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But the Internet changed all that. It happened over three, maybe four years, as thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews with a heter for six months forgot to call back the rav, and thousands more never asked in the first place. It happened when parents who did not realize there was more to the Web than email had teenagers who quickly did, and when husbands, hiding in cars, browsed secretly on their laptops, as their wives did the same at work. Within half a decade, the world we’d valiantly held at bay for two millennia came crashing silently inside.
It was a strange new thing. Suddenly it didn’t matter how high walls were, the wires snaked underneath. Suddenly it didn’t matter that gates were welded shut, satellites streamed overhead. Through wires and satellites, gentile society slithered into pious Jewish homes, with its corrupting magazines and TV shows, and its science, culture and art.
One day, the rabbis looked up from the holy books and there were gentiles running rampant on our streets. They, the guardians of our walls, had not even a moment to warn us, to pound on the podiums of our synagogues: “The goyim are coming! The goyim are coming!” because by then the goyim were already there. Abruptly we found ourselves living on a different planet. We, who survived the pogroms and the massacres of Europe, were succumbing to machines. We who upheld morality through blood libels and evil decrees, capitulated to porn and gambling.
But there was a greater danger: It turned out the depravities of the Internet were the least of our problems. My close friend, Miriam, a mother of eight in Lakewood, discovered this the hard way, after the Internet had left its mark deep on her daughter’s vulnerable brain.
What happened was this: Chani, Miriam’s 16-year-old daughter, was writing a report on the Holocaust, and Miriam, putting the little ones to sleep, gave Chani permission to search online. The teenager typed in the word “genocide,” and there in front of her eyes was a Wikipedia entry with phrases like “Rwandan genocide,” and “Armenian genocide.” So Chani, knowing there’d been only one genocide, the Holocaust, Googled the word again, and a few frustrated clicks later she found that the Internet’s mistake was even greater than she realized; now there was something called the Sudanese genocide, too. And when she clicked on it, photos appeared, taken days earlier, that showed Sudan’s genocide up close. Up very close.