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In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, many congregations have experienced an increase in attendees, including their own members, as well as clergy and members of the community-at-large, both Jewish and not Jewish. It’s tempting to lean on security personnel and a hardened exterior to keep sacred spaces safe, but it is also up to as, us leaders, to follow our tradition’s sacred teaching to welcome others fully into our spiritual home. While we consider heightening security, we must also heighten audacious hospitality. During this time of increased fear, having a single friendly face at the door to soften the presence of law enforcement can help everyone feel more welcomed, seen, and safe.
As we strive for safety and awareness, it’s important to account for the diversity of individuals within our own community. During this time of mourning and heightened sensitivity, it may be easy to forget that our Jewish community comprises individuals who have many identities, including Jews of Color, LGBTQ Jews, and Jews with disabilities, among others.
Here are three ways you can ensure your congregation is audaciously hospitable in the coming weeks (and always).
This person can be a staff member, a lay leader, or an especially welcoming, enthusiastic member. Here are some tips for greeters:
Staff, volunteers, and security personnel should strive to treat everyone with the same degree of warmth and awareness, as well as vigilance. For example, if you are asking for IDs, ask everyone (even the rabbi) to show an ID. If you are smiling, do your best to greet everyone with a smile.
Our Jewish and local communities have different relationships with both law enforcement and the broader Jewish community than many of us do as Jewish leaders. You may hear about a negative experience; if so, be supportive and open to listening. Let individuals know you’re sorry that something painful happened and you will do everything in your power to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Mistakes happen, but it is important for others to know that there are trusted allies within the Jewish community who believe and support them. If you are unsure about how to respond, thank the person for informing you and reach out to the Union for Reform Judaism for expertise about how to navigate the situation.
Since the shooting in Pittsburgh, unprecedented numbers of people have searched the URJ’s database for local congregations, and many partners have reached out to offer support. As we continue to welcome new and old friends into our spiritual homes in the weeks to come, their presence will fill our hearts and inspire us to continue living Jewishly – not from a place of fear, but from one of strength and love.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the Union for Reform Judaism’s president. April Baskin is the organization’s vice president of audacious hospitality. Read more about the authors.