An interview from the year 2011 with Deborah Fishman on

What’s the difference between a network and a community?

A community is already there when you arrive at a place – either you integrate into it or you don’t. A network is something that has a life of its own. It’s like a living organism. It’s something you have to be active in; it doesn’t exist if there’s nothing done. I like the image of “network-weaving.” It brings to my mind something colorful, like Joseph’s coat, the coat that was weaved by his mother. I envision all the colors and possibilities in it.

What are some characteristics of network-weavers?

You have to have a lot of humility and you have to have no ego. Things shouldn’t happen because of you – even if they did happen because you were there, you don’t have to take credit for it. A network-weaver is a connector that electricity goes through; it isn’t the electricity itself. You also have to avoid doing things for people – you have to stimulate them to do things themselves. Everyone has to feel how important they are. In addition, you have to be very organized, available, like people, and to listen.

I think it takes humility to be a networker because we don’t control what’s going on. Some seem afraid of social media because they are used to having control and seeing the process, but with social media you don’t see where it’s going. I like it – I like the adventure of it.

How do you measure the impact of a network-weaver?

Personally network-weaving is working when I see that someone else has my own ideas. I recognize something and feel like it’s something I had in my mind, but here it is already existing somewhere else! Sometimes it’s not because of what you have done; it’s just in the air. Either way, I believe I am successful when something I believe in takes traction.

What networks have you helped weave?

I moved to the US from France 14 years ago. I belong to many communities – Jewish, French-speaking, hometown, family, and I’m also very involved in the autism community. Within all those communities, I’m a networker.

In 1994 – before Facebook was even born – someone in Israel started a small community of French-speaking olim. He put up a website where there was a discussion board, and I got very involved in it. I’m still involved – it’s a huge network now. At the same time, as a young mother participating in parenting groups in French, I was part of a group of Jews who got fed up because of anti-Semitic remarks. We decided to get out of that group and create our own group, Pilpoul. It still exists, we are all best friends, and we have meetups in Belgium, France, and Israel. Each of these has developed its own networks as well.

How will technology affect American synagogues?

Coming from France, I was a little taken aback by American synagogues. Belonging to a synagogue seemed more like being in a social club, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I think this is what’s going to change because of the new tools: from belonging to a close club to really being involved in Jewish learning and discovery. In time, synagogues will definitely use all those tools in a more integrated way, and it may allow someone who is not observant to become engaged in reading things from the Mishnah or studying the weekly parshah.

I hope the tools will also allow for more of a blend between the denominations. In my networking efforts, I’m trying to advocate for less polarization between Orthodox and Reform Jews. I was raised in country where everyone was officially “Orthodox” but a lot would be called Modern Orthodox or Traditional. I think new networking tools will show that there are so many paths between people, and you have more in common than you might think. I’m a big idealist – I think in the end technology will allow us to make peace between different peoples, and to understand that we have more in common than what’s separating us. It’s something I’ve taught my children – I can see how open they are to other people, and I really love that.