Honey Cake, Old Friends, and Defending Facebook

Rosh Hashanah and its symbolic sweet honey cake gave me a new appreciation of Facebook this week. Do you like honey cake? Neither do I. I don’t know anyone who craves honey in the form of a dark, dense cake. And that is why I was surprised when my childhood friend, Linsey, pinged me with a Facebook message asking if I had a good recipe.

Linsey’s note included no formal hello nor acknowledgement that our last equally sporadic Messenger exchange took place five months ago. We had a flutter of messages a month before that, but the prior notes date back a year.

Linsey, though one of my treasured childhood friends, is not someone I’ve seen in person in over a decade. I’ve spent my adult life in Minneapolis. She has spent hers in San Francisco. We grew up together in Highland Park, Ill., but we never visit our family and friends at the same time, which means we don’t even text to coordinate plans like I do with my other Highland Park friends who are still there. We know things about each other that our husbands and local friends probably don’t know (or care about), but that doesn’t mean we have or make time to gab on the phone about our current lives.

“Honey cake recipe?” Linsey wrote as a greeting in the private Messenger app this week. “Made one from a food blog last year that was awesome,” she continued, “but I can’t remember it and didn’t write it down.”

Here’s how I responded, also with no greeting as if we had bumped into each other that morning: “I have never made one. Because, yuck.”

She wrote that her husband said the same thing then explained that baking honey cakes makes her happily nostalgic as her mom used to do the same thing for Rosh Hashanah and deliver the cakes to friends.

“Name some food blogs,” she wrote. “Maybe I’ll remember.”

I named three sites where I find good Jewish recipes and share them occasionally on Facebook or my blog, which she knows, because she follows me on both. And it’s from following me on Facebook, where I share my own writing and other articles I like, that Linsey knows I’m way more into Jewish cooking and Jewish everything than anyone in our group of friends would have predicted when we practically lived at each other’s houses until we left for college. No, I’ve never posted anything about honey cakes (because, yuck), but it wasn’t absurd for Linsey to ask. Her question was right in my wheel house, and despite the decades and miles between us, Linsey knows that fact because social media allows us these glimpses into each other’s interests and personal spheres.

Smitten Kitchen was it!” she wrote. “Thank you!”

All this is to say that I appreciate Facebook. I’d go as far to say I’m extremely grateful for the thing. People like to blame Facebook for a variety of social problems. Facebook makes us feel jealous of friends and family, or annoyed with them for oversharing, or frustrated at their “vague-booking.” One could argue that the time-consuming nature of Facebook is to blame for the demise of friendship as we once knew it. Who has sufficient face-to-face (or phone call) hours to spare when there’s so much to see and do on our magical little screens, especially that blue and white icon?

I won’t deny that some of the above is a fair accusation, but I’ve also found that Facebook’s ability to keep friends connected in this casual-yet-intimate way is second-to-none. What we share on Facebook doesn’t have to be our entire story to be meaningful and real. I’ve seen Linsey’s husband, kids, and house and her beautiful adult face year after year because of this crazy technology. Do I see Linsey’s worst days? Does she see mine? No. But we’ve witnessed plenty of that for each other in real time during the most formative years of our lives, and I’m glad Facebook lets us pop in and out of each other’s worlds now.

One could argue that if we need Facebook to keep in touch then it’s time to let that relationship go. But I don’t understand fighting the ability to stay connected to the people who have mattered most in our lives. Yes, the phone is better, I’ve written so myself, but it’s also not realistic in most cases. And guess what? Without Facebook, I wouldn’t know that Linsey found and tested the one honey cake recipe she promises people will like.