The Larger the Community…the Less Friendly?

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Why are smaller Jewish communities friendlier? The easy answer is, “It’s because everyone knows each other. And whoever lives there is all they’ve got.” Ok, I live in a small community. I get that.

But here’s the bigger question in my mind:

What happens to a community as it grows that makes people unfriendly?

Do people just wake up one day and say, “You know, there are waaay too many people in this community. Maybe if I stop being friendly, they’ll all go away!”

Ok, probably not.

But something is happening there that I can’t explain. When the community was small, a new family was welcomed warmly with friendly introductions, welcome gifts, and Shabbat meal invitations. But now that the community is larger, people can’t do that anymore…?

Maybe you can argue that the community is so large, it’s hard to reach everyone who just moved in. It becomes impossible to keep track of all the newcomers. And you don’t want to leave anybody out. So since you can’t invite all of them for meals, you just invite none of them.

Yeah that makes sense.

Ok, no it doesn’t.

Why can’t people in larger communities just welcome whoever they see is new?

Everyone should get a welcome from someone.

So here is where you say, “In larger communities, nobody knows who’s new and who’s not!” This makes sense for about half a second. Ok, that’s enough, that was more than half a second. Read it again and now let’s think this through. You see someone at Kiddush that you’ve never seen before. There are four possibilities:

  1. They are new in the community.
  2. They are not new, you just never met them before.
  3. They have lived here for a while but are newly observant.
  4. They are visiting the community for shabbos.

Not one of these possibilities precludes you from being friendly to them. In all four situations, there is absolutely no reason not to say “Good Shabbos” and no reason not to start a friendly conversation with them.

How about something like this: “Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met before. Do you live here….? Are you visiting…? Have you met our rabbi yet…?”

It’s really not complicated. Really, it isn’t.

I was once in a different community for shabbos. The only person who said one word to me at Kiddush was a paid employee of the shul: the rabbi. While I was glad of that, I wondered why nobody else in a shul of 200+ people thought to be friendly. When I told my host later, she said, “Really? That shul is known to be the friendliest one in town!”

Maybe. But only friendly to people they know.

You must admit, it’s a very odd phenomenon.

In very large communities, I’m sure there are women who look across the street, see someone they don’t know, and think to themselves: “Hm, she doesn’t know me, why should she want to talk to me? Besides, her outfit is much more stylish than mine. I can’t even compete. Uch, I won’t even bother. Besides, I have my friends.”

And maybe there are women who say the opposite. “Uch, look at her imitation boots, and how her sheitel is so flat on top. She’s so not cool. I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone like that.”

Whatever it is that stops people from being friendly in a larger community makes absolutely no sense. It simply boggles the mind.

I love my friendly community. We practically bombard newcomers with questions. “Where are you staying? Where are you from? Do you know the so-and-so’s? How do you like the shul so far? Who else did you meet? Where are you eating lunch? Etc., etc.”

No matter how big our community grows, when you come for a shabbos, I intend to welcome you that very same way.

Come for a shabbos! We love visitors! Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden, NJ

Does size matter? How friendly is your community?

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4 Responses to “The Larger the Community…the Less Friendly?”

  • Dovid:

    It’s a great question. I’m guessing diffusion of responsibility. It’s funny how small communities have an out-of-town feel. I guess the NY/NJ metro area, with its mass of Jewry, is just unfriendly. Is it the same in other large communities (e.g., LA)? I don’t know.

    I moved into my present community a few years ago, not knowing too many people, but I had one close friend who’d invite me over for meals and introduce me to other families. I’d see them in shul the next week and they’d ignore me like we never met. Odd.

    A few years ago, I was checking out a small NY-area community. One of the residents, who grew up in the same densely Jewish town I did, told me, “In other communities no one knows you but everyone’s judging you; here it’s the opposite.” Sounds nice, no?

  • admin:

    Dovid, thanks for your comment! I think other large communities have the same problems as NY, though I think NY leads in the “nobody knows you but everyone’s judging you” arena!

    I do find your shabbos meal experience odd – sounds like that shabbat meal was almost like a one-night stand for them and they were embarrassed about it later 🙂

  • Estee Lavitt:

    I really believe my community is both large and friendly! I was shocked coming from NY, where standards are somehow different. We always welcome people and I am constantly being asked my name and being introduced to others. I think the phenomenon is a result of feeling like part of a crowd: if I don’t stand out, I don’t have to get to know others or rely on them. I have enough “friends” without getting to know new ones… But my community continues to have events and get-togethers to meet one another. Out-of-town communities are very nice as well… so I don’t think you can generalize.

    • admin:

      I agree some people have that attitude – I have my friends, I don’t need more… But that’s a terrible attitude! And so not friendly! Why would someone be so rude? And why is that the NORM in so many of our communities?

      Good that at least some places are friendly…

      Regarding out of town, the community in the post was a large out of town community.

      I don’t think we can generalize completely, but this does seem to be a pattern!

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