face to face

virtual and real life relationships

If you are read­ing this, you know that I believe in the val­ue of “vir­tu­al” or “Inter­net rela­tion­ships”, though not of the inti­mate kind. In fact, it’s writ­ten over there in the upper left cor­ner that “For many years I have worked hard, and strug­gled with mas­ter­ing vir­tuous. Now, in addi­tion, I’m work­ing on becom­ing more vir­tual.”

I have accounts (in alpha­bet­i­cal order… and I’m sure I’m miss­ing some) on:

Not that I spend much time on the vast major­i­ty of them, but I’ve “staked out my ter­ri­to­ry” in these var­i­ous vir­tu­al spaces.

brief encounters

Once or twice a day I leave our apart­ment for errands around the neigh­bor­hood. I inter­act with all of the tellers, clerks, door­men (whether of our build­ing or oth­ers near­by) and oth­er peo­ple I encounter dur­ing my brief walks. As Sham­mai (!) encour­aged (Avot, 1:15) “receive every­one with a smile.” I’ll smile at any­one whose eyes I can catch. I have a friend­ly rela­tion­ship with the man who sells bags and scarves on one of the cor­ners by our apart­ment. I know when he’s gone home to his fam­i­ly in Africa and I give him wide berth when he spreads out his rug for his prayers. We have nev­er spo­ken of more than the weath­er and oth­er lit­tle incon­se­quen­tial sub­jects, and I’ve nev­er bought any­thing from him, but we do not ignore each oth­er. Nonethe­less, I spend most of my days alone, by myself, in front of my com­put­er, inter­act­ing vir­tu­al­ly, dig­i­tal­ly, elec­tron­i­cal­ly, with peo­ple all over the world whose faces I’ll like­ly nev­er see.

in real life

How­ev­er, Sun­day, July 28, 2013, I need­ed to take care of an errand in Harold Square. On my walk there I turned down Madi­son Ave. and was pleased to see a street fair stretch­ing from 57th down to 42nd street. I don’t pur­chase any­thing at these fairs, but I like to see what’s offered and it’s fun to walk down the mid­dle of the street and see all the peo­ple “face to face”.

On my walk, I was a bit sur­prised to see, among all the booths for scarves, socks, hats, hand­made jew­el­ry, silkscreened tee shirts and food of near­ly every eth­nic vari­ety, a num­ber of 6-foot tables main­tained by Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions. Each of these groups has an active social media pres­ence. But I was glad to see real peo­ple.


The first table I encoun­tered was that of Habon­im Dror, The Labor Zion­ist Youth Move­ment. I paused to say how nice it was to see their table. I iden­ti­fied myself as some­one who had once worn the blue חולצה, at one time with the red lace

the habon­im blue חולצה with its red lace

and at anoth­er time with a white one [in this pho­to Deb­bie and I met a Hashomer Hatzair group on an out­ing in Vien­na dur­ing our vis­it in 2006].

the hashomer blue חולצה with its white lace

the hashomer blue חולצה with its white lace

The young woman at the table asked me to sign a peti­tion, which I did. And I men­tioned that I had sat next to a table of Habon­imniks when I attend­ed an event at which Muki Tzur had spo­ken on Mon­day, May 6th, 2013.

Muki Tzur speaks in NYC

Muki Tzur speaks in NYC

Because that event was bare­ly a week before Shavuot, I made a point of men­tion­ing “Tweet #Torah to the Top”. Every­one at the table expressed inter­est… but on the day before Shavuot, I saw no tweets that looked as though they might have come from Habon­im (noth­ing about the “reli­gion of labor”). I men­tioned the Twit­ter project to the young woman at the table. She remem­bered the Muki Tzur event and apol­o­gized that Habon­im had not fol­lowed up on Tweet­ing #Torah. She thought it is a good idea and offered to pur­sue it fur­ther for the com­ing year. Of all the lit­er­a­ture on the table, the only thing I took was her busi­ness card as a phys­i­cal reminder that I should fol­low up.

habonim calling card

habon­im call­ing card (per­son­al and geo­graph­ic infor­ma­tion removed)


A cou­ple of blocks fur­ther on I came upon the table of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. Once again, I reviewed the lit­er­a­ture avail­able. I indi­cat­ed that I am already on the email list and then men­tioned “Tweet #Torah to the Top”. I said that as far as I was con­cerned the writ­ings of Mendele, Sholem Ale­ichem and Peretz were appro­pri­ate for shar­ing as Torah and I hoped that they would par­tic­i­pate in the com­ing year. And again, my phys­i­cal pres­ence right there in front of the peo­ple main­tain­ing the lit­er­a­ture table (not that I’m so charis­mat­ic) seemed to make a dif­fer­ence in the accep­tance lev­el of what I sug­gest­ed.

Again, all I took was their busi­ness card.

workmen's circle calling card

workmen’s cir­cle call­ing card


Fur­ther along on my walk I was pleased to see the lit­er­a­ture table of Jews for Racial & Eco­nom­ic Jus­tice, a new entrant to the orga­nized Jew­ish left. This time, again, I explained that I am (as with the pre­vi­ous two orga­ni­za­tions) already on their email list and that I was famil­iar with their lit­er­a­ture. We joked a bit about how they were encour­ag­ing me to take dead-tree mate­r­i­al. And those main­tain­ing the table expressed inter­est in my pre-Shavuot online #Torah study. But they did not have a busi­ness card I could take.


And then, last, near 42nd street I saw the table of HIAS. The work­ers at the table offered me an off-print of the arti­cle about HIAS’s change of focus, but I was able to turn it down by telling them that I had already seen it in the JTA. We spoke about how won­der­ful it is to be con­nect­ed vir­tu­al­ly and I explained my “Tweet­ing #Torah” “orga­niz­ing project”. They were intrigued and request­ed that I con­tact them about par­tic­i­pat­ing. The one thing I did take from their table: the busi­ness card, again, as a phys­i­cal reminder.

hias calling card

hias call­ing card

Note that each of the cards has social media links print­ed on them. When such exist­ed (Workmen’s Cir­cle & HIAS) I scanned the “back side” which does not include the person’s name and geo­graph­ic address.

There were no lapel but­tons on any of the tables along with the dead-tree lit­er­a­ture. I had not expect­ed to meet any­one when I left the apart­ment, so I did not put on a but­ton that might have been of inter­est to those I encoun­tered. If I had known, I might have worn one of these.

שלום button produced by habonim

שלום but­ton pro­duced by habon­im

Date: 1970s
Size: 3.7
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text שלום
60th anniversary of the workmen's circle

60th anniver­sary of the workmen’s cir­cle

Date: 1960
Size: 2.2
Pin Form: straight
Print Method: cel­lu­loid
Text ארבעטער רינג
1900 60 1960
united hias service

unit­ed hias ser­vice

Date: 1970s
Size: 5.7
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

back to back, belly to belly

Because zom­bies have been pop­u­lar this sum­mer and I had “face to face” on my mind, I decid­ed I should also share some “back to back, bel­ly to bel­ly…”

timely reminder

These meet­ings with real peo­ple are impor­tant. They remind me as the month of elul is about to begin that I can­not rely on blan­ket vir­tu­al apolo­gies. I have brought my “prepar­ing for ראש השנה & יום כיפור” mate­ri­als up to the top of the right side­bar for the sea­son. They are there for me and oth­ers to use to help focus on the tasks ahead. Let’s not act like zom­bies. Rather, may we tru­ly encounter those oth­ers we have wronged, face to face… because “all real liv­ing is meet­ing”, look them in their eyes and unflinch­ing­ly (or even flinch­ing­ly… it’s not easy) express our regret for the spe­cif­ic ways in which we have wronged them.

following up…

This post is a bit of a reminder to each of those I met. I will email them and let them know I’m avail­able to help and I hope they will spread the word.

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