We are small and we usually have extra room. We always welcome out-of-town visitors for the High Holy Days (as well as any other service, of course.) We are able to welcome members of other UAHC-affiliated congregations, those affiliated with other movements and those who are unaffiliated. All are welcome. We do not charge them for tickets. Many are so happy to feel so welcomed that they send a generous donation after they return home. Some day we may outgrow this policy of hospitality but for now we are happy that it works.
Jo 40 Family Units
This year we did have quite a few non-temple members come with "proof" of their membership in other congregations within these states, Canada and one from Alaska. All college students with ID have always been permitted to worship with us. The only prerequisite we might have made to someone without an "exchange" note, would be a personal ID, just in case. Otherwise, we open our doors, hearts and prayers to all those who wish to be with us on Yom Kippur.
Helene 200 Units
In our small and liturgically traditional congregation I have re-introduced a form of the end of Kabbalat Shabbat greeting of mourners. It 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 in Zion and Jerusalem.
Our liturgy continues with Psalm 92 (Shabbat) and Psalm 93 (all read in Hebrew) before all the mourners are asked to rise for Kaddish.
I view this as an outreach moment, and have received thanks for it. It is a pretty traditional model, although the older version I learned had the mourners during shivah awaiting the conclusion of Kabbalat Shabbat before entering the service, as it is deemed too joyful a service for a new mourner.
I am the Program Director at my Temple. We have 750 families. The new member committee is considering the purchase of durable, reusable nametags for everyone in the congregation. They hope it will make Temple a more welcoming place and that it would fit in nicely with the values and practices we have implemented from our participation in Synagogue 2000.
Rosie 750 Families
There are many things that can be done to create a sense of community. Most of them are things that must be done by all or nearly all those that will be a part of the community. That means a critical mass of participants committed to creating community is necessary.
At our congregation, which has fewer than 100 families we made a commitment to wearing name badges at all synagogue functions. While this may be easier at a small congregation such as ours it seems even more critical in a larger congregation where it is even more difficult to know everyone.
It would seem that a critical mass of regular attendees at Shabbat services who all see themselves as ambassadors of the congregation is also necessary. If this can be achieved, with the regular attendees warmly greeting old friends and acquaintances as well as introducing themselves and some of the less regular attendees to the newcomers you will go a long way toward creating a community or at least a sense of community (is there a difference?).
Again, this is probably easier for my congregation than a larger one but also even more important in the larger congregations where it is so easy to be lost in the crowd. (As an aside, prior to the High Holy Days this year we met with law enforcement regarding security precautions that we could take. A particularly bright and insightful officer suggested the above, meeting and greeting all newcomers, as one of the most effective security measures.)
We are also considering a social period prior to services where we will say Kiddush and light Shabbat candles. This would be designed to provide everyone the opportunity to meet and greet as outlined above. (By the way meet and greet should always be more than a simple Shabbat Shalom, and especially with new members, guests and others who may be isolated for any reason should include an offer to sit with them during the service.)
Peter fewer than 100 members
We started a Temple buddy list about 4 years ago in which each board member is assigned about 15-20 congregants. The congregants are called twice each year, once before High Holy Hays and once prior to Passover when they are asked if they need a place to go for seder or would be willing to host someone who did.
Our membership chairs and the office help match people up. The response has been tremendous. The only problem is when some board members do not call their list but overall it makes everyone feel wanted!
Steve 400 members
In our large monthly community service (about 2000 attend) several things take place before and after the service that add to the Sabbath spirit. People are greeted outside and welcomed, not shushed. We urge people to introduce themselves to each other.
People walk into a sanctuary that is filled with music. We dim the lights. We are brief. We have transliteration books and siddurim. We are flexible, spontaneous and very open to change.
Following the service there is free food, a lecture, a class on t'filah, a guest artist and Israeli dancing. Often people leave the building after 11:30 PM.
I have a lament about some congregations' welcome to strangers. My wife and I just returned from an extended trip through much of the South and Southwest on our motorhome. Because we seldom know very far in advance where we will be for Shabbat we depend on Web sites and recorded messages to locate synagogues and to learn the service schedule.
We are limited to very slow internet access much of the time.
The Union's congregation locator is wonderful, but many congregations do not have information that is useful to "wandering Jews" readily available. Web sites are not maintained and do not have basics such as address and phone number on the front page. When they do provide a phone number, they may not have a recording with the current, or any service schedule available.
In several instances we settled in and tried to contact a synagogue at 3 or 4 on Friday afternoon and found no information at all. The Web site had nothing and the phone was answered by a recording with emergency numbers only. We made Shabbat on our motorhome those weekends. I am sure others, arriving in town unplanned due to sudden changes, may have had similar experiences. One synagogue's phone number on the Web site led to Joe?s Bar and Grill.
As an exercise, pretend you are arriving in town on Friday afternoon and want to go to services at your own synagogue. See how easy it is to get the schedule and the location without knowing your city.
Once we get to a strange shul the welcome has always been very warm and wonderful, it is why we keep trying.
Nov 2006 Digest 181
Lately I've been thinking that for people on the fringe, to venture into the temple is a huge risk. They don't like to come much, for if they did, they'd come more often. Especially for these folks, the "service" begins not with the opening prayer, but a few moments earlier--at the temple front door
Every interaction under the temple's roof counts. How are they greeted as they hang up their coat, what kind of glance or body language is offered them as the usher hands them the prayer book? All of this sets a tone.
Our current congregation is teaching me volumes about the power of warm-and-friendly. After the service, how "regulars" and board members habitually respond to a newcomer's presence at the Oneg is truly worth revisiting, if you hope to make the evening relevant to the newcomer--no matter whether you believe that means "elevating" or "practical." Acting friendly is both of those.
Are children said "hello" to or talked over/around? Recently we gained a new member family because she found her school-aged children [were] talked to directly, not over-and-above, as they stood shyly by her side.
If someone seats themself solo in the sanctuary, they might prefer it, but at least they deserve a whispered offer to join a group of friends or a family.
At the Oneg, do the regulars stare at strangers and say to each other, "Who is she? I don't recognize her...," or are we retraining each other to instead break out and go over and find out the answer.
Simple identifiers help, too. Our congregation has every board member wear a pretty gold pin with their name on it at every Oneg, so a newcomer can find someone from the board to inquire about the temple policies.
To overcome physical barriers for the disabled, I take the suggestion of a wheelchair-bound college student who once advised me to get in a wheelchair and try to negotiate the entire building, to learn where the barriers are
Here are some other evidences of care and relevance: Put and stock diaper changing tables in the restrooms (both genders). If you discover a newcomer in the room, after you greet, please also flag the rabbi, so s/he can do his/her job and go greet as well.
And...recycle. Younger families want green; they care deeply about the planet. It's one of the hallmarks of their generation. I really wonder why aren't more synagogues on board with these simple habits It's a noticeable disconnect to utter prayers like Ma'ariv Aravim, then find no place to recycle a can of pop at the Oneg
Nov 2006 Digest 181
There were many things I loved about my temple when I first joined but the thing that really made a difference was the welcome I received as a new visitor. I remember that initial greeting so very clearly and, to this day, with tremendous gratitude. It made me feel that the people in this new congregation "walked the talk." Gestures of welcome and/or kindness may be small, but they also have the profoundest effect on us in the long run.
In regards to worship, such kindnesses "set the tone" for the service. It reminds me of the words of Heschel who once said "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." Our services can be clever and witty and beautiful in their presentation, but if we fail to be kind, well, the service is just kind of empty, isn't it?