For a long time, I failed to understand this concept. Having recently returned to E2 after some time away, I think I can now see something of the meaning behind this phrase.
The meaning started to crystallize in my own mind after I spoke with a Rabbi. Although I have some familiarity with the ill-named Judeo-Christian tradition, I have to say that I have had little connection with the Rabbinate. To be honest, I have little faith in any organised religion: it too often seems that rituals and dogma are more important than any depth of faith. On the other hand, I love meeting people who have found true faith, whichever religious tradition that faith springs from. So while I have little familiarity with the rituals and dogma of Judaism, I have found that talking to people who truly believe in their God, and have found a faith beyond the words of their sacred books, can be an enjoyable and enlightening experience.
This Rabbi was one of those people. He has achieved a certain amount of fame in his home country, through his ability to communicate with people. Despite some ill-health, he has a one-man show which plays to packed houses across the country, dispensing wisdom, advice and sharply-observed detail all wrapped up in anecdotes and stories told with humour and a masterly comedic timing.
I was privileged to spend some time talking with Rabbi Blue as a consequence of some voluntary work I was doing. He was spending a year's sabbatical at my old college, and, as the editor of a college magazine, I made arrangements to interview him.
We talked about the Holocaust and the war years. He expressed concern over the rise of Nationalism in Europe and argued that national pride is good, except when it leads to a belief that foreigners are somehow inferior purely by nature of their foreign-ness. We talked especially about his past and how he had become a Rabbi. As a young man, Blue attended Balliol College, Oxfordperhaps equivalent to Harvard Law School as the training ground of Britain's most prominent politicians and business leaders. He contrasted his experience there with the attitudes of present day students. This generation, he said, are far more grown-up and mature and tolerant than their predecessors.
Back then, in the post-war years, Britainand especially Oxfordwas place full of certainties and rigid class structures. Students had few choices about their future, and most expected to follow in their parents' footsteps with conventional lives and conventional jobs. Britons knew their place. This attitude was brilliantly parodied by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in Britain's first satirical TV show, That was the week that was.
Then, as now, the students were around 20 years old, and many were away from their parents for the first time. Then, as now, most 20-year-olds are struggling to work out who they are and what their beliefs and priorities might be.
Then, there was the certainty of family and a good job for life for most of the students. Now, of course, this is true only for a small minority.
A hundred years ago, few young people would live more than 10 km away from their parents, and their cousins, aunts and uncles would all live within walking distance. Forty years ago, the extended family was not such a powerful force, but in that nuclear age, the nuclear family was the ideal. Most parents had a strong work ethic; in the booming post-war economy, jobs were for life and people lived their lives the same way the previous generation lived.
Now, of course all that has changed. Twenty-somethings live away from home. Society has changed so much that the experience of the older generation is of little relevance to younger people. A hundred years ago, when society changed little, respect for elders made sense: their knowledge had value. But in a society where everything changes, respect for out-dated views is at best anachronistic, at worst, an impediment to survival. And when we see parents losing their jobs; their minds and all respect for themselves and others, we know that their way of life is not for us.
So we have to find our own way.
We move to the city. We immerse ourselves in the modern technological wonders; we experiment with all the things the previous generation called taboo: sex 'n' drugs and rock'n'roll.
We quickly realise that our friends are more important to us than our parents or siblings.
Probably for the first time in history, there is a majority of young people living in urban environments who have no support from 'real' communities, based on genetics, language, or religion. Instead, they have to rely on 'virtual' communities of their own making. I use the terms 'real' and virtual' in this semi-ironic sense, because there can be no doubt that the communities created by this generation of young people are completely real, in every sense of the word. Perhaps much of the communication takes place by electronic means: cell phones, AIM, ICQ, IRC, but let no-one argue that such communication is less meaningful than occasional enforced contact or a hand-written letter twice a year.
Returning for a moment to Rabbi Blue, his argument was that all religions emphasise family ties, but none has any rituals or prayers that place friends above family.
However, the fact of modern life in the city is that our friends are far more important to us than our family. Perhaps you will call your mother or brother first when you pass your driving test, but who do you call when you fail it? Or when you are stood up by a date? Or lose your job?
It is easy to tell the world good news, but when we face harder times, we turn to the people most dear to us. And for many urban 20-year-olds, when they need support, friendship and sympathy, they come to their friends here first, and their families second.
Rabbi Blue might argue that this is the failing of modern religion: this inability to cope with the rapid changes in society. This implicit beliefcommon to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and othersthat the family stands at the heart of our lives, while our friends are mere acquaintances, who come and go like ships in the night.
So we talk of E2 as a community. A family, even. For many of these young urbanites, it is clear that the communities they create become a substitute for family. If the community offers support and sympathy, while the genetic family offers only questions, grief and arguments, then it is clear where loyalties will lie. For those whose blood family is healthy, however, membership of such an intense, cohesive community can lead to conflicts of loyalty and commitment.
For the generation of young urbanites, for whom their blood family is a mess, allegiance to a community such as E2 means survival and growth.
Thus, the Rabbi taught wrinkly about E2.