Last year, when Andy Shoenig did a Google search for NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth which he then led as president, what he found shocked him: lots of entries on social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook that referred to the Reform movement’s youth group, and also included gossip and references to drinking and sex at its gatherings.
In fact, a simple Google search this week found this entry on MySpace.com: "north american federation of temple youth or the best damn jew fest for reform youth around…aka a hook up fest…nftyites know how to party and take this very seriously…shabbat is greeted with serious song sessions and dancing…and if you get lucky hooking up…"
So Shoenig, currently a sophomore at Emory University, took action. Last June, when 127 members of NFTY’s national board walked into their annual training retreat, the walls were papered with some 5,000 pieces of paper printed out from the social networking Web sites that made reference to NFTY.
It was an eye-opening experience for participants, who are the presidents and board members of NFTY’s 19 regions.
"Some people saw their stuff on the walls and it was clear to them how public it is. A few people went and deleted their MySpaces and info they realized wasn’t the best to be posting online," said Dean Carson, 18, who is NFTY’s current president and a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The NFTY national board members then formulated their own recommendation, which recognizes the right to free speech but encourages what it terms "ethical blogging": online posting that recognizes the importance of proper speech and conduct.
"Judaism teaches a lot about respect and guarding one’s speech and caring about each other," Carson said. The idea was for NFTY regional presidents to take the message back to their home cities and hold similar exercises and discussions there. Programming ideas, dubbed OurSpace, can be seen on the NFTY Web site (nfty.org).