‘Opinions are like arseholes: everybody’s got one’ – Albert Einstein
Einstein probably never said that.
In fact, it may have been my very own father who introduced me to this timeless aphorism.
On the internet, no one knows your meme is misleading.
The first time I saw the meme below, I guffawed:
It was so obviously fake.
It was so manifestly silly.
But it was also everywhere.
2016 was the year I learned that something doesn’t need to be true to be important; it doesn’t need to be correct to hurt you; it doesn’t need to be respectable to damage the fabric of society; it doesn’t need to be smart to smash up precious things.
At the end of 2015, Rachel Sacks-Davis and Antony Frosh were over at our house on a sunny Shabbes afternoon.
We ruminated over what to do about Galus: Galus Australis was an online magazine Rachel and Frosh founded in 2009.
It was the first of its kind in Australia and allowed anyone with an opinion to share it with the community, non-Jewish media, and the wider world.
Rachel and Frosh were committed to pluralism and copped the inevitable abuse that comes with daring to publish something a Jew somewhere doesn’t agree with.
Galus broke stories too, and smashed down informational barriers that had till then protected ruling elites from too much scrutiny.
No one paid Rachel and Frosh. Each of them has an almost boundless sense of duty and they did Galus because Galus needed to be done.
By 2012, they were exhausted, and asked me if I wanted to be site editor.
I said yes, with a sense of foreboding. I still refer to that year as my, ‘tour of duty.’ There was one serious defamation threat, but that was nothing compared to the incessant correspondence, by phone, email, text, or even in person.
Everyone had a fucking opinion.
It was rewarding at times, too, but I’d hate to dwell on the positive.
At some point in 2014, it became clear that a young woman, called Bracha Rafael, was willing to take the editorial helm.
Handover took place at Einstein’s Cafe over not quite enough coffee to justify the amount of time we spent there.
Bracha did her tour of duty till 2015, and then we had a problem: who the hell was going to edit this thing?
Who was going to chase people for stories? Who was going to be the receptacle for Jewish Australian existential fury?
Who was willing to cop all this glamour while not getting paid?
It’s not that Rachel, Frosh, Bracha and I hadn’t thought about some philanthropic input.
It didn’t take us long to find out that when our community is not funding buildings, it’s only really interested in giving a bit of dosh to things that are new and shiny (if unlikely to succeed).
And by ‘dosh’ I mean the small change your wealthier Jew finds behind his or her couch.
And keep in mind that getting access to these pittances required elaborate role plays in which you had to perform for people born or married to money as they pretended they were flamboyant entrepreneurs who could shark-tank their way to picking a winner.
They almost never did.
To be fair, I may be the world’s worst fundraiser. I much prefer for-profit enterprise. I don’t need to be as polite.
So there we were, Rachel, Frosh, Yaron (my loyal and possibly masochistic husband), and I on that Shabbes afternoon.
‘We can’t close Galus down,’ I said. ‘It’s kind of an emergency broadcast system,’
What worried me, was the possibility of an information vacuum if something went wrong. If a leader did something stupid or dangerous. If there was corruption in an organisation, and for whatever reason, the Australian Jewish News couldn’t cover it properly.
The AJN did some amazing work on the sex abuse scandals plaguing Yeshivah, but as an information platform, it just wasn’t designed to manage high traffic, fast breaking, multi-directional online communications.
The cops knew things because of Galus.
Victims’ justice was enhanced because of Galus. For obvious reasons, I can’t go into detail on that one.
Or how about the Melbourne Beth Din?
Before Galus, it assumed its power was unimpeachable; that it could behave in any way it pleased and never needed to respond to community concerns. One single article on Galus changed that (disclosure: it was written by Yaron).
Still not convinced? The kashrut scandals involving Meir Rabi’s, ‘It’s Kosher’ certification were for some reason completely ignored by the AJN. Without Galus, there would have been no cross communal, public discussion of the kashrut turf wars.
There are so many more stories, but the JWOW editor gave me a word limit, and you probably have shit to do anyway.
So I’ll get to the point: Australian Jews needed a Galus, in some form. I can’t remember if it was Rachel or Frosh who had the idea to archive the stand-alone site, and take discussion over to Facebook.
So things trundled along over 2016. Every so often, a Jew would post something in the group, another Jew would get pissed off… you know the story.
But then Trump happened.
And all the global forces that had been converging to make him possible did not spare our community.
Jews were sharing idiotic Churchill memes.
Some were happily smearing African immigrants and Muslims because bad-faith actors had an interest in spreading and stoking fear.
Galus, although horribly disfigured by Facebook’s abominable information architecture, became a beacon once again – open to anyone to set the record straight.
Galus, so unsexy to the Jewish philanthropic class a couple of years ago is, ironically, quite an agile beast.
It represents precisely what Malcolm Turnbull thinks he knows what he’s talking about when pontificating on agile (pronounced: ‘ajaaahl’) companies of the ‘new economy.’
Galus transforms and accommodates.
It opportunistically transforms all of us – who by ourselves, are just arseholes with opinions – into an informational matrix that can render a record should one ever be needed. It offers a place for us to come together to sort signal from noise.
A place where people can tell you: Churchill never said what the fascists are claiming.
A place where people can tell you: Einstein was a fun guy, sure, but he probably never made that comment about the arseholes.