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I’ve heard the stories at least a hundred times: My Great Grandma Tsiryl dry-heaving over the side of a steamer ship as they rolled up into Baltimore Harbor in 1904. A pregnant Great Grandma Esther stoically clutching the belly that held the baby that would one day be my grandfather while ocean waves battered the hull of the last ship out of Europe before World War I.

Two different women from two different places, and yet they shared such a similar experience with each other and with the thousands upon thousands of other Jewish immigrants who left Eastern Europe for American shores. They crammed their lives into small suitcases – sometimes with incredible forethought, other times in great haste, they kissed their families goodbye, and on trains or buggies or by foot they traveled over hostile terrain toward distant harbors, and ultimately onto ships that would take them excruciatingly slowly, slowly, slowly away from the achingly familiar.

And like so many others who left the cities and shtetls of Eastern Europe during those fragile years at the turn of the 20th century, my Great Grandmothers made it work.  They gave birth to American babies. They raised their children in broken English. They played Mah Jong and drank coffee with other landsman in cramped apartments in big cities far away from their childhood friends. They waited for letters from their families. They dreaded the inevitable telegram. They celebrated mitzvahs and simchas at the synagogue. They sat shiva. They buried their own on foreign soil.

You have to be an optimist to pack up and move for a life unknown like that and survive.

And not only did they survive, they thrived as they grew roots in a new world.

For me, it’s different. I wasn’t escaping pogroms and persecution.  I took a freaking stretch limo to the airport because I have delusions of grandeur.

My worldly goods amounted to three suitcases, two carry-ons, one purse, a laptop player with a battery life of 12 ½ hours and a Smartphone.

My voyage was 14 hours, not 14 days, and I spent most of it spent Tweeting from the airplane like a rockstar.

Can't a girl get some #peanuts around here?

Unlike my Great Grandmothers who started from scratch, with Facebook and Twitter I am connected 24/7 to my life back home – clinging to moments and milestones in real time, ten time zones away.  In some ways, it’s a good thing:  When Krystal posts “10 centimeters, people! It’s show time!” I know her baby is about to be born (and by inference, that she got that epidural she swore she would never in a million years get, because seriously, no woman in hard labor without an epidural can post on Facebook, believe you me). When Aaron’s grunge band plays their first gig, I get to see pictures of the show right away thanks to Instagram. I even know what Michelle had for lunch.  (Girl sure loves her #Sushi!)

In a culture of openness and (over)sharing, Facebook is a great way to keep the intimacy going even when you live on the other side of the world.  And yet, it’s really a false intimacy, because friendships are really built on a series of moments large and small cobbled together in shared  real space and not online.

Who needs a cafe when you can hang out with your homies on Facebook?

So I guess this begs the question:  How does Social Media change the New Immigrant Experience?

Unlike my Great Grandmothers who tumbled headfirst into their new lives and were forced to learn a new language and make new friends, With my Android phone and my iPad (I carry both because Heaven Forfend one should run out of battery or stop working or fall in the toilet and I should be disconnected from Facebook and Twitter) I carry my old life with me  like two virtual security blankets.   When I ride the train, I update my Facebook status, and send tweets instead of interacting with the passengers around me.  Headphones complete my self-imposed isolation while I listen to (English) music and watch (American) videos on Youtube.

Hey, who needs to integrate, when I can be in two places at once?

But over the last year, I’ve learned  you can’t really be in two places at once, and as much as I try to keep up with my friends in the virtual world, they’re moving on.

And so am I.

Fortunately, there are ways that Social Media can actually make it easier for the New Immigrant to integrate.   Meetup groups either on Facebook or through other online channels like Meetup.com or Yahoo Groups are a great way to connect with people going through similar struggles.   And since the goal of these communities is to get you to meet in person, joining these groups is a baby step towards getting off the freaking laptop and into the cafe (or bar!) in the real world.

I’ve also found that when sharing your own struggles online in a public way, others going through similar things can find you. (And so can internet stalkers, for that matter, but that’s another post for another time.) But seriously, over the last year,  I’ve made several “IRL”  friends here in Israel through Facebook, Twitter and other online arenas, and I am grateful to these Social Media channels for helping me get off the internet already and start living in real life.

A Facebook Friendship IRL.