I Needed Friends After College, So I Joined a Synagogue.

I'm not the most religious person, but I knew if I wanted to find a community, I needed to start with Judaism.

When I was young, my grandmother had a sign in her bedroom that read, “This too shall pass . . . now would be good.” Since she passed away, the plaque has been in my family’s living room. I was looking at it in late July when I declared that I was officially lonely. I had graduated that May, and in the weeks since, was busy with social events and goodbyes to friends. The nights were warm and long and had that air that made it feel like you were the first to enter the hazy post-grad season.

In the first two weeks of July, I received a couple of pieces of bad news, including the untimely death of the family cat and a rejection from my dream job in the final round. Suddenly, my endless summer of trivia nights and outings ended as friends took off to their respective post-undergrad destinations and I remained in my hometown of Los Angeles.

Amid all this, I noted to someone over ping pong that though I used to revel in my alone time with my ever-present paperback and Spotify playlists, I had recently started to notice a longing for friendship more. My job search was fruitless, I was alone at home most days, and it was all repetitive. Suddenly, I was no longer just alone. I was lonely. Practically all of my friends were across the country — if not across the world. It was exactly what I had been scared of post-grad.

Text threads between time zones were no longer going to cut it. If I wanted to find friends, I needed to start with what I knew best: Judaism. So, the week before I turned 22, I decided to join a synagogue. In retrospect, I could have chosen a book club or some sort of adult sports league (aspirational, I guess). But I knew that Judaism was step one to building the community I craved.

I chose to go to the synagogue where I had also gone to Jewish day school for a spell. My family had belonged there during my stint at the school.  I knew the security guards and the hallways and the best bathrooms to cry in. (Worth noting that my mom also wanted me to find a Nice Jewish Boy and I’d heard that synagogue is the best place to find one besides Hillel.)

I was scared to go to the first Shabbat service alone. I didn’t know where I was going to sit or if I was going to stay and mingle at kiddush or if the supposed 20s/30s contingent that the synagogue had was merely marketing. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was actually a significant amount of young people at the synagogue. I sat there in my terracotta dress and went up for an aliyah. I hadn’t expected to be welcomed with such open arms by a community that I had last seen when I left the Jewish day school at 13, but people actually remembered me. We shook hands and greeted one another in the outdoor setting as they commented about how much older I was than when they had last seen me. Oddly, this all made me feel more independent than any other moment in my life. More often than not, I have attended services with my parents or another member of my family. But this time, it was just me. I stood alone at the bimah and pinched myself as I realized that this is what adult life is.

Synagogue ended up being a place that I could rely on seeing people each week. Though each week of my new post-grad life seemed to be different iterations of monotonous disappointment as my job search continued, I knew that I could rely on words from a new friend or a different perspective in the rabbi’s sermon. Synagogue suddenly became a new piece of my life to look forward to and I was grateful for that change.

I’m not the most religious person out there, but being Jewish is the sun upon which the rest of my life orbits. It’s where I want to start building community as I figure out how to be an adult. Maybe I’ll find wisdom in the weekly Torah portion. Maybe leading Torah services (twice so far!) will help me get over my fear of public speaking. Maybe meeting the other young people there will help me build my friendship network. Maybe, as my mother hopes, it’s where I’ll meet my bashert, just as it has been for two other couples I know.

I went out for a get-to-know-each-other coffee with another member of the 20s/30s contingent at synagogue. He and I talked about how we were both surprised at just how robust the young people community is at the synagogue, especially as the talk about Conservative Judaism dying gets louder and louder. Maybe it’s a sign that hazak hazak v’ nithazekwhich of its varying definitions, I most identify with “be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other” — is actually pretty true. Or maybe it’s a sign that we’re all a little bit lonely and seeking community where our ancestors have looked for generations.

Rachel Bernstein

Rachel Bernstein (she/her) is a journalist living in Los Angeles and a proud graduate of the University of Southern California. When not writing, you can find her making pop culture references, talking too fast and reading books about history!

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