I recently officiated at a Zeved HaBat ceremony, the naming of a newly born Jewish daughter. Although the gathering was mostly of friends of the baby’s Mom and Dad, four grandparents were also present, and the maternal great grandparents as well. Before the ritual began, instead of mingling, I sat back and did some people-watching, soaking up the energy of friends and family gabbing away, enjoying each another and the fine hors d’oeuvres.
This got me thinking of the Jewish concept of kesher, of connectedness, especially intergenerational connectedness. That is why, at the beginning of the ceremony, I spoke of this concept to the people gathered, about how wonderful it was to see them connecting with each other, and now important and precious such things are.
I might as well have been speaking proto-Swahili.
To my surprise, reading their faces, it seemed that the thirty-somethings gathered there were wondering, “What’s the big deal about being connected? Don’t we do this all the time?”
Well, not really. That’s because there’s a big difference between making kesher and keeping in touch. The Internet in particular has taught us to connect in a manner that reduces relationships to information, data, and checklists. We are becoming more and more utilitarian and cold about relationships even as we have multiplied contacts beyond prior imagining. We have multiplied contacts while reducing connectedness—kesher. Let me explain what I mean.
Professor Sherry Turkle, director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, has written a must-read book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (Basic Books, 2011). She sounds an alarm none of us should ignore, arguing that
our new technologies — including e-mail messages, Facebook postings, Skype exchanges, role-playing games, Internet bulletin boards and robots — have made convenience and control a priority while diminishing the expectations we have of other human beings.
(This is excerpted from a review of her book in the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/books/22book.html).
In an interview on PBS, she names the beast:
What I’m seeing is a generation that says consistently, “I would rather text than make a telephone call. Why? It’s less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don’t have to get all involved; it’s more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face to face.”
There’s this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They’re hard. They involve a lot of negotiation. They’re all the things that are difficult about adolescence. And adolescence is the time when people are using technology to skip and to cut corners and to not have to do some of these very hard things.” Read more at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/interviews/turkle.html#ixzz1JyI4EwFM
We are living in a robotic age. But while we are striving to make robots more human, we are failing to notice one horrific truth: technology is making us less so.
If this bothers you, then consider these three remedies:
- Begin now to nourish and make room for kesher. We experienced some of that at the Zeved Habat. For a middle name, the new baby, Chava Shoshana, was named after her great great grandmother. At the event, her grandfather told of a conversation with his own father about this very woman, of how kind she was in meeting him very early in the morning every day when he was very young, in order to make sure he was fed. As baby Chava Shoshana’s grandfather shared that very human story, the entire gathering was deeply warmed, because this was not data, but a truly human account, complete with an emotional face, moist eyes, warm heart, and multi-generational connectedness. And if we are going to prevent our own robotization, we desperately need to turn from our screens, to seek face time with each other, and to tell our intergenerational stories, to feel the warmth, establishing a sense of kesher that transcends the merely contemporary, informational and utilitarian.
- Begin now to increasingly practice Jewish communal prayer, which establishes our sense of kesher with our own people going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah, our founding parents, and touching upon every generation between us and them, and into the future. In our time we have seen an anomaly emerge: the phenomenon of “personal spirituality,” of pursuing one’s “personal relationship with God” in isolation from one’s covenantal identity within a community. This is a distortion of the life to which our Scriptures and tradition call us. Speak no more of your “personal spiritual journey,” or your “personal relationship with God” in isolation from your relationship with the people of God. In other words, the humanizing question, the one which combats the robotization of our spiritual lives is this one: In what ways and to what degree are you growing in your relationship with the people of God not just of this time but of the past and future? It is in that context alone that truly biblical and truly human spirituality is found. While it is true that Jeremiah ways “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (31:34), touching upon a personal relationship with God, this is in the context of God’s covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (31:31), and thus within a communal covenantal context.
- Begin now to increasingly cherish and to learn the life of traditional ritual, which establishes and nourishes this sense of intergenerational communal kesher. Thankfully, some of our leaders and congregations are busy helping people to do just that. Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills, CA, is about to welcome a new rabbi, Joshua Brumach, who, together with his wife Monique, is good at helping people connect with traditional ritual. (You can learn more about the Brumbachs via the Yinon Blog here at www.MessianicJudaism.me/yinon). Also you might visit the website of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, and learn what they have to say about Jewish ritual life at http://ourrabbis.org/main/halakhah-mainmenu-26.
Like learning to relate to others, and like learning Jewish prayer, so learning the life of ritual is demanding and time consuming. But that is the way it must be. After all, it takes time and effort to make a truly human being, a mentsch.
But what do you want to become? A cyborg or a human? Will it be Jean Luc Piccard or Locutus? You must learn to make that choice every day, constantly, because technology is busy connecting you to the Borg.
As a first step, turn from your computer for a moment. Call a friend, and make an appointment to have coffee together. Along with the rest of us, you need more face time and less Facebook.