Lately I’ve Been Thinking About Friendship
Jeni S. Friedman is a current Wexner Fellow/ Davidson Scholar. She is a PhD candidate in Education and Jewish Studies at NYU. Jeni can be reached at email@example.com
It started the other day because I made a new friend. I wasn’t really planning it – it just sort of happened. I finished a consulting meeting at a synagogue, and one of the teachers and I found ourselves on the same train home. We sat together for the half-hour ride and discovered how much we have in common. Jewish education, yes. But also music, singing, chocolate. When we got to our neighborhood and made plans for coffee at the local cafe, she gave me a quick hug and said: it’s been so nice to meet and get to know you.
I walked home thinking about the importance of adult friendships. When you’re a kid, friendship can be automatic. For some it’s almost too easy. You’re friends with someone because you live across the street from him, or her desk is next to yours, or because you both take swimming lessons in the same pool. In college or graduate school, you may become friends with a roommate or classmate, but after graduation and a few years in the world of work and family, it’s not as easy as it once was to grab a slice of pizza after class and you certainly aren’t staying up all night together cramming for exams.
The rabbis don’t really guide us with a blessing for new friendships. In Massechet Brachot we learn that if you haven’t seen an old friend for thirty days you can recite the shehechiyanu when you see them again. But if it’s been a full twelve months since you’ve seen a friend, the blessing is instead techiat ha’ meitim – blessing God for resurrecting the dead.
Rabbi Levi Cooper at Pardes teaches that the early Hassidic master, Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz, explained that the joy of two people meeting creates an angel. Unfortunately, the angel has a limited life expectancy of only one year. If within the period of the year the two friends see each other again, the angel is given a new lease on life, but if 12 months pass without the friends seeing each other, the angel will no longer exist. When friends meet again after a year, the angel is resurrected and the blessing is recited over their joint revival of the angel.
I wonder what Rabbi Koretz would say about the creation of new angels each time we ‘friend’ someone on Facebook or LinkedIn. Social media has made networking easy, but it has not made maintaining friendship any easier. It’s difficult to sustain that fragile angel for a whole year, but when we succeed, the joy of sustaining that friendship can literally raise the dead.
Sometimes we take friends and family who come to visit us in New York to Rockefeller Center for ice-skating. Walking around the plaza, it’s nice to see the lights and decoration, but particularly meaningful to me this year were the wire sculptures of angels, many of which have decorated the plaza since 1954. Each one was lit up, bright, lively and served as a good reminder of Rabbi Koretz’s teaching about the preciousness and precariousness of lasting and meaningful friendships. My prayer for each of us is that as we begin the transition from this year to the next, that we remember all of our friendships, new and old, and take the time to reach out and really sustain them. Our friends and the angels will thank us.