Press 'F' for forgiveness
In advance of Yom Kippur, one can see evidence of a growing trend of apologizing on the Internet. What part do bloggers play in the confessional arena?
"What causes cruelty toward the weak?" asks Boaz Cohen on the blog "London Calling," which is published on the Reshimot site (reshimot.co.il). In a restrained posting, Cohen, a musical editor and presenter on Radio 88 FM, describes abuse that he suffered in his childhood. Cohen even mentions the name of the abusive student, today a prominent businessman. "Even now when I see him I feel like a victim who happens to see his torturer on the street," he writes.
In response to the article, Cohen received 280 personal e-mails and dozens of responses on the blog: "You know that I was there and I remember everything..." wrote one of the responders. "I managed to escape from the fate you describe, because I arrived in fourth grade... But I'm guilty, guilty, guilty, of collaboration through silence."
"I can't stop shaking..." admitted another respondent. "I was there - I remember - Forgive them. God won't forgive them and they will have to pay."
In the wake of the column Cohen's blog turned into an arena for confessions, regrets and requests for forgiveness. Teachers who knew and remained silent are revealed by name, respondents write to one another, and there are also attempts at forgiveness. "The blog caused people to recall their childhood and to offer insights as parents," says Cohen. "Nobody wants his children to experience such a thing. The respondents wanted to remember, to apologize, perhaps to atone in some way for their silence. They did some soul-searching and remembered me. I gave them an opportunity to ask for forgiveness.
"In spite of the years that have passed, I still feel what I felt then. I was a child who came from the [disadvantaged] Jessie Cohen neighborhood in Holon to the district school in [well-to-do] Savion. I wasn't even the class nerd, or someone who attracted fire. To this day I don't know why he attacked me. He had everything: Levi's, athletic shoes, popular girlfriends, good grades, and still he chose to harass me every day. From the age of 11 to the age of 14 my life was a nightmare. I assume that the systems worked more slowly then, the teachers were less aware, but I don't forgive them. They tell me that maybe he had it bad too, but I don't accept that, I know people who had a harder life than he did and turned out to be good human beings.
"The pull-no-punches writing, which mentions specific names and times, made the column effective," he assumes. "I understood that I had reached a stage where I didn't care what people would think, how they would react, what they would say about me. A blog has a cleansing effect."
How I forgave Father
Cohen's column joins a series of columns that are turning the Web into a world of confessions, self-accusations and settling of accounts. Hedva and Niv Hazan, a couple from Ramat Gan, began the "Slicha" (forgiveness) site (slicha.com) about two years ago, after a friend expressed a desire to apologize to his partner for forgetting her birthday. What began as a small confession on a negligible site has turned into a popular site, especially before Yom Kippur.
"Lots of people asking forgiveness of their friends, their partners, log onto the site. People who for the first time are admitting things they have done," says Hazan. The responders encourage those who are requesting forgiveness, and participate in their stories. With the help of the site's search engine, you can even type in your name and learn whether someone felt the need to use the platform to apologize to you.
That's what happened with an Internet user who arrived at his army base and discovered that his reserve duty had been canceled. He took advantage of the opportunity and traveled abroad for a week on his own, "as he had always wanted, completely alone, without anyone getting insulted," says Hazan. When he returned to Israel he didn't share his experience with his family, but his conscience bothered him and he confessed on the Web site. "It made him feel better," says Hazan. "People want to be purified, and the Internet makes that possible. It's immediate and intimate."
N. from Ramat Hasharon wanted to use the site in order to express forgiveness for her father, with whom she hadn't spoken for years. "He was a bad father. For years he cheated on my mother, and in the end he left the house. I couldn't forgive him for giving us up. In recent years, I didn't want to be in touch with him, despite his wishes. This year he fell ill. I went to visit him in the hospital. I saw him from a distance, helpless, hooked up to devices, unconscious. I couldn't do a thing, but I had to express my feelings and so I wrote on the site. Only afterward did I feel that I could move on."
P., who runs the veteran forum "Viduyim mehalev" (Confessions from the Heart) on the Tapuz Web site (tapuz.co.il) came to the forum by chance. A few years ago she was experiencing marital difficulties and was looking for a place where she could deliberate without "anyone knowing about it." P., who on the forum is called "Kemo Shebati" (As I Came), explained her problems for the first time on the Web. "Fortunately, I had a place to do it," she says. "Writing made my problems more concrete, the responders placed a mirror before my face and in the end I decided to get a divorce."
Even after the decision, she continued to be active in the forum, and a year and a half ago she began running it. "I'm drawn by the possibility of helping people," she explains, "of creating a space where you can say anything, a sophisticated confessional. In the final analysis you become strengthened even from the negative reactions."
About a year ago the local Internet scene was in an uproar after the suicide of Rapunzel, the "virtual" name of a young mother who claimed that she was abused as a child, which she said caused her to develop an annoying obsessive condition. In her blog, on Israelblog, Rapunzel wrote her full name and that of her abusive father; she also named two other bloggers who she said had sexually harassed her. When she was censored, she opened a new blog on Webster, on which she continued to publish names of people who had allegedly harmed her. When she was asked to censor the new blog as well, she declared a hunger strike.
"She felt that they were shutting her up and that added to her feeling of persecution," says Sarit Perkol, the coordinator of the "Yachasim" site on Ynet, and a blogger herself. "In my opinion, blogs are like neighborhoods and cities. There are many spillovers from the virtual world to the real one, and Israel is a small country."
Several months later Rapunzel committed suicide. The incident shocked many bloggers and other Internet users, and led to a series of confessions and articles calling on Internet users to express more confidence in writers, to be considerate of them, and to give consideration to their words, even if they are biting. "I ask myself whether we could have helped her in any way," wrote one of them. And another asked: "What would you do if your friend were to begin a hunger strike?"
"If a person identifies himself by name and tells a true and bitter story, of course that will attract readers," says Aaron Ben Zeev, a philosophy professor as well as the president of the University of Haifa. Ben Zeev's book "Yashar Mehalev" ("Straight from the Heart") deals with revealing emotions on the Internet. He sees the power of blogs, which are being turned into confession booths as print media continue to move to the Web. "The anonymity that attracted people to the Internet has created revelations of honesty," he says. "Honesty leads to honesty, and causes the users to express their own reactions of identification and confession."
In opposition to Ben Zeev, historian Aviad Kleinberg emphasizes the extroverted aspect of atonement on the Web, saying that it undermines honesty: "It's pretentious to think that public confession is purifying. It's like reality shows in which people undergo therapy in front of cameras. I consider that pseudo-honesty," he says.
In his book "Shivat Hahataim" ("The Seven Sins"), Kleinberg, a professor at Tel Aviv University, writes about the changing status of sin, which is culture-bound. "Something that used to be a sin, such as masturbation, stops being a sin, and what in the past was considered legitimate, like hitting children, becomes a sin... " In his opinion, the faster and easier the confession, the more the sin becomes emptied of content: "We are too quick to forgive ourselves for the unforgivable."