Joining Debbie's Mourners: An Online Community
It never occurred to that I would sit in front of my computer that afternoon and cry.
I'm at an age where I've been to many - too many - funerals. I'm not usually much of crier. But something about the experience of sitting in my home office watching the live stream of Debbie Friedman's funeral was astonishingly powerful.
No small part of that, of course, is thinking about what she, and her music, meant to me over the years. Debbie, who I knew only casually, was a powerful, inspirational force of a person. Hearing her music sung, and knowing that she will not sing it again, was so painful. I was moved by the beauty of the music, the artistry of the performers, and the eloquence of the speakers.
But - and this is what I'm having a harder time getting my head around - it was also, for me, a new way in which to experience community. I am among those who would have been skeptical about the notion of watching, let alone participating in, a funeral (of all things) online. But as I watched the number of online viewers climb, and reach above 7,000, I realized that I was part of a distinct, vibrant, and somewhat strange community.
Watching the service online was, of course, not the same as being in the room. But, being in the room was not the same as watching online either. Watching online, people shared their thoughts, their memories, their comments through an ongoing "chat" which ran on the computer screen next to the video of the service. It was a way to hear many more voices, and its impact was to make me feel that I was sharing this experience with a group of friends. Some were friends whose names I recognized; others were friends I had never met.
The experience has me been thinking a lot about the ability to reach people wherever they are, to build new types of community based not on geography or location but common interests. I'm not sure where this thinking will lead, but it feels like opening the door to a new world of possibilities.
Mark Pelavin is the Senior Advisor to the President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Prior to this, he served as the associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and director of the Commission on Social Action.