Facebook Connects Jewish Students on Campus
July 24, 2006Comments (0)
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When Mandi Field and Paul Kranowitz, both students at the University of Central Florida (UCF), met on the first day of the Fall 2005 semester, it was love at first sight. Sort of.
"We… [met] in front of the water tower on campus the first day of school. I saw him running and I was so nervous to meet a guy that I loved, but had never met," remembers Field.
Field, then a freshman and Kranowitz, then a junior, had actually “met” months earlier through a UCF Jewish group on Facebook.com.
Initially created to connect his fellow Harvard students to one another, Facebook was launched by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. Today, the site boasts a membership of over 8 million users including students from over 2,200 colleges and universities and 22,000 high schools. It is the seventh most trafficked site in the U.S.
While Facebook can be a place to find your significant other and connect to other students from around the globe, Jewish college students in particular have also taken to the site to form virtual Jewish communities.
Among the many features offered on Facebook, like sending messages and sharing photos, members can share common interests and join relevant interest groups. Jewish students have taken full advantage of this feature by creating Hillel groups, Israel groups, Jewish pride groups and more.
This gathering of like-minded Jewish students has brought with it some challenging questions for Jewish communal professionals.
“We know that young people are spending their time [on Facebook], so the question is, how do we infuse that with Jewish values and Jewish connections?" said Yosef I. Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life Media.
The Edgar M. Bronfman Center of Jewish Student Life at New York University embraced the Facebook trend by posting on their Web site 15 Jewish-related Facebook groups available within the NYU Facebook network and encouraging students to join.
“Without Facebook some people might not be connected to Judaism at all, but with it, we can extend a hand to those students and get them involved,” said University of South Florida senior, Andy Frankel.
Hillel student leaders at Tufts University sent messages to Jewish members of non-Hillel groups inviting them to events at the Granoff Family Hillel Center. Additionally, they created a “Hillel Freshmen Class of '10” group to reach out to the newest class of Jewish Tufts students.
“These students have yet to meet each other in real life, but they have gotten to ‘know’ each other over through the virtual Facebook Hillel '10 community,” said Amy Spitalnick, a Tufts junior. “The group gets them motivated and excited to become involved once on campus in the fall.”
In the past, Facebook groups could only be formed within a campus. However, recently it became possible to create global Facebook groups. Now any member of Facebook, from any network, can join. Hillel’s Schusterman International Center joined the craze by creating a group entitled “Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life,” accruing over 480 members since its creation in early July.
Despite the popularity of Facebook, some students don’t think campuses should rely too much on the site to reach students.
Liz Foreman, a recent graduate of Rutgers University, agrees that initially Facebook groups were a great way publicize events.
“But people are over-stimulated now and don’t pay attention to the groups because people send out a million messages,” she said.
“There has been a clear acceleration in the bombardment of marketing to this generation,” said Abramowitz, “The competition for mindshare is even greater. We have to be twice as creative and twice as aggressive.”
When it comes to marketing through Facebook, Sarah Mills-Whorley, a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University, does not think creativity is the key.
“Everyone is limited to the same materials on Facebook with regard to advertising,” she said. “If all the ads and messages look essentially the same, then what's going to have the most impact is how many times someone sees the ad or message.”
For Spitalnick, the life span of Facebook has not yet run out.
“As more features are added, such as global groups, the impact of Facebook as a way to mobilize students will increase dramatically,” she said. “It is a phenomenal tool for getting students excited about and active in Hillel.”