One is the loneliest number, but somehow it’s even lonelier when the one is a Jew who feels cut off from our community, from our faith, from our G-d.
We are, after all, a communal people, from the basic requirement to have 10 of us together for proper prayer to the way we come together in celebration and sadness to the covenant we as a people have with our Creator. Even the Lone Soldiers who travel from Atlanta and Jewish communities around the world to serve with the Israel Defense Forces are never truly alone because we, through Friends of the IDF and other organizations, ensure that they are not isolated.
So it was surprising that one of the recurring themes of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America this past week was the lonely Jew.
Actress Debra Messing talked about how lonely she was as the only Jew in her school during a childhood that featured repeated anti-Semitic incidents.
TV journalist David Gregory expressed understandable loneliness when he spoke to the General Assembly two days after his father died.
Sheryl Arno and Ina Enoch of Atlanta’s Jewish Abilities Alliance and fellow Federation leaders from New Jersey, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., talked about the loneliness not only of children and adults with special needs, but also of their isolated, often exhausted parents.
Mark Wilf of JFNA’s Fund for Holocaust Survivors shared his shock and anger that a quarter of Holocaust survivors in the United States live with the isolation of poverty.
Fortunately, the Jewish community itself has offered the solution in each case.
The Fund for Holocaust Survivors is raising $45 million to help survivors live in dignity and is getting a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that could be worth an additional $20 million. Programs such as Jewish Family & Career Services’ Cafe Europa also are fighting survivors’ loneliness by connecting them to one another and to volunteers.
The Jewish Abilities Alliance in Atlanta and a variety of other inclusion programs, from a bakery and cafe staffed by special needs workers in the D.C. area to baby-sitting training for teens in New Jersey to provide respite care for parents of special needs children, are ensuring that families find the services they need and the welcome they want.
Gregory, whose grief over his father’s death was worsened by the knowledge that his son’s bar mitzvah celebration was only days away, chose to go ahead with his speech at the GA’s opening plenary Sunday, Nov. 8. Although he nearly broke down at several emotional moments, he found solace in sharing his grief, his love for his father and his faith journey with more than 1,000 fellow Jews.
Messing explained her continuing struggles to practice her Judaism as a TV actress but told of the joy she found when she went to college at Brandeis and graduate school at New York University and found herself surrounded by Jews and Jewish life.
In short, the cure for what ails us so often is immersion within the Jewish community — in many cases a dip into Israel itself. We need one another, and we must always be on the lookout for fellow Jews who need an open door and a helping hand to find their way back to the community and away from loneliness.