My rabbi said that yesterday. At the time I didn’t know how to answer.
I talked with my husband at greath length this morning about yesterday. We talked about whether expecting true community, people caring about one another, was unrealistic. We talked about the fact that this was not an isolated incident, for me or for others.
We know people who have left the shul entirely because they did not feel supported. We know people who no longer stay for the kiddush luncheon because no one talks to them unless they initiate it. We know people who never receive invitations to Shabbos dinner or a Seder.
I don’t know if the rabbi knows this or not. I don’t know if he knows that new members are welcomed and embraced in proportion to the amount of money they make, what they can offer the shul, or their ties to long-established members of the shul. We have been members here for almost twelve years and we would not be considered long-established members.
I don’t know if he knows that during the kiddush luncheon or any other social time, people gravitate toward their own social circles and tend to ignore everyone else. I don’t know if he knows that if you are not wealthy or not politically connected or not related to someone popular in the shul, it is easy to be marginalized.
I don’t know if he realizes that social events, including after shul on Shabbos, is just like high school all over again. But whether he knows it or not, I think he needs to hear it from us. I think we owe it to him, to the congregation, to all those who have left, are considering leaving, and those who have yet to be disappointed and cast aside, to tell him.
He cannot legislate community. He cannot force others to care. No one can. But I am sure there are ways, inexpensive easy ways to drive home the point that we all have an obligation to one another. Even if we ourselves are not in a position to help right now, we have an obligation to find someone who can.
One of the basic fundamentals of Judaism is that Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. A Jew does not live isolated from the rest of the world, nor can he be concerned merely with his own existence and survival. Jews must reach out and give of themselves to their fellow Jews.
A commenter asked, Do you usually stop to comfort someone who is crying and upset? The answer is yes, I do. And if for some reason I am hurting too much myself, I will–and have–found others who I know can do something. I am not particularly extroverted, even in the best of times. I find it very hard to trust people. But I know what it’s like to be in pain and be Unseen. So I do my best to See people.
I see people who want to join a conversation but don’t know how and so I ask them a question to include them. I see women nursing their infants in a special sitting area next to the women’s restroom and looking like they need something but don’t want to bother anyone. I always ask and in particular offer to get them a glass of water. I know how thirsty I got when I was nursing. I see people who are sitting by themselves at a table and I ask if they would like some company. I make a point of looking for new faces, people who are not already engaged in conversation, people who are looking a little lost, and I ask if they are visiting or new members. I often offer to introduce them to a dozen other people I know.
Even as shy as I am, it is not hard to do this. The questions are easy: can I get you something? Would you like some company? Are you new here? But one has to See these people first.
The same commenter said that a more likely reason for not saying anything is not knowing how to proceed and how to offer comfort. This is a problem that has a solution. This is something more that the shul can be doing. We have offered classes in bikkur cholim, how to visit the sick. Why could we not offer information, even from the bima, about how to care for one another? How to ask? What to ask?
If the congregation simply does not know, we can fix that. If they do not care or do not want to see, then we have a bigger problem.
My husband and I are going to try to see our rabbi about this in the next week. This is bigger than just my not being seen. This is about much more than me. This affects all of us. It may not be me who is Unseen next time. I want to spare them the pain I am going through now.