If you happened to hug a Jew last Friday, wittingly or unwittingly, you were in the company of more than 150,000 people worldwide doing the same thing.
Friday, Nov. 13, was Hug A Jew Day, an event created by three ninth-grade students at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School that quickly went viral on the social networking Web site Facebook.
When Benjamin Plaut, Andrew Weissfeld and Daniel Keitel came up with the idea on Oct. 30, they had no idea that word would spread globally, and that people would be “attending” the event everywhere from Pittsburgh to Argentina to Israel to Norway — virtually everywhere Jews live.
The description of the event, located “wherever you are,” says: “On Friday, Nov. 13, please aspire to hug as many Jews as possible. The term ‘Jew’ refers to anyone of the Jewish religion, which believes in such values as monotheism and awesomeness. We eat matzah ball soup.”
The boys were inspired to create Hug a Jew Day when thy heard about Hug an Asian Day, a similar event on Facebook that had about 8,000 confirmed guests, said Weissfeld. They chose Nov. 13 in order to play upon the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th.
“We decided it would be fun because Friday the 13th is an unlucky day,” Plaut said. “On Facebook, we said it would be unlucky if you didn’t hug a Jew on that day.”
Plaut, Weissfeld and Keitel began their project by inviting only their friends to attend Hug a Jew Day, but word swiftly spread. Within a few hours, more than 6,000 people had been invited to attend the event. Within a couple days, invitations were sent to more than 30,000 people.
“Our friends invited their friends, and then it just got out of control,” Plaut said.
While Jewish students at Pittsburgh Allderdice received hugs all day in commemoration of the event, students at other schools across the city and beyond participated as well.
“I have a friend at Winchester Thurston who said it was a big deal there,” Plaut said. “They have a Jewish teacher there, and everybody hugged her.”
A quick glance at the wall posts — numbering almost 7,000 — on the Hug a Jew Facebook page shows a lot of enthusiasm for the event.
Tom Creeling from Australia wrote: “I hugged 200 Jews. It was amazing!”
Brian Goldstein of San Francisco lamented: “I only hugged 60 or so Jews.”
Cole Schmidt of San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas, Calif., wrote: “I hugged two half Jews.”
Plaut, Weissfeld and Keitel are careful not to overestimate the value in having created Hug a Jew Day, but they do see it as having an important impact.
“It was a bit of an experiment to see how many people we could reach,” Plaut said. “We wanted to spread an appreciation of Judaism, and thought it would be interesting to see how many people would attend. It was just something nice to do.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1263.)