“Warm and Welcoming”

June 18, 2024
By Keith Satter
Category: Bulletin

When I am not at Beth El, I love to attend services at other synagogues to pick up on ideas and get a different flavor for how their congregation worships. Yet, I have to chuckle when I hear each congregation call themselves “Warm and Welcoming,” because it is often not the case.

I will be traveling some this summer and Betsy and I will stop by other shuls if we are in town on Shabbat. Maybe you’ll do the same. Here is what I look for when I measure “Warm and Welcoming.” I call it “Warm and Welcoming and the Five Senses.”

The first thing I look for as a stranger in a new place is whether I am enthusiastically greeted when I come to the sanctuary. Is there a smile and maybe a handshake with my “Shabbat Shalom.”

Next, does anyone pick up on the fact that I am not a member of the synagogue and come up to me, perhaps offer an honor? Am I greeted by the rabbi during a lull in the service?

Finally, does someone make it a point to invite me to stay for Kiddish, even though I usually have other plans?

It sounds so easy and we do this exceptionally well at Beth El. It is part of our DNA and has been going on for as long as I can remember.

Two quick stories will illustrate my point. There is one synagogue, which will remain nameless, and I have attended their Sunday morning minyan more than a few times. The reception I get makes me feel like a true outsider. The greeting is cold and not once has anyone come up to me and introduced themselves. Let’s just say I have stopped attending minyan there.

Then there is B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland. This is a large synagogue, over 1,000 members, and is within walking distance of our kids. Every time I am visiting I try to take in a service at BI. First of all, I get a big hello when I get to the sanctuary by the Shabbat Greeter, even though it may have been months since I was last there. On more than one occasion I have been offered an honor. Frequently, the rabbi comes over and welcomes me to the synagogue. It makes me feel special and the people I choose to sit near go out of their way to talk to me and get to know me a little better.

Recognize that this is a heavily attended Shabbat service, yet as an institution they recognize that I am a visitor and make sure I feel welcomed.

You can’t teach this, which is why I am so proud of how we greet everyone who joins our services be it a regular Shabbat, Bar/Bat Mitzvah or the High Holidays. Everyone gets a bit of the Beth El Magic, which makes it the place I love to be.