Ben Greenberg
Rabbi & Coder. Solving one function at a time.

Do You Live in a Jewish Bubble?

What does it mean when a member of Israel’s Knesset can declare Reform Jews a “disaster for the Jewish people”? What does it mean when the biggest insult a communal pundit can offer is that you are acting like a Conservative Jew? It means that too many of us live exclusively in our own Jewish bubbles. Perhaps it is time to pop some bubbles.

PBS Newshour last week offered a short quiz on their website simply called “Do you live in a bubble?” This quiz sought to help people understand how exposed they were to people unlike themselves. Its starting orientation was white, upper-middle class urban dweller and posed questions like have you ever toured a factory floor or have you ever lived in a neighborhood where most people do not have a college degree?

David Brooks, the popular New York Times columnist, acknowledged that he had been wrong in his predictions about the rise of Donald Trump. At an event in New York City several weeks ago he publically acknowledged that his error was because he had not taken time out of his bubble enough to meet the parts of America that do not read the New York Times.

Living in a bubble is comfortable and easy. It affords us safety and protection as we build a world around us that looks and acts like we think and believe. We can look out from our bubbles and declare all others barbarians attempting to break down the gates.

Why though does it matter if we wish to stay in our bubbles? What harm does it do to live in a cozy homogenous bubble?

If we never experience life outside the bubble, we end up being wrong often. We can end up being one of the most thoughtful political pundits in the cosmopolitan elite and not see the meteoric rise of a politician because he does not appeal to the people we surround ourselves with. We can fail to appreciate the genuineness by which other people practice their faith commitments and turn their religious lives of meaning and purpose into an insult we lob at those we disagree with.

This is not to say that bubbles are not important. As people we are social creatures and we crave community. We build structures such as families, and even nations, to gain that sense of belonging. The Christian philosopher Paul Tillich in his book Theology of Culture delved deeply into the existential questions of belonging and groups. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s essay Confrontation was, on some level, a lengthy meditation on the question of belonging and group identity.

The problem is not when we choose to identify and live out our lives in certain bubbles. The problem lies when we refuse to ever create pathways of communication between our bubble and everyone else. Admittedly, being open to the genuineness of other people’s bubbles requires more sophisticated philosophical and theological approaches than “I’m right and everyone else is wrong” but that is a good thing. We should rise to more sophisticated ways of understanding each other.

A scan of the state of the Jewish people today demands of us that we cultivate intentional times of walking out of our bubbles. The ties that bind us together as a people are increasingly fraying and we cannot afford to wait any longer.

About the Author
Ben Greenberg is a rabbi, software developer and educator. He has worked as a campus rabbi at Harvard University and as a pulpit rabbi in Denver, CO. He currently works as a software developer in Tel Aviv. He lives with his family in Israel and is originally from San Diego, CA.
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