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Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows Educator Blog

ON-LINE COMMUNITIES: I'M A BELIEVER!!!
March 23, 2010 by Barry M. Gruber
OK, when I was first asked to be a contributor to this blog several weeks ago, I of course began to think of all sorts of intellectual divrei Torah I could contribute. But sometimes, life just gets in the way of the best laid plans.

This past August, I had a three level spinal fusion surgery for incredible back and leg pain I could no longer live with. And while I felt much better for the first few months, things headed south starting in December. While I was in Israel, my fellow Jim Joseph fellows watched (and of course assisted me greatly) as things deteriorated even more, and by January, when I was disembarking from a cruise, I needed to be wheeled off in a wheel chair.

Turns out that two of my screws had come loose (no obvious jokes, please). In addition, a piece of bone had chipped off and was lodged on my left sciatic nerve. No wonder I was in such incredible pain. And then things happened really rapidly: I was dagnosed on a late Friday afternoon, had a confirming myelogram (CAT scan and X-rays with dye in my spine) on Monday morning, and was in the operating room once again on Wednesday.

Despite being one of the JJFF fellows, destined to create my own on-line community of practice, I have always been a little skeptical about how real an on-line community can truly be. Who is going to really care about me or my opinions if they've never met me? How real can the friendships be that develop solely through social networking? Will anyone even miss me if I stop posting stuff on-line? I understood the idea of trying to collaborate on-line, but the idea of creating a true "community" always seemed a little far fetched.

Boy, was I ever wrong. How was I going to let all the people that might care know about my surgery in such a short amount of time? Worse yet, when I was in the recovery room, how would I let them know that I was OK? I started making lists of names and phone numbers: family, friends, work colleagues, and more. I was already up to two pages and finally had to go to bed to be ready for surgery the next day. And as I was drifting off, it hit me. Why not do it all on-line? Facebook would hit a good number of my friends, several of my google groups would hit my wtaff and some of my colleagues, and the JJFF ning (another social networking platform) would inform all my fellow Fellows. So in basically three short e-mails, almost everyone knew. And as soon as I could following my surgery, I sent out another three short e-mails to let everyone know I was doing fine.

And the responses? All I can say is spectacular. My new droid phone was buzzing with e-mail notifications almost non-stop for two days. So many truly cared and sent me wishes on facebook - and all my Fellows sent me responses through google groups or ning. I even got loads of cards and "gifts" through e-mail. Not only that, but I instructed one of my friends on how to create a wiki so that people who wanted to could sign up to bring me food without calling and bothering her. And someone else started a wiki for people to sign up to say a MiShebeirach for me at Shule.

I learned a lot through this experience. First, don't allow yourself to live with pain - force yourself on your doctor! Second, make sure you choose one of the finest neurosurgeons in the world. But most of all I learned that my previous impressions of on-line communities were just not true. Sure, it's always great to have face to face interactions, but you really can create community and love and friendships on-line. And I hope as I prepare for my first on-line community of practice that the community I create becomes this type of real and true community - where love, caring and friendships bloom and develop.