This past summer especially, Facebook has been used to not only communicate with loved ones, but also as a platform for activism. During August, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral as videos of people dumping ice on their heads blew up newsfeeds across the nation. By the end of August, the ALS association raised $88.5 million dollars in donations. Around this time last year, the association had received only $2.6 million in donations (www.alsa.org). While I commend the awareness and donations this challenge has brought to ALS, I question the intentions behind much of the participation. Donating money is itself a selfless act—whereas setting up a camera, getting an ice bucket ready, and perhaps doing a couple retakes of the challenge is not so selfless. This challenge can be seen as an example of “slacktivism,” a term applied to those who give minimal support (like posting or signing a petition) in order to feel good.
I support and encourage any type of activism, but if you look at the numbers provided by the CDC, as a society we do not donate to the causes that kill us the most. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and yet this cause received less than $55 million in donations. ALS has made over 160 percent of that in one month, but it is last on the list of leading causes of death. I am not trying to diminish or discredit ALS or those afflicted with it. What I am trying to say is, couldn’t we help more people if we focused on what affects us as a community, specifically as a Jewish community? How about raising money for finding a cure for Tay-Sachs, a rare, incurable disease that destroys the nervous system and is found within Ashkenazi Jews? One in every 27 Jews are carriers (often unbeknownst to them), and each has a 50 percent chance of passing it on to his or her children (www.curetay-sachs.org).
Here is my challenge to all of us: How about dumping ice on our heads for a cause that is closer to home—or better yet, save the water (because it’s not helping California’s drought) and jump in a pool instead? After we’ve had a good laugh, don’t forget to donate, promote a discussion, or even create an event on Facebook that brings our community that much closer together.
Deborah Lewis recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Jewish Studies. Starting this fall, she will be pursuing a Master’s in Library and Information Science with an emphasis in Archival Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.