When I first started writing about this search in online essays, between the rageful comments from the angry mob came a number of suggestions that I should try religious institutions to find my next best friend. Plenty of people said they made their closest friends in church group. A coworker tells me she met her besties at bible study. A friend of my mother-in-law said that when she first moved to Boston, she found new friends as soon as she joined a temple.
I don’t consider myself especially religious. Though I was raised Jewish, I can’t remember the last time I entered a temple for something other than a wedding or a funeral. But religion is one of the great uniting forces in history, so for me to ignore it altogether during this quest would be a glaring omission.
This Thursday I will attend my first LEADS (Leadership Education and Development Series) meeting, part of the Jewish United Fund’s Young Leadership Division.
I have mixed feelings about it. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m joining under false pretenses. Doesn’t signing up for such a group imply that I’m especially religious? That maybe I’ve celebrated Shabbat more recently than approximately twenty years ago? But then, I’m sure that I’m just the kind of person the group is interested in recruiting. Who knows? After eight weeks I could find a new home in this community. And I was told quite clearly that you don’t need to be ultra-religious. After all, it’s billed as “an introductory exploration of the Jewish community and contemporary issues.” Also, each meeting culminates in a happy hour at a local bar. That sounds pretty universal.
Like every gathering I sign up for (improv, volunteering, MeetUp, Grub With Us) my ultimate goal is to leave the group with at least one new potential BFF to ask out. I’m hoping this won’t be too hard, as I’ve become immune to the fear of hitting on potential BFFs (except for at Starbucks, where I’ve been working a lot lately and can’t bring myself to bother any of the nice looking ladies to see if they want to be my best friend forever). So why am I more nervous about this group than most? Partly because I’m not sure what to expect, but also because I’m worried I’m going in at a disadvantage.
One of the results of my not being religious is not knowing very much about my religion, despite the early years of Hebrew School and bat mitzvah studying. When I started my improv class, we were all beginners. None of us knew what we were doing, so the playing field was level. Here, I figure the others who’ve signed up will be more informed and have stronger opinions than I. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just don’t want to be the group laughingstock.
But that’s what this search is about. Going outside the comfort zone and all that good stuff. So Thursday I’ll show up to my LEADS group, on the prowl as usual. Then, of course, I’ll report back.
And we’re back. Six weeks later. When I first submitted this blog post, the Oy! Editors asked that I wait to post it until I had some LEADS feedback, so here it goes.
I am not the group laughingstock…except when we play charades and I part my hair down the middle and try to look serious to represent Moses. My group is a mixture of all types of Jews. From me, the almost borderline non-practicer, to Sarah*, the not-so-religious but works in a Jewish day school, to Jenna* the uber-Jew. What brought us together is not so much our religion as our desire to meet new people.
LEADS hasn’t changed any of my religious beliefs per say, but that isn’t its intention. It has introduced me to a Jewish community, which is its goal, and has connected me with a few friends who will be around for a while. Which was my goal.
*Names changed to protect identity.
The LEADS program is an 8 session series that runs 3 times a year. The program offers an introductory exploration of the Jewish community and contemporary issues in a relaxed social setting. Groups are formed in several areas of the city and separated by age first and then location. Sessions typically begin at 7:30 p.m., though there will be some variance. Following most of the sessions, groups will meet all together at a bar for a happy hour. The next session of LEADS will begin this winter/spring. If you are interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. LEADS is a great place to get started in YLD!
Read more about Oy! blogger Rachel’s quest to meet her new BFF.