It's time to include singles

November 24, 2016 23:17

The forthcoming yomtovim will, for many, just as Shabbat and other festivals do, highlight their lack of belonging.

After creating Adam, God said: "It is not good for man to be alone". Presumably, that means everybody. Yet many single people experience Judaism as an exclusive and excluding, family-only religion.

Do you know what it is to be single, Jewish and ignored? Men and women are affected, although it is particularly hard on women. How many single people never attend shul even on Yomtov because they feel so unwelcome? Yes, a few single people are involved with their synagogue but many more feel totally excluded.

An Orthodox rabbi once told me that people remain single because they are bad. I was physically pushed out of shul one Yom Kippur and literally shoved off a seat at Purim! The accompanying comments were crystal clear - I didn't have the required marital status.

Despite numerous requests, no rabbi - including the Chief Rabbi - or community leader seems prepared to talk about the realities of single life. Indeed, most actively refuse. As one said to me recently: "I don't deal with that sort of thing". Another asked: "What's the point?" Why will they not discuss how single people may take their rightful place? Is it fear, or just a case of "I'm all right Jack"? With such a leadership model, it is not surprising when the community follows suit.

A rabbi told me people are single because they are bad

There are cheder classes for children, bar- and batmitzvah classes, courses for engaged and married couples, but nothing significant for the older, single person. Jewish people, ordinarily so vocal, are curiously inaudible when it comes to matters relating to being single.

Many years ago, I participated in some research about single women (be they unmarried, divorced or widowed). It was heartbreaking, revealing numerous, harrowing stories of rejection, in some cases after decades of loyal membership of a community. Similar research repeated recently showed little or no change. No doubt a similar picture would emerge if the research were to be carried out among single men. Unattached men regularly talk to me about their social and spiritual exclusion, despite being able to participate in a minyan etc.

Consider the religious journey of a single woman. She might be named in shul at birth. For those born before it was fashionable to celebrate batmitzvah or bat chayil the next life stage to be recognised will be her funeral. So, on the only two occasions when women are spiritually recognised they are physically not involved. Middle-aged Jewish women especially have no spiritual milestones or recognition; often excluded in all but some Progressive or smaller, provincial communities who understand and recognise the value of every individual.

Even if you find my comments inconsequential - the "same old same old" - because it doesn't apply to your situation, it is still likely that you have family members or friends who are single. And, if you have read this far, I would like to invite you to become a pioneer, to join with me to try and change archaic leadership and community values. In the past, there have been many meaningless attempts that never had any intention of success. At a time when people are turning away from religion, and the community is shrinking, why not re-engage with a marginalised group? You might feel that single people never say anything or that you can identify a token middle-aged, single person in your shul. Too often they are frightened to come forward because the response is so predictable. Even to speak means to be labelled adversely and a loss of respect. Therefore, most remain silent and/or leave the faith. How does that fit with the so-called compassionate nature of the Jewish people?

An attitudinal sea-change won't happen overnight. The coming High Holy-Days offer a perfect opportunity to make a pledge to move to a brighter, more inclusive future.

November 24, 2016 23:17

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