L'CHAH DODI (in relation to mourners, general choreography)
A couple of years or so ago, during a business trip to Chile, I attended Erev Shabbat services at a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile. It was essentially a Conservative service and was led jointly by two rabbis. At that time, there was a family or two that had lost someone recently. At the conclusion of "L'chah Dodi", after we had turned to the back of the sanctuary, the rabbis walked down from the bimah to the back of the sanctuary, where the doors were, and welcomed the mourning families. They, along with several others from the congregation, then escorted the families to the middle of the sanctuary, where a row of seats had been reserved for them, offering them words of comfort at the same time. It impressed me as a beautiful way to express the condolences of the congregation and in helping the family during that period of mourning.
In our small and liturgically traditional congregation I have re-introduced the tradition of greeting mourners at the conclusion of Kabbalat Shabbat. This serves many purposes of inclusiveness, helping people get to know one another. It also offers recognition to individuals who are vulnerable and might not be well known in the present community.
Over the past years, many families have moved into our community from a distance, and their families of origin are removed. The shivah typically is also inaccessible.
When there has been a loss, I often will come down from the bimah and walk to the end of the aisle where the mourning family is sitting (it should traditionally be a different location than they usually select) during the last verse of L'chah Dodi. While the congregation is still standing, we greet them together with the traditional "hamakom yinacheim etchem btoch sha'ar avlei tsiyon virushalayim--May God comfort you among all whom mourn [Zion and Jerusalem]. Our liturgy continuies with Ps 92 (Shabbat) and Ps 93 (all read in Hebrew) before all the mourners are asked to rise for Kaddish Yatom.
I view this as a potential outreach moment, and have received much thanks for it.
We started practicing the custom of turning to the door when we do the last verse of L'chah Dodi at our informal 6 p.m. Kabbalat Shabbat Service this year. The first time we did it, I introduced it by explaining the reason. Subsequently, before the prayer is done, I simply remind people that we rise and face the door before the final verse to welcome the Sabbath Queen and then turn to face the front for the final refrain. People seem to like the idea. The explanation is below for those interested.
Come my friend, to meet the Bride! In addition to inaugurating the Sabbath by the singing of psalms, the Safed Cabalists, like the Rabbis of old, personified the Shabbat as a Queen, as a Bride, to be welcomed each week with radiant joy. A number of their hymns on this theme have come down to us, the most popular of them is the L'chah Dodi, by Rabbi Solomon Halevy Alkabetz, composed about the year 1540. His name appears as an acrostic in the Hebrew.
The idea of the welcome underlying the poem goes back to Talmudic times. In Safed, white robed men and boys went out in procession up the hills and own the dales chanting psalms, and sang in the Sabbath to the strains of the Song of Songs. To show honor to the Sabbath Queen, we rise and face the door before the last verse, to bid her welcome.
Marlene 400+ Households
If your service leader simply speaks up during the song at the appropriate point and states: "Let us all turn to greet the sabbath bride", all will know the appropriate time and a bit about the reason why. Those familiar with the custom will turn back at the proper time and I expect most others will follow suit. a bit of teaching regarding the history of the sabbath as the bride beforehand, if not always...sometimes, would be a lovely educational component. It is a wonderful custom that underlines the importance of Shabbat. Some of these "older" traditions are well worth incorporating in our services.
Peg 650 households
Regarding turning during L'chah Dodi; we have always done it. People seem to appreciate it. I've never heard a complaint. Depending on the crowd, I'm less formal about it. I'll tell them that they will face the door, which will 'magically' be open at that point. One of our members who always sits close to the door quietly slips out and opens the door before we get to the verse. In addition, if it's a group with a sense of humor, and someone walks in during L'chah Dodi, I tell them that person is our honorary Sabbath Queen for the evening. A few weeks ago our door opener brought in a cardboard crown that will be offered to our next Sabbath Queen.
Richard 170 families
Here is yet another variation. When my father, Z"L, died in 1967, I said Kaddish for a year by praying within a mostly-Orthodox-style chapel within a Conservative synagogue in Queens, NYC. Prior to the start of L'chah Dodi, the new mourners were asked to leave. When the last verse came and we faced the back doors and opened the doors, we also "invited" the new mourners to re-enter. It was a special way of recognizing and comforting the mourners.