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Our Need to Belong

As part of her school assignment, my daughter, Maya, interviewed me about September 11. One of the questions was, “How did you feel when you realized what happened?” My answer included emotions ranging from anger to deep sadness, but after she had left to complete her homework I found myself still thinking about it. I knew that there was something else that I felt during the hours and days following the attack. It was the same feeling we had six years prior, when we lived in Tel Aviv and Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated. What we felt was a strong need to be with other people.

Back in Tel Aviv in November 1996, Gali and I were the only married couple among our friends and within an hour after Rabin’s murder our apartment near Tel Aviv University started to fill up with people. Most of them didn’t call. They just kept showing up until the small hours of the night.  And it felt right. Around 2:00am we all drove to the center of Tel Aviv, to what is now called Rabin’s Square, to join thousands of other people who felt the same need of not being alone at a time like that.  

In September of 2001, all the clergy of our East Hampton town conducted a daily Interfaith Service at the largest church in town. It was full to capacity every night. We recited readings, sang songs and delivered messages. But truth be told – no one really cared for the content of the service, we came for the company of others. People were not looking for God up there in Heaven, they found God’s image within each other, at the heart of the community.  

Our need to belong may intensify at moments of calamity, but it is not limited to harsh times.  Humans are wired to be part of larger groups. However, it seems that we are now in the midst of a trend that takes us away from each other. David Brooks of the New York Times brings some examples for this phenomenon. A few generations ago, it was considered shameful for people to have children unless they were married. These days, more than half of the births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage. Today, more than 50 percent of adults are single and 28 percent of households nationwide consist of just one person. There are more single-person households than there are married-with-children households. In Manhattan, roughly half the households are solos.  

A few generations ago, most people affiliated with one of the major parties. But now more people consider themselves Independent rather than either Republican or Democrat. A few generations ago, teenagers “went steady”. But over the past decades, the dating relationship has been replaced by the “hook-up” culture. A few generations ago, most people belonged to a major religious denomination. Today, the fastest-growing religious category is “unaffiliated.” 

I don’t know if the trend of individualism will change course or deepen further, but I do know that it goes against the core values, and culture of Judaism. It is no coincidence that the ancient rabbis required a Minyan (a quorum of at least 10 people) to have a full service. You are reading this article just before Yom Kippur. We really don’t want Jews to be alone, especially, during the holiest day of the year. Due to space limitations we cannot open the morning service for the entire community, but our early Kol Nidrei, Children’s Service, Afternoon Service, Yizkor and N’ilah are open. I am asking you to begin the Jewish New Year with a great Mitzvah and invite a Jewish person you know to share Yom Kippur with us. In the Book of Genesis God said “It is not good for man to be alone” and God left it to us to make sure it will not happen.  

Shanah Tovah,  
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz 

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781