Jewish and Alone? (September 2010)

(This is a crossposting of “Alone on Rosh Hashanah? ” from the Community of Jewish Contemplatives Page on Facebook)

Many of our Community members and supporters will now be starting to make preparations for family or community gatherings to celebrate the coming New Year (pm Wednesday Sept 8th 2010). Many, but not all --- Some of you live far from Jewish community centres and may need encouragement "to feel part of the family" as we gear up for the High Holidays.

I spend almost every Shabbos and Festival alone as I have no family, there are no Jews in my town, and the nearest services are not within travelling distance for me. I would love to be able to sit at a Shabbos or Festival table with other Jews, but for purely circumstantial reasons that has rarely been possible. I am happy to be alone most of the time, and I certainly value my weekday contemplative solitude as a gift and not as a trial. Despite that I am aware that there are many Jews who are alone on Shabbos or on the Festivals who would desperately wish they were with a family, or amongst other Jewish friends, and who feel this ache especially acutely at times like Erev Shabbos and the Jewish New Year.

These words are for you:

 In the UK Reform Movement Machsor (Holiday Prayer Book) of 1985, Rabbi Jonathan Magonet wrote that on Yom Kippur we stand before God,

“All of us together, each of us alone”

This echoes the belief that, through Jewish collective responsibility, all Jews are reliant upon each other in the annual quest for community absolution. We are never truly alone on Yom Kippur.

Isaac Luria said:
“Why was the confession composed in the plural?
Because all Israel is one body and each individual Jew is a limb of that body.
We are all responsible for each other …”
Yesod ha-Teshuvah vi

The High Holidays are a time when all of us stand alone before God as we examine our lives and yet we simultaneously all act as “representatives of the community” for each other.

As we are in the closing week of Elul, many of us will have been examining our consciences and will no doubt be feeling quite low. Now is the time to remember that we are by no means alone. We should not forget that our reflections are not meant to be exclusively self-centred. Nor are we preparing for this New Year alone. All of you visiting this site are part of an extended community and we are each responsible for the other. This should be a liberating and a consoling reflection!

In Kuntres M’arat ha-Lev I wrote:

“The contemplative is always in community, whether that be a handful of neighbours, a family, a circle of distant friends kept often in mind, or the people they meet briefly or correspond with. Even if they were in total solitude they would still be part of the community of Creation: Responsible not only for themselves but for everyone. This is not just my own reflection. It is one which permeates the liturgy of Yom Kippur.”

"Cave of the Heart" Part One: Tikkun
Contemplative Life as Active Life

This year, and every year, there will be many Jews who are unavoidably isolated and simply unable to attend any form of communal worship over the High Holiday season. There will be many who, rightly or wrongly, also feel unwelcome at such gatherings even if they are physically able to attend them.

In the "Cave of the Heart" way back in 2005 I made a personal and heartfelt call for Jewish liturgy online , and though I have no reason to expect that many noticed it ...I am delighted to say that, for those with a broadband connection, there are now at least three sets of streamed services for the High Holidays in the UK. (see HERE)

But for members of the Community of Jewish Contemplatives dispersed all over the Globe, and by extension- for our friends here:- If you are going to be alone this coming Rosh Hashanah…whether by choice or circumstance…..I invite you to make a special remembrance for those of us who are also “alone”. This will make of us a special minyan which would transcend the boundaries of denominational affiliation, geography, and time.

Even if you are fortunate enough to have broadband (!) or to be able to attend services and celebrations “in the flesh” please make a special mention in your prayers of those of us who are alone over the Yamim Noraim. We need your prayers too.

For all of us here: In our prayers during these closing days of Elul and (even more so) over the approaching "Ten Days"- may we make a sort of minyan which meets in intention if not physically.

Each of us alone. All of us together.

(If you are on Facebook and like the idea of praying along with us during the High Holidays in this way, you might like to indicate that  HERE so that we can remember each other by name. Alternatively you could use the contact email address on my profile.)

Norman R Davies
Havdalah September 4 2010 (Selichot)