Creating a Culture of Welcome | Reconstructing Judaism

Creating a Culture of Welcome

Article

(Originally published in RRA Connections)

When people would ask me to describe our congregation, I used to boast to them about the joyous seriousness of our davening; the dedication and intensity of our lehrhaus-style adult learning; the courage of our social action undertakings; and the pride our people take in being a reasonably successful experiment in creating Jewish sacred peoplehood.

Now I cut to the chase:  I say that our people take care of each other.  They visit each other at home and in the hospital.  They make dinner for the family of someone who is in some kind of deep trouble, whether it be health or otherwise.  They wave a wand and a shiva appears, from daveners to meals to follow-up after the mourning has concluded.  If the sick person or mourner is single or widowed, our community gets the word around and the person gets “lifted up.”  Congregants beyond driving age or capability get calls with offers for rides to services and classes, for as long as they are alive.  No one gets left out unless they really want to.

It wasn’t always so.  We used to work so hard on the showcase matters of congregational life that we forgot how painfully horrid it is to be incapable of taking care of oneself; of how lonely it is not to be contacted when everyone else is “doing fine” in their work, family, friendships, and especially in their interaction with their beloved Jewish community.  We forgot the fact that the more we kvelled about how great our programs, services, classes, lectures, and social action endeavors were, the more we were leaving out people who in many cases had done the heavy lifting in years gone by to make our current infrastructure possible.

I realize I am not talking about people “outside the tent.”  Indeed, there are countless folks out there who don’t even know how to walk into our building.  Answer: Through the front door!  But that is not an answer for someone who feels spiritually or mentally blocked from approaching that door. 

Yet while we are industriously working to get those people in; to go out and escort them through the portal if necessary; to speak to them from the moment they enter to the moment they leave; to smother them with kindness and hospitality; to make them wish they could even be left alone for a moment to contemplate the intensity of the spiritual-cultural phenomenon they’ve just encountered; to make sure they know we don’t care whether they’re straight or queer, white or brown, male, female, or other, Jewish or not sure…

While we are doing all of those holy things, we need to remember that some long-time members ofthe congregation can be the most estranged strangers of all.  They don’t know anyone any more.  Or they do, but they feel forgotten by a community that concentrates its programmatic resources on “young families” and “the future of our synagogue.”  They are not the future, but they are still the living present.  Sometimes they just need a ride or a phone call or a visit.  Or an indication that in the grand scheme of our “future,” they and their precious past contributions matter a whole lot to those of us who contemplate and constitute that future.

Rabbi, Congregation Bet Am Shalom

Related Resources

Including the Stranger

A recounting of the philosophy and practices of Jewish outreach in Denver/Boulder.

Article
News and Blogs

Philosophy, Strategic Communications and Innovative Fundraising

In an essay for eJewishphilanthropy, RRC’s Josh Peskin, vice-president for strategic advancement, outlines the values that animate fundraising and drive human connections. 

News
News and Blogs

Politics From The Pulpit: Speaking Publicly About Repairing The World Together

Reconstructionist Judaism takes seriously our obligation to act together to address injustice and suffering. To do so, Rabbi Elliot Tepperman argues, our congregations need to be places where we can safely engage in political and ethical agitation and disagreement, while avoiding mere irritation.

News

"Peoplehood" Reconsidered

Reconstructionism has long held the notion of Jewish Peoplehood as a central organizing principle. But does it mean the same thing that it used to? How can “Peoplehood” itself be reconstructed to remain relevant today? 

Article

Making Decisions on Controversial Issues

How can congregations best handle controversial issues and explore the values underlying disagreements about issues? 

Article

Eco-Judaism (Is There Any Other Kind?!):  How Torah Pushes the Sustainability Envelope

“Love of the Creator, and love of that which G!d has created, are finally one and the same,” wrote Martin Buber.  Defending this divine creation in an era of climate change is a Jewish (and social, political, and moral) imperative.

Video

What Makes a Reconstructionist Congregation Different?

In this talk, Rabbi Jacob Staub describes what makes Reconstructionist communities unique. Recorded in November 2014 at Congregation Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, California. A full transcript is included. 

Spoken Audio

“Straight-Welcoming?!” – Creating an Inclusive Community

Lesser describes the evolution of an LGBT synagogue and dissects the meaning of inclusive community.

Article
News and Blogs

No Success Without Learning To Fail

“Fail Forward” is the mantra of entrepreneurs. Take risks. You will fail, guaranteed. Learn from it. Once a little smarter, boldly launch again. Entrepreneurs believe, as Robert Kennedy did, “to achieve greatness, you have to fail greatly.”

News

How to Build Just and Holy Congregations

Tepperman encourages sustained congregational dialogue and action around social, environmental and political justice.

Article

Episode 2: Acting Sustainably (Interview with Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb)

In this interview, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb reflects on the Jewish roots of his climate change activism. He also reflects on how his role at Congregation Adat Shalom has led him to appreciate the emotional resistance that can arise when confronting injustice.

Podcast Episode

The Role of Text Study in Congregational Values-Based Decision Making

Overview of the centrality of Jewish texts in congregational conversations around Jewish values

Article

A Guide to Talking about Israel in your Congregation

Rabbi Toba Spitzer shares detailed guidelines and best practices on communal discussions around Israel.

Article

Jews and Fellow Travelers: Appreciating the Gifts of Non-Jewish Partners

Rabbi Harris’s article focuses on the benefits that non-Jews, mostly with Jewish partners, bring to the community. Harris leads us away from the “framework of cost” to open up the conversation on intermarriage.

Article

Making Seder and Kiddush More Inclusive

Wine is the traditional vehicle for prominent Jewish ritual moments. At the same, Jewish communities contain people who struggle with alcohol.  Rabbi Richard Hirsh outlines simple steps to recognize and support all in a community who wish to participate. 

Article