First, a quiz. As you think about your own personality and preferences, do you consider yourself:
--a joiner or an extravert who draws strength and energy from being part of a group or from connecting with numerous other people.
--a loner or an introvert who draws strength and energy from being apart from groups and having quiet solitude or you prefer one-on-one conversations rather than groups.
--a hybrid of the two, in which sometimes you turn on the gas to be part of a group and sometimes you cruise comfortably in private or alone moments.
THE JOINER'S POINT OF VIEW
In Judaism there is a lot of emphasis on the healing power of community. We bring mass quantities of food and conversation to people who are in mourning. We bring lots of family, friends, and strangers to our Seder tables and Shabbat dinners. We study the Torah together, we study Mussar ethics and character-improvement together, and we learn from one another constantly how to bring holiness and repair into the world. Especially in a loving community like Ahavat Torah Congregation, we reach out to one another during illnesses, setbacks, and tragedies. We also join together to celebrate and appreciate each other's birthdays, life cycle events, and triumphs over adversity.
THE BENEFITS OF SOLITUDEOn the other hand, many of us (myself included) are by nature introverts who re-charge our batteries more by quiet time alone or with one person at a time, rather than being thrust into group situations where the extraverts are more comfortable than we are.
In my own case, I was so much of an introvert when I was a teenager and my mom was dying of cancer, that I remember two songs on the radio for which I had a very strong reaction. The first was Barbra Streisand's "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world" (which I and many other introverts found to be the most threatening and uncomfortable idea imaginable). The second song was Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a rock, I am an island...and a rock feels no pain and an island never cries" (which I admit I secretly aspired to when I was a teen trying to become self-reliant).
Fortunately, time and experience have helped me to become more of a hybrid who still prefers alone time or one-on-one conversations, but I am finding that I learn more and grow more when I push myself to be part of group classes, group activities, or group prayers and meditations.
One of the things I love most about Ahavat Torah Congregation is that each month there are several choices of activities that appeal to the healing power of community along with respecting the diversity and uniqueness of each individual, whether we tend to be an introvert, an extravert, or a hybrid combination of the two.
CHOOSING WISELY EACH MONTH
Every seven days Dr. Julie Madorsky sends out a newsletter that is filled with beautiful illustrations and enticing descriptions of a variety of opportunities to nourish one's soul through the classes, activities, celebrations, discussion groups, and lively spiritual gatherings of Ahavat Torah Congregation.
Some people don't open the newsletter attachment. Some people open it and feel overwhelmed by the array of choices. Others pick and choose carefully so that each month they enjoy one, two, or more of the inspiring options being offered by this intimate but extremely active congregation.
Whether you are by nature a joiner, a loner, or a hybrid combination of these two traits, here is a suggestion on how to respond to the weekly newsletter sent to you through cyberspace and the weekly announcements you hear at the end of Shabbat services:
--Start by a kavannah or intention that says to yourself silently, "Somewhere in this list of activities and options is something that will be uplifting, memorable, and transformative for my soul in the next few weeks. Sh'ma, listen silently and carefully to which of these choices calls to my soul."
--Then make a commitment to yourself, write on your calendar, and RSVP for the one, two or three activities that call deeply to you.
--Make sure to invite one or two friends, relatives, or colleagues to join you at one or more of these events so that their souls also will be nourished and you will deepen your connection to these individuals through sharing these meaningful and inspiring moments with them.
--Without overcommitting your calendar or burning out, make sure you add to your life each month something that opens your mind, opens your heart, adds to your depth of Jewishness, and connects you with the Source that flows through each of these activities and each of these moments of connection. We are extremely blessed that we have so many exquisite choices in our busy lives. Even if sometimes you feel as if there is too much happening or too many choices, as Rabbi Miriam would say, "These are holy struggles."
Shavuah tov. May you and your loved ones have a very good week.