This week I celebrate the anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah.  The lived experience of the weekend itself has long since melted away.  I remember welcoming to St. Louis seven of my friends from Ramah who made the trip from Columbus, Dallas, and Chicago.  I remember the terrifying moment of turning around just before the Torah service to see the sanctuary full of people and feeling very small.  I remember the sounds of thunder and a pounding rain that echoed over our heads as I began to read the third aliyah from the Torah, which begins “And the flood lasted for forty days …."  And I remember the topic (though none of the details) of the D’var Torah Rabbi Michael Ungar (now of Tifereth Israel in Columbus, OH) helped me prepare.

In reflecting on the story of the Tower of Babel, I suggested a parallel of the ability of that generation to communicate easily with each other, and its negative consequences, to our lives in 1994, as the internet and the so-called "information superhighway,” as well as other factors were facilitating what Thomas Friedman so memorably termed the “flattening” of the world.  It is amazing that, in those early days of Web 1.0, where AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve dominated the discussions and one needed to access a “World Wide Web” portal to “surf” the internet, the possibilities of this new reality were as apparent as they seemed.  Of course, the lingua franca was no longer French, as the English exports of Hollywood and commercial marketing were sweeping the globe, and the true universal language of binary computer code was ascendant as well.  Still, I am quite sure that the phrase “social media” did not even exist, let alone a reality where one billion people might share photos, status updates, and scrabble games through a single, shared interface.

We can debate the pros and cons of technology until one of us checks our cell phone for a text message, updated score, new e-mail, facebook update or – highly unlikely but still possible – an actual phone call.  Regardless of technology’s ability to pull civilization forward, as a democratizing force and a miraculous catalyst for workplace efficiency, and seemingly throw us back into the dark ages with its abbreviations, easily-accessible vices, and way of multiplying the influences of so-called “low culture,” one thing is clear:  we cannot escape it. 

This week’s Newsweek featured an article exploring the on-line world of children and the challenges parents face in monitoring it.  (I highly recommend the article.)  The article uses an example of parents sending stuffed animals to their children at summer camp with cell phones or other technological devices sewn inside.  And the question of technology is one we are often asked both during the recruitment process and in pre-summer conversations with parents and campers.

As Conservative Jews, it would feel disingenuous to reject as harmful the technological products of progress.  A religious movement that draws its core ideals from the Enlightenment would be hypocritical to discard the products of the Scientific Revolution of the last few centuries.  Still, at Ramah we encourage our campers and staff to unplug, to reconnect with their natural surroundings and, most importantly, with the human beings around them who form such a special community.  Blessed with less-than-ideal cell-phone and data coverage in the Northwoods, we try to offer a different balance in our campers’ summer home while not disparaging the technologies themselves.

Ultimately, our task is to make new discoveries and create the unimaginable to bring us closer together, for the purpose of listening and learning, not to wall ourselves off and attempt to play God.  The lesson of last week’s Torah reading, loud and clear, is that we possess Divine traits:  the ability to create life, knowing right from wrong, being created in God’s image.  The end of this week’s Torah reading reminds us, once and for all, that Divine traits do not make us Divine:  our task is to mingle with others, to share, to overcome our differences and build something for ourselves.  This, too, is found in last week’s parashah, for Adam, like God, was extremely lonely and unfulfilled.  Only by the creation of an other, a partner, Eve, did Adam fulfill his potential as a partner of the Divine. 

Shabbat Shalom.