One of the downsides of being a nomadic married couple is finding friends. Our life has taken us from Seattle to Phoenix to San Francisco to Phoenix and then to Austin. We have found that the building a real social network (the kind where people actually meet face to face) is not as easy as clicking your mouse and adding folks to your Facebook friend list. Home, we thought, was finding the perfect havurah.
For us, the fellowship of a havurah – informal groups often facilitated by a local synagogue – symbolized a spiritual and secular connection with a community of like-minded people. In each place we lived, we sought to build a network of friends with whom we could share holidays, celebrations or just an occasional night on the town. As we moved from town to town, our journey of finding a havurah unearthed myriad practical difficulties that left our quest for connection unfulfilled. What we were doing wrong?
A Series Of Unfortunate Havurot
Our most recent foray in havurah ended before it started when the organizer did a sloppy job of social matchmaking. This group mixed families with kids looking for similar connections with three senior couples. That particular effort was a one and done. In the Bay Area, our havurah played out like the film “Mean Girls” with cliques and factions refusing to interact. Deep in the desert of Phoenix, it was a junior high dance where havurah attendees sat silently in their chairs unwilling to speak, let alone smile and say hello.
Despite these less-than-stellar efforts, we remain optimistic. At the introductory meeting in Austin, we heard the story of a havurah that has been active for 15 years. The members meet regularly for worship as well as monthly themed events. One member is even in charge of making funny hats to liven up each festivity. Their families have grown up together and shared major life events.
How To Find Your Havurah
Our havurah missteps have provided a great education. These five tips will help you find your community and become part of a meaningful social circle:
- Find common interests: Look for groups that are built around a common interest. Whether you like old Bogie movies or favor vegetarian cooking, the adage “birds of a feather” applies in finding a comfortable place in the social world.
- Choose kids or no kids: Like oil and water, it’s difficult to build a havurah in which some members are looking for gathering where kids are included, while others seek only adult company.
- Pick something close by: Nothing gets an evening off to a bad start than folks who have to drive a long distance to attend a social event. If the havurah members are scattered about an area, choose a central gathering point for your outings.
- Take advantage of the information age: It’s nice to know a bit about your fellow havurah members, so use email or social networks to familiarize yourself with others in the group. There is a fine line between getting to know someone and stalking, however, so don’t overdo it.
- Be flexible with scheduling: Aligning havurah member schedules is like herding cats. Not all members will be able to attend every event, so just accept it and move on. While “the more the merrier” may be true, so is “quality over quantity.”
All the advice in the world will not lead a single thirtysomething, a widower in his 70s or a young couple with twins to the ideal havurah. Each will have their own preferences and communication styles, and that’s okay. A havurah is not a one-size-fits-all community, so knowing what you want going in will help streamline your search.
As with most endeavors, you get out what you put in. For us, despite our history of failed attempts at finding our space in a vast social community, we have not given up. Sometimes, you have to look back, laugh and learn while you hold out hope on finding a group of true friends with whom you share the ritual of a Chinese meal the night before Christmas.
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