June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

‘Upper West Side Shtetl’ Facebook Group Celebrates 1,000 Members

Jewish residents of Manhattan have a unique communal experience—tucked away in scattered apartments across the neighborhood, and integrated with other demographics of people, it can be hard for Jews in communities like the Upper West Side to get to know one another. That’s why long-time resident Judy Falk started the “Upper West Side Shtetl” Facebook group, which celebrated its 1,000th member this week. The group has attracted people of all ages and backgrounds in its relatively short existence, and features daily posts from community members asking for advice and suggestions from each other.

Falk founded the group during the pandemic, when she “finally had the time,” she explained. A native of West Hempstead, she was inspired by the Facebook group for the West Hempstead residents and thought that her community could use the same resource. “When you grow up in a small town—although West Hempstead has gotten so much larger since I lived there—everyone knows everyone,” Falk said. “In Manhattan, it can feel a little splintered. I thought that if I could do something that brings others together, that would be helpful.”

And helpful, it has been; the Facebook group has aided its 1,000 members in finding new doctors, places to grocery shop, shuls and minyanim and, of course, places to eat. “There are a lot of food posts,” Falk explained with a laugh. She recalled a recent post from a community member organizing meals for a family in need, “which felt particularly good,” she said. “Someone spearheaded the effort and a bunch of us went in on meals for this family… I didn’t really know the people I was doing this with, but I felt connected to them somehow. It felt nice to come together in that way.” The Facebook group meal train is one of several examples of how social media has helped build the community and bring its members closer together.

As the sole administrator of “Upper West Side Shtetl,” Falk has made an effort to be deliberate in the types of posts she allows on the page. “I’ll shut down anything that doesn’t appear productive or like it’s going in the right direction,” she explained. Falk was referring to any post that becomes too political. “Of course, if you have two people commenting on it, you’ve got three opinions,” she joked. “People can fight in other groups. I want this just to be a nice group.” Despite these minor incidents, Falk explained that running the group doesn’t take up too much of her time.

When putting the group together, Falk reached out to a “clever” friend of hers to go over some of her ideas. One aspect she had not quite decided on was the name—and her friend suggested “shtetl,” which of course has quickly caught on amongst group members. “Posters will say, ‘Hey, Shtetl!’ or ‘What do you think, Shtetl?’ So people definitely seem to like it.”

Falk herself addresses the “Shtetl” in a weekly pre-Shabbat post, which she shares every Friday. Her goal is usually to provide some sort of communal inspiration, “although not every week is uplifting.” She explained that she likes to post something meaningful, and during times of tragedy she likes to offer comfort to her group members. “When the buildings in Surfside collapsed, I posted that everyone should keep the victims in their thoughts and prayers.”

Overall, Falk is loving the direction that the group has taken. “I really like where we’re at now, where we’ve got people helping each other with whatever they need,” she said. “Anyone who wants to join can join, and I’m hoping we can all help each other.”

With the “Upper West Side Shtetl” welcoming new members every day, Falk is reminded of her “grand vision” of helping people support one another and becoming a closer community. “That’s the power of social media,” she said.

The Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group can be joined at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294177767861377/.

By Channa Fischer

 

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