When asked about the decade drawing to a close, the first thing that comes to mind is the old line of comedian Rip Taylor, who died in 2019: “In the past year, skirts have gone up, hair has gone down, but envelopes have remained stationary.”
Actually, envelopes have gone down. As the ubiquity of instantaneous communication accelerates, our communications with one another have broadened and shallowed. Focused prayer becomes harder with a cellphone buzzing in your pocket. The most thoughtful communication I have received in years came from a congregant in prison, because he had the enforced time to write, and went over and over his very long letter.
Many blessings come to us through new forms of communication, and I would no more wish to stop their progress than I would progress in medicine or transportation.
Yet part of our epidemic of loneliness is the ease with which other people can be avoided — by ordering in your dinner, writing an email rather than visiting or calling, tweeting instead of engaging in discussion, breaking up by text. Being in an actual community is harder and more filled with friction. Increasingly, younger people are peeling away from institutions not solely because institutions can at times be bad or difficult, but because they are hard. That is ultimately deleterious to the human soul. Old, laborious forms of encounter are what spark genuine closeness and community.
The greatest praise given to our greatest prophet is that he saw God “face-to-face.” To see another face-to-face is to establish the deepest and most nourishing kind of connection. In the decades to come, I hope that swiftness and ease do not erase the difficulty of genuine intimacy.
David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. He writes the weekly Musings column in The Jewish Week paper.
More essays from The Decade In Review: 2010 – 2019 as well as snapshots from our editorial team on the last ten years in Jewish Journalism, including the key issues they covered locally and nationally.