Facebook groups keep sense of community alive

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By Haydee M. Rodriguez

A quick search on Facebook for Baltimore Jewish Facebook groups yields options with a range of interests and topics.

Many are private and require answering two or three questions before joining. Yet others are public, with a history or business angle.

Some of the public groups include “Maryland Jewish Business Connection,” “Channeling Jewish History Group,” “Baltimore Jewish History and Memories,” “Jewish Young Adults of Baltimore” and “Jewish Inner Harbor and Downtown Baltimore Community.”

The private groups — those that require answering a few questions — are wide ranging and include, among others, “Jewish Baltimore Craigslist,” “Jewish Baltimore Activities and Things To Do,” “Baltimore Jewish Families” and “We’re Jewish Baltimore Women, Hon.”

Since the 2016 election, Facebook has been shifting its focus from the newsfeed to Facebook groups, according to a 2020 CNBC article. The appeal comes from connecting to others with specific personal interests, the article said.

“Facebook groups are a great way for people to customize their social media experience by connecting with other people with similar interests and needs,” Hugo Cesar, an admin of “Bay Area Conscious Community Housing Board,” told CNBC.

Baltimore Jewish Facebook groups offer that same sense of connection and community.

The “Jewish Inner Harbor and Downtown Baltimore Community” Facebook group, created 12 years ago, has more than 400 members.

Gerry Gilstrop is the administrator of this Facebook group. Until he moved to Las Vegas in 2019 for work, he had lived in Downtown Baltimore, in the Butchers Hill neighborhood, for 25 years. Gilstrop, his wife Becky Pepkowitz-Gilstrop and their two sons Chad and Ben were members of B’nai Israel.

The purpose of the group, Gilstrop said, is “to help Jews who wish to live in Downtown Baltimore to network with others who have similar interests and needs.”

On the other hand, there are also groups that are simply fun, said Sue Futeral-Myrowitz, a resident of Baltimore County and member of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim. Futeral-Myrowitz, who describes herself as a leukemia warrior, wife, mother and bubbe, is a member of the private group “Sisterhood of the Traveling Schnapps… Baltimore Ballabusta’s United!” The group describes itself as a “kosher” version for the “Baltimore Women and Ballabustas” in our lives. Group members give and receive gifts to brighten each other’s days. The group was created a year ago and has 738 members.

“They are a fun group,” Futeral-Myrowitz said. “They bring each other goodies all the time, for no particular reason.”

Mirra Reiz Siegel, a Baltimore County resident and a member of Congregation Ohel Moshe, is an admin for “We’re Jewish Baltimore Women, Hon.” The group, which has 2,300 members, was created nine years ago.

“There was a different Jewish women’s Baltimore group that predated mine, which was clearly filling a need for women in the community,” she said. “The woman that created and moderated it didn’t want to keep up with it any longer, so I asked if I could create a new group and post the link before she closed out her group. Currently when people need information about anything, Facebook groups (seem to be) the best way to crowdsource. A Facebook group, especially one specifically for a close-knit community, is useful for finding schools, babysitters, doctor recommendations, real estate agents, restaurants, contractors, etc. When I needed a podiatrist, I did a search in the group and found reviews for several doctors.”

George Faber, a Baltimore City resident and a regular Facebook group contributor, said that the advent of Twitter and Instagram means more people are looking for online connections outside Facebook groups as well.

“These groups served a useful purpose for years but simple texting, WhatsApp and Instagram have succeeded in getting the word out on recommended events and all other relevant news,” he said.

Haydee M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer.

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