Let’s Talk About Bowling Alone

Between Us

I made a shiva call recently, at which the mourners were figuratively – and literally – embraced by dozens of community members. I recalled that image while reading this week’s portion.

In this week’s double parashot Matot – Massei, we learn that while the Israelites assembled on the Jordan River preparing to cross into the Promised Land, three of the tribes wanted to stay on the eastern shore, which had more fertile land for their many cattle. Moses convinced them that unless they joined with everyone else, none of the tribes would be able to claim the Promised Land. After helping to settle the land for everyone, they would be able to go back over the river to their fertile territory. There is an important lesson here about the importance of community support and contributing to the greater good.

While the power of community remains as strong as ever, there are many who still choose not to engage with the Jewish community, often saying: “It’s not relevant to me,” “I live too far away,” “The traffic is terrible for me” and “It’s too expensive for me.” The choice of words is important since each statement comes back to “me” rather than “us”. The metro DC area is one of the most vibrant, exciting Jewish communities in America, with tens of thousands choosing to participate, join and support. Yet there are many more who are not participating in – nor reaping the benefits of – community. It’s up to each of us to offer paths to engagement.

Fifteen years ago, sociologist Robert Putnam wrote a groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone. The study’s title refers to the fact that while there are more people bowling, there are fewer leagues than ever before. He argues, sadly, that our “social capital” stock has plummeted and valuable social networks are in danger of disintegrating. Perhaps the lesson in this week’s parasha is that joining in – creating and being a part of a community – pays dividends to each of us as individuals.

I know that the mourners at the shiva felt that way.


Ways to Make it Yours