A month after talk-show diva Oprah highlighted the warm and fuzzy side of Chabad Crown Heights on her new show, the rebbe’s neighborhood is back in this news, this time thanks to a girls’ school’s Facebook crackdown.
The titillating combo of Internet, teenage girls, chasidic Jews and rabbis railing against “immodesty” has been impossible for the media — both Jewish and mainstream — to resist since officials at Beis Rivkah ordered students to close their Facebook accounts and fork over a $100 fine (which apparently will be returned at the end of the school year) or face expulsion.
The irony is that just two years ago the same officials, now concerned that Facebook is immodest, reportedly urged students to create Facebook accounts so they could vote for the school in the Kohl’s Cares for Kids contest. While Beis Rivkah wasn’t a winner, 13 of the 20 top spots in the national contest in 2010 were Jewish schools, 12 of them Chabad ones.
Beis Rivkah may be unusually draconian in its approach, but Mark Zuckerberg’s popular invention has been a cause of concern for many Jewish day schools worried about licentiousness, as well as cyber-bullying.
Lisa Colton of Darim Online, a group that helps Jewish institutions use the Internet effectively, told me many participants in an Avi Chai Foundation-sponsored “Social Media Academy” she ran for day schools last year, particularly ones from more right-wing Orthodox institutions, voiced “discomfort” with Facebook.
“Some were philosophically opposed to it, and others said there is a contingent of our population that is uncomfortable with it, and we need to cater to the highest common denominator in terms of restriction,” she says.
Why? Colton says there’s a perception that Facebook is “gossipy, kind of like playing with the wrong crowd.”
“Often it’s more about the social stigma of Facebook than it is about what you can or can’t do on it,” she adds.
On CrownHeights.info, a news site geared toward the neighborhood’s Chabad population, reactions among commenters are mixed. Backing the school, one commenter even goes so far as to call Facebook a “silent killer,” while another argues that teens on Facebook doom their prospects for a shidduch, or marriage partner.
Meanwhile, online critics of the school accuse administrators of hypocrisy, while others suggest the crackdown was merely a way to generate revenue, and several argue that, rather than banning Facebook, the school should “help the girls learn how to use Facebook for good.”
One CrownHeights.info commenter, who identifies herself as Chaya Mushka (far and away the most common name among young Chabad women) even offered a poem of sorts to school director Benzion Stock :
Make us – don't break us.
Earn our respect – don't impose it.
We listen to reason – not to orders.
Hostility evokes rebellion – not compliance.
Corruption and hypocrisy by the school destroys us.
How many more casualties before the methods are changed???
Get with the program before you lose all of us that are still believers!
Be Educators – not Dictators!!!
Of course there is nothing to stop the schoolgirls from creating Facebook profiles with fake names or creative misspellings of their real name, notes one commenter, suggesting “unsearchable” spellings of Mushky, such as “Moo Sh’Kay” and “Moosh Kie!”
What would Oprah say?