Community sometimes feels like a necessary evil in my life — I know that I need it, but at the same time, I fear it. I hate being vulnerable with people I don’t know very well. I’m not very good at assessing when being vulnerable is appropriate in new friendships. As an introvert, few things give me anxiety like having to introduce myself to a room full of strangers and engage in small talk.
Thank goodness for the Internet. Through Facebook groups and weekly tweet chats, I’ve found community that challenges me, helps me grow, and makes me feel less alone.
Unfortunately, because it’s the Internet, these are not people I can meet with for coffee on a regular basis. Most of the people I call “friends” probably won’t ever be on the other side of the screen.
It’s a good supplement, but ultimately, I know it can’t sustain me. There is no replacement for meeting with a good friend face to face over coffee. Not even over Skype or FaceTime.
As I get to thinking more about community — what it means, where to find it — I realize something critical.
One of the biggest reasons that Judaism didn’t work for me is due to lack of community.
I was one of seven Jewish kids in a graduating class of several hundred. There were almost no kids my age in Temple. The nearest youth groups were an hour’s drive away, and being too young to drive myself meant relying on parental transportation, which they weren’t always able to do. Given the choice, I preferred figure skating practice and competitions if I had to rely on Mom to take me anywhere after school.
I didn’t attend Jewish summer camps every year because I wasn’t much of a camper kid, preferring to be indoors with my books. But the one summer I did, at age 14, all the kids who had been attending since pre-school were already friends, and I didn’t fit in. Ditto for the youth group almost an hour’s drive away, when I could finally drive myself.
By the time I got to college, where there was an on-campus Jewish student center, I was jaded. And my curiosity about Christianity, thanks in part to the influence of my Christian friends, had already piqued.
Christians can find churches as frequently as gas stations in every state; when you’re Jewish, and intentionally so, you have to be very selective about where you live.
The moral to my story, for any parent who hopes their kids will not stray from the family faith, is this: make sure they have good community.
It’s hard at any age, but especially as a kid who wants to fit in at school, to practice a tradition that your peers aren’t familiar with (or in some cases, never even heard of). It’s so alienating when your closest friends have never heard of your holidays, make all their plans on your Sabbath when you’re unable to join, and can’t accommodate your kosher dietary restrictions if they invite you over.
Faith — any faith — is not meant to be practiced alone.