A MIX OF IDEAS
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IN SYRIA, ASSAD THE
FATHER WAS FOLLOWED
BY ASSAD THE SON.
Prayer, Cyber Style
orship is going online —
sometimes in a big way. It's
not the wave of the future; it's
here and now What's new is the burgeon-
ing extent of cyber opportunities. There's a
new branch to the spiritual trunk we know
Detroiter Stefani Barner was one of
eight cyber participants in a recent
Minchah service led by Rivka Bowlin
from her Louisville home. The mother of
a 10-year-old boy awaiting a kidney trans-
plant, Barner welcomes the option of pray-
ing online. It allows her to pray when she
can't get to her local synagogue. The web-
site experience also has become a caring
community, she says in a JTA interview.
For Barner, a bricks and mortar believer,
online prayer isn't instead of going to syn-
agogue; it's in addition to that traditional
avenue for prayer.
Bowlin's fellow worshipers came from
Georgia, California, Michigan and else-
where, joining in via their computer
screens. They followed along with a cyber
siddur and keyed in "Amen" after each
blessing via a chat window.
Bowlin was the day's prayer leader
for punktorah.org , founded this year by
two young Atlantans seeking to develop
a cyber Jewish community. Despite not
meeting face to face, this community is no
less real, goes the thinking.
It seems to be working.
Jewish life is finding a home on the
Internet. Synagogues are streaming ser-
vices to reach homebound or out-of-town
congregants, distant relatives of the bar
or bat mitzvah, and nonlocal college stu-
dents. Rabbis write blogs, religious-school
teachers tweet by posting online messages
of 140 characters or less, and youth groups
share videos on Facebook.
Typically, these online tools supple-
ment synagogues. Congregations that are
strictly cyber based are rare, which makes
punktorah.org and Cincinnati-based our-
jewishcommunity.org , so special.
The do-it-yourself nature of online
Judaism has its critics, who say it's too
easy, too parve and too impersonal.
Supporters feel differently, arguing it
demands interaction to succeed. JTA gave
the example of ourjewishcommunity.org's
2010 Pasover seder featuring readers from
Paris and New York, among other locales.
Intriguing as online worship sounds, it's
still new. Many more people go to the sites
of online Jewish communities than take
part in online prayer. On Aug. 27, ourjew-
ishcommunity.org launched a fundraising
appeal to build OneShul, an online syna-
JORDAN'S KNG NUSSEN
THE FATHER WAS
FOLLOWED BY ABDULLAH
gogue, to extend
its online port-
AND IF EGYPT'S MUBARAK
THE FATHER IS NOT
FOLLOWED BY MUBARAK
THE SON .
via Twitter and
Barr and Laura
on iTunes and a
regular blog —
in addition to their traditional duties. Over you compensate for one-on-one interac-
the past two years, cyber worshippers
tion? How do you quantify the level of
from around the world have sought out
Barr and Baum for a rabbinic connection.
Whatever problems or challenges con-
The argument that online services
front worship in cyberspace, let there be
wouldn't exist if there weren't a need
no doubt: nontraditional prayer opportu-
nities will continue to expand and evolve.
Defining what's real in cyber worship
Our ability to adapt to change in whatever
has become a challenge. How do you
form that Judaism has wrought has helped
determine if you have a minyan? How do
us survive as a people for so long.
Peace Talks And Prospects
here have been some hopeful state-
ments in the wake of the Sept. 2
start of the Israeli-Palestinian peace
talks. The talks began in Washington, D.C.,
under Secretary Hillary Clinton and Special
Envoy George Mitchell.
There were bilateral meetings involv-
ing President Obama, then a state dinner.
Representatives from Egypt and Jordan
participated and Tony Blair represented the
European Quartet. The talks now move to
Egypt and to Jerusalem.
While it is an important achievement to
be talking directly rather than shooting or
talking indirectly, it appears we should have
little optimism about the outcome.
The Palestinians are divided about
peace and Hamas is killing people in the
West Bank to show its opposition to any
peace with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas and the
Palestinian Authority (P.A.) are too weak to
speak for all the Palestinians and lack the
strength to impose any negotiated outcome.
Benjamin Netanyahu draws support
from a center-right coalition, which limits
what he can offer. He has some latitude, but
is also not a free agent. He and
Abbas may both be involved
The Palestinians want a
for reasons other than making
stronger and truly sovereign
peace — to honor American
state, recognition of the right of
wishes, sustain good will and
return, and east Jerusalem as the
make it appear there is life in
capital of the new state. Even the
the 17-year-old process. These
Egyptians have raised concerns
are reluctant peacemakers.
about recognizing Israel as "a
Frankly, it is all too easy
to see in the peace talks an
Optimism is absent among the
American effort for its own
people to be affected. Palestinians
purposes to shore up a regional
oppose the current talks 2 1,
alignment in the Middle
the Christian Science Monitor
East against Iran, Syria and
reports, and Israelis have lost
any sense peace will come in the
The big question is whether
near future, Time magazine says.
the Israelis and Palestinians are too far
Three-quarters of Israelis actually support
apart to find a middle ground and produce
the talks, but merely one-third think they
results. Borders and settlements are not
will mean anything.
the big stumbling blocks — the nature of
To be sure, Middle East affairs ana-
the sovereign Palestinian state to be estab-
lyst David Makovsky thinks there are
lished, the right of Palestinian refugees to
reasons to expect some results. He cites
return, and a united or divided Jerusalem
increased cooperation between Israel and
are the big items.
the Palestinian Authority on security and
Israel wants a weak demilitarized state
economic matters in recent years. The P.A.
on its border to maximize security, stands
kept the West Bank calm during Israel's
opposed to any right of return in all but
Gaza incursion in 2009. P.A. officials have
name and compensation, and is divided on
removed many Hamas imams from West
P.A. Prime Minister Salim Fayyad has
been building elements of a Palestinian
state. The growth rate in the West Bank is
8.5 percent. Israel Defense Minister Ehud
Barak agrees the situation is "better than at
any other time in the past!'
Makovsky also cites Netanyahu's
increased flexibility. The prime minister has
come out for two states and he has been
more concerned about security matters
than controlling Palestinian land. Given
who he is, Netanyahu also has a good
chance to sell an agreement to Israelis.
National Security Council Middle East
strategist Dennis Ross may have gotten
some confidential assurances from the
Israelis about settlements and the exten-
sion of the current freeze on settlement
construction. Although Israeli West Bank
settlers will do all they can to scuttle the
talks by engaging in illegal construction,
the talks will likely produce few results for
First, if Hamas escalates to full-blown
terror, which is a real possibility, the talks
Peace Talks on page 32
September 16 • 2010