Why Join a Jewish Community?

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Jane Roper has a fascinating article in Salon about how she recently joined a church with her family after years of proudly being an anti-joiner, and non-observant Christian.

So why, now, have we gone and joined a church? We who, untiShabbat dinnerl recently, couldn’t handle being members of anything beyond Netflix?
In a word, children.

She goes on to talk about providing a context for her kids to talk about God and spirituality (she chose a Unitarian church, so it’s not going to be at all dogmatic). Then she gets to the meat of her argument:

I want my children to see that a group of people can work together, give of their time and talents, and support each other through life’s joys and sorrows not because they’re family or even necessarily friends, but because they believe that it’s an important part of being human.

I also want to expose them to good, old-fashioned community in a world where, increasingly, community happens only in virtual spaces. I’m a huge fan of blogs, Facebook and Twitter, but I don’t think there will ever be a substitute for sharing the same physical space with a group of people — having conversations, making music together, offering each other a handshake, a smile, or a word of sympathy.

I know how earnest this sounds, and the cynic in me cringes to type the words. But the rest of me believes this is the stuff that matters. My girls will figure out irony and irreverence and how to craft a pithy, 140-character dispatch on their own — probably sooner than I think. But before that happens, I want to make damned sure they understand kindness, empathy and respect for other people.

I’ve been having a low grade spiritual meltdown this year, but it never occurred to me to leave my Jewish community, and the reason is as simple and as earnest as Roper puts it in this essay: no matter how strong our virtual worlds and online communities get, they are still no substitute for a Shabbat dinner like the one I had at my apartment on Friday night, full of smart fun people enjoying each other’s actual company, and coming together for a ritual. Even if you don’t believe or don’t care that much about religion, a religious community is an incredibly valuable thing to have.

Posted on April 27, 2010

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