Saturday, April 28, 2007


Recently I flew with my son to grandma’s house. Upon boarding the plane, once the doors were sealed like a tomb and my son was settled in next to me, I noticed Southwest’s magazine Spirit poking out of the seat pocket in front and on the cover was an article that got me thinking.

If the world is flat, are we about to fall off the edge into an unknown universe? The article was about Second Life.

While it’s debatable if Jewish souls live forever in an Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come), Jews have clearly found a Second Life.

If you’ve haven’t been transported yet, Second Life (SL) is a virtual world which exists on the Internet and according to its website has over 5 million “residents”. Some accounts report that number to be greatly exaggerated as several residents might belong to one person. In the world of second life, residents are avatars or animated characters that embody characteristics of your own choosing.

As God made man in his own image, so man plays God recreating another version (usually more buff than real life or RL.)

Second Life has a synagogue, a yeshiva as well as a Holocaust museum. It also just published its own Jewish Magazine 2Life. Separately, I looked over the first issue which seeks to cover “the multiple Jewish aspects and developments on this virtual platform with news, background reporting and features on a monthly basis.”

I’d previously read some articles about Second Life and even poked around a bit, but flying over the real world and above the clouds at night watching the sunset next to your child is a RL experience that’s hard, if not impossible, to replicate. Okay, avid users would disagree and would remind me that in SL, you don’t even need a plane to fly. The main mode of transportation is teleporting where your avatar can float above like in a Chagall painting.

Staring out the airplane’s window in RL gazing at the lighted cities also got me thinking about the dangers this world offers. It made me wonder if Second Life is a kind of fallout shelter for our society at a time when we’re in need of a place to hide.

It’s no such thing. Second Life is created by humans and retains the same good, bad and ugly aspects.

For example, Reuters, which has a news center in SL (no kidding), reports that weaponry is a booming business. There have also been reports of terrorism and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, which established a virtual HQ, has rioted with Leftist organizations.

While nobody really gets physically hurt, you can lose money and lots of it. SL includes a virtual exchange center, where real dough can be converted into Linden dollars for use on the site and as of this writing $1,744,027 has been spent.

It’s fascinating to observe and wonder why we go to such lengths to dream up such fantastic worlds.

Judaism’s guiding principles are to value this life, as both The Torah and Talmud focus on the purpose of earthly life. SL seems to be an attempt to find the spiritual world. The schism between RL and shadows on the wall is as old as Plato and Aristotle and in fact Tehiyat Hameitim means the Resurrection of the Dead and is a concept that entered Judaism under a Hellenistic influence long after the Torah was completed.

Second Life is no afterlife, but perhaps it’s our all to human attempt at it.

Returning to the place of my birth with my son was a kind of spiritual journey. Not long into the flight home, he took out his Superman book where we played and read all about that other strange visitor from another planet.

That’s when I figured, if a nice Jewish boy from Krypton can find and make a second life here on earth, so can we.