My cousin Paul and I were telling stories the other day about visiting synagogues.
He is a retired Linguistics Professor who continues to travel and do research. He was in England as a graduate student and attended Shabbat worship one Saturday at the Sephardic Synagogue in London. He was going on and on about how the Hazzan gave him a hard time after services about not wearing a Tallit.
It brought to mind my story of attending Shabbat worship at a community minyan several years ago that I blogged about. It was the first Yahrzeit for my dad. I made arrangements with the senior rabbi to attend a lay led minyan. Volunteered to be Hagbah when no one offered at the time the service leader made the request. I have a vague recollection of saying my dad’s name during Kadish, but I am not sure. At the end of the service, I told the people sitting by me Shabbat Shalom and was on my way.
And during that entire time – let’s say two hours – no one asked me my name. If I had lived in that community and had been searching for a synagogue to become a part of, I am not sure I ever would have returned.
Many people take great pride in speaking of their congregation as being very welcoming. I certainly know that not everyone is outgoing and social. Nor can anyone be outgoing and welcoming all of the time.
Shabbat Shalom is the first step of welcoming. Asking them their name is the second.
These next three Shabbats preceding Rosh Hashanah is a good time for practice. Maybe during services leadership (in using this term broadly, consisting of board members, Religious Living Committee members and even the Membership Committee folk) can each take a row or section of the sanctuary to greet worshipers. Say hi and Shabbat Shalom, introduce yourselves.
And if people don’t have on nametags and you don’t know them, ask them their names.
You want people to feel like the synagogue is their second home.
Have a communications plan for these weeks. Use email and Facebook posts that include messages of enthusiasm and excitement about the upcoming New Year and about all that is happening and will be happening at the synagogue.
Contact congregants personally. I was going to write, “Call people”. With all of the telephone screening that happens in homes that still have landlines and with cellphones, personal communication can take the form of a text, an email or a call. Of course the personal contact over a cup of coffee or a meal is optimal. The same leadership groups can take a page from the membership directory and reach out beginning today.
What we do in terms of welcoming everyone – new and old congregants – in these next few weeks through Simchat Torah sets the tone for the rest of the year. We want people to come back beyond the Blowing of the Shofar and dancing with the Torahs. And to feel that the synagogue is their second home.
Asking someone their name and how they are doing is a step in the right direction.