This week I am going to stray quite far from the text, and use it only as a jumping off point for something I really want to talk about. There may be many who don;t like what I have to say, but that’s part of being, well…read on.
The textual hook I am using appears in the Haftarah for Bo, from Jeremiah
Verse 46:20 part B reads:
Keretz MiTzafon ba va – A gadfly from the north is coming, coming!
That gadfly for today will be me. I guess Massachusetts is relatively north (though I’m not as north as when I lived in North Dakota!) And I’m from NYC, which is, technically, mid-Atlantic, but still sort of “north.” Being a gadfly is also nothing new for me. Those of you who know me or have been readers of my writings for any length of time know that I am prone to be a gadfly. I even put this qualifying header on my blogs:
I’m a gadfly. Sometimes, in these postings, I posit outrageous things, or make controversial statements. I do this for the sake of sparking debate and discussion. Unlike many blogs, you can’t assume that everything I post here is my own deeply held belief or position. I accept the risk that goes with being a gadfly. I ask you, dear reader, to focus on the message, and not the messenger.
As I suspect most of my readers know by now, a beloved pillar of contemporary Jewish music, Debbie Friedman, is ill and hospitalized. I first saw the news come across Twitter. My first impulse was to share that news by re-tweeting, which I did. I now regret having done that, and having participated in what became a frenzy of sharing information that I believe does not show full respect for matters of privacy. Within a relatively short time framework, there was conflicting information appearing in tweets about Debbie’s condition. Queries to people yielded all kinds of responses about sources, though most everyone claimed reliable sources. I have no reason to doubt this.
I was at first confused (though not surprised) by the conflicting information, considering that some of it came from sources I do consider reliable and close to the situation. Then I became agitated. I wasn’t sure of the cause-perhaps it was due to the lack of certainty.
Then the light dawned. I wasn’t bothered by the conflicting information, the speculation, etc. It is certainly possible to have such conflicting information coming from reliable sources. I was bothered by the amount and nature of private information that was being shared. Debbie has been responsible for a number of “light dawning” moments in my own life, and this was yet another one – however indirectly.
I don’t claim any special relationship with Debbie, or to be part of some inner circle. I don’t know her any better than most of the tens of thousands of people she has touched. She has that effect on people-the ability to make each and every individual she touches to feel like they are special and have a unique relationship with her. It is her gift. I am grateful for the times in my life when I have been able, in person, to learn from her, perform with her, share with her. I am equally grateful for those times when she has impacted me in absentia, through her music, her teachings, etc. She has had a profound effect on my life and I care deeply about her. The same is true for many others.
So it is understandable, in the post-CNN and now Twitter age, that thousands of people share the concern, and want to know as much as they can about Debbie’s condition. Thus I understand what motivates people to want to share these details when they know them or learn of them. It is, in most cases, a pure motivation (there are exceptions, I am afraid, by people who, desperately needing affirmation, need to assert being part of some “inner circle” that is more privy than others to the information. I am sure this is a very small minority, and, quite frankly, I can empathize with them, because I, too have found myself in that position at times in my own life. Not something of which I am proud.
More to the point, it’s not about the accuracy or validity of the information. That simply isn’t relevant to my point. This is the light dawning moment. What’s bothering me is how much information is out there. Yes, Debbie is a celebrity loved by many. Yet isn’t it enough to let people know she is ill and to pray for her? Do we really need to know the cause, the details, the treatments? Must we play helicopter following OJ on the freeway? Must we perpetuate the culture on Twitter and Facebook that has seen more than it’s share of erroneous reports of people’s demises, divorces, etc. ? Don’t get me wrong-I love Twitter and Facebook and think they are part of a trend in technology that gives me hope-as more and more people seek a “social” component in where their lives intersect with technology. (Read my blog post “The Social Net Works” to hear more about my feelings on this: http://migdalorguysblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/social-net-works.html ) As with any technology, there are potential downsides. Just because all the information is available and we can share it easily doesn’t mean that the information should be shared!
I certainly can’t claim to know Debbie better than others, but I can say that, in my limited experiences with her, she has always appeared to prefer to keep matters of her health somewhat private. Yes, I have seen her open up to groups of people to some extent about matters relating to her health, but I don’t see that as an invitation to make her health condition an open book. Now, it may very well be that members of her family have been willing to share some of this private information, or have at least acquiesced to others doing so, knowing how beloved she is to many. I don’t know. Nothing would please me more than to have Debbie recover fully and chastise me, saying she didn’t mind all this information being shared. (To be frank, I’m not sure that would change my mind about the level of information that was shared.) As I’ve stated and will continue to state, I have no special insight into this. It’s my opinion, and and a wise friend once told me, opinions are neither right nor wrong, they’re just opinions. And my opinion is that there’s no need to share more than “so and so is ill, and in the hospital, and needs our prayers.” (Sure, if someone needed an organ, or blood donated, etc. share that – I think think asking in as many places as possible for those would be appropriate.)
Just because the information is available, does that mean it needs to be shared? Is it not enough to ask people to pray for her refuah shleima (in whatever sense of the concept is best for her) without having to share details of the illness, the treatments, etc.
Of course, just by writing this gadfly-ish musing, I open myself up to questions of my assuming what may matter to Debbie or her family. To that I plead guilty. I’ve no special insight into that. However, my main thrust here is to ask that all the persistent speculation stop, that the sharing of un-needed private information cease, so we can focus on the most important task at hand – to pray for Debbie. So, even if the information is being shared, my question to all of us is, “do we need to be sharing all of this information?”
I’ve already started to repeat my basic premise, so maybe it’s time to bring this to a close. Let’s all pray for a refuah shleima for Debbie Friedman. Lets sing her songs at services, at home, and wherever we can. Let us share our love for her in every way we can. That has the power perhaps to bring healing. I’m not sure knowing details of condition, treatment, prognosis, etc. really contribute to that. Would we pray more or less depending on those details? (Sure, there is probably some intrinsic hierarchy from the viewpoint of some people. We would not, for example, say a birkat hagomeil for having gotten through something that did not appear to be serious-though serious can still be a relative concept. But this is not about praying for ourselves. This is about praying for others. How could we decide what set of conditions warranted more fervent prayer than others? Someone needs our prayers, it is a mitzvah for us to offer them. I don’t need to know any more than that someone needs my prayers.)
Debbie needs our prayers.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
UPDATE: Please note that my concern and discomfort is with what has taken place in public forums like Twitter, Facebook, and, to some extent, mass broadcast emails. Private emails, texts, calls, direct messages, et al between people is between those parties, and what people may choose to share privately with others in their circles is of their concern-though I would still encourage respect for privacy and confidentiality as appropriate.