(The following was written by Ms. Chani Getter: a young woman and mother who grew up in a Hasidic family, and whose life now embraces both the Hasidic and Jewish Renewal worlds. Although not currently a rabbi, she’s planning to work towards ordination. But she already has a true vision, and the passion that comes with it, from which we can all learn).
“I drive through the streets of Monsey, NY (*), not far from my home and notice the uniformity of the people living there. Their dress, their hair (or lack thereof) and general outward motif are all the same. I can tell to which sect the men belong by the brim of their hats and the style of their side curls. I can identify the women of these communities by the length of their skirts or the design of their wigs.
I can tell nothing about them individually. I can only see that they belong to a particular community and in belonging to this community, that they appear to give up much of their individuality. This may very well be so and it may not appeal to some. But, please take a moment to think about this: In giving up their individuality, there is also the great reward of having a place to which they clearly belong.
When I look at them, I see a community of people who are there for each other; a community that gives unquestioning support. If a family member is sick, not only the sick one, but also the rest of the family will receive care. Food is prepared by neighbors. Babysitting services are arranged by the school. Bills are paid by those who can afford to help. Hospital visits are coordinated by a designated communal committee. When one is in need, there is always a helping hand.
This holds true for celebrations as well. Those blessed with creative talents will help those who could never afford it to have beautiful holidays, weddings and other celebrations.
This is the gift of community: the help, the comradeship, the joy and the peace that come from knowing that one belongs.
I drive down to Manhattan and notice the diversity of individuals. I see the business people and lawyers in their suits, I see artists sporting hair colors from vivid neon to rainbow stripes. Teenagers wear t-shirts that scream. I remember one incident where I saw a cowboy walking across 79th street leading a beautiful stallion. It appeared as though no one else even noticed. My son turned to me and said, ‘Only in New York City.’
The power and the magic of the city are undeniable. Everyone is allowed to wear, eat, live and express themselves in any way they choose. But how many times have I heard or read where someone said that, even with all the millions of people around, they are still incredibly lonely?
Does that mean that in order to have community we compromise on our individuality, and in order to have individuality we lose community?
I believe that it does not have to be so black and white. Perhaps our own communities can stretch to accommodate different kinds of people. Perhaps as individuals we can band together to create communities. If we learn to have broader vision, we can still be there for others who are not exactly like us.
Will you join me in this vision? Can we rediscover the meaning of welcome and inclusiveness in order to create communities that promote individuality, and individuals who set aside parts of themselves for the sake of community?”
(*) home to a large Orthodox and Chassidic Jewish Community.