This year in our Rosh Hashanah Torah Service, some Reform synagogues read the creation story as they celebrate the birth of the world. Seven times in that story, God will describe each act of creation with the declaration that it is “good,” or in the case of creating the first human, “very good.”
A few verses later, toward the end of chapter two, God speaks again, but this time nothing is created. Instead, what is noted is the first negative experience in the Torah.
Adonai said, “It is not good for human to be alone - I will make for him a fitting helpmate.” (Genesis 2:18)
Rabbinic scholars want to pay close attention to the first mention of phrases in the Torah, as being essential to understanding the narrative. So, what is essential to this text? The first thing in the creation myth which is considered clearly “not good,” is loneliness. It should also be noted that human’s aloneness in this moment in the text is mirrored by God’s aloneness.
This spring, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an 80-page report about the crisis of loneliness that is wreaking havoc in this country. He outlines several metrics for how many Americans spend their time each month. These metrics were looking at American lifestyles between 2000-2020. These include:
More time spent in social isolation
Less time spent in family engagement
Less time in companionship with others
A precipitous drop in time spent with friends
A significant drop in family social engagement with others outside our homes
A significant drop in social engagement with others
This crisis was developing for 20 years, and then the pandemic hit, amplifying our cultural, social weakness. The surgeon general is raising this issue of loneliness as a public health concern. When people are lonely, their health can begin to deteriorate.
The motivation to be with our peers, and connect to our friends can wane. Our stress levels increase. Our anxieties increase. We don’t get the external feedback that there are other perspectives beyond our private view of the world. For certain demographics, loneliness can truly threaten their well-being.
COVID 19 certainly shook us to our core. We are only beginning to understand the profound and complicated repercussions of living a life of quarantine, uncertainty, and unending anxiety has on our hearts, minds and souls. We experienced distance and disconnect from each other. Some of us are still mired in these feelings.
We all know stories of how we have each been nourished by the community in times of joy and in times of sorrow. I want to offer that our ability to gather in community is the most profound and direct response to this crisis of loneliness.
In the Jewish community, this is a week of communal gathering for the Jewish High Holidays. At Temple Beth Shalom, Hudson and at Hillel at Kent State, we are seeing strong turnouts for our holiday services. Folks are seeking connection and community.
As we conclude our High Holidays this Sunday and Monday, we are on a journey pursuing holiness in our lives. This is the first step of our return. I encourage us to explore making communal gatherings an ongoing practice this fall.
Just because we each found the courage to show up, doesn’t mean that we have cured this issue. Many of us are still navigating varying degrees of loneliness in our life. Connecting to the community can be one way to build the social connections that the surgeon general described.
In community, we become more than who we are alone. We become part of the greater whole. Let’s hang out together this year. Let’s sing together this year. Let’s celebrate and cry together this year
Let us return to you Adonai, and let our returning renew us as you have done in days of old. (Lamentation 5:21)
Shanah tovah u’metukah - blessings for a good and sweet new year.
Rabbi Michael Ross is the Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson and the Senior Jewish Educator at Kent State Hillel. He also teaches in the Jewish Studies department at Kent State.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Make communal gathering an ongoing practice | Voices of Faith