Here is an intriguing Op-ed on Ichud Hakehillos' Upcoming Internet Convention At Citi Field by Dovid Teitelbaum. Definitely worth a read.
"If the only way we can sell our children on Torah is by forbidding everything else, then we are bankrupt" - Rabbi Shlomo Freifeldzt’’l.(This article is in response to the upcoming convention at Citi Field, click here for information. Lakewood local)
It’s beautiful to see such an effort being made amongst our Rabbanim regarding an issue that is finally being taken seriously. It’s also great that we have finally realized the futility in banning something that was inevitably going to be a part of our lives. Our sages taught us long ago “ Ein gozrin gezeirah she'ein hatzibbur yecholim la'amod bo.“ (Halachic deciders should not promulgate an edict if most of the population will not follow the edict). The reason for this principle is simple; the general population will start to lose respect for authority. And while it’s 15 years too late, the past is the past and all we can do is learn from it. But learn from it we must!
This huge problem certainly needs a huge solution, but I’m terribly afraid we are heading for a huge disappointment. If what I read in the pamphlets is true and our huge solution is filtering, then we have learned nothing from the past.
Filters sound good and make us feel good, but they are completely ineffective. A filter is only as effective as much as the person using it wants to be filtered. And while it’s a great way to stop pop-ups and inappropriate web-pages, it is irrelevant to the issue we are facing. I will be brief as to why filters don’t work by highlighting some facts people may be unaware of.
- TECHNOLOGICALLY- The Internet by design was created not to be filtered. By designing it as a web, no matter how much you try you can’t control the information. Look at the middle east countries where dictators were brought down by social networking. Of course they tried everything in their power to pull the plugs, but the Internet can’t be controlled. The MPAA tried to stop peer-to-peer file sharing and was never successful. The internet was designed in the 1960's using a system called packet switching so that traffic can always reroute itself, which makes censorship almost impossible.
- PASSWORD - When I was just 17 and the web was first starting to explode my father was visited by one of the first “filter companies”. They wanted his haskama. During the demonstration my father asked me what I thought. I sat down at the computer and with a few clicks bypassed the filter. My father told them to come back when my child can’t disable the filter. They never came back. I wasn’t a computer genius and you don’t have to be one. Any child can learn to break even the most sophisticated password protection. All you need is for one person to figure it out and within seconds all his friends will too. And for those without friends they can google it. Monitoring software can be disabled just as easily. So can the “chavrusa system”. Don’t be fooled by the companies trying to sell you their products.
- WIFI. Free unfiltered wireless internet is available almost anywhere you go. The current goal is to have wifi available free over the entire USA, as it is already in some cities. Any filter you have at home is irrelevant. Almost every new electronic device has wifi capability. And trying to password protect every one of them is an unrealistic goal.
I remember when some US senator came up with the idea to make inappropriate sites have a button that says “Click here if you are over 18”. He should be awarded the nobel prize for that brilliant idea!
Filtering and monitoring are necessary, and they work well in schools and public places, but if the point of this convention is about filters, then call it an expo and make it at the Jacob Javitz Center. Its time we deal with the new realities of the day and we therefore must look for real solutions.
Fortunately there are huge solutions but they take more effort than buying a $100 filter. It takes dedication and lots of time. The good news is, there are Rebbeyim and teachers that are willing to do it. We have B”H in our day a young generation of talent that is eager to help, but they need proper direction.
So, while Filters are important and sound great, I give it an F. An F because it will Fail us and an F because it willFool us into thinking we solved our problems.
The real solutions all start with an E and they have an Excellent track record.
Education, Excitement, Entertainment, Endearment, Exposure, Expression, Embracement and Enjoyment!
Education – We need to educate our children by teaching them why our Jewish values are superior to the values they see outside (or now, online). We need to teach them how to handle challenges that come their way and stop making believe it doesn’t happen. Life is about making choices and we need to teach our children how to how to choose wisely, including on the Internet. When a Rebbi or teacher is unable to acknowledge that his class is using the Internet, he can’t have a discussion about it. When social networking is not allowed, how do you teach online privacy and safety.
Excitement – We need to make our schools more exciting. There are countless organizations that are using technology to make yiddishkeit more engaging and fun; from interactive jewish learning to smart-boards in the classrooms. With the vast information available on kosher websites, there is so much useful and helpful content for everyone to make use of today.
Entertainment – We need to bring kosher entertainment back to our youth. Concerts, rallies, and overnight trips should be encouraged not banned. Yes, they may learn less now, but in the long run we will have children who love to be Jewish.
Endearment – We need EVERY child feel wanted, both by his family and school. We need to get rid of names like “kids at risk” and “off the derech”. All of us are at risk and we should never judge others as off the derech. Every parent is told never to call their child “bad” because then they will then act bad. Same with these labels, they accomplish nothing. No child wants to go to an “at risk school”. Rebbeyim should treat every child as at risk. Schools and parents have to accept every child no matter what level of religiosity they’re at. Never should we make a child feel unwanted because it will cause shame to the rest of the family or because it will give the school a bad reputation.
Exposure – In the words of Rav Hirsch, If you keep a child indoors all the time then the first time he goes outdoors he will catch a cold. Instead we must expose them as youngsters so that when they get older and leave the home and face the outside world they will be prepared.
Expression – we must allow our children to express themselves. That means they can ask any questions they have. They should decide the topic of the day and we should listen to what they feel. No student should feel guilty for asking something that’s bothering them. Just as a therapist always asks “tell me how YOU feel about it” we should do the same in the classrooms.
Embracement- we need to embrace technology because that’s our connection to the younger generation. This is the way they communicates and it’s not going to change. When you mock texting, you mock them. When you ban facebook you’re banning them and your distancing yourself from their world. As one teenager told me; “ I’m not addicted to my cellphone or facebook, I’m addicted to my friends,” and who of us isn't?
Enjoyment - Lastly, we need to make sure our children find enjoyment as being Jewish. Better that we have less tests and let the children have more fun, rather then have them think Judaism is boring and undesirable. Because those who don't find enjoyment in being Jewish will either leave the fold or stay Jewish but resentful inside, which may even be worse.
We need to remember the words of Chazal “Chanoch Lena’ar al Pi Darko”. This R' Hirsch says is the golden rule of education of which the Torah requires of us. We have to evaluate each child and see where his/her strengths are and then equip and train them early for that which they will practice when they have outgrown our guidance. Whether it’s the path we envisioned for them or not, we shouldn't focus on changing our kids but working with them. Read the words carefully “teach them according to their future path” not ours!
I once asked my father why they keep banning all Jewish events, and he told me, because it’s the easy way out. Blaming is also easy. Parents blame the schools and the schools blame the parents. We blame our kids friends and we blame our neighbors. Now we found something new to blame, technology, and it cant even defend itself! In a recent book entitled “Off the Derech” Faranak Margolese interviews many teens as to why they went off the Derech. The three main reasons she found was, a lack of positive feelings, unanswered questions about Jewish beliefs and the ability for our children to develop their unique emotional and religious potential. Technology did not even make it on the list. Sure, the internet can be used as a tool for those looking to get away but so can everything. By blaming technology loose focus, we should aim to fix the source of the problem.
We can keep trying to shelter our kids more and more until we suffocate them or we can choose to teach them how to live as a frum Jew in the new millennium. It takes work and dedication to find real solutions, but if we don’t, we might as well start preparing for the 2nd convention in five years from now, where I'm sure a new updated filter will be announced!
Director, Camp Sdei Chemed International
*My haskamas are from the 100’s of teens I know looking for real answers and real direction in this very confusing world we live in today; and from the elephant in the room.