Yesterday morning I went out to coffee with my Minyan group. It’s a weekly Wednesday tradition that takes place at a nearby pastry shop.
It was a lot of fun. Rarely do I get to hang out with a group of “aged” Jewish friends. It had a much different vibe than grabbing coffee with my peers.
After 20 minutes of hearing tales about their difficult mothers and various pieces of community gossip, I was able to ask my friends if there were times in their lives when they fell away from Judaism, and if so, what brought them back.
Each person had a different answer.
One member of the group is a retired Navy officer who moved from place to place every few years. He and his wife would make a few friends, get somewhat settled, and then they’d have to leave for his next duty post.
Once his career became more stable, he felt it was time to really settle down and find a welcoming community that he could contribute to. Because he is Jewish, contributing to Jewish life via the synagogue was great way to do that.
Another one of my coffee friends was a non-observant Jew for most of his life. One day, his wife (also in the Minyan) after a particularly tough week, asked him if he wanted to make “Kiddush” for Shabbat.
He replied, “what’s Kiddush?”
She had to explain that it was a blessing you recite over wine to welcome in Shabbat.
He agreed to this “foreign” ritual and since then, they’ve observed Shabbat every week.
The other couple that was there started attending Minyan during a period of mourning (a family member had passed away) and as a result of their daily attendance, people expected them to continue showing up.
They didn’t want to let the group down (as you need 10 people for a MInyan) so they just kept going and became more and more involved with the synagogue.
What stood out about these stories was that there wasn’t a “rock bottom” moment when they all realized they need more spirituality in their lives and then decided to return to the synagogue.
The reasons that brought them back were subtle. The former Navy officer felt an obligation to contribute something to the community and wanted to “settle down.” The non-observant Jew’s wife asked him to observe Shabbat, which turned into a life long habit. Another couple unintentionally turned group mourning into a daily commitment.
Based on the stories I heard over coffee, the decision to be a part of community is less deliberate than I thought; it is dictated primarily by the stage of life you’re in and the habits of the people you spend the most time with.
Perhaps I’m mistaken in thinking that my generation is overly individualistic and reluctant to join communities. It’s possible that my generation is not more individualistic or “selfish;” we’re just young. As we get older we’ll integrate into communities much like my friends did.
There is one thing that’s different about my coffee group and my generation as a whole: my Minyan friends are Jewish.
Though some were less observant than others, Judaism was always a part of their respective identities, even if it was a very small part.
People like me who didn’t grow up with any particular religion might have a harder time integrating into a community as many of us don’t have a solid foundation to start from. Which church do we go to if a family member passes away? What ritual do I practice on Friday night or Sunday morning?
My Jewish friends “came back” to Judaism for subtle reasons, but they had a bit of a head start.
My secular companions and I will need to figure out where to go in the first place.