Seeking an Open-Heart Community

Aryeh BenDavid
June 6, 2014
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There was a time when the individual turned to community to satisfy physical needs, such as food and protection.

There was a time when the individual turned to community to satisfy social needs, through local bowling leagues and neighborhood picnics.

There was a time when the individual turned to community to satisfy spiritual needs through its houses of worship.

But what does the individual need today? What compels the individual to seek community?

There are people who would give anything to live in a community like mine. We are 25 families, living in connected cottages, intermingling day and night. The same families make up our synagogue, which has been our spiritual center for over 20 years. Our community has celebrated many inter-family marriages. We are here for each other, to rejoice during times of happiness and mourn in times of grief. We pray together, share meals together, and schmooze together all the time.

Yet, despite all of these wonderful things – I am lonely.

How can that be?

There is a need today that both the traditional, physical community and the newer, virtual community do not address. This the need of the heart.

We are living in a world that is imploding from loneliness. And loneliness is not solved by neighbors bringing over coffee or sharing ideological blogs.

Anyone who has tasted loneliness (and we all have) knows that it eclipses all else, penetrates our core. And it seems that all of the modern technology focused on providing connection only make deep connection that much more elusive.

There are many communities in which one can feel safe walking alone even late at night. But where are the communities that are emotionally safe? Where can you open up your heart, be fragile, and speak from your true self – without worrying that your words will be met with cynicism or rejection?

I live in a community that satisfies my physical, social, intellectual, and even spiritual needs. But I am still lonely.

Loneliness is healed the same way it has always been healedby opening hearts. The more our hearts are openthe less lonely we are. 

I kvetched about this for quite some time, and then decided to do something about it. I set out to create an open-heart community.

The rules of this community would be clear:

■     No judging

■     No comparing

■     No invasiveness

■     Unqualified support and fellowship

With a deep breath, I invited 20 guys to join a group which would meet monthly to focus on our personal stories and soulful lives.

Ten of them immediately replied, “No way.” But the other ten decided to jump in, even though none of us really knew what lay ahead.

Our group meets regularly for dinner, while one of us talks openly about his life, his “soul voice,” his present challenge and how the next chapter of his life might look.

As we began amidst some good food and laughter, we all began to realize that something rare happens here: we speak with true openness. Almost all of the guys have expressed that they say things in the group which they had never verbalized before – including to themselves.

We have become a very close community.

True, it is only ten guys. But we provide something immeasurably powerful, healing, and nourishing for each other. Something that none of us can find in any other setting.

And I stopped kvetching.

My hunch is that if we can figure out how to scale this up, we would be creating our strongest possible community – an open-heart community that empowers us to share our deepest vulnerabilities and wildest dreams.

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Aryeh BenDavid Aryeh Ben David grew up outside of NYC, studied psychology at Vassar College, received rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate and now lives in Efrat, Israel with his wife Sandra and their six children. Aryeh founded Ayeka, Center for Soulful Education, in 2006, after almost 20 years of work in formal and experiential Jewish educational settings. Ayeka seeks to provide educators with the language and tools for creating personal and meaningful connection. Aryeh has been involved in the training of staff of countless organizations and lectures internationally.

1 Comment

  1. Aryeh,
    I agree with your thoughts. I am working on a book, Creating Safe Space. It is a compilation of my 30 years of experience and learning as an experiential educator. I describe Creating Safe Space as a grounding philosophy – holistic and mindful, supporting individuals to live their values and extend that space to their family, workplace, place of worship, social circles. I believe that without Safe Space – physical, social, emotional and spiritual – we cannot develop in ways that allow for deep connection. I too have felt the loneliness you describe. To connect deeply, with an open heart requires Safe Space. Knowing you I have no doubt that your circle is grounded in such a way that created this important and sacred space. I would love to be in touch and to know more. Warmest and Sincere Regards, Lori

    Posted by
    Lori Yadin
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