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I often wonder when I first conceptualized the notion of a community.
At it’s surface, it seems like an inherent sense of together-ness.
However, I’m tempted to recognize community as a self-empowering force. Do we advocate in the name of the collective out of an innate motivation of the self? The rippling waves of community can be manifested in the tremors of painful isolation overshadowed by an, at times, superficial sentiment of acceptance.
As beings inherently wired to be self-serving, it is in our best “biological” interest to seek platforms that will further the self. Community may be one of them. I will not go so far as to say we are not strong enough or even unable to act above these biological interests, but we can all draw parallels to such a notion. We may have cultivated arteries of altruism and veins of compassion, yet these bodily forces at times compel us to act without benevolence. Community provides a haven for scapegoating and for self-validation on grounds that may or may not be valid.
Community can provide an enveloping veil. It can sip on the tears of insecurities and suck you into consent, complicity, and concocted courage. At its roots, community is a podium to shout to the world that I belong, I am valued, and I am loved.
I must wonder though if we seek community merely to seem apart of something greater, an entity more majestic, action out of our control.
Is that really so “bad” though?
The swirling centripetal forces of community pull at our heart strings, tug our limbs in unnatural positions, tempt our soul, and probe the analytical corners of our minds.
These undulating, melding, embracing, and isolating energies can consume us. The fears of community may lie in the homogenization of classification, the blurring of identities for the greater good, the creation of the other.
However, community too is fluid. It slips and slides into our interpersonal relationships, trips into our conscious classifications of the world around us, and supports us in the dire moments when we question everything we know about our own existence. It is in these moments when I recognize that community is not merely a consuming force of identity, acceptance, and support. It is in these moments that we must choose community, rather than letting community choose us.
We are more nuanced than a slapped on label of concurring.
We must make choices to join community, to remain isolated from community, to form our own communities, to seek community, or to reject community. Our power lies in recognizing the dichotomy of externalizing or internalizing community. If we do in fact choose community, we must recognize the nature of the choice and the components that we choose.
The fluidity propels us to externalize with a t-shirt to stand in solidarity, to boast a religious symbol on a necklace, and to protest in the name of human rights. But such a community can undermine the internal community. We internalize community when we make intentional decisions as to what components of community we use to guide our own understandings of the world, of ourselves, and of the reflection of the two on our inner and outer selves.
I am not merely “that Jew” nor can I be boiled down to “super Jewish”.
Such labels that I fled away from, out of fear of the undermining of my internal complexities and the anxieties of falling victim to a blanket identity, shaped my trickling rejection of the Jewish community on my college campus. Upon arrival at UCLA, I was terrified of the ordinary, terrorized by simplistic labels of “Pro-Israel”, and apprehensive of sliding down the slippery slope of the status quo because of my perceived reactions of the non-Jewish peers I so strongly clung to.
But it is through internal exploration of community, as an individual who is confident in my own identity away from community, that I claimed agency and I am proud to boast nuance. Resisting my Jewish identity would neither distance me from my beliefs nor create a community of my own. I am tied to that “super Jewish” identity. However, it is through journey and cultivation of inner confidence that I have come to choose community. I choose into the Jewish community knowing I am powerful, I am capable, and I will create my own micro-community within a sometimes consuming label of community. I choose to serve as an emblem of complexity knowing the nuanced others within the Jewish community will have a safe space to flock to.
I internalize community in knowing that ordinary is love.
I internalize community in empowering myself to disagree with my community.
I internalize community in knowing that the vivacious energy that enthuses my day stems from the beautiful appreciation of my community members as individuals apart of a greater whole.
I am not community, nor do I breed it. But I live by the infused spirit of community in my self as an individual who is compelled to choice.
Post Submitted By: Ashton