The battle to get ‘Bully’ seen by those who need it most


At Sioux City Middle School in Iowa, 12-year-old Alex Libby is the odd-man-out. Seen by his peers as different, he has golden hair, gentle eyes, a wide, flat nose and permanently puckered lips. Together, they might seem to express something both pouty and vulnerable, sweet and sad. Kids are not so kind. “People call me fish face,” he blankly tells the camera in the new documentary “Bully” by filmmaker Lee Hirsch. “I don’t mind.”

Hirsch’s camera follows Alex to the bus stop. He breathes heavily and loiters sort of aimlessly until another boy his age begins to taunt him, “I’ll break your Adam’s apple, which will kill you!” the boy shouts. On the bus, yet another boy tells Alex he plans to bring a knife to school. “I’m gonna f—- you up,” he taunts. “You’re gonna die in pain.”

The documentary, which hits theaters on March 30, comes at a time when the prevalence and perils of bullying are thick in national consciousness. Last week, former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was found guilty of a hate crime, convicted of 15 criminal charges including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence for using a Webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man. Engaging in a practice commonly known as cyberbullying, Ravi used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to invite others to join him. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” Ravi Tweeted on Sept. 19, 2010. “I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” A few days later, Ravi Tweeted a second time, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

Three days after the initial incident, Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi leaped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Although Ravi was not charged in relation to Clementi’s death, the case has widely been seen as a watershed moment because, for the first time, an act of cyberbullying has been successfully prosecuted. But the phenomenon of bullying is nothing new. The word is simply a modern catchall to describe an ancient behavior; even before “Lord of the Flies,” there were Joseph and his brothers. Yet bullying covers such a broad range of behaviors — from teasing and name-calling, to threats and even physical violence — and affects an even wider swath of ages, starting as early as preschool and continuing through adulthood, when, in the workplace it’s called harassment, it could probably hold rank as one of the most challenging social problems in human history.

[Q&A with an expert on bullying]

Before bullying became a buzzword and a subject of serious scientific study, it was widely but erroneously believed to be an affliction of race or poverty. For Jews, victimization that comes from being different from the dominant culture is a familiar theme. But while a minority status determined by race, religion, gender, social status or sexual orientation often becomes a factor in discrimination, bullying is not restricted to minority groups. Nor is it believed to be more or less prevalent within one group over another.

Today, sociologists generally agree that the phenomenon is universal and that it happens on a global scale. In 2010 in the United States, 828,000 nonfatal victimizations at schools were reported among students ages 12-18, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics on behalf of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. The same study found that nearly half of those were considered “violent victimizations,” and more than 91,000 incidents qualified as “serious violent victimizations.” It was also reported that the majority of all childhood victimizations occurred at school, including 17 homicides and seven suicides.

All this makes it likely that you, your child or someone you know has experienced some type of bullying at some point during adolescence. And more than any sociocultural identification — black, Jewish, gay, wealthy — the single most powerful determinant in whether an individual is susceptible to bullying behavior is social isolation. How strange, then, to perceive minority status as a happy accident of fate; sometimes it is precisely affiliation with a group that can be lifesaving.

“The thing I think about a lot is, ‘What are the activators of pain?’ ” Lee Hirsch, the 40-year-old filmmaker of “Bully,” said during a phone interview from New York. “I love movements and politics and platforms, but the thing that interests me the most is, what can compel people to move off the sidelines?”

All photos from “Bully,” courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

Whether there are genetic incentives for altruistic behavior is a perennial query of evolutionary biology. A recent article in The New Yorker magazine by Jonah Lehrer illuminated a scientific debate about the genetics of altruism. Is it actually biologically good to do good? “Charles Darwin regarded the problem of altruism — the act of helping someone else, even if it comes at a steep personal cost — as a potentially fatal challenge to his theory of natural selection,” Lehrer writes. “And yet, as Darwin knew, altruism is everywhere, a stubborn anomaly of nature. Bats feed hungry brethren; honeybees commit suicide with a sting to defend the hive; birds raise offspring that aren’t their own; humans leap onto subway tracks to save strangers. The ubiquity of such behavior suggests that kindness is not a losing life strategy.”

As more students report having witnessed bullying than experiencing it, converting bystanders into altruistic defenders could prove transformative. It is the message conveyed by Hirsch’s film, and it is his hope that the film will seed a social revolution — a battle against bullying, so to speak, that would make prevention and containment a permanent part of America’s educational culture.

“Tackling this idea of bullying as a nation, in a really deep way,” Hirsch wondered, “does that get at a bigger truth or bigger transformation than bullying itself? Does confronting [this issue] help us see more about life and the choices that we make?”

Hirsch urgently believes that now is the time to seize upon the spotlight and influence public discourse. “There’s something so universal and collective in the experience of bullying. There is a conversation to be had that hasn’t yet been had, and I think that’s why I’m so committed to classrooms seeing this film; what could come out of that is thrilling to think about.”

It’s too bad, and just a tad ironic, then, that Hirsch is also having to battle for his movie to be seen. When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) scarlet-lettered the film with an “R” rating for explicit language, it complicated the filmmaker’s plans to screen the movie in schools for students. Because, while the film is reliably entertaining, it’s not exactly a choice pick for a Saturday afternoon. It was designed to be consciousness-raising and educational.

“Bully” tells the story of five students and their families as they confront the real-life consequences of school-day torment. For a year, Hirsch and his camera traveled to five cities to observe the effects: To follow Alex, the documentary’s default star, Hirsch was given unprecedented access to three schools in Sioux City, Iowa — an elementary, middle and high school — where his cameras were allowed full access in hallways, classrooms and on the playgrounds. Given the many discomfiting scenes that emerge in the film — Alex is shoved, stabbed, ridiculed and threatened — it seems either miraculous or insane that the school agreed to participate. Hirsch attributes this to their desire for change. “They want to be part of the solution,” he said.

Q&A with an expert on bullying


Ron Avi Astor, the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development at USC, has been studying the epidemiology of school violence for nearly 30 years. In 1997, he moved his family to Jerusalem for one year to run the first-ever large-scale comprehensive school violence survey in Israel, with his partner, Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Rami Benbenishty. Together they co-authored the book “School Violence in Context: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender” (Oxford University Press, 2005). The study is still considered one of the most rigorous and ambitious ever conducted, and there are plans to replicate it in France, Chile and Taiwan. Here, Astor discusses its findings and what it has to teach Jewish schools in the United States.

Jewish Journal: The term “bullying” means many things. What exactly are we talking about when we’re talking about bullying?
Ron Astor: Bullying covers a wide range of behaviors that are qualitatively really different from each other: name calling, social exclusion, teasing, kicking, hitting, fistfights, weapon use, ganging up on somebody, writing things about people or posting it. It used to be in the bathroom, now it’s using the Internet to upset, humiliate or threaten somebody. Generally, the person who does the bullying needs to be stronger socially and psychologically, and it needs to happen more than once.

JJ: Who are the prime targets?
RA: In general, kids who tend to be more isolated, kids who are weaker in terms of social connection, who the bullies feel [are isolated enough that] they can get away with it.

JJ: Bullying has suddenly become a very hot topic. But, haven’t people always been mean?
RA: Until 2001, we didn’t run studies on bullying in the United States, but after the shootings at Columbine, a theory came out in the media saying that the reason why these kids became shooters is that they were bullied at school. But there is no evidence to show that bullying leads to shooting; if that were true, it would be Armageddon in Los Angeles. 

JJ: Is being part of a minority group an advantage in deflecting bullying, as opposed to those who suffer in isolation? 
RA: It’s too general to say, “I’m part of the Jewish people; I’m not alone.” I could be Jewish, and be on a Jewish campus, and not have any friends and be very isolated. But, if a group becomes cohesive and organized, I think that actually protects people from being harmed. We’ve seen that with civil rights.

JJ: Some adults excuse bullying behavior as a “kids will be kids” developmental milestone. How do you deal with bullying that is really dangerous and bullying that is just part of growing up? 
RA: On the one hand, you don’t want people to go meshuggah about this stuff, where everything a little kid does has to have serious consequences. On the other hand, there have to be consequences that are appropriate. Society tends to speak only in terms of how adults respond, but that’s reactionary. What’s better is a wider belief and philosophy about what a human being should be like. 

JJ: Why did you choose school violence as the focus of your career research?
RA: It has to do, in part, with growing up Jewish. If you look at all our holidays, it’s all about being a victim and how we respond as a society to victimization. Also, growing up in L.A. at the height of Bloods and Crips, gangs in schools … living at a time when there was a lot of racial tension. We lived in a much more violent society than we have right now. So it was the combination of the Jewish questions and what I saw around me growing up.

JJ: In an essay about Jews and school violence, you wrote that American Jews don’t perceive school violence as an American Jewish problem. Why is that?
RA: At the time, Jews were following what the rest of society was saying, and society had branded youth violence as a minority problem and a poverty problem. But what this whole focus on bullying has done has told all of America that this is a problem that cuts across all categories. No group or segment of our society is immune to bullying.

JJ: You also wrote that when you began your research, almost no scientific literature existed about Jews and darker issues, such as child abuse, family violence, drug addiction, mental illness or as suffering from problems such as bullying or school violence. Was this a way of keeping a low profile on ugly issues?
RA: The Jewish community in the United States understands that even though we love to see ourselves as a model community, and I think we are, we have problems like everybody else. We’re al’ kol am [a nation like other nations], and that’s a process partially influenced by Israel.

JJ: After you conducted the study in Israel, you reported that the country saw a 20 to 25 percent reduction in school violence rates, which you believe is related to the fact that the entire educational system made combatting school violence a top priority. Why hasn’t that happened in the United States?
RA: If you looked at the average high school pre-World War II, it had 500 students. After that, when people started moving toward factory models, schools followed. Instead of teachers patrolling hallways and saying hello, they became a math teacher, a history teacher, a science teacher, and the classroom became the domain of their work. But if you look at where bullying takes place, it happens in the hallway, the playground, the bathroom — all the places where a teacher’s professional role doesn’t exist. One idea is to move back to the old view, where a teacher sees the entire child and the entire school as their domain. That’s what the whole mission of education is supposed to be about.

JJ: You’ve complained that it’s been difficult to get exposure for your findings in the U.S. Jewish community. Since this interview is happening because of the release of a movie, would you say you owe a debt to Hollywood?
RA: [laughs] I owe a debt to Hollywood and to you. This is one of most in-depth interviews I’ve done — in 20 years. My stuff has been in Newsweek, Time, NPR, CNN —  the only place I couldn’t crack was the Jewish news.

College Humor roasts Facebook (and bashes Myspace)


Jewish identity defined — a la Facebook


Ora Weinbach is not satisfied with merely calling herself a Jew. Instead, the recent high school graduate strives to put the za za zoo back into her religious observance by being an “impassioned Jew” — a term she uses to define herself on Facebook.

As opposed to the generic “Jewish — Orthodox” listed under the majority of her friends’ profiles, she has created an entirely new category to express the fervor of her faith.

“Selecting Orthodox Judaism from a dropdown list, after Jehovah’s Witness and Jain, just didn’t seem as ‘ Wear it proud!’ as it should,” Weinbach said.

Facebook has become far more than a social network; it is a virtual social necessity.

Providing a do-it-yourself outlet for people to express their likes, dislikes and even their faith, the interactive platform allows users around the world to join together — whether on the newly available Facebook chat or in myriad groups that cater to almost any interest. The Jewish community, in particular, has created a haven for itself on this booming network, claiming hundreds of groups, applications and pieces of Jewish flair.

Beyond providing aesthetically appealing odds and ends for all its Jewish participants, Facebook — unlike MySpace or Friendster — hands over the reigns to developers by allowing them to create their own add-on applications.

Rabbi Moshe Plotkin, the head of the Chabad house at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is the creator of the popular Jewish Dates 2.0, which displays the current Hebrew date and a user’s Hebrew birthday. The application, like JewMeter and Jewish Gifts, is intended as a fun tool to help reinforce Jewish identity.

“I wanted to use every medium to bring Jewish culture closer to their father in Heaven,” Plotkin said.

Putting hundreds of hours into creating various “jewpplications,” developers like Plotkin are ensuring that Facebook is a means of inspiration, rather than just a tool for finding old friends and staying in touch.

Facebook groups can be found for almost any interest, and the selection for Jews extends from the serious, “We Are Still Here (Holocaust Memorial),” to the humorous, “I am a Victim of a Jewish Mother.”

For Zoe Jurkowski, a sophomore at YULA Girls High School and a member of several Jewish Facebook groups, the platform represents more than just sharing pictures and connecting with friends.

“When some show that they are proud of their religion, others are suddenly inspired to embrace it despite some social stigmas that might influence them not to,” she said.

Facebook has also become an asset for community organizers, such as Rabbi Effie Goldberg, the regional director of West Coast National Conference of Synagogue Youth. He uses Facebook as an opportunity to reach out to new members in a comfortable atmosphere where both he and his NCSY-ers can communicate about everything from upcoming events to the underlying goals of his organization.

“I have found through my experience in using Facebook and dealing with teenagers, that teens will go to the nth degree to express their Judaism,” he said. “Whether with a Hebrew letter or the Hebrew date on their page, each profile has a connection to their religious view. Teenagers want to stay together as a strong Jewish network.”

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On Facebook, The Jewish Journal is “pretty Jewish.”

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Briefs: Three plead guilty in SoCal terror plot; Report says UCI acted properly


Three Plead Guilty in Terror Plot

Three members of an Islamic terrorist cell who were on the verge of attacking the Israeli consulate, an El Al ticket counter and two synagogues, face up to 20 to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to conspiring to levy war against the United States.

The carefully planned plot was discovered by chance in July 2005. Authorities say it was closer to going operational than any other terrorist plan since Sept. 11 and engaged a joint task force of 350 federal, state and local investigators.

Kevin Lamar James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28, entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana last week, and a third defendant, Gregory Vernon Patterson, 27, entered his plea with the court on Monday.

A fourth cell member, Hammad Riaz Samana, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric care at a federal prison, federal prosecutors say.

James founded the cell as Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), translated as Assembly of Authentic Islam, from his jail cell in 1997 and then recruited fellow Black Muslim converts at the New Folsom prison near Sacramento.

Torrance police stumbled on the cell when they arrested Washington and Patterson in a string of gas station robberies intended to raise money for the planned attacks.

A search of Washington’s apartment yielded “jihadist” literature, a cache of weapons, a target list and a lead to James as the JIS leader. A search of the latter’s cell produced the draft of a press release to be issued after the first attack, which included a warning to “sincere Muslims” to avoid potential targets, including “Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of an Israeli state.”

Listed as planned targets were National Guard and military installations and a range of Jewish targets, such as the “Headquarters of Zion,” followed by the address of the Israeli consulate, an unexplained “Camp site of Zion,” and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport — the site of a murderous rampage in 2002, which killed two Israeli Americans — and two synagogues.

Ehud Danoch, Israeli consul general here in 2005, recalled the threatened attack on his office and staff as the tensest days in his three-year tenure during a recent farewell interview.

The two synagogues, which were likely to be assaulted during Yom Kippur services, have never been officially identified, but are located in the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood of the city.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind praised the work of law enforcement agencies in the case and reaffirmed that ADL will continue to monitor extremism in prisons, the radicalization of Islam, and domestic terrorist threats.

The successful conclusion of the case reversed a string of setbacks by the U.S. Justice Department in trying to convict alleged terrorists in American courts, such as last week’s refusal by a federal jury in Miami to convict seven indigent men, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Report Finds UCI Acted Appropriately

A federal civil rights investigation has cleared University of California, Irvine administrators of allegations that they systematically turned a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of Jewish students over a four-year period.

The ruling by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco, made public Dec. 12, was in response to a complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The complaint cited a long series of incidents in which Muslim and Arab students and extremist Muslim speakers had vilified Jews and incited against “Zionists” and Israel, without appropriate response by campus administrators.

Among the cited incidents were threats against students wearing Star of David and pro-Israel T-shirts, vandalism of a Holocaust memorial exhibit and a one-hour speech in which a Muslim cleric attacked “the apartheid state of Israel” and its “Nazi behavior,” as well as “American imperialism” and “the Zionist-controlled media.”

The federal ruling, which closed a three-year probe, found that while such acts were “offensive to Jewish students,” the incidents were “based on opposition to the policies of Israel,” and not on the “national origin” of the Jewish students.

UCI Chancellor Michael Clark welcomed the report and asserted that “we remain firmly committed to freedom of speech and open discourse … and equally committed to maintaining a safe, non-threatening environment for all members of our community.”

Manuel Gomez, who as UCI vice chancellor for student affairs dealt with the issue on an ongoing basis, said that he was particularly pleased by the report’s finding that the “university responded in a prompt and effective manner” to campus incidents.

A different reaction came from Susan B. Tuchman, director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice in New York, who said that she was “obviously disappointed and outraged.

“This was a difficult case, but the evidence was clear that Jewish students had been harassed and that the university had not responded adequately,” she said.

Tuchman had drafted the ZOA complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, she said, defined Jews not only as a religious but also an ethnic group under the “national origin” clause.

She blamed a change in leadership at the Office of Civil Rights, shortly after she filed the complaint in October 2004, for narrowing the protection afforded Jewish plaintiffs.

Tuchman warned that the federal decision “sent a very depressing message that the agency will not afford protection to Jewish students and this will embolden the perpetrators of hate actions on campuses.”

She added that ZOA was now weighing its options to pursue the matter.

At the time ZOA filed the complaint, some local Jewish officials characterized it as a misguided effort by outsiders.

Kevin O’Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Orange County/Long Beach, said that he remained skeptical that the ZOA action had been an effective way to deal with the campus administration.

Linked Out


Today I received the 50th e-mail from someone I vaguely know, someone who isn’t spam, but is spam of a different sort. “You are invited to join LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn.com, for those not in the know, is the social interface community Web site or whatever you call it for job hunters. Or so it was explained to me by one of the people I’d blasted for inviting me to one of these blasted things. “You have to be on Linked In, it’s the best way to promote yourself!” he said.

Do you remember when anyone with their own personal Web page was either a narcissist, a lunatic or a geek you would never give your e-mail to? OK, this was back in 1997 or so, when everyone was just starting to get e-mail, but still. Having your own Web page was a big scarlet L. Lo-ser.

Today, if you’re in the writing industry — or any industry where you want to be known, which seems to be every industry — you’re supposed to promote yourself by at least having a Web page, if not a blog. (In what I can’t decide was either a compliment or an insult, a former editor told me, “Amy, you were born to blog.”) But for some reason, I don’t feel like it.

I never built a page on MySpace. In fact, for a while I thought that anyone older than 30 who had a page there was a pedophile, or at least had Peter Pan syndrome. But there was the promotional aspect, and so I was considering relenting, except by then, all the kids — and adults — were moving over to Facebook. Originally designed for college networks, Facebook recently opened itself up to everyone. And everyone, it seems, is on it.

A guy friend here in Los Angeles told me about what my sister in New York is up to. My good friend in Israel wants to fix me up with a friend of hers here — via Facebook.

“You’re not on it?!” my friend writes me in disbelief via regular old e-mail. “It’s so much fun to see what everyone is up to!”

OK, I will admit this: I once did a MySpace search for an ex-boyfriend. It was my only one. He’s got a new band. And a wife, and a kid. That, my friend, is what he’s up to.

So, no, I’m not sure that I need to keep track of everyone from my past.

Frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with everyone in my present life. Or should I say lives, plural. My friends from Israel. My friends from New York. My friends who used to live in one of those places but now live somewhere else around the world. My friends from college. From high school. From the neighborhood. And, I think I’m forgetting some people — oh, yes, my friends from here. Not to mention my dates — the ones I’ve seen, am seeing and have yet to see.

They say that modern telecommunication makes our lives easier. And in a way, it has. Between the internet, cell phones and the combination of the two, which gives U.S. numbers to people living overseas, I can keep up with quite a number of people — and through them, nearly anyone I might have ever known, just to hear what they’re up to.

And I don’t mind — I really don’t. But do I really want more friends? Especially the online kind?

Uh oh. Have I just crossed that invisible line from cool young person to aging alter-kacker? “I remember when we didn’t even have the internet to do research,” I heard myself telling a group of journalism students, to which I was met by a blank stare, and I might as well have been saying, “When I was your age, we walked to school. Four miles. Barefoot.”

And while this might date me, I do remember life pre-Internet. About a decade ago I had founded an Internet company in Israel and was trying to explain the concept to Israeli industry leaders. (Suffice to say that it wasn’t an easy task trying to explain something new to a people who know everything.) I told people they would never have to leave the house! From shopping to research to booking travel to making friends to being part of a community, they would be able to conduct their entire lives online. It sounded far-fetched, and I wasn’t even sure believed it.

Not to state the obvious, but that day has arrived. And I, for better or for worse, have arrived with it. I’ve got my Treo Internet/cell phone — and am so adept at text messaging that my thumb has arthritis — my AOL IM, my Skype account, my work e-mail, my personal e-mail, my grad school e-mail and my hotmail account, which receives all promotional, travel and dating e-mails.

Yes, I date on the Internet, sometimes, when I don’t feel like hurling my face through the computer. Because, let me tell you, it takes up a lot of time. Between that, my e-mails, YouTube, eBay, CraigsList, Amazon, TMZ and sudoku (guiltiest of pleasures), entire decades of my life have gone by.

I don’t think I’m a Luddite. I’m just … tired.

So thanks for your invitation to join LinkedIn or MySpace of Facebook or whatever is the community Web Site for online communities these days. But if you want to hang out, why don’t you just give me a call. Better yet, let’s meet up. In person. Face to face.

Banking on web wisdom and webbish geography


You may remember Dan Jacobs from his “A Sensitive Guy on the Road: Fifty Dates Across the States” project in 2004. The L.A. native and son of a rabbi is back again with a new whimsical idea: Avanoo.com (pronounced avenue). It’s what he calls the world’s first “community wisdom bank.”

Developed with his friend, a 33-year-old Web maven known as Wilford Sage, Jacobs is attempting to provide people with answers — 100 million of them. And the start-up is hoping to gather that number within 100 days of its May 23 launch.

The site works by allowing people to ask questions of people who fit into specific demographics. If you want to know what fat men over 40 think about Twinkies, this is your site.

With Avanoo, Jacobs and Wilford are creating a community forum of advice, content, information and, of course, “wisdom.” Users either deposit wisdom by answering questions that interest them, access wisdom by getting answers from the site’s diverse communities, spread wisdom by sharing comments with others or seek wisdom by posting questions.

Avanoo.com’s version of wisdom is the knowledge of specific communities rather than individual experts. The idea for the site came from James Surowiecki’s book, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” which argues that under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and often smarter than the smartest people in them.

“What’s exciting about Avanoo’s community wisdom bank, in contrast to banks that store money, is that the accumulated wisdom can be accessed by anyone and can never be depleted. Thus, in return for a single wisdom deposit, people get access to a vast wealth of wisdom,” Jacobs said.

— Merissa Nathan Gerson, Contributing Writer

Web site taps ‘Jewish geography’

First there was Internet dating. Then there was JDate and a whole other slew of Web sites just for Jews.Now comes ChosenNet.com, a MySpace-style site just for the self-described “chosen people.”

ChosenNet’s site functions much like MySpace, with pictures, profiles, testimonials and links to friends, friends’ friends, friends’ friends and friends (whew!). For example: If Benbo has 37 friends, and one of them is Aaron, you can look up Aaron’s 317 friends and connect to them. You can e-mail them, instant message them or add them to your own connection. ChosenNet currently has some 6,000 members, many of whom seem to be on the West Coast.

The site was founded in 2004 by WhoNew LLC, which also operates a Mormon and Christian social networking site.

Not that this is the first social networking Web site for Jews. Other burgeoning Web sites include Shmooze.com (“Jewish Social Network”) and FrumHere.com (“Connect, re-connect, stay connected”), but ChosenNet seems to tap into the zeitgeist of Jewish geography — that informal “game” where two Jews who meet each other question every detail about each other’s life until they find they know someone in common. In addition to listing schools and jobs, favorite music, TV and hobbies, it has a slot for summer camps, youth groups and year in Israel.

Like MySpace, ChosenNet hosts forums, but ones such as “Jews of the Right/Left,” “Aliyah Now,” “Black Jews Unite” and “Vegetarian Jews.” Discussion board threads include everything from people starting social groups to searching for a nail salon to “Favorite Hebrew Hammer Lines,” referring to the Adam Goldberg blaxploitation spoof well known in Jewish circles.

Do Jews need yet another forum to connect them to more Jews? Or will they be happier in more open and diverse forums like MySpace? Like all things on the Web, only time will tell.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor