This week, I took a “gulp” and did one of those things one is always reluctant to do: I pulled the plug. I called it quits on a venture that I was once very excited about, and which, by all outward measures, had clearly failed.
In this particular case, pulling the plug didn’t matter much. It was not one of those Big Plug-Pullings, like ending a relationship or quitting a job. I simply closed the social club I had formed online (at Meetup.com) for Jewish parents with infants or small children.
I had 36 members (supposedly) in Mainline Mazal Tots, and had scheduled more than 20 gatherings or “outings” where we could meet (zoo, kids’ gym, etc). Most of us live within 10 miles of each other. We all have a child under age 3. And, over the course of two years, I only actually met 3 of these 36 people.
It may seem surprising, but this reality didn’t actually “hurt my feelings.” Hey, there’s one upside to surviving teenage social ostracism, right!? Besides, you can’t be rejected by people you have never met.
What endlessly irked me, though, and the truth which I will, knowing me, wrestle with for years, is the fact people simply didn’t care enough to come. Not Jewishly. Not parentally. Not any-lly.
I could have kept this Meetup group going indefinitely. At times, I thought I would. My family went to these places anyway, and we had fun. But the annual cost as an “organizer” on Meetup was $150 a year. At some point you have to level with yourself and admit: Well, I’m clearly an organizer of a group that doesn’t want to “be.” So what’s the point? I’m better off giving $150 to the Ocean Conservancy. The ocean will be grateful.
You, patient readers, are not my therapist. I could vent and raise my voice and flail my arms. But, I’ve already done that. That’s what spouses are for: To be an audience.
The more naked and poignant point is that we live in a society too tired, stressed and stretched out to think that something like this matters.
And / or another possible answer is, we live among a people that no longer feels an innate bond to make that extra initial effort to form a bond.
We stood at Sinai and have now, literally, become strangers. We moved out of the shtetl, and have, the lot of us, said “good riddance.” Not just to the poverty, sexism, superstition and anti-Semitism (I concur!) — but also to the neighbors, sick bed visits and play dates.
I look back at the rich forest of our history, longing for a sense of community not shared by the community I want to build community with.
Around the year 300 C.E., in the city of Babylon, a nucleus of learned Jewish men sat down and recorded their thoughts and verbal traditions. I could argue with any number of “truths” they offered up about the world, but some of them so resonate this mortal experience.
We human beings aren’t wired to live alone, operate in isolation or bring ourselves up when we have fallen. We, like all good primates, are wired for each other.
Talmud Bavli Berachot 5b tells this tale:
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba fell ill and Rabbi Johanan went in to visit him. He [R. Johanan] said to him: “Are your sufferings welcome to you?” He replied: “Neither they nor their reward.” He [R. Johanan] said to him: “Give me your hand.” He gave him his hand and he [R. Johanan] raised him.
Rabbi Johanan fell ill and Rabbi Hanina went in to visit him. He [R. Hanina] said to him: “Are your sufferings welcome to you?” He replied: “Neither they nor their reward.” He said to him: “Give me your hand.” He [R. Hanina] gave him his hand and he raised him.
Why could not R. Johanan raise himself? They replied: “The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.”