Image: A pen puts a check by “Introvert” on a survey. (Yeexin/Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)
Recently one of my students said, “I’m an introvert. My rabbi says I have to spend time ‘in the community’ and I am not sure I can fit in.”
As Robert Putnam pointed out almost 20 years ago in Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, Americans have become less and less connected to each other. He wrote this before the rise of social media: MySpace, Facebook. Twitter, WhatsApp, WeChat, QZone, etc.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that Americans remain reluctant joiners. For those those who are also naturally inclined to introversion, the prospect of walking into rooms full of strange people may be downright upsetting. For someone like my student, it is dismaying to hear, “You have done well on classes, etc, but you need to spend more time in the Jewish community.”
First of all, why would a rabbi insist on such a thing? Isn’t one’s religion a personal matter?
There may be some religions that are purely personal and private, but Judaism is a communal package of more than just religion. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan z”l famously described Judaism as a civilization, making that the title of his magnum opus on modern American Judaism. Even purely religious elements like prayer often require a minyan, a quorum of ten adult Jews.
So it is a wise rabbi who insists the candidate for conversion spend substantial time doing Jewish communal activities, and that the person spend time with real, live Jews. It happens all the time that people fall in love with Judaism in the abstract. To be happy and successful as a Jew, one needs more than the abstraction: one needs to get accustomed to the mishpocha [family] in all its (sometimes dysfunctional) glory.
I am myself an introvert, as are many rabbis. However, rather than parrot what works for me, I thought I’d crowd-source some ideas about participating in community when one isn’t accustomed or naturally inclined to do so. Here’s what I learned from a random assortment of people on Facebook, some who are Jewish, and some who aren’t, when I asked:
Do you consider yourself an introvert? If so:
– Are you part of a community (a synagogue, a parish, etc.)?
– How do you participate in that community?
– Do you have advice for other introverts who want to participate in community but aren’t sure how to go about it?
Here are some of the suggestions:
I jump in slowly. Maybe I wade in. 🙂– Allison Landa
Get on a committee and participate with what they do.– Belle Rita Novak
My advice would be to…
1. Go to classes at the synagogue, where you have meaningful discussions about the big questions in life rather than engaging in just small talk.
Torah Study, Intro to Judaism, Beginning Hebrew, etc are all great example classes.
2. Volunteer to lead/organize an event at the synagogue. That way people will come up and introduce themselves to you with questions about that specific event, instead of you having to go up to them and try to make small talk in order to get to know new people.– Rabbi Ahuva Zaches
Start small and add on as you want to challenge yourself.– Christo Chaney
Others agreed about classes and committees, and suggested a Jewish book group. Two people mentioned the importance of alone time to re-energize after spending time with others.
And it turns out a rabbi I respect very much, Rabbi Elisa Koppel, has written an entire blog post, Learn: The introvert and the oneg: How I learned to step out of introversion every now and then. She is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, DE and has a lot to say on the subject of introversion and membership in community. Rather than give you excerpts, I am linking to the whole blog entry, because it’s all good.
If you are an introvert who has found comfortable ways to participate in Jewish community life, I hope you will add to this list of tips by using the “Comments” reply section. And if you have specific questions about this, I hope you will share those too – talking it over, sharing ideas, these are also part of being in a community!