I have read comparisons from those still on Twitter that this week feels like being on the deck of the Titanic as the great ship went down. For me, it feels like the moment at the end of Fiddler on the Roof where the residents of Anatevka — intimate, obstinate Anatevka, where I know everyone I meet — say their goodbyes, pack their things and head off in different directions knowing they would never see each other again.
While these examples may be melodramatic, in the days since Elon Musk purchased Twitter, something has palpably changed on the site. But instead of focusing on what appears to be Twitter’s imminent demise, let me focus on what — at its best — it created.
If you were to see my Twitter feed, you would read a crazy mix of tweets focused mainly on Michigan sports, political commentary and the subculture affectionately referred to as Jwitter — Jewish Twitter. Each Friday before sundown, I know there are a bunch of accounts that will tweet out Sabbath greetings, including my favorite which sends out an all-caps joyous proclamation about the holiness of Shabbat.
In my snarkier moments, there is a Twitter account which tweets out every single day the number of days it has been since Ohio State beat Michigan in football. There is also an account letting us know the day that celebrities cross the Brinkley/Cocoon line — the age that Wilfred Brimley was on the day the movie Cocoon was released. In case you are curious, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day have all crossed the line.
While these examples all were things that gave me joy, I also relied on Twitter as a news source. This had to be approached with caution as fiction could frequently be disseminated as fact, but when Mike Hart collapsed during a Michigan football game, I immediately grabbed my phone and pulled up the folks from the MIchigan football subculture knowing that they would have updates quicker than any network news source. When there was a man with a gun in downtown Charlevoix, Twitter updates from police and news sources allowed me to track what was happening from four hours away better than my mother could from a mile away. During hurricanes and shootings and other tragedies, a carefully curated Twitter could provide updates in real time in a way that cable news could not.
But the piece of Twitter that was most precious was the connections. Through Twitter, I could tweet at an author when I loved the book or article that they had written and — in some cases — they would tweet back. While I know that Jason Kander and Josh Malina are not actually my friends, through Twitter I have formed a connection with them and their work that would not have occurred through a one-way medium like a podcast.
And in some cases, these connections have led to real-life meetings such as when I was able to bring in Yair Rosenberg and Rabia Chaudry to speak at a JCRC/AJC event — something I would never have attempted without previous Twitter interactions.
The interactions of Jwitter are something I especially cherish. Through Jwitter, I have experienced an amplification of voices that I do not get to from in my offline life. The voices of Black Jews including Michael Twitty and Rabbi Sandra Lawson. The interfaith community. The Jews that are openly struggling with Zionism and Israel. Converts celebrating their trips to the mikvah. One writer that encouraged folks to #tweetyourshabbat each week, where people shared as they were cooking. Another that asked people who needed prayers to reach out and she would say prayers from them as she made her weekly challah. While we all know that there are infinite ways to experience Judaism, Jwitter gave voice and depth to many of these experiences.
I have not signed off Twitter yet, but as the site disintegrates before my eyes, I find myself quickly forgetting about the doom scrolling and hate speech and toxicity and instead donning the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia at what Twitter was at its very best moments. Maybe the real Twitter, as the meme reminds us, is the friends we made along the way.
While Twitter is and was many things, at its heart, it was a community. A messy, strange, occasionally joyous community where people connected to each other. And as that community collapses, I will miss those characters I shared space with along the way.