Once a month, I get an email whom someone saying they want to convert to Judaism, or are already Jewish and want to get more involved in Jewish life, but there’s just one problem: they’re shy.
These are the folks who sit in the parking lot, watching everyone else go in the building, trying not to have a heart attack. These are the folks who have been studying the Talmud in Aramaic for ten years, but can’t summon up the courage to call a rabbi. These are the folks who are convinced that Judaism is better off without them — because clearly they have nothing to contribute to Jewish life.
I have been there before.
I know what that feels like.
And I want to help you get over it, because I know you can.
It took five things (for me) to make this possible. Perhaps this can help you, too.
Step 1: Recognize That You Are Not Alone
Plenty of people are afraid of crowds, afraid of rejection, afraid of personal contact with strangers, and all the potential pitfalls of going to a synagogue-type setting. You are not alone.
There are people who simply do not mesh well with groups of people they don’t know. Perhaps they have autism. Perhaps they have social anxiety disorder. Or maybe they just don’t like other people.
Those are the same people you will find at Jewish events.
They are easy to spot — they naturally sit in the back row. They sit at a table by themselves when they eat, they talk to no one, and then they leave, often sneaking out early.
Assignment: Go to a Jewish event, find the loner at the event, and say to yourself, “that’s me, right there. They are here. And I am here. And it’s ok”. Feel free to leave after that. Note: a Jewish film festival does not count. That’s just an excuse for you to not talk to people and run away.
Step 2: Make Friends In Chai Places
250,000+ people log onto our online Jewish community. I am positive there is a potential Jewish friend out there for you.
Perhaps it means going to an online event at OneShul with them. Perhaps it means meeting up somewhere to talk about your shared interest in Judaism. Perhaps it means friending them on Facebook, and going from there. But the people I know who genuinely get a lot out of Jewish communal life, very quickly, are the people who have someone to do it with. Heck, drag a non-Jewish friend along. Everyone has that friend who loves different cultures, travels a lot, perhaps they would really like going to a Jewish cultural event.
Assignment: make a friend. Do something Jewish with them. Note: JDate doesn’t count. It’s not about romance, folks.
Step 3: For G-d’s Sake, Just Call The Rabbi!
You might be surprised to know this, but rabbis would be THRILLED at the opportunity to meet someone who wants to be Jewish and/or wants to get involved in community. Most of the rabbis I speak to spend all day worrying about fundraising, dealing with their board of directors, keeping their staff and volunteers happy, making sure that events go well, and on occasion, doing something Jewish.
The phone call will work something like this. Feel free to use it as a script:
You: Hi, I’d like to speak to Rabbi So-and-So about getting involved in your community
Someone Who Isn’t The Rabbi: She/he isn’t available right now (they never are), can I take a message?
You: Sure, my name is ____. My phone number is ____. When do you expect the rabbi to be back in?
Someone Who Isn’t The Rabbi: She/he will be back in on ______.
You: fantastic. If I haven’t heard back, would calling in the morning be a good time?
Someone Who Isn’t The Rabbi: Excuse me, are you trying to sell something?
You: No, I am new to the community (doesn’t matter if you’ve been there for forty years, you’re new), and I just wanted to get involved. I saw your website and really thought your community/organization/shul was a good fit for me
Someone Who Isn’t The Rabbi: (shocked and thrilled) Oh, well call at 9AM. She/he is always available then.
You: Thank you, I look forward to speaking with the rabbi. And thank you for your time.
If the rabbi doesn’t call you, keep trying. Always keep trying. Because rabbis run around like kittens on crack, from funerals to a baby naming, back to the board meeting and just in the nick of time to teach a bar mitzvah kid. Phone calls are not #1 on any rabbi’s list. Suck it up. Make the call. Make it ten times if you have to. It’s good practice.
Assignment: do that. Note: email does not count. Rabbi email is a black hole that even Neil Degrasse Tyson can’t figure out. Plus, it gives you a reason to say, “the rabbi didn’t email me back, therefore I am a total loser” and give up. Trust me, phone is best.
Step 4: Lead Something
I used to be terribly shy. And in truth, even though it looks like I am an extrovert, I’m really an introvert. A bad one.
The key to getting over it is to become a leader. Volunteer to be in charge of something, especially something that involves meetings. Jewish communal people LOVE meetings. I repeat, Jewish communal people LOVE meetings. I’ve seen Jewish folks get together to have meetings about having meetings. Believe me, there will be no shortage of opportunities to test your burgeoning extroversion.
So what can you lead? Even if it’s something like a one-time bake sale at a shul, or offering to run (not volunteer, but RUN) the booth at an event, do it. And after it’s over, offer to do it again.
Assignment: lead something, anything. Make sure it involves coordinating people, not rearranging books in a library where you will be alone.
Step 5: If All Else Fails, Just Say “Oh Well” and Try Again
You won’t hit a home run the first time out. You may have to try lots of different communities, organizations, projects, before you find the thing that takes you out of your shell.
When I look back at my own shyness, the process started with working for my parents as a waiter at catering events. Having to do what people told me, and having to communicate with a team, helped me to step outside my bedroom and into the real world. From there, it took volunteering for a cause that interested me to gain leadership skills. Eventually, that lead to being comfortable enough to be in bands, and finally, to get a new religion…and here we are today.
You can do it.
And our online Jewish community at PunkTorah and OneShul is here for you.
Rabbi Patrick is the executive director of PunkTorah.