Some time ago, I found myself at my father’s house, telling a wise family friend about the book I’m writing. My dad’s friend is a college professor, a real silver-bearded, elbow-patched kind of guy. And he was astounded at the notion of a web-based community.

“If it doesn’t happen in real life,” he said, “then it doesn’t happen. It’s just not real.”

“But what about the Jewish community?” I asked. “We’re not all in the same room, but it’s a community, right?”

“Sure,” he said. “But we have a shared history.”

“Okay,” I said. “So if I share history with a group of people I’ve never met, that makes it a community?”

He fidgeted.

“What if I talk with a group of people online for a few years?” I asked. “Is that a community?”

“Not if you ...

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