A Question of Support

Posted on November 16, 2006

I’ve been thinking about that last post a lot today. And it prompted me to think about how we, as a Jewish community, support each other. And how we don’t.

I’ve generally considered my rabbi to be supportive of my writing and publishing endeavors, though possibly held back from expressing that support formally within the shul (see Case 3 in the post below). Or maybe I’m deluding myself, but for now I choose to believe the former.

Anyway, I asked him a while ago why the lack of support within the local Jewish community, and even within the shul community – with some notable exceptions (thanks to those who wrote Amazon reviews, bought books, told others about Destined to Choose, and were emotionally supportive by asking me about the book and my writing and publishing life!).

I asked him if I’d crossed some invisible line, offended rabbis near and far, or if I’d said or done or written something that caused the lack of support and response. Because if it was something I’d done, I could maybe fix it.

We can blog about control issues some other time.

His response (paraphrased): “No, I don’t think so. It’s been a few years since I read it, but I don’t remember anything offensive or that could be seen as offensive. I certainly wasn’t offended.”

He then continued, regarding what I’d termed the “tepid, at best” response from the community. Our community, he said, gave preference to those who had already established a following elsewhere. It would help, he said, for me to, as an example, “do a book tour in cities that are within driving distance but still ‘distant’ like Milwaukee, Chicago, Des Moines. Get good feedback there, and when you come back here, people will be much more receptive.”

At the time, I thought, well if that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I have to do. Good to know for the second book’s release.

And now, while I think the rabbi identified (one of) the problem(s) accurately, it bothers me.

Really bothers me. And here’s why:

My shul community is the closest thing I have to family here. I consider them family in more ways than one. My biological family and my husband’s biological family are (unfortunately) far away. Shouldn’t my shul community/family be the first ones to support me, cheer me on, be in my corner? Why do I have to get validation from somewhere else before my local community even recognizes me?

Let’s take the family analogy one small step further. Especially for those of you who are parents or teachers, would you ever say, “I’d be happy to show my confidence and pride in my children, but only after their teachers give them good feedback”? (Okay, Jack-who’s-good-at-pressing-buttons, maybe you would 😉 , but…)

I attended a Hadassah focus group last year, in which we “younger women” were asked what we wanted to see in Hadassah, especially our local chapter. Several of us were involved in the arts: literary arts, visual arts, theatre arts. Every single one of us had experienced the same non-reseponse and lack of support from the local Jewish community. What I learned from that group is that this is not a common reaction. Other cities, other communities, were quite supportive and celebrated local talent rather than ignoring them. There were Hadassah arts programs that celebrated local members’ works, some of which were purely social and others that doubled as fundraisers for causes that Hadassah supports. We have nothing of the sort out here.

And it all begs the larger, more global question that applies to every community, Jewish or not, that has the same attitude toward local artists that mine does:

If you do not support your own, your family, your local community members, what does that say about you?

And what does it say about a Jewish community that puts Image or Status before Community?


  1. Sheyna

    Shira: nice paraphrase. At the same time, I wonder if it could/should also be interpreted: “Im ein ani li” – if I do not depend on myself and my own belief in myself, “mi li?” – how can I expect others to? Or alternatively, if I do not rely on the support from within, how will support from the outside make any difference?

    Or maybe I’m trying to find a way to make myself more accountable than my community.

    Elster: I’d like to think that we never would have made it this far without free thinkers and non-conformists, and that liked or not, they’re necessary, lest we stagnate or fade into oblivion. I wonder if it’s apathy or being too caught up in one’s own life to really notice others. As for the jealousy issue, I’m not entirely sure what there is to be jealous of, but psychologically, I can’t rule it out. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Anonymous

    Often, our own apathy is our own worst enemy. Also, Jewish ppl hate free thinkers and nonconformists. Sadly.

    Also, perhaps there is some jealousy that you are doing something cool and creative?

  3. Shira Salamone

    To paraphrase Pirkei Avot, “Im ein anu lanu, mi anu? If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?” (Hope I got the Hebrew right.) If we don’t support those in our own communities, why should we expect others to do so? This is really discouraging. I hope you find a way to jump-start some community support.

  4. Sheyna

    Hmm… A wise teacher once told me (actually, he may have had to repeat it a few times) that if you can find the right question, the answer becomes obvious.

    Maybe I haven’t found quite the right question yet.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Jack Steiner

    Once you identify the problem the question is can you identify the solution.

    You pose good questions.

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