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You've Got a Friend
Mom with a View

You've Got a Friend

Our support and trust network is shrinking, and yes we should care.

by

I recently taught a class on friendship. Most people in the group felt they had a lot of "feel good" friends -- people to enjoy dinner and a movie with, but very few real friends -- people to trust and confide in. While it's true that real friends have always been hard to come by, I'm not alone in thinking that the situation has deteriorated. According to studies at Duke and the University of Arizona, the network of support and trust that adults have to call on is shrinking. (New York Times 07/02/06)

Although the internet fosters the illusion of more and widespread friendships, most people's sense of community has narrowed or is non-existent.

While the authors suggest an upside in that spouses play that role, making the marriage partners close, this can also place too much pressure on a marriage. If our expectations become centered on one human being, they can't possibly be borne out. No one can live up to that image or responsibility.

Although big cities of transient populations only deepen this desperate loneliness, a Jewish community can provide real solace and connection, even in the most alienating of big cities.

Al though the cashier at the corner market may not be a close confidant, it's heartening to shop at a store whey they ask about my children and evince real joy in seeing them. And so it goes with the cleaners, the optician down the street, and of course the local kosher candy shop.

But I was speaking of deeper relationships. These two are strengthened and buoyed up by a community built on shared values (vs. shared aesthetics). While everyone in the neighborhood may not be the recipient of our deepest darkest secrets (some things are better kept to ourselves anyway), we open up to people we trust, people we think will understand and empathize. Frequently these are fellow members of the community.

Not to mention physical support -- meals after births and deaths, house cleaning, babysitting; a real sense of what's mine is yours. The Jewish community provides that even across geographic boundaries. You're coming to LA? Please stay with us. We're coming to NY. My neighbors have room. We so come to take these kindnesses for granted that we risk not being fully appreciative. We don't recognize how unusual it is.

Other psychological studies confirm the health benefits of community living. I'm not talking about living in Disney-sponsored Celebration but in a real community where members share the good and the bad -- far beyond lawn care tips and rigid rules about paint colors.

There is a downside to living in a community. Periodically the duplex next door to us becomes vacant. We urge our house hunting friends to consider taking it. They usually refuse, afraid to live under the watchful eyes of "the rabbi and rebbetzin". No matter how hard we try to convince them that we have busy lives (and no binoculars), they still refuse. We certainly don't spy on our neighbors, (although I can't speak for some of my bored children), but I actually understand their concern.

The price of community is a certain loss of privacy. The lives and actions of the members are more public, more commented upon. Decisions, changed minds, family struggles, are all lived under the scrutiny of caring (and curious) friends. It can be uncomfortable at times. It can be embarrassing. It can be confusing. But it can also be comforting.

As kids tire of hearing and adults wisely recognize, everything in life is a trade off. If I ever had doubts about choosing community over privacy, reading "The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier" by Henry Fountain put them to rest.

Published: July 15, 2006


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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, July 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Friends and Community Go Hand in Hand

I'm sorry the other commentors seem so disappointed and bitter. I've never in my life had such a wonderful group of friends as I have now. I feel fully part of an 'out of town' frum community and did so also when I was a single mother (I'm now re-married). My friends have been there for me through thick and thin (and I hope I've been there for them too). I'm quite certain that it's only because I'm part of a community of like-minded folk that I have the level of support I've enjoyed for several years. I certainly have more close friends than any non-frum people I know.

(4) Anonymous, July 17, 2006 12:00 AM

Sometimes being IN a community is lonely.

Sometimes being IN a community is lonely. Working full-time and raising kids divorced. Not being able to volunteer. Not having time to socialize. Feeling ignored and left out is worse IN a community because because I expect inclusiveness from my fellow jews. Too much expectation on my part?

(3) Anonymous, July 16, 2006 12:00 AM

WHERE ARE THE OPEN HEARTS AND HOMES?

This article caught my eye and is written well. Although not new to the neighborhood, my family is new to the "observant community". I found people are friendly, say hello and maybe chat a little at our new orthodox synnagogue and yeshiva. I however, find it difficult to find openings in the "friendship" department. I left a life style of many friends, however my interests are now toward the study of Torah, practice of Judaism and Family. My husband works a lot (we pray for a better job) and I often feel lonely.

(2) Anonymous, July 16, 2006 12:00 AM

PEOPLE ARE EGOCENTRIC

Thank you for telling it the way it is. When I was younger and didn't have a care in the world, there was always somebody (both single and married friends) I could go to dinner, movie or travel with and always considered to be friends I could count on through thick and thin. Through the years though, I've found that, although I've always been there for them through both good and bad times, they always were too busy to be there for me when I needed their help. I didn't expect them to drop their lives to take me to the dr when I was on chemo, but it would've been nice if they called (just a 1/2 minute phone call) to find out how I was. Once I was back on my feet, they found the time to call me,basically to tell me their troubles, knowing I'd drop everything to help them (but then I am single and don't have a life). Recently, I asked several friends (ones that have been in my life for 20 or more years)why they never seemed to have time when I was down and was told that they have their own problems and are so busy with their families as well as volunteer work that they don't have time to listen to my problems (although when they're not well, they seem to find time to call me!). Instead of telling me that they never realized that they were so uncaring, they were upset that I had the nerve to voice my opinion. To say the least, I'm now looking for "new" friends.

(1) Edith Brown, July 16, 2006 12:00 AM

You've Got A Friend?

I have always tried to be kind to people. Maybe I have made the mistake of thinking the same people would be there for me in my time of need as I was for them, or have I? I have come to learn my perception of kindness may be different than another person's. What I need, may not be what this person is able to give. This has often been hard for me to accept, let alone painful. Now that I am moving closer to HaShem I see he will provide, if I just trust him. Maybe not the way "I" want or with whom, but he will provide. My best friend must be HaShem as I have no family & my friends are very busy. I only wish HaShem & I could talk on the phone, catch dinner & a play!

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