I am someone who loves social media; any chance I get to Instagram a photo of students in Jerusalem, tweet an intriguing Jewish article, or “liking” a post about distinctively Jewish food on Facebook, I take it. But social media is not a means to an end of human interaction. For me, social media is a bridge to greater and more vivid human interaction.
Much of the work in the Hillel world is about engagement — mostly face-to-face — but lately I have had students engage with their Jewish peers through social media. Facebook is often the first and main avenue as the super-power of the social media world. Now this experience of using social media to reach individuals as a means of interaction is changing the current landscape of relationships today.
Most, if not all, of us have heard the famous adage "a picture is worth a thousand words..." This saying was coined before Facebook tags and Instagram photos. But it's not just me who thinks so; the king of social media, Facebook, agreed with me when it purchased Instagram in April 2012. Instagram is an application that uses a variety of filters and other tools to share your photos with either your personal networks or the greater World Wide Web.
Last year, I was part of a professional Hillel cohort called Harrison Lapid, which offered many opportunities to interact with colleagues and bring new and lasting ideas to campus as they relate to Tikkun Olam. One aspect of this cohort was using social media as a cohesive unit. Using hashtags (#) as a group, for example, creates a digital network. In fact, I can utilize the same hashtag on both Twitter and Instagram, and these thoughts, articles, or pictures will all be linked under the same network. For example, go onto Instagram and check out #Lapid2012. You will see 37 connected photo stories that begin to virtually tell the narrative of the Lapid story. And it’s not just Lapid that utilizes the hashtagging in the Hillel work place. On a January Taglit-Birthright-Israel experience, we had a photo contest through Instagram using the #JHUBRI – with nearly 70 photos entered.
Social media can help us connect and share stories without acting as a substitute for interaction. Rather, it is a digital accessory.
Jonathan Falk is the Program Director at Hopkins Hillel. He has called Hopkins Hillel one of his homes since July 2010. Jon’s passions come alive at Hillel when talking Jewish about food, Baltimore and social media.