Literacy and Liberty

Investigative Project
Posted by: , November 7, 2018, 5:56 pm
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The internet has completely transformed communication. Ideas can be expressed, spread, and accessed on a global scale, instantaneously. This has allowed for the development of an interconnected and informed global mass. However this is not an inherently good thing, as social networks and internet forums, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are discovering. By necessity, some opinions that will be spread on these networks will be perceived as “disagreeable” or even dangerous. “Fake news”, conspiracies, hate speech, calls for violence, and other content which are considered by many to be toxic and divisive, pose a problem for platform providers. In many cases, these platforms choose to address the problem by censoring such content and silencing the voices that spread it.

Unfortunately, it is not always clear what constitutes hateful or extreme rhetoric. The result of this is that many users which simply seek to promote alternative perspectives are being cast in the same lot as those who produce far more radical content. When measures normally intended to stifle extremists are applied to more moderate voices, it is perceived by affected persons and their followers as constituting biased political attacks on their right to free-speech and their ability to participate in the free-market of ideas. This runs counter to the ideals of inclusivity many such internet platforms are based on.

In light of this, we must ask ourselves difficult questions such as, what is free-speech, what constitutes “intolerable” rhetoric, and how far do the protections of the First Amendment go?


Still Warm
Posted by: , October 2, 2018, 10:58 pm
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It was April 10th, 2016, my sophomore year at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. As part of a school project, I was required to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. My Dad offered to take me, saying he had been intending to visit the museum himself. Instead of acquiring more knowledge, I was hoping to connect emotionally to the Holocaust, for the tragedy to “hit me.” In the museum there is a big, empty train box-car. One of the actual units in which Jews were packed like sardines and taken from the ghettos to the concentration camps. I entered it and tried to imagine being squeezed between other sickly bodies, the suffocating heat, the nauseating scent of death and excrement. It was to no avail, I still felt dislocated from that reality. However this was not the case with my father, who refused to enter the box-car. My dad told me he was afraid that he would be mentally transported to the event, afraid to feel the anxiety and fear that it contained. He dreaded achieving the very emotional connection I was struggling to realize.  When I told him this, he said that at the time of his birth, 1950, “the furnaces of Auschwitz were still warm.” The Holocaust was not a far off historical event for him, but one that was very close to his upbringing. No feature in a museum would ever make the Holocaust more “real” for me, as it already was for him.




Tree Trunk or Race? A Balanced Structure or a Housing for Horses?
Posted by: , September 4, 2018, 2:24 am
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Last year I participated in a gap year in Israel called “Workshop” through my youth movement, Habonim-Dror. On Workshop, participants from all over North America live together communally and collectively as a “kvutsa” which translates to “group” in Hebrew. On workshop, the kvutsa is supposed to decide on its Hebrew name, mine chose the name “Kvutsa Geza,”  Geza meaning tree trunk. We chose Geza because we felt a tree trunk best encapsulated our lofty and abstract idea of remaining rooted in our Jewish and Zionist history while growing towards a new vision for ourselves, the movement, and the Jewish people.

The problem was that we were choosing our kvutsa name in English, expecting a simple Hebrew translation. Popping “tree trunk” into Google Translate resulted in “Geza;” We were satisfied, but our “Madrichim” (program directors) were not happy. They told us if we named ourselves Geza, most Israelis would assume we were calling ourselves “race” which was offensive and unacceptable. “That’s so stupid,” I replied, “why would ‘trunk and ‘race’ be the same word?” Then my madrich said, “Now you understand my frustration with English, stable is a balanced structure but it’s also the thing you keep horses in; Hebrew has synonyms too.” At that moment I felt incredibly stupid, both for forgetting about synonyms outside English, and for trusting Google Translate. When I reported it to the kvutsa, we all laughed and amended it to “Giv’ol” or “Stem,” which in Hebrew has no other controversial meanings.