"We usually associate hospitality with a culture, a social practice, a more personal quality to be admired. In western culture, where individualism and security seem to be priorities, we need to be more thoughtful about how to bring the welcoming of strangers into our daily way of being together."
The mitzvah of hospitality, Hachnasat Orechim, is an integral one at Passover. It is so important that the invitation is included in the text of the Haggadah, "Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in want share the hope of Passover." We make arrangements to ensure that no one has to celebrate Passover alone. This is a mitzvah that is remembered and acted on all year by those who work in Membership.
As Peter Block reminds us, welcoming is an intentional act. Every congregation may think that they are warm and welcoming, but this does not happen without effort. Often the assumption that we reach out to others needs to be tested in our communities. Check below to learn about two successful and welcoming Membership programs from URJ congregations: the Open Tent Initiative from Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia, PA, and New Member Workshops from Rodeph Sholom in New York City.
And as we work to welcome members to our community, consider that there are many points of entry to Judaism and congregational life. A popular point of entry these days is through social action in general, and greening in particular. This month, the URJ is highlighting its many greening resources. Visit urj.org/green to find guides to help you green your congregation as well as tools and tips to assist you in reaching out to members through a "green" door.
In this season of our liberation, may we remember those who are enslaved by loneliness and separation from our community. May we reach out to the stranger with warmth and love, because we too were strangers in Egypt.
Union for Reform Judaism
Recruiting and Engaging New and Current Members
The Open Tent Initiative is a consciousness-raising campaign of welcoming meant to engage the entire community from Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia, PA. The goal is to make the congregation a more inviting place for new and prospective members by asking their current members to do "five welcoming acts," and make a commitment to reaching out to the unaffiliated.
New Member Workshops from Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York, NY, is a yearly program run by the Membership committee with help from the clergy. Its purpose is to welcome and acclimate new members into temple life through socialization, study and involvement. The course runs for two sessions, inviting new members to gather together and explore and share their "Jewish Journeys." These classes fill a real need for the new member who wishes to understand the community and make new friends.
Grant OpportunityNational Center to Encourage Judaism (NCEJ)
The NCEJ will pay half of the cost of your advertising in the secular press, up to $1200 twice a year, for programs that welcome the unaffiliated (Jewish or not), to attend programs about Judaism for the beginner. Hosting a class or program for those interested in Judaism is an effective way to invite new members into your community! For more details, visit the NCEJ website.
Opportunities to Share Your Success in Membership and Outreach!
The Belin Outreach Awards have been designed to encourage and honor Reform synagogues with outstanding Outreach and Membership programs that actively welcome and integrate those new to Judaism. Awards of $1,000 each will be made to ten congregations at the URJ Biennial in National Harbor, MD, December 14-18, 2011, and the Awards Committee will designate at least two of these awards for small congregations (under 250 member units). Award-winning programs will be included in The Outreach and Membership Idea Book, a program guide for congregations. A limited number of honorable mentions will also be named at the discretion of the Awards Committee and included in this new publication. In addition, all honorable mentions and winners will be publically honored at the 2011 North American Biennial.
In addition to honoring congregations that have developed uniquely innovative and effective Outreach programs, the Belin Outreach and Membership Awards also solicit programs that engage and retain members of our congregations. Winning programs are available in the URJ Press publications: