Warm and Welcoming?

            It often is difficult for non-Jews to understand why we care so much about Israel and Jews around the world. Our sense of peoplehood sets us apart from other religions – that is why our prayers are written in the plural. In my opinion, the greatest challenge facing any synagogue is the need to strengthen its sense of community.

            One of the best ways to build community in a synagogue is by coming to services every week, or at the very least every other week. Coming to services regularly is a way of building community and supporting your clergy. Coming to services is important – I write that with some hesitation, because I know it’s an invitation for you to stop reading right now.

            I’m well aware of what you’re thinking. Some of you can proudly say that you already come every week. Others are feeling a little guilty for having drifted away. But most of you are probably thinking: “Come to services regularly? Yeah; right. What else would you expect her to say? She is a rabbi, after all.” So please stick with me a little longer.

            Now that I am retired, I face the very same challenge that you face every week when Shabbat dawns: to go to services or not to go to services. It may surprise you to know that, except when I’m out of town, I go to my temple every Shabbat. I sit in the last row of the sanctuary, where I can enjoy the view from the pew.

            I will admit that sometimes I have to push myself to go, which gives me a greater understanding of why people choose to stay home. But on those occasions when I find myself hesitating, I try to follow my own advice, to remember what I used to teach before I retired – that it would be nice if every time we came to worship we would have a profound religious experience, but that’s unlikely, because we bring to the service ourselves and everything that happened to us that day. Often we are tired, in a hurry, fighting traffic; the crisis of the moment on our mind. We rush into the sanctuary, plop down, and think: “Okay, Rabbi, Cantor – inspire me!”

            That’s just not going to happen each and every Shabbat. After all, rabbis and cantors are human too. But always remember that by your very presence in the sanctuary you have made it possible for a community of Jews to pray together, and that too is important. In fact, more than important, it is critical to the strength of a congregation.

            When we create a spiritual community, we come closer to God. When we show up for services every week, we contribute to the survival of our People. And when we are there to greet everyone, no matter their background or beliefs – reminding us that we are all part of one human family; all of us God’s children; all of us worthy of respect, dignity, caring, and compassion – we ensure that our congregation is warm and welcoming.

Rabbi Priesand