If the person your friends know is not the real you, then who are your true friends?
When people talk about what they like about living in the Orthodox Jewish world, the answer is usually the same: the sense of community. Even those who, unfortunately, feel alienated from religious Judaism look back with fondness on the sense of togetherness that is so rare in the outside world. We all see how isolated life is in the western world today and Judaism seems to provide an antidote. Families come together every Shabbat and Yom Tov, people know their neighbors, and the community regularly unites to celebrate simchas.
However, beneath the surface, there are many within our communities who feel deeply alone. As in many other areas, the same problems that affect the outside world also affect our communities, but in different ways. We may not be physically alone, but we are nevertheless lonely.
The roots of loneliness
In our bustling communities, loneliness finds a unique way to sneak in. Because the community appears to be thriving, many of us believe we have to present ourselves as having a perfect life in order to fit in and feel accepted. However we may really feel, we try to project the image of a perfectly contented family life. Behind closed doors you are fighting with your spouse, your kids are going wild, and you are completely exhausted. If anyone asks, though, ‘Baruch Hashem, everything is fine’.
The result is a profound feeling of loneliness. You might be mixing socially, but if you can’t open up about how you really feel then you might as well be in an empty room. The person your friends know is not the real you, so the real you has no true friends.
Feeling connected again
In truth, we are all alone together. No one has the perfect life and if those around you seem to it is because they too are erecting a facade. Realizing this on an intellectual level, though, is not enough. Social pressure is a form of spiritual slavery, yet it has become second nature to those of us who are trying and failing to live up to an impossible ideal of perfection. The forces oppressing us come from inside ourselves, generating our feelings of shame, self-judgement, and inadequacy. It is these emotions that imprison us and prevent us from enjoying the true joys of community life.
For the many of us struggling to find a path out of loneliness and shame, genuine connection is the refuah. Reaching out and learning you are not alone is key. For some, finding a teacher, mentor or guide can be the key to escaping loneliness. For others, therapy may be able to help. Whatever the case, the first step is to remember that however alone you feel, you are not, for there are thousands who feel exactly like you.