Jewish Teens Pledge to Blog Ethically NFTY Adopts OurSpace Recommendations for Online Communities
September 26, 2006 NEW YORK Aware of the dangers of online networks such as Xanga, MySpace, Google Video and Facebook, yet cognizant of the value of building virtual communities, a group of Reform Jewish teen leaders has resolved to monitor themselves and urge their peers to blog with integrity.
Being a friend takes on a completely different meaning in this ever expanding world of online communities and the challenges are becoming clear to young people, said Hope Chernak, managing director of North American Federation of Temple Youth, the youth affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism. However, young people are being victimized not only by dangerous predators but by friends, both virtual and real, who post detrimental blog entries and videos.
Recognizing this danger, Andy Shoenig, immediate past president of NFTY, made ethical blogging a priority for his presidential term. Last June, 127 members of NFTYs General Board, comprised of the regional youth leaders of NFTYs 19 regions, participated in an awareness program about ethics in online forums, crafted a recommendation by consensus, and then overwhelmingly adopted the OurSpace Recommendation. This recommendation calls for a respect for freedom of speech while raising awareness of the responsibility Jews have to all communities, including those online.
Our tradition teaches: If a person guards his speech, others will emulate him and he will be rewarded for that merit also, said Shoenig, currently a sophomore at Emory University. This holds true for our blogs, online videos, MySpace profiles and Facebook accounts, he said. We, as the leaders of the MySpace generation, must maintain our Jewish values in all our communications.
NFTY is now preparing to distribute the OurSpace Recommendation to the 19 NFTY regions, using an educational program, Welcome to OurSpace, prepared by Ben Levine, the current NFTY programming vice president, a New York City resident currently a student at The University of Pittsburgh. The regional groups will in turn take responsibility of implementing the program at regional events, and then distributing the information to thousands of teens in Reform youth groups across North America.
This program is designed to show teens that there is sanctity in online communities only if we choose to make these spaces sacred, said Levine. We utilize traditional texts and online postings of NFTY participants to create examples of a khila kodosha (holy community) online.
In addition to the work being done on the regional level, NFTY will devote a session at its convention in Philadelphia this February 16-20. OurSpace: Ethics in Online Forums will be an in-depth look at both the positive and negative effects of online communities and how to integrate Jewish values into online communities.
Dean Carson, current NFTY president, of Seattle, Washington attending The George Washington University said he is proud to be part of a Jewish community that takes its responsibility to its members seriously, both personally and online. NFTY continues to utilize technology to promote all of its programs and events, but also to promote its values. We hope to lead the way to a more ethical online community.
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, praised the teens for taking responsibility for their actions and words in the blogosphere. One of our major goals for NFTY is to provide the next generation with the skills and values to become the leaders of our community. I believe our future is in good hands.
The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. Union services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.