The Power of the Group Hug

In the age old Jewish blogging tradition of referring to the Jewish and Israeli Blogging (JIB) Awards with the utmost humility, we hereby declare that we neither deserve nor seek any nominations or awards.

However, we do want to gather as many BTs as possible together, so we can learn, grow and give to each other, and to all Jews. And the awards have successfully brought quite a number of people to Beyond Teshuva.

So before you click any other link, please help by clicking on the following links and voting in the categories of:
Best New Blog
Best Designed Blog
Best Jewish Religion Blog

The rules allow voting every three days, so please do your small part. Thanks.

Ok, if you voted, please click on the more link below to read some beautiful words about The Power of the Group Hug.

Did you vote? No really, did you? Ok, we believe you.

The Power of the Group Hug

In response to the comment that this website was nothing more than a group hug, Rabbi Dovid Schwartz responded:

You observe that (I paraphrase) “the content of this website is no more than a group hug.” Although I think there is plenty of room to debate this point let me for the sake of argument concede it as fact. I maintain that, by and large, this is a good thing.

The psycho-spiritual pandemic of our era is insecurity and low self-esteem (see Rabbi Lazer Brody’s post December 26th post “Believing in Yourself”). BTs, in particular, endure such withering criticism from so many directions; parents and coworkers who think they’ve gone off the deep end, FFBs who sometimes agree with the above assessment while by turns saying that they haven’t conformed or come along fast enough, Mentors, Rabbis and Rebitsins who scrutinize their every move like another new set of Jewish parents.

Worst of all many BTs internalize all of this and even when the external suppliers of critique and comment are temporarily silenced they become their own worst critics. What’s the crime in creating a safe house in cyberspace where one finds acceptance, approval, reassurance and encouragement? Lord knows that there are enough sarcastic, hypercritical (is snarky the correct word?) curmudgeons already plying their vituperation all over the blogosphere. Why can’t we have some virtual refuge cities for wandering Jewonks?

The novee Isaiah 41:6 says, “Every one helped his neighbor and said to his brother ‘Take courage’”.

22 comments on “The Power of the Group Hug

  1. cute, Charnie…

    I went through a divorce almost 16 years ago. My colleagues (observant and not) in the school where I was teaching were very supportive and helpful, my bosses included.

    One woman, not particularly observant, knew that she couldn’t just give me hug. Her solution? As she would see me, she would give hugging motions to the air. :-) It was a true gesture of support, as well as respect.

    I have since used this over the years. It is always received with a laugh and appreciation. With colleagues who know ‘the routine’, I’ll sometimes just say “consider yourself hugged”. It works well.

    So, for anyone who needs it-consider yourself hugged. :-)

  2. If men and women were no longer allowed a figurative “hug” here, then we’d know we’ve gone to far too the right!

  3. That’s the point I was trying to make.
    Be careful with this group hug stuff because it gets old really fast and the usefulness of this blog is lost. It’s great to be supportive ofthers but there has to be room for useful dialogue and even criticism of ideas if this forum will have any value.
    The important thing is to maintain an atmosphere where idea, not individuals, are challenged in a mutually respectful manner.

    Now all together “Big Hug”!

  4. Yaakov-

    “Hug? I’m shomer negiah — and there are women of the female persuasion who post here!”

    As opposed to women of the male persuasion? :-p

  5. As well as being supportive, we want Beyond BT to be a place to discuss and oftimes disagree on real issues in a constructive way.

    We are choosing to define constructive as without hostility, with sensitivity and with a degree of humility. And with Shmiras Halashon which includes Loshan Hora, Rechilus and Onas Devorim.

  6. I’d like to clarify a point or two:

    A) I was playing the devils advocate when I “conceded” that BeyondBT is merely a group hug. I find the debates here sharp and bracing and an the Blog itself an open forum where evryone is free to express their views. It is IMO far more than a group hug.

    B) I wrote that IMO it was “by and large” a good thing. But “by and large” is not synonymous with “absolutely” or “without exception” a good thing. Of course tough-love, constructive criticism and good faith opposition all have their place. But, as is the case with huddles and hugs all in moderation and with the exercise of good taste and discretion.

  7. I like the idea of the group hug, but I do think we have to be on guard against becoming cliquish — i.e. the perception that this site is nothing more than a small bunch of like-minded individuals patting each other on the back.

    My vision for the blog is something that is inviting to a wide variety of people, even if they are critical. Yes, there’s a difference between being critical in a constructive way vs. a destructive way, and the powers that be here have every right to protect against the latter.

    I just think the world — and particularly the BT world — needs a place to congregate and discuss openly real issues that are important to us.

    I think for the most part that is what we have so far. I expect it to continue. I’m just expressing concern over a danger inherent to this type of endeavor.

  8. What’s the ultimate desire of our souls : to be Devek in Hashem = to give Him a big hug. How is that possible ? How can we feel that down here , in our low world ? You gave the answer : The more Jews hug each other , the more we will feel that we hug Hahsem, just like at Har Sinai , KeIsh Echad Belev Echad.
    We can see also the importance of a group in the words of the Aish Kodesh :
    Before the time of the Baal Shem Tov , If a person’s heart was touch by the fear of G-d , he would close himself off in his room and engage in solitary meditation, eschewing the company of others… Some people fasted and engaged in self mortification…However, although it is true that the merciful One desires the heart and that whenever someone does something solely for the sake of G-d, this is pleasing to G-d, this is not the essential path in serving Him. Rather the main and central post upon which everything depends and the content of the paths of proper return to G-d are to be found through loving fellowship, close friends and forming a close relationship with the Tzaddikim of the generation… A person might imagine that when he is alone he can more readily awaken his heart to return and cling to G-d than when he is among his friends and people in a group who are cognizant of him, and that in the company of others he will lose his connection(to G-d). Nevertheless, it is more fitting and correct to strongly engage in loving fellowship… In this way , one can draw down illumination for many days… whereas when one remains alone , one succeeds only for the moment.
    (Hakhsharat Ha’avreichim p.145. Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro).
    _ The Chofetz Chaym before the 2nd world war said that the jews had already done all the Tikunim they needed to do . And the only reason Moshiach doesn’t come yet is because we are missing the Mitzwah of “VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha”.

    Lets all BTs hug each other and little by little the FFBs will be attracted by this trumendous hug-energy, until we will be only One like at the begining of creation, like Adam Harishon.

  9. Well, I’m not sure *what* I said; but I certainly believe that the realm of Torah not only contains differences (many differences and nuances, as one sees both in different ‘groups’ and in the different approaches to learning and living Torah), but that it *must do so*. Even in the realm of p’sak/halachic decision making and ‘standards’, the Kuzari points out there can be no single, authoritative position except by the decree of the Sanhedrin. Even then we know, the halachah tells us that one may *disagree* even while one is bound by that p’sak.

    My notion of ‘group hug’ was to bind together and include the ‘differences’-not water them down-on those occasions that really count, whether celebrating or mourning. I believe that is amply modelled for us by the teachers we look to for instruction, throughout the generations. *They* were not/are not all the same, but they certainly possessed more than just a *theory* of Klal Yisrael…

    We need to translate that into everyday life; ‘group hug’ helps.

    BTW, I never did like Kumbaya…


  10. Eddie – I just want to point out that the purpose of Beyond BT is to provide a place where Baalei Teshuva can learn, grow and give to one another and other Jews.

    It is meant to be a supportive place as free as possible from hostility and the need to win and always be right.

    There have been, and will be, G-d willing plenty of discussions and opposing viewpoints, but we want the opinions to be presented with sensitivity and with some humility.

    That’s all.

  11. Got it!

    So let’s all hug and forget about differing opinions. After all, BT’s are different from regular folk. They can’t handle opposing views. They can sure dish ’em out – as this blog shows clearly but let’s go now, arm around arm, in a neat circle, singing Kumbaya…

    For this we need a whole blog?

  12. Well put, Rav Schwartz.

    Seems to me that a ‘group hug’ is true hesed b’gufo, a kindness that one does with his self (rather than property); so what could be bad?

    I would say that ‘group hug’ is very much an expression of what Jewish community is about: celebrating together, mourning together, striving and growing and serving Hashem together.

    I will share just one picture of group hug that has stuck with me for over 20 years. With the encouragement of my rashei yeshiva, I took time off from yeshiva to do my army service in Israel (as is the norm among us religious Zionist types). I was fortunate enough to be in an infantry unit. Extended ‘marches’ were the norm in training, and later on some operational duties. When a soldier would get exhausted, stopping wasn’t usually a viable option.

    Picture macho soldiers, caked in dust, or soaked with rain and mud, tongues lolling like panting dogs (my search dog doesn’t pant that hard!), armed to the teeth (literally), flanking a tired comerade and *taking him by the hand* on each side, encouraging him, maybe someone gently pushing with a hand at his lower back to encourage him onwards…

    Many times we had to walk hand in hand like that, just so all could complete the task. Many times we mourned together at gravesites. Every night that we weren’t on patrols, a few of us managed to learn just a few minutes together, to help each other stay committed to learning.

    We came out more deeply rooted as part of the Jewish people because of ‘group hug’. We learned to give and receive because of ‘group hug’. I like to think that somehow I translated part of that into what I shared with my students over the years, because I believe it is a true, deep expression of Klal Yisrael as Hashem intended it in His Torah.


    Huddle up!

  13. Awesome! Rabbi Schwartz, you’re the best! Consider this my most recent contribution to the hug. (or huddle, as David Linn put it. I like sports metaphors. Go Team!

  14. My youngest child is now 9. I am prone to calling him over at random times just to give him a hug. I’ve been doing it ever since he’s born. Just last night, when I called him upstairs and away from playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, he came upstairs and said, “you wanna give me a hug?”. But lately he’d rather not get one in public. And he wants them less often too.

    The same could be said for Baalei Teshuvah. Let’s not get too mushy-wushy supportive too often, or it will actually come off as condescending.

    On the under hand, who couldn’t use a good hug every now and then? Just don’t squeeze too hard!

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