D’var Torah: On ‘Neighbours’
Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 11 February 2022
With so much challenging and serious news at the moment, it is almost perverse that what I really want to talk about this evening is Neighbours.
Even more odd because I haven’t watched it for over 25 years – and have no intention of ever watching it again – so the idea that Neighbours might end is hardly a major loss.
However, the news of its possible demise did bring a strange kind of sadness, a nostalgia for a time gone by.
It will be hard for those who didn’t grow up in the 80s or 90s to really understand the significance of an Australian soap opera. But for many it was a big part of the rhythm of our lives.
It was first shown in the UK while I was at secondary school – and every day I, and millions of kids like me would go home, have tea, and then watch Neighbours before homework.
A few years later, when I was at university – at one of the world’s great seats of learning – every weekday the common room would slowly fill at lunchtime until a couple of hundred of the potentially brightest minds in their generation would spend 25 minutes together – joining with events in Ramsey Street.
The significance of Neighbours was mainly that sense of shared experience.
At its peak, more people watched Neighbours in the UK than lived at that time in Australia. It was something we had in common, that we did together.
It is this, I think, rather than the storylines themselves for which we are nostalgic.
In an age of streaming and YouTube, and access to hundreds of channels that we don’t watch, when each of us has an individual device to pull us away from others into our own individual worlds, we remember the possibility of a daily unifying experience on our TV screens.
In a time in which we are atomised, dis-connected from one another, we remember with fondness something that millions of people would do at the same time each day.
There is nostalgia for that sense of connection, of shared experience, of doing things with others, even when apart.
It is one of the reasons that this – what we are doing here this evening, what we do every Friday evening – is so important. Throughout Jewish history, prayer and ritual has always been a communal act – one we do together – a minimum of 10 joining together to create a community. And one that we know others are also doing in other batei tefillah around the world also.
It is why in lockdown, when the church pushed for the opening of Places of Worship for individual, private prayer, this made no real difference for us as Jews. It was neither a marker of community, of connection between us, nor of time.
Whatever else it means in our lives, communal prayer represents that which we are losing in other aspects of our lives – the sense of collective endeavour, connection between us, shared focus, doing something with others; It is a tent peg in time providing structure and rhythm in our week. That we have continued to be able to do this, even remotely, over the last two years is testament to its extraordinary power – and now for many of us we have the joy of being able to be together again in person, while also joining with those at home.
So, I am a little bit sad about Neighbours – or at least a little nostalgic for what it represented – that sense of shared experience.
Yet I also know that I am fortunate – fortunate to have a far more powerful collective moment at least once a week in my life.