, are in over their heads. Although her first impulse is to have her son apologize and own his behavior, she is dissuaded as soon as she realizes that the other parents and the school itself are pulling out the big guns. It’s then that she loses her ethical bearings and betrays her own moral code. She says to her husband  ‘I want you to be an a—hole”[to deal with the problem]. In an effort to save their child, both parents do things they never thought they would do.

The characters who are willing to reveal themselves online are Liz’s former flame Feigenbaum and Daisy.  What connects them?

What is so fascinating about the Internet is that we can reach almost anyone at almost any time, anywhere in the world. Yet we often simultaneously forget this fact –that once sent or posted our messages, images, etc. can indeed go to almost anyone, anywhere, at any time. And at this point, there is no taking them back.

Adults and teenagers make  the same mistakes (look at Anthony Weiner, for instance). We’ve been given this monumental gift, this ability to connect, and we don’t yet truly understand its ramifications. Politically, the Internet provides exciting capabilities –look at how it helped to inspire the Arab Spring. But Twitter and Facebook also helped to perpetuate the London uprisings. Somehow, I don’t think we realize fully what happens when we give up privacy and the inability to wipe the slate clean.  With the Internet, forgetting is over.

On the Cyber Frontiers of the Anti-Israel Movement

by Theodore Samets

The Internet has changed the world.

Less than a decade ago, the late Israel critic Edward Said published an essay in the London Review of Books that asked “Is Israel more secure now?” Those who wanted to respond to Said’s piece had to wait and hope that the LRB would publish their letters to the editor in future issues or sound off in other publications.

At the beginning of this month, Allison Benedikt penned her own anti-Israel essay, “Life After Zionist Summer Camp.” To say that Benedikt touched a nerve within the pro-Israel community doesn’t do her agitating essay justice.

The Said essay serves as a reference point for two reasons: First, Benedikt’s ironic tone, which many have criticized, bears the markings of Said’s work here and elsewhere. Second, the change in reaction times has changed the debate over an article such as this; more than simply speed it up, it’s caused some of the voices who weighed in to say things they quite probably regret.

Benedikt’s essay was published in The Awl, an online magazine, and the response has remained online. It’s not the only anti-Israel piece to be published this year, or even this month, yet it’s been the focus of many bloggers’ hours. Why?

Well, Benedikt brought it upon herself. Whether it’s how she actually feels or not, she wrote the essay in a way that implies she’s never had her own, unique thought on the existence of the state of Israel or Zionism. Where she once blindly followed her parents and camp counselors, now she follows her non-Jewish and seriously anti-Zionist husband.

Benedikt’s responders were angered for good reason. The essay showed a lack of deep thinking, ridiculed those who appreciated or loved Israel, and was written in a “childlike” voice, as Gal Beckerman called it, that is almost painful to read.

As Benedikt and her husband have taken to Twitter to defend themselves against criticism, things have gotten heated. When Jeffrey Goldberg, who first brought Benedikt’s essay to the eyes of many Israel/Jewish bloggers, didn’t print her response (it turned out that his spam filter had caught her tirade), Benedikt’s husband called Goldberg a “dick” via Twitter, and then forced his wife to retweet the statement.

And in response to Yaacov Lozowick, an Israeli writer who posed a few questions about Benedikt’s statement that she had removed the story of the wicked child from her family’s seder, Benedikt answered that she chose to edit her Haggadah because “I am Jewish, you mother fucker.”

In this new world, where responses can be instantaneous and are rarely seen by an editor, the quality of debate has gone in the same direction of the quality of rock music.

Within a few days of the original essay’s publishing, online debate had moved from discussion and concern with the piece itself to Benedikt’s comment about removing the wicked son from the seder.

Her decision is weird, yes, but is it really that terrible? I wouldn’t want my seder examined and excoriated online or anywhere (“He let people leave before the grace after meals!”). While Benedikt opened the subject up by referrring to her edits, it seems like an unnecessary distraction.

It’s also when the debate went from bad to worse. While the conversation should have remained focused on Benedikt’s zombie-like approach to opinions on Israel and her obliviousness to the many intricacies of American Jewry’s connection with Israel, it didn’t. In this, the bloggers who spend much of their time perusing the net for modern Protocols of the Elders of Zion allowed themselves to become sidetracked.

Social media continues to change the world. This is felt acutely in the world of political debate, where a day was once like a week and is now like a year; pro-Israel bloggers can’t ignore the demand for the quick response, but they must remember that there’s no existentialist threat to the Passover seder, and no great need for concern that young Jews don’t care about matzo ball soup.
If they don’t, they’ll lose sight of the bigger picture.

E-Judaism and the Online Shtetl

By Merav Levkowitz

Those of us who have a Facebook roster full of Jewish friends are used to it: “Shabbat shalom” status updates, photos of apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, and viral articles or videos that are reposted ad infinitum (this week’s was Judd Apatow’s clip for the American Jewish World Service’s twenty-fifth anniversary). For many of us, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are our main channels of news, particularly with regards to the Jewish world. Thanks to the Internet, the international Jewish community has become closer than ever.

First, the Internet opens the doors of Judaism to the world. Throughout history, Jews have been encouraged to actively engage with the texts. With the Internet, discussion and the exchange of history and customs has moved beyond physical tables to online forums and chat rooms that transcend borders imposed by distance, age, and gender in traditional study settings.

Thanks to Internet media, news—general or personal—spreads quickly. In this digital age, we have access to more information than ever before. We can learn about the plights and successes in Jewish communities around the world and remain better connected and informed. New media can easily be used to “rally the troops,” thus finding great fans in the Jewish values of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Any charity or service project—big or small—can use these tools to educate and draw from a wider base of people.

On a smaller scale—call it the “shtetl effect,” if you will—new media facilitates the spread of personal information. So many sites are available to trace Jewish ancestry and help people connect. Dating sites, like JDate, transfer the age-old tradition of matchmaking from Yenta’s hands to a larger, wider platform. Happy occasions, which we so value in Judaism, are magnified when everyone can share in them.

These days I find myself drawing more information about Judaism, in particular, not from “traditional” news sources, but instead from blogs and articles, comments, and discussions shared on Facebook by my friends and acquaintances. Whereas in the past these exchanges may have taken place in a synagogue’s social hall, they now thrive in the webs of cyberspace.

The Jewish community remains alive and more connected than ever before thanks to the Internet. But what challenges does it pose? Will it replace, ore merely augment the traditional venues of Judaism?  Does it help or hinder Judaism? How does it stand to revolutionize the Jewish religion and international community as we know them?  I hope to find some answers to these questions in the myriad blogs, forums, and, of course, the comments section below.

Netanyahu Kidnapped Obama’s Web Designer

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Obama's site

Obama's site

Bibi's site

Bibi's site

Not really. But check out the above screenshots of Obama and Netanyahu’s respective websites. See?!! Ynet caught it as well, and asked some Netanyahu people about it:

“We view the comparison as a compliment,” [Netanyahu spokesman Yossi] Levi said. “The guideline of the Likud’s online campaign is openness and maximal transparency to the public, with maximal public participation in the election process.”