The Illusion of Privacy

Yael Roberts
November 6, 2014
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Recent events in the Jewish world have reminded us that even when we think we are alone, someone may be watching. We may think we have personal space and privacy, but even that belongs to someone else.

It is difficult to stomach that what appears to be one of the most intimate and private spaces, the mikva, may not always be as private as it seems. Yet this story is also an important reminder to us: someone is almost always watching. Absolute privacy rarely exists.

This is an important reminder for the year of sh’mita, when we are forced to step back from the land and acknowledge that it too does not belong to us. As we let the land rest, we release it out of our hands. We acknowledge that there is no such thing as private property. Just as my mikva is not mine, my property is not mine either.

Our space and our land is not our own. Nothing belongs to us. Everything has the power to change hands. At the end of the day, sh’mita reminds us that nothing we own is permanent.  As Leviticus 25 tells us, the sh’mita is a year of rest for everyone to benefit from: from the servant to the animal to the master. What we gain and acquire in this world, and our social and economic standings, are irrelevant in the face of eternity.

During the holiday of Sukkot, we stepped out of our comfort zones and into booths, into houses that are so open they are public, subject to the whims of our environments. Following this holiday, I am thinking about how even our houses themselves are temporary, open, and public. In today’s day and age, our lives may be temporary, but everything virtual is here to stay. We cannot assume privacy, because our spaces, properties, houses, lives, and thoughts are not our own.

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Yael Roberts Yael Roberts graduated Stern College for Women in 2014, with a major in English Literature and a minor in Studio Art. This summer, she is participating in Tent: Museums, and working as a Arts Education Intern at BIMA at Brandeis. She is a 2014-2015 year program student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. A printmaker and mixed media artist, she had her first solo show, "Correspondences," in January 2014 at Blackburn 20/20 in Manhattan. She was a Kressel Research Scholar for 2012-2013 and a 2013 artist-in-residence at the Contemporary Artists Center in Troy, NY.

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