Recently, right before the November 3rd election, I signed up for a program called Partners in Torah. Right after the November 3rd election, I put myself on a social media cleanse. Ironically, it was an Instagram “influencer” that ultimately inspired me to sign up for the program.
My sister in law, who had been doing the program for a few months was thrilled to hear the news that I had decided to find myself a partner. She promised me that they would find me my perfect match. “Finding me a perfect match” in nearly every aspect of my life to this point has always been somewhat of a struggle. I have a love hate relationship with that struggle, but somehow the love side always wins. When you know who you are, what you believe in, what is true, you are in control of yourself no matter the difficult circumstance you may be going through at any given time.
Why did I sign up for a partner? I signed up for a partner because I’ve always had a strong Jewish identity, an affection for the more observant community despite not being a part of it, and a longing to connect much of my identity on a deeper level to thought provoking ideas and text.
Why did I take a cleanse? The superficiality that we have all become addicted to, dependent on, even I’d say reliant on, is not enough. This afternoon, my partner and I were discussing social media in general. We were discussing how automatic it is that we often just click “like” on something that maybe in the deepest sense we don’t actually like. The pandemic has really exacerbated the automation of this addiction, dependence, and reliance. I decided I wanted to pay deeper attention to my own story, thoughts, opinions, and voice.
On some level, during the month that I took a break I really missed the routine of aimlessly scrolling, listening to and watching stories, and posting my own. But what I realized during that time was that it wasn’t Instagram I missed itself. The absence of authentic connection with like minded people is what I craved.
During the self imposed break I texted photos to friends instead of posting them, which often led to more meaningful conversation. I read, I cooked, I exercised and obsessed over the news but was not impacted by others’ opinions that are constantly expressed in ways that appear to be construed as facts.
The best part of my cleanse was looking forward each week to my Thursday afternoon call with my “Partner in Torah”, two thousand miles away in LA from my home in suburban Chicago. My sister in law was correct. They did match me with my perfect match. We almost finish each other’s sentences and our conversation really fuels my mind with new ideas and connection to Judaism, Torah Judaism.
This has been a really lonely time but I can honestly say despite the constant worry about my husband in and out of a hospital every day, missing family and friends, travel, and everything else, I am truly grateful for this time that we may or may not ever experience again. While it is my hope that when we eventually re-emerge from our individual cocoons that people will be friendlier, more interested in each other, and overall be more genuine, I am confident that many will return to their pre-pandemic selves without having really learned any true lessons from what we have all gone through collectively and on personal, individual levels as every person’s circumstances are different.
What I do know, is that for me, Judaism has been, and will always be what guides my decision making and spirit. It is my North Star. Having taken the plunge to sign up for weekly calls of a half hour with an observant woman whose husband is also a doctor, who understands me, and is adding so much to my understanding of who I am and how to interpret the world is priceless.
I have always thought that if you are Jewish, you are the luckiest person in the world. While many, most, do not share this perspective, I know that it is true. You are a member of a collective people with a menu of activity to choose from right before your eyes. I am writing this to welcome other American Jews to join this program, no matter where you are starting from. There is authentic, beautiful, meaningful conversation waiting to be had.
I have trained myself to step away from the aimless scrolling, the gargantuan waste of time. While I still indulge from time to time, it has been enormously beneficial to stimulate my mind elsewhere, learning more about myself and how I want to raise our family. The irony that the ultimate push came from Instagram to sign up for something that has become so meaningful to me is not lost. Using the platform to find valuable resources, to the extent it is possible, is a positive contribution that social media has historically made. Look beyond the “likes”, the fashion, the “noise around the edges”, the loudest voices, that we have become accustomed to sharing and watching. Finding something that I was able to take from a meaningless scroll and being able to translate the virtual into my weekly schedule has made some of the time I have wasted seemingly less so.
A root problem in today’s world is that too many cannot honestly answer the question: “Do I even like really this?” Other questions worth revisiting periodically include: “Do I mean what I say?”, “Does what I do reflect what I mean and say?”, “Is what I am selectively showing really a reflection of who I really am?” These are things worth exploring during this continued time of isolation and instability. On Tu Bishvat, a celebration at the core about our roots, I invite you to turn towards your roots instead of away from them as is the trend.
Thank you, unexpected friend across the country, for being my perfect match.