(Even if you’re not a fan, stay with me, I promise there’s a larger point. And if you DVR'ed it and haven't watched it yet, consider this your spoiler alert.)
I loved the show from day one. It was thrilling, mesmerizing, can’t-wait-for-what’s-next TV, and at the same time the action was always secondary to the character development. Through flashbacks about a different character each week, by the end of the first season we knew these characters very well. Virtually all of them had flaws, but they were like family members—you loved them, warts and all.
I loved the finale, even though it didn’t answer all the questions. After it was over I found myself not wanting to let go. I re-watched some of the most poignant scenes, when various sets of characters in the "sideways" universe (a sort of parralel existence that wasn't explained until the very end) suddenly remembered their time on the island and reconnected with lost loved ones, all in the same instant. The emotional intensity of those moments, built upon six years of relationships—their relationships with each other, viewers’ relationships with the characters—was overwhelming. (This was the best of them, in my opinion.)
So what does the “Lost” finale have to do with Jewish education and community? Everything.
For starters, the finale touched upon several religious themes. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, in her review Sunday night, laid out three key themes that strike me as quite Jewish:
- It's never too late. You can always remake your fate (or take a run at resolving your issues in another Sideways life, brutha).
- No one is eternally good or bad. You can revise or redeem your character through your actions.
- No one can go it alone. It takes a village and all that.
Secondly, the show, and the finale in particular, demonstrated the power of the emotional connection. I’ll defer again to Ryan, simply because after I read what she wrote, I thought this is exactly how I feel. Noting the distinction between the “structural mode” and the “emotional mode” of watching the show, she writes:“The structural mode has to do with the filling in of answers and with puzzle-solving… It's the more analytical part of being a ‘Lost’ fan, and it can be a lot of fun (or incredibly frustrating, depending on what happened in that week's episode)….
“But then there's also the emotional, ‘here and now’ mode of enjoying the show. That has to do with how the show makes me feel within that hour and the feelings and reactions it elicits in the moment. I love it when any film or movie or performance reaches down into the pit of my heart or soul and creates visceral, physical reactions -- fear, tension, tears, joy, elation, sadness.... So, here's how the finale landed for me: The emotional part of the finale worked so well that I don't care much about the analytical/structural stuff.”
I can’t help but think that this is how participants in Jewish education break down their own experience, distinguishing between the structural and emotional components (even if they don’t think of it that way.) For some, the focus on the nuts and bolts of Jewish life—prayers, tzedakah, chesed, holidays, Hebrew, life cycle, text study, culture, food, music, and so forth—resonates a lot. It offers easily identifiable symbols that people, and children in particular, can latch onto.
For others, however, none of that matters nearly as much as the emotional connection. One person might define their Jewishness by the positive emotional experiences they have within it; another may step away from Jewish life entirely because of a negative emotional experience.
In the field of informal Jewish education, we spend lots of energy going after exactly what Ryan is describing: reaching down into a teen’s heart and creating emotional reactions (albeit aiming for more joy and elation, and much less fear and sadness). By setting up environments and experiences that trigger emotional responses, we believe we’re increasing the likelihood of deeper and more profound connections—among participants, between participants and staff, and of course the connection the participant has with the experience itself (prayer, Israel, performing acts of tzedakah, and so forth.)
It makes me wonder, though, if as educators we could choose only one connection, structural vs. emotional—which would we choose?
Finally, there’s a third parallel from the “Lost” finale that resonates with the work my Jim Joseph Fellowship colleagues and I are doing to build online communities of practice. “Lost” dumped a group of strangers on an island, and we watched as over time they became a community, learning to trust, rely on, and at times, even save each other.
At the end of the finale, Jack, the main character, has a dialogue with his deceased father, that speaks directly to the idea of building community:
“The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people,” Jack’s father told him. “Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.”
Sounds like the foundational idea behind a good community of practice.