I know that news headlines are designed to catch our attention, but I recently came across two headlines that really struck a chord with me for a variety of reasons. The first was published on 13 July and read ‘Sydney has been ranked as the third-worst city in the world for making new friends.’ The second article dated 23 July and was closely related to the first article, titled ‘Not a single person will talk to you: Why it’s so hard to make friends in Sydney’. There were a couple of reasons that caused me to pause, read the articles and even do some research to find out if in fact these articles were credible. The first is that both articles are deliberate in refencing friendship, or unfriendliness as is the case. The second is that they both specify that it is Sydney, or the people of Sydney that appear to be unfriendly. According to the articles, Sydney is ranked alongside 53 other countries (just in case, like me, you thought it was only comparing Sydney to other States and Territories. To add insult to injury, there was a third headline, which followed shortly after ‘Australia’s friendliest city is Perth and Sydney is a long way behind’).
The articles both agree that Sydney is world famous for its beaches and celebrated landmarks. It is a beautiful city and when the sun shines, there is always reason to have a party. However, when it comes to making new friends, we aren’t doing so well. The articles quoted that 71% of respondents reported that Sydney was a difficult place to make a genuine connection with others. Kim, one of the survey participants, said that she finds Sydneysiders “difficult to engage with on a personal level, whether they be strangers on the train or parents in her daughter’s school community”. In researching these articles on social media, it seems that many foreigners agree that Sydney has a reputation as being “impenetrable for newcomers”. She went on to say that there is a misconception that people in cities like London or New York are rude and disrespectful, but her experience was exactly the opposite. She established really good relationships with people all over the world rather easily. But in Sydney, no one on the train wanted to chat to her. Neither did patrons at cafes or bars who’ll often just give a one-word answer.
There is plenty of research proving that friends are good for your health. Having friends, even one friend, is enough to prevent isolation and loneliness. Friends reduce the risk of depression and offer support in times of trouble and during times of celebration. Friends can also:
- Increase our sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost our happiness and reduce stress
- Improve self-confidence and self-worth
- Encourage us to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle choices or habits
- Help us cope with traumas
Of course, friendship is not dependent on age. From newborn babies all the way through to old age, there is no shortage of community social groups creating opportunities for people of all ages to meet other like-minded people in an effort to create friendships. At Moriah, we now provide opportunities for parents and grandparents to interact with their children and grandchildren under 2 years old as part of our Yad B’Yad program. Our grandparents club also actively provides opportunities to engage and connect with the Moriah community. At school, the variety of sporting and cultural cocurricular activities are designed to generate new friendships. Class groupings, camp rooming and activities are all organised with friendships in mind. We are strategic in the way we organise such groupings throughout our students’ schooling. On the Israel Study Tour, we make sure to group students carefully, based on current friendships and the opportunity to make new ones. We often receive feedback from parents concerned their son or daughter only has one or two friends in their group. It is these parents who write to us after IST thanking us because their children have made so many new friends rather than rely on the friendships they have already established. In fact, we rearrange the rooming every time we move to new accommodation to encourage students to make friends with those with whom they would perhaps not have spoken to during their daily interactions. This same rationale applies to the way in which we organise rooming and activity groups during Counterpoint.
In Jewish belief, friendship is considered more than a social connection. Friends offer each other help, loyalty, protection, unselfish love and moral guidance. Judaism defines friendship as one of the primary relationships in life, a connection that, at times, exceeds that which bonds relatives. There are numerous examples of friendship within the Bible. One of the most famous of these is between David and Jonathan which was sealed with a vow promising eternal peace between their children. Similarly, the Moabite Ruth abandoned her own people choosing to accompany Naomi (her Israelite mother-in-law) to the land of Israel.
Traditionally, the method of studying Torah has and continues to focus on the chavrutah model. An approach that reflects a shared pursuit of holiness between two (or more) people. The Aramaic term chavrutah contains the Hebrew word chaver meaning friend. This partnership is successful because it is powered by enthusiasm and mutual concern for each other’s spiritual welfare. The chavrutah method of studying is still in use today, not just in Yeshivot but in many Jewish Studies classes as well. The Rabbis understood that it is one’s friends who create an environment in which the self develops. In the Mishnah (Avot 2:13), we find sage advice on the importance of selecting one’s friends “Come and learn which is the correct path to which a person should adhere – Rabbi Yehoshua answers, a good friend”. Likewise, the Mishnah also warns us to be careful about choosing friends who may influence us to do wrong, teaching us that we should choose friends not simply by who we are but by who we would like to be.
There is a story told about a young man who claimed to have many friends. His father said to him that he (the father) only had two true friends. He doubted his son’s friends were really true friends. They decided to test his theory. The son killed a goat and hid it in a sack. He then went from friend to friend telling them that he had killed a government official and needed to hide the body. Of course, all his friends shut the door in his face. The father then sent him to his second closest friend. The friend, after hearing the visitor was the son of his good friend said, “I probably shouldn’t do this, but I’ll hide it for you”. The son returned to the father, admitting he had been right but asked why he sent him to the second-best friend, not his closest friend. The father replied, “my closest friend would not have said ‘I probably shouldn’t do this”. The story teaches us that we overuse the word friend. After all, how many friends do we have on Facebook? or how many followers do our children have on Instagram or Snapchat or BeReal (apparently the latest app our children are addicted to).
The three-week period of mourning culminating with the fast of the 9th of Av is a stark reminder as to what happens if we do not value and respect others. The primary lesson we learn from the three-week period of mourning we just experienced is that of appreciating who our friends are and making sure we treat them with the respect they deserve. Truth is, if we should love and respect everyone alike, how much more should we treasure those who are close to us, including family and (true) friends. Hopefully, next year, the headlines will announce that Sydney is the friendliest city in the world.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.