In my third week of Judaism, I learned that the factors that bring people into a community are complex and nuanced.
Some people grow up with Judaism and are always observant. Others become more involved with a Synagogue as they “settle” down. Some seek the solace of a community during a particularly difficult time in their lives. And some people are “dragged” to a service by a family member or friend and then grow to like it.
I also observed that the more my Jewish friends participated in the community, the more they grew to like it. They had more obligations as a result of their participation, but it came with intangible benefits such as friendship and increased spirituality.
What I’m having trouble sorting out, however, is how us Goyem (non-Jews) can incorporate these insights into our own lives. My Jewish friends all had a common starting point: being Jewish.
Where do the rest of us begin?
I have a hunch that to receive significant benefits, we must first select an appropriate community to join, and then increase our participation in the community over time.
This is more difficult than it sounds.
The group you select needs to have a compelling mission and identity. One could even say this group needs a philosophy or worldview, a way of thinking that helps guide the members’ daily lives. Otherwise, the group merely becomes a “club” of sorts, not a true community.
I’m not sure how many organizations or institutions are left after you apply this criteria. Most religious groups would meet this criteria; the kickball league would not. Some professional groups may meet the criteria (doctors, certain types of lawyers, journalists, etc.), but these groups may not offer a philosophy or worldview that extend beyond the profession.
After you select an appropriate community, you would need to become an active participant in the community. This could take a variety of forms. Initially, it would simply mean “showing up” consistently. As it becomes more ingrained in your routine, you might start volunteering to support events or projects. Over time, you might even find yourself leading some key activities of the community. This is likely to lead to greater feelings of satisfaction.
Or perhaps I’m overthinking the whole thing. Maybe it’s ok to select any group (that’s not corrupt or evil) and participate consistently in order to receive the benefits. I have been a member of two running clubs and so long as I consistently attended the runs, I enjoyed the benefits of friendship and camaraderie (in addition to fitness benefits). Of course, I don’t expect the running club to meet my spiritual needs, but not everyone is looking for that.
It’s clear I need to do some more thinking about the difference between a group or club and a community, and what benefits you can expect from each.