When I first started coming to services at Beth El I was more than a little bit shy. At my work, I thought nothing of talking to strangers, but when it came to meeting people at the Oneg after services, I couldn't think of anything to say to the people around me. After all, I was a stranger myself, and still not quite sure of my decision to convert to Judaism. Feeling self-conscious and awkward, I busied myself with eating cookies and watching the crowd instead.
Yet the paradoxical truth was that the very reason I was standing at the Oneg watching the crowd was that I wanted to connect with the people around me, to feel a part of a community. I wanted to be recognized, known, wanted, welcomed. Living in a condominium complex where people move in and out so fast that I barely know my neighbors, I look to the Temple to fill that need for continuity and connection. But my fear was that my Christian past would be a barrier to becoming a real participant in the Jewish community.
My fears turned out to be unfounded, for I waswelcomed warmly. However, I should also explain that it took something more thanan Oneg to gain that feeling of belonging. What I have learned from myexperience in the adult education program at the Temple is that the best way togain a sense of community is to join a group. The Oneg is too large, too brief,and too unstructured to offer, by itself, the possibility of making aconnection. You need to start with a smaller group, get to know theparticipants, and see them on a more regular basis than an occasional Oneg. Youalso need a structure, something to talk about, and a way to go about discussingthe issues.
With this in mind, the Outreach Committee is planned some events, classes, and meetings which were aimed at helping people who were not born Jewish feel comfortable participating in the Jewish community. Some of the topics that were addresssed included taking personal steps towards Jewish spirituality and addressing the ongoing December Dilemma of Chanukah and Christmas.