When it comes to Jewish festivals, there are two types of people. The first camp, who look forward to the chance to attend a jam-packed party, dressed up in the most garish possible costume and catch up excitedly with friends and family. Then there’s the other type, who would rather shrink back from these occasions and self-isolate – a course of action which has something of a zeitgeist in the current coronavirus epidemic.
While Judaism is a religion centred around extroverted personality types, many among us fall into the latter group of more socially-reserved introverts. It’s predicted a third of the general population identify as introverts – a characterisation that means you’re more likely to be energised by time alone than the large-scale gatherings that tends to accompany Jewish festivals.
During Purim time, introverts might also feel some empathy with the idea of wearing a mask or disguise – a motif that the festival centres around, as Esther was compelled to hide her Jewish identity for half a decade during her marriage to King Ahasuerus. Just as Esther was forced to hide her Jewishness, introverts often feel compelled to disguise their solitude-loving natures and muddle through, whether that’s a Purim party, a family simcha or indeed the four-hour-long, high-energy Pesach seder we can look forward to next month.
Such occasions can prove taxing to the introverted individual. Yet we have to remember that, while Judaism does offer many occasions for the extrovert, it equally value moments of quiet introspection – such as the mikvah, the silent Amidah prayer, or the High Holy Days.
There are also powerful examples of introverted leaders in the Torah. In Susan Cain’s book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, the Jewish author describes Moses as an introvert – taking cues such as his love of spending time alone as a shepherd, and the description of him in Exodus 4:10 as ‘not a man of words’.
In her TED Talk on the same topic, Cain talks about the power of introverts – using the example of her introverted grandfather, a rabbi, whose congregation benefitted from his learnedness – a result of his great love of reading in solitude. She also cites a link between a habit of alone time and greater creativity and innovation – found in the likes of the late Albert Einstein and Silicon Valley engineer Steve Wozniak.
In essence, Cain makes a case for introverts’ natural predilection towards re-energising solo time – a notion introverts among our community should feel heartened if they prefer to celebrate Purim quietly this year, or step away from the Seder table for a moment of quiet.
As for myself, I have to admit I’m far from an introvert – and Judaism’s focus on community, mass gatherings and merriment has always been something that appealed; where I felt able to be myself rather than to wear a mask to fit in. For some reason, meeting new people and developing a quick intimacy has always felt natural to me – while being alone, and taking moments to retreat into my own mind, never used to.
This all changed when I started my lifestyle platform, alonement, a website and upcoming podcast centred around the joy of being alone. It began with a personal challenge to myself to learn to take time for myself, alone – something I’d never been able to withstand even an hour of before. Over the past year writing about ‘alonement’ – a word I coined to describe the joy of being alone – I finally understood what introverts had been saying all along. Time spent alone, whoever you are, is energising, regenerative and allows you to meet your own needs first so you can better serve those of others.
On Friday, my podcast – also called alonement – launches. It’s a series of interviews with everyone from philosopher Alain de Botton to BBC Radio London presenter Jo Good, all about the value of spending time alone and why it matters. So whether you’re introverted, extroverted or somewhere in between, I hope you tune in – and in the meantime, make sure you take some alonement time this Purim.
- The alonement podcast will be released on Friday 13 March and will be available on Apple, Spotify and all good podcast providers. You can read about alonement on alonement.com and follow the Instagram account on @alonementofficial.
- See the podcast trailer here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/alonement/id1501269554