Six years ago, when I visited Israel, I wrote several blogposts on the sea changes that Israel had undergone in the many years since my previous visit. One such post, “Young and Not Restless,” which you can read here, lamented the silencing of Israeli youth on buses and trains with the advent of social media: everyone is plugged in and no one talks to anyone anymore.
But I was partly wrong: Israelis are as chatty as ever – – they just communicate differently.
It’s called WhatsApp.
In case you are, like, a dinosaur or Rip van Winkle or something, WhatsApp is an application that sends instant messages via your computer or cellphone. You can also send photos, and if your typing is slow, you can transmit voice messages.
WhatsApp is an invaluable tool for anyone living in Israel who has family abroad. It means you can connect without charge. It’s also great for someone on the cusp of aliyah.
We are building a home in Israel, and I needed to interview and choose an architect in Israel from my then-home base in the US. When one architect suggested I contacted his references in Israel, I did – – all twenty-five of them!!! – – using WhatsApp. From rural Maine I spoke to twenty-five Israelis in Israel over a course of one week, asking them if they were happy with the architect, as well as detailed questions about construction, materials, etc. Leave it to Israelis. Not only did they answer my questions, they proudly gave me extensive and instant video tours of their homes via WhatsApp and some invited me to their homes for coffee when I’d get to Israel. In the process I made some valuable contacts (yes, we hired that architect). And it was all free (albeit time-consuming, but that’s not the fault of WhatsApp).
In the yishuv (village) where we live, there are 290 families. When I innocently asked – – via a WhatsApp group, of course – – how many WhatsApp groups there are in Moreshet, I found the staggeringly-high number of WhatsApp groups may exceed the number of people within the local population. They include people who formed specific neighborhood groups; people who formed groups based on residents of a single street (especially useful for borrowing sugar); each and every grade in the local school has their own WhatsApp group to keep parents informed of school activities and conferences; there’s a Women of Moreshet group; Men of Moreshet group; the Teens of Moreshet group; a Senior Citizens of Moreshet group; a Weekly Torah Portion women’s class group; the 8 a.m minyan group; the 1:30 Mincha group; the Social Workers group; the Armed Fighters group; the Emergency Response Team Leaders group; the Ambulance Drivers group; the Soccer group; the Baseball players group; the Basketball players groups (separate groups for men and women); the Fifth Phase Construction group (that’s for the 45 families building new homes, of which I am a part); a group for changing the building restrictions codes within the Fifth Phase (that one has only 4 members); an English Speakers of Moreshet group; a babysitters group; a Mommy Camp group; Friday and holiday trips groups; Torah classes groups; Bnei Akiva youth movement groups according to grade/age; a Piano Lessons group; a Bikur Cholim group which organizes meals and visits for people who are unwell; the Health Nuts group; the Looking for a Ride group; the Yemenite Jews of Moreshet group; and the Office of Moreshet group. This is only a partial list.
Even if you are a member of a fraction of the available groups, it means your phone or computer is pinging all day with announcements of upcoming meetings and events as well as requests to borrow something missng from a recipe-in-the-making; offers for used items for free; requests for orders for fish, juice, whole wheat flour, yeast cakes, flowers and felafel, by people who sell these things as home-based side businesses in Moreshet; and requests for answers to sometimes-bizarre and random questions (my own included).
People who I’ve never seen in my life greet me as if I were a long-lost best friend back from the battlefield, because they “know” me from WhatsApp (apparently I’m easily identifiable thanks to my Standard Poodle, whom I walk several times daily). This can lead to some embarrassing moments on my part since I’m new here, and if someone speaks to me face-to-face out of context, I can only fake my way through a live conversation while trying to figure out who the heck they are.
What I want to know is, what happens if you are invited to a group and decide not to join? Are you considered a frum freak or a snob? Are there twelve-step Whats App Anonymous groups for those who want to delete themselves from their dependence on various WhatsApp social circles? Is it possible to Just Say No to WhatsApp and still be part of the gang?
Meanwhile I’m trying to get a T’ai Chi class started in Moreshet. I’m forming a group for anyone interested . . . via WhatsApp.