9.06.2006

Spirituality on the Upper West Side

At OZ's Tuesday Night Learning Program last night, R. Dovid Wilensky spoke on "Retaining, Cultivating & Developing your Spirituality while living on the West Side." Did any of my local readers attend? What did he say? I'm curious. Is the implication that life on the Upper West Side concentrates on our physical and material needs, rather than on our spiritual needs? I wouldn't dispute that.

Personally, I haven't found retaining, cultivating, and developing my spirituality while living on the Upper West Side to more difficult than anywhere else I've lived, which I guess isn't saying much.

What does "spirituality" mean, anyway? People talk about it a lot these days, but few define it. I have some idea of what it means in a sort of hippy, Jewish renewal-ly context, but not so much at OZ. When I think of spirituality, I think of yearning to connect with something greater than oneself, and outside oneself. That yearning is sometimes expressed in deeply-felt tefilah, sometimes in music, song, dance, or other artistic expression. Having been educated in the Soloveitchikian model, I believe that spirituality can also be expressed through studying Jewish texts, through talmud Torah. However, that doesn't mean that praying, singing, dancing, painting, or studying are always spiritual experiences--they often aren't.

Conclusion: Spirituality is defined but what you bring to the experience of life, not by where you live.

(Except maybe if you're in yeshiva and/or you have someone bankrolling your life, so you can focus on just the spiritual, not the physical. I suppose getting rid of some of the trappings of our physical existence would also help, but I'm a packrat so I'm not heading in that direction.)

2 comments:

BZ said...

Is the implication that life on the Upper West Side concentrates on our physical and material needs, rather than on our spiritual needs? I wouldn't dispute that.

Is this different from life anywhere else? Or is he contrasting it with yeshiva?

The use of the word "spirituality" in Ismar Schorsch's graduation tirade convinced me that I no longer have any idea what anyone means by the word (if I ever did).

ALG said...

I don't know if it is different from life anywhere else. I suppose in most places outside of yeshiva, we all spend most of our waking hours attending to our physical/material needs. I just wonder if there isn't an added element of "gotta' get ahead" in Manhattan that doesn't exist as much elsewhere. I can only really compare New York to Boston, but I got a distinct sense, just from walking down the street here soon after I arrived, that people are very concerned with externalities of dress and prestige here. Perhaps it has to do with the abundance of professional opportunities that many people feel are available here (be they for- or not-for-profit).

I still think that spirituality has something to do with a connection (to quote myself) "with something greater than oneself, and outside oneself," although I really have no idea how to consistently achieve that connection, and I am open to opposing definitions.