Just because we’re Jewish doesn’t mean we have to be friends

Friday, August 20, 2004 | by dan pine

"So? Would you like to join a chavurah?" The cheery voice at the end of the line was the administrator of the synagogue I had recently joined, and she was eager to get me up to speed with temple life.

That included, apparently, joining a chavurah, an ad hoc Jewish friendship circle put together by a chavurah committee (friendship by committee — what a concept).

While I was happy to have joined the shul, this arranged marriage of supposedly like-minded couples didn't strike me as a great idea.

I worried it smacked of desperation. What, I didn't have enough friends already, I needed to go to Yenta the Matchmaker?

My then-wife and I decided to put aside our qualms and give it a shot.

Since swapping life stories seemed too much like group therapy, the six couples decided in advance to make that first meeting more fun: We'd gather for a wine-tasting party at the home of one of the members.

Now, I'm no wine snob, but it's not for lack of trying. Some people are tone deaf. I happen to be tongue deaf. I can't tell a Gewürztraminer from Gatorade, a Rothschild from Robitussin.

I even like Manischewitz.

So when our host -- a wine merchant by trade -- whipped out a fancy corkscrew that must have required military training to operate, I knew I was in trouble.

Everyone gathered around while Dr. Feelgood decanted (winespeak for "poured") six bottles of the right stuff.

He poured a little wine into a crystal goblet, then held the glass up to the light and studied it carefully, as if he were deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then he swirled the glass, gripping it from the base. "This," he instructed us, "is to volatize the esters."

I never knew wine had esters, and I decided I didn't want mine volatized. I didn't want anything volatized.

He stuck his nose in the goblet, way down into it, withdrawing a moment later with a nod of satisfaction. Then everyone picked up a glass (from the base) to receive a portion of wine to sniff, swirl and swill.

Over wine, we began checking each other out, like kids on the first day of school. I learned that everyone in the chavurah made more money than me. They owned successful businesses, lived in posh neighborhoods and sent their kids to private school. I started feeling like a Jewish Jed Clampett.

My wife and I did not attend any more chavurah meetings after that.

So what went wrong?

For one, just because we were all Jewish baby boomers, it didn't mean we would automatically like each other. Relationships are more complex than a list of singles ad qualities, and we rarely equal the sum of our parts.

Secondly, I've found it's hard to make new connections now that the high school and college years are over. There's something about the young-adult heart and soul that makes us uniquely open to fast friendships at that golden age. My best friends today are the same ones I had when I was 20.

Finally, friendship isn't something that can be propped up like a perky houseplant from IKEA. It's more of an old-growth redwood: long in germinating, long in maturing and nearly impossible to topple. Though most of my friends are Jewish, several are not, but I wouldn't trade any of them for a thousand Jewish wine snobs.

Jewish fellowship of the temple brotherhood variety has eluded me for most of my life. I don't do fishing trips or bowling leagues or Monday Night Football beer busts. I've probably missed out on a lot of fun.

The chavurah movement is a good thing; whatever brings Jews together, I'm for. But I'm also glad it wasn't so easy to become instant best buds with someone simply because he or she happened to be Jewish. I like to think real friendship is harder to come by, something along the lines of Shakespeare's dictum: "Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried/Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel."

I'll drink to that.




Dan Pine lives and kvetches in Albany. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).