I’m free to do what I want?

Naomi Less
November 27, 2013
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Today’s Instructions:

This post is a soundtracked musical journey. As you read, click play on the music clips – they will enhance your experience. Music clips are listed at the end.  (Suggestion: turn your volume down so that it’s a soundtrack and not distracting.)

Let’s face it: I can do pretty much whatever I want today.  As a woman, having moved away from home at 23 – to an open progressive Jewish society in NYC, I can choose to be a “part of”, or run my own course.  I have privilege, admittedly. As a woman, as an American, as a post-denominational Jew, I can do whatever I want.  I’m a true individual.

This months S’hma connects the idea of pursuing individualism and building empathy. Are being an individual and feeling empathy diametrically opposing concepts?  I will say that I believe much of my empathy is derived out of individual experiences.

The question is: What makes one open one’s heart?

When are you moved to give of yourself? Does that happen when you’re in a big group? When you’re alone as an individual? Both?

I find that empathy is often awakened in me through individual activities – not from being in a big group.

  • When I’m alone with my mind and heart, and
  • When I’m one on one with another soul.
Now this is different than being “too wrapped up in yourself to notice” (thanks, Madonna) – this is not about being alone and lost in your own stuff.  This is about quieting yourself to be able to “notice”.
Personally, when I am in a big group, I get distracted from the noise, by the social element.  I find that when I go “inside” – when I am present with myself and deeply listening then I am able to see someone, to awaken empathy for someone else.
I’m also not talking about being in a crowd – it is possible to awaken empathy in a crowd, but typically, it’s still an individual activity for me:
  • siting on the subway – when I’m quiet, not talking to someone else, not on my iphone, I start to look around and wonder about the stories of my fellow travelers;
  • watching a documentary with friends, but in my own mind – it opens my heart and motivates me to want to make a change in the world;

On the other hand, Judaism promotes the idea that: “it’s not good to be alone-Lo tov lihiyot Adam l’vado” / we have minyan – a quorum – we have structures in Judaism that prevent aloneness. (As sung by Israeli singer, Yehudit Ravitz)

But can the big group of community open up the possibility of empathy?
Sure we’ve all experienced a powerful speech standing in a big crowd that motivated us to feel. But I would posit that empathy is an individual activity in life by definition: to understand another – to take on a feeling close to one that an “other” is experiencing – that takes deep presence on an individual level.

I’m curious to know what you think…

(Add your own opinion and musical commentary below.)

Music Clips:I’m Free by the Soup Dragons

Open Your Heart – Madonna

Listening To You/See Me, Feel Me – The Who

Lo Tov Lihiyot Adam L’vado – Yehudit Ravitz



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Naomi Less Singer/Songwriter. Activist. Worship leader. Educator. Naomi Less is a multi-talented professional. Her music repertoire ranges from edgy pop rock to meditative spiritual prayer. Founder of Jewish Chicks/Kids Rock programs, Naomi encourages young voices to speak out. Her music videos and cd, "The Real Me”, share a personal journey of wrestling with self-worth, theology, justice issues and finding one's voice. Naomi is a gifted and certified Center for Leadership Initiatives facilitator, program designer, and Storahtelling-Lab/Shul founding company member and Director of Education and Training. She graduated from JTS Davidson School and Northwestern University and is an alum of the Institute for Informal Jewish Education at Brandeis University and Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Naomi’s on itunes.com and cdbaby.com.


  1. I stumbled acrosss this website while I was searching to prepare my daughter for her trip to Israel on a birthright Israel trip. I will definitely share this site with her.

    Posted by
  2. Individual caring empathy is so unusual in our world. Most people are a bit stunned to receive it. The way to receive more is to develop your own empathy as described in the blog post. Not to surprisingly those who give empathy are mostly likely to receive it in turn.

    There is a limit of empathy can be done in groups, but it can be there. One simple example and story. I heard years ago Canadian Mount Everest climber, Jamie Clarke give a motivational speech in the San Diego Convention Center. The convention center is up a small hill from the nearby hotels. He started his speech to saying how tough it was to climb that hill to the convention center in the morning. He connected to the audience with that small bit of empathy.

    Posted by
    Julian Blumenthal
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