If you're not using Facebook, I don't blame you. I know a lot of people who have quit using it in the last couple of years - with great reason.
But I believe that Facebook, for all its evils, is a Very Good Thing to have in your life while you're making aliyah.
What are the evils? Maybe you know about them already.
Facebook offers a weird combination of intimacy and distance. I read a quote recently: "I hate learning about major life events buried in a timeline between photos of fresh pedicures and pictures of lunch. When someone close to me has a baby or goes through emergency surgery, or suffers a loss, they deserve more than a Like." (It's from the otherwise-blah memoir I Regret Nothing, by Jen Lancaster.)
The bad side of Facebook is that it gives you just enough superficial glimpses of a person's life to make you believe you know them... but not enough actual interaction to actually understand what they're all about.
"Facebook friend," you probably realize now, is something far, far less than a real friend. It could even be shorthand for “someone I don’t know at all.” So why keep it around at all? Good question.
In real life, you might be only passing acquaintances with somebody, but be practically best buds on Facebook. You could see totally eye to eye and then, when you finally meet in person, have absolutely nothing in common.
But here's where its good side comes in: it lets you stay in touch.
Sound obvious? It’s totally not. Everybody’s too busy sharing pictures of their lunch to actually think about those they’ve left behind.
When we moved to Israel, my husband said, "everybody moves to Israel and drops off the face of the earth." He resolved to be the ONE oleh who didn't lose touch. He posted journal-style updates to Facebook every single day. Eventually, he turned those first six months’ updates into a wonderful book about our aliyah experience.
(Quick plug, because I haven’t done one here in a while: Welcome Home: My First Six Months Living in Israel is now available through Amazon in print and Kindle!)
My husband isn’t particularly literary, and his Facebook updates were mundane stuff – or at least, they seemed that way at the time. But added up together, they turned out to be a pretty significant journal of our adventures in Israel.
Here are 5 ways that Facebook just may save your sanity during the aliyah process:
1. Share your story as it unfolds.
Facebook lets you describe meaningful details about your everyday life as it unfolds. In a year or two, it will all seem mundane, so share it right away, while it’s fresh.
By offering up these small events in your life, you let people know that you’re still around, you’re still you, and you love having them involved, even in this small way. (Maybe you can even pull it all together into a book when you’re done!)
Also, chances are, they don’t know much about Israel, unless they’ve been here a few times. So this is your chance to share some of the crazy AND mundane things about life in Israel. It’s not all about bombs and rockets, so try to limit how much of the scary stuff you share relative to “ordinary day-to-day life” kind of posts.
2. Peek into real friends’ lives so you won’t miss them so much.
It’s tough when someone you care about has a new baby and you can’t be there, or when someone loses a relative and, again, you just can’t hop on a plane and be at their side.
A quick “refuah sheleimah” on their Facebook status is no substitute for chicken soup on their doorstep, and “baruch dayan ha-emes” doesn’t fill in for a shiva call. But as far as I’m concerned it’s a darn sight better than the old way – where you’d get in touch once a year and get caught up on all the good and terrible news in a single overwhelming phone call.
Also, look for ways you can help those Facebook and “real” worlds come together.
Watch for friends and acquaintances who are coming to Israel and find a way to meet up with them. When I saw on Facebook that someone I knew from Toronto had lost his father in Israel, you can be sure I made my way to Jerusalem for the shiva. Yes, it was a six-hour round trip. Totally worth it.
3. Meet like-minded English speakers in Israel, even if they’re not geographically close.
This can be incredibly helpful. For example, the Facebook group Tried and Tested Things to do with kids in Israel lets you run tiyul (day trip), vacation and entertainment options here past other English speakers.
In many cases, they’ve been here longer and done whatever it is you want to do already, so they can share their experience (and help you avoid their mistakes). There are “Secret” groups for Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv (here’s a link to Secret Jerusalem) and others to help you swap apartment-hunting, shopping, employment tips and more.
Also, you won’t feel stupid asking “dumb” questions on Facebook like you might in person.
4. Feel less isolated if you’re not part of a large English-speaking community.
While you’re putting down roots in Israel, life can be lonely. It depends on you, of course, and where you’re planning to land, but most olim end up feeling isolated at least part of the time. All the more so if they’re moving somewhere away from the centre of the country, like Katzrin (in the Golan) or Arad (in the Negev).
Facebook is no substitute for a REAL social life, but it does give you the opportunity to interact and keep your mind alert during the worst of it.
5. Eventually, provide an easier pathway to meet Hebrew-speaking native Israelis and communicate on a more equal footing.
Once you can read and write a little more Hebrew, you can start branching out and find Hebrew-only Facebook groups for recommendations of products, services, destinations, etc.
This is where the true mavens hang out, of course, and you can learn a ton from people who have been here their whole lives, and from longtime olim. In person, you’d still probably be hard-pressed to carry on a conversation in Hebrew with these folks, but online, you can check your vocabulary with Google translate and make sure what you’re saying makes sense before you click Post.
I still don’t love Facebook, by the way.
People get nasty there too quickly, because the “instant intimacy” thing runs both ways and can also turn into “instant hostility” if you hit their buttons the wrong way.
There is too much oversharing, coupled with the annoying vagueness of updates that begin and end with something like “Oh, no, I knew this was coming…” with absolutely no details. It’s too much like the defective, juvenile “social networking” we all did back in high school.
Plus, of course, it’s a time sink, a big black hole in the middle of the day, into which you could toss up to twelve hours if you had a mind to.
Still, during and after the aliyah process, it’s worth getting on there, if you’re not already. Or getting back on if you’ve left.
I totally understand your leaving, and maybe after a while in Israel, when you’re established successfully, when you have a busy, active social life, you’ll have much too much on your plate to really care about Facebook. Maybe you’ll check in once a week instead of once a day, gradually weaning yourself off.
Or you may realize that, like the foods you miss from “back home,” which you might be willing to pay a premium for, Facebook is a comfort and a convenience that you want to keep in your life… even if it’s not always perfect.
Has Facebook helped you make aliyah? I’d love to hear how in the Comments.