It was the coldest day of the year in Brooklyn. It was also the day of my Bar Mitzvah. My thirteenth birthday had been eleven days earlier, on January 7, on the Gregorian Calendar, but it's only once every 19 years that the Gregorian and Hebrew dates align. Because of that, my Bar Mitzvah was celebrated more than a week later. As I had taken off from school the day before for final preparations, and the following Monday was Martin Luther King Day (also happened to be Inauguration Day that year), I had a four-day weekend.
The weekly portion of the Torah that week was Parshat Bo. Bo tells the story of the final three plagues to strike Egypt along with the first Passover. It is a story a freedom. While we do not read it in synagogue for a little more than another week (not until January 28 this year), I do find some personal symbolism in the fact that so many sites engage in a protest against SOPA and PIPA today. Sure, it's coincidence, and, sure, it's just personal symbolism, but it's for those very reasons that it resonates with me.
What makes the internet so great is how liberating it can be. At its very best, it has recreated the old soapboxes and town squares where people would speak and be heard and exchange information. It has brought Hyde Park and other speaker's corners right in front of us and allowed us to interact, in real-time, with our fellow human beings so long as they have a device to connect them to the internet. It has enabled people to reach for freedom and to get around governments that seek to stifle dissent. This is what makes the SOPA and PIPA fight so important.
The internet, itself, is neither good nor bad. It is high brow and it is low brow. It is intellectually stimulating and it is absolutely mindless. It is serious and it is funny. It is prude and it is prurient. It is whatever we make of it. However, once we move into censorship that changes what we can make of it. It possesses the ability to destroy the liberation that the internet brought.
Fifteen years ago today, I sat in a synagogue and celebrated my Bar Mitzvah as we read about the Jewish People reaching for our freedom from slavery in Egypt. Today, we all reach out to preserve the freedom that the internet has brought us, however we choose how to use it. That, after all, is the beauty of freedom. We can use the internet for all those purposes I listed above and we don't need to explain why we're doing so. Let's make sure it stays that way.