I am writing and creating handmade journals for my books in the Solitary Splendor Series. The photo above is my handmade Haggadah for the Solitary Passover Seder I conducted at home in 2020.
Here are three thought-provoking questions about being Jewish in 2020 and beyond. They reveal why I am the author of the Solitary Splendor books and journals for people like us.
1) What if my connection to other Jews is not an in-person relationship?
2020 has been a year of isolation for most of us, Jewish or not. Families have been isolated together and couples and singles have been isolated, too. Each family, couple and individual has their own, ongoing story of coping with isolation.
(When I wrote the following paragraphs prior to the Coronavirus pandemic I had no idea how they would apply to every one of us in one way or another.)
Membership in a local congregation may be impossible for Jews in rural areas and parts of the country where synagogues and temples have closed. Or it may require driving long distances to a shul on Shabbat, in heavy traffic or on lonely roads alone in the dark. Membership may be out of reach for people who simply cannot afford the dues.
Security has become another concern for Jews gathering to worship. Although global terrorism is not limited to Jewish congregations, anti-semitism is a specific, growing threat wherever Jews live. Historically, welcoming members, visitors, friends and family has been more important to Jewish leaders than planning and implementing security measures, leaving most congregations open and vulnerable to attack.
Intermarriage and the need for more income affects increasing numbers of Jews. Since the year 2000 the number of Jews married to people of another faith or without a religion far exceeds 50%, and in some age groups it is closer to 75%. During that same period the need to work more than one job or to enhance income by investing time and money in a home business has skyrocketed.
The high cost of synagogue membership, religious school and summer camp is often a barrier to young families. Because they own numerous digital devices with internet access for themselves and for their children, young Jews often don't see the need to join a congregation as did their parents and grandparents.
2) What if being Jewish on my own is becoming the new normal?
Jews of any age may feel guilty about not meeting in community with other Jews, whatever their reasons. It is a deep frustration because it just doesn’t seem right to be Jewish alone. Jews have lived and prayed in community for millennia. How Is it possible that now, in the digital age of constant connection, interruption and distraction, more Jews feel more isolated than ever before?
Holocaust survivors are slowly passing away, and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are living Jewish lives in a world those survivors could barely imagine. Religious reforms begun in the 19th and 20th centuries are evolving to accommodate the real lives of real Jews living in the world today, creating wide-spread controversy.
The satisfaction of worship and study in community is what Jews are conditioned to want. Barbra Streisand’s 1964 hit song, “People,” from her Broadway musical, “Funny Girl,” expressed her classically Jewish sentiment to the world, “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” But now, over 50 years later, many people feel lucky to be living, working and worshipping alone.
Something is happening to human beings who are more connected to their smart phones than to people sitting next to them at the Shabbat table or in shul. Our smart phones offer unlimited information, communication, education and entertainment wherever we are located, whenever we need it and want it, without any obligation on our part.
We don’t have to be polite to our smart phones. We don’t have to say or do anything appropriate to please them. Our relationship with our smart phones is much easier than our relationships with human beings because human relationships take effort.
Except for an occasional error message or redirect, our smart phones and other devices rarely tell us we are “doing it wrong.” When other people deliver their error messages and attempt to redirect us, we resist. We want what we want when we want it, and we don’t want anyone else telling us we’re doing it wrong.
For those of us who desire to build a genuine relationship with our Almighty God, the God of Torah, the Ten Commandments and Tanakh (also called the Old Testament) our smart phones offer us more advantages and opportunities than our local congregations now. We have access to world-class teaching and Torah services held all over the world, wherever we are located.
In some countries, there is less access to clean water and to functioning toilets than access to Jewish life on the internet. This is a reality our ancestors could never have envisioned, and we may be having great difficulty envisioning it today.
Isolated, bed-ridden and home-bound Jews in metro areas, as well as those who live far from other Jews and Jewish congregations outside metro areas can access Jewish teaching and Jewish services wherever they are able to get online, whenever they choose to connect. They can also communicate by text, email and video chat.
3) What if my personal exploration of Torah and holidays is more meaningful on my own?
I am an Internet Jew. Truthfully, I was always an Internet Jew. Maybe Internet Jew is a new denomination.
The internet is how I have learned and communicated, before and after my conversion to Judaism with a Reform rabbi in Texas. She shepherded me through the conversion process, in person and by email, and stood with me as I emerged from the mikveh.
But she only visited our congregation monthly, except during the summer months when we had no services.
In other words, my conversion rabbi was not nearly as available to me as thousands of other rabbis who teach and hold services online. I had and I still have a virtual yeshiva with no walls. There are male and female Jewish experts teaching on every Torah portion, every holiday and every moral issue I face.
As for consistency, I have worked with an Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem on Skype every week for ten years so far. This is more personal interaction than most people in local congregations have with their rabbis.
There is no shame is being an Internet Jew in a virtual yeshiva.
It’s taken me many years to be able to define it with confidence, but now I announce it shamelessly because I have become a leader of Jews who find themselves learning and worshipping on their own, connected through the internet.
I’ve been blogging for nearly a decade and now speak on Facebook Live and on telephone classes. I am breaking the stigma of shame for myself and for other isolated Jews around the world, and I am enjoying the significant boost that comes from sharing what I learn, the time-honored secret to genuine learning.