Opinion

Facebook Killed the High School Reunion

If reunions are like a juicy gossip column, Facebook is like a spoiler trailer that makes it unnecessary to attend the actual event.

A reunion (illustrative).
Benjamin Norman / NYT

I’m at that stage when you begin to make interim summaries. I haven’t yet reached midlife, but people around me are already starting to look back. That’s the direction in which one goes. Backward, because it’s scary up ahead. So we recall what was. We examine the way we’ve come, as Amos Ettinger did with his guests in the old TV show “Hayim Sheka’ele” (an Israeli version of “This is Your Life”). Nostalgia, as we know, was diagnosed as a psychopathological disturbance back in the 17th century, and in Israel there are probably more people with this disorder than in any other country in the world. If we don’t have the past, what will we be left with? The present is frightening, the future is burdensome and the past – is reasonable, all in all.

Israelis make therapeutic use of the past. The “Good Old Land of Israel” is not a cliché. It’s an institutionalized and documented lifestyle that is backed by political and economic power. We filter out everyone who doesn’t suit the nostalgic idyll. The black sheep, the perverts, the unworthy, the victims and anyone else who had the misfortune to encounter the twilight zones of culture. Most people are in no rush to take stock of what was. Israelis see themselves as one big silent family. We erase what has to be erased and leave only what makes us feel good inside. Until all those Yemenites come along with stories about kidnapped children and discrimination and racism and violence, and spoil the party.

Recently, I was invited to two parties. Two reunions, to be more precise. In English it sounds good – a reunion, reuniting. That’s a romantic concept that masks the real intention of the get-together: to find out what happened to all those with whom you shared the years of your youth. They say that those are a person’s best years. To be a teenager. To be at one’s peak of energy and libido. And, therefore, a reunion gives you a chance to examine up close the process of deterioration of the human mind and body. Who looks old? Who has become ugly? Who is balding? Who got fat? Who has wrinkles? Whose teeth are rotting? These occasions are an opportunity to make comparisons.

A reunion is like a cruel gossip column. Who is divorced? Who slept with whom? Who arrived in a limousine? Who has become vegan? Who has gone crazy? Who has made an exit? Who has lost everything? Who has become a celebrity? Who has gone to live abroad? Who votes for Bibi?

The two poles of my young life were being commemorated – at a reunion of the private Reali School, and a reunion of the troubled Sha’ar Ha’aliyah neighborhood in Haifa. Twenty years have passed since I finished 12th grade, at about the same time that we left the neighborhood. We upgraded. We moved up to the Carmel.

At the Reali, I met the children of the rich. The residents of the private homes in the upscale Danya neighborhood. Only in Tel Aviv have I met wealthier people. How much capital is concealed in that city, in dirty apartments and cafes with vintage furniture. The difference between them: In Haifa the children of the well-off didn’t pretend to be poor. They were young; they didn’t understand yet that in Israel money is something to be ashamed of.

Illustration.
Sharon Fadida

In Tel Aviv the children of the rich – those in their twenties and thirties – complain that they don’t have money to pay rent. They want to enjoy the false authenticity of poverty. To pretend that they’re unfortunate, because they were taught that being unfortunate has emotional and intellectual depth, and that there’s something romantic about it.

I miss the children of the Reali, who were worth millions and strutted around proudly, with white teeth, an arrogant smile and Reeboks. That’s preferable to the wannabe-beggars and pretenders in Tel Aviv.

I miss the old neighborhood, too. In order to create an infantile idealization, troubled neighborhoods in Israel were collectively dubbed shekhunot haim (“neighborhoods of life”) after a series on Educational Television. Of course the reality is far more difficult and complicated. In impoverished neighborhoods nobody suddenly bursts into joyous song.

But although the economic situation wasn’t great, and the sheets of asbestos peeled off the multi-story buildings, I grew up in a relative Israeli paradise. Among a mixture of Mizrahim (Jews of North African or Middle Eastern origin), Russians, Ethiopians, Georgians, Argentines, even Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin). We played with one another, hated each other, were racists and cursed each other, came to blows – and loved each other.

When I think about my son, about the playgrounds where we play together, about the nursery he attends, about central Tel Aviv where we live, I get depressed. Everyone comes from the same background. Everyone is white, everyone has the same culture and the same ideology and the same privileges and the same toys.

My kid will grow up with clones of himself. He’ll go to school with the same people, will recreate the same behavior, will grow up as a mirror image of his surroundings. He won’t encounter strange faces and won’t experience other cultures that will challenge his worldview. And in the end – he’ll become a leftist who preaches acceptance of the “other.” For that I left the old neighborhood?

In the end, I didn’t attend the Sha’ar Ha’aliyah reunion, which took place in the apartment of one of my friends (who still lives in the neighborhood). I already got it: The gang started a WhatsApp group, and in the weeks preceding the gathering didn’t stop gossiping and being annoying. They waxed nostalgic about neighborhood folklore until the wee hours of the morning. Everything that could be said – they sent in text messages. They even added up-to-date pictures. I put the group on silent mode, so that the beeps wouldn’t disturb my rest.

One of the participants in the group wrote that she would bring a fruit salad to the reunion. I hate fruit salad. Why turn fruits into salad? Can’t you eat them separately? What a bourgeois invention. I decided not to come, if only in protest of the very existence of fruit salad in our world.

The Reali class reunion will take place in May, in a luxurious hotel in Haifa. They too opened a Facebook page. It has about 300 friends, most of whom I don’t remember and don’t really know. Mark Zuckerberg has murdered reunions. He has murdered many other things, but he has really exterminated class reunions. There’s no more mystery: You already know how everyone looks and what they’re doing.

Do you want to know what happened to the most popular girl in the class? Go into her profile. You’re almost sure to find a picture of her with a baby. Two babies. Three babies. Babies surrounding her on all sides, until she disappears on the horizon.

In the Facebook groups, everyone talks about the years that have gone by and has fun with memories. Someone threatens to post incriminating pictures from the old days. Someone writes that time flies. Someone posts a picture of a legendary teacher. Soon they’ll also start gossiping on Chat.

I’m afraid to go to the class reunion, because I know exactly what will happen: Everyone will recognize everyone, everyone will know everything about one another. There won’t be any surprised looks and no shock and amazement, and no feeling of doubt or bitter disappointment. Facebook has murdered spontaneous nostalgia. It has exterminated sentimentality. I hope they won’t be serving fruit salad.