Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Community is Dead. Long Live Community.

We all know the story. It used to be that the social norm was that you had to belong to a community: a country club, dare I say a synagogue. That was all well and good. But today, everyone has multiple identities, and that means that the idea of "belonging" to one place exclusively (yes, even any one online place) has fallen a bit out of style.

Here's the funny thing, though: we still yearn for community. We rebel against being labeled; against being committed to one place or the next. Yet we can't quell that part inside that wants to feel connected, to be part of something larger than ourselves with shared values and purpose.

At a recent event, I heard someone talk about how, as a teenager, he thought he was going to be connected to the Jewish community as an adult. Now, in his thirties, he looks back and sees that his life has taken different turns. He isn't attracted to the organized Jewish life in his locale. Nor has he really found community of another sort. He seems wistful about this. Clearly, he isn't actively trying to pursue such an elusive concept; indeed, he doesn't know what he could even do, if he wanted to. But, on some level, it seems to bother him.

I feel like a lot of us in my demographic are in this boat. Then again, as I shared at the same event, I happen to be obsessed by the concept of community, and therefore happen to have extremely high, not to mention idealized, standards for what it is supposed to be (which may explain the vicissitudes in my personal attempts to try to find it). I have continued to insist that community is simply a function of humanity - that it is the obvious answer to some of our most basic needs as human beings. How could something like that simply go out of fashion?

But the truth is that lately I have begun to believe that we are just setting ourselves up for failure. Yes, there are those who live in communities that have certain standards in practices, beliefs and patterns of behavior that are universally accepted and observed. For those of us outside such communities, I'd like to argue that it's not just that there are recognized patterns and routines of community which are not observed. It's that they don't even exist anymore to begin with.