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Should shuls be welcoming places?

I used to judge a shuls friendliness factor purely based on the amount of meal invites I received during davening. I used to come on in take a seat and literally wait for people to come up to me to say good shabbos and throw some free food my way, but recently I started thinking a bit more into the philosophy behind many shuls themselves. In out of town communities, many shuls advertise shabbos hospitality and will even brag about their kindness to guests, but what I’m really wondering is if shuls have an obligation to be friendly and welcoming places.

I have been to several out of town (out of the New York magnetic pull) shuls that have been downright cold and unfriendly. I’ve always come to expect a certain degree of friendliness from shuls and communities outside of New York, so when I encounter coldness it really pisses me off. It’s one thing to not get a shabbos meal invite, but it’s entirely different when no one says hello, offers assistance with siddur or seat finding or you encounter the dreaded makom kavuah boot that no visitor wants to endure. I’m not asking for shlishi here, I’m asking for a little acknowledgement. But for some this may be too much to ask.

I have sought to delve into the rare instance of a cold and unfriendly out of town shul and have found that they rarely share anything in common, besides for two things. They tend to have a lot of Israel members and they tend to have a lot of visitors. I’m not sure that either can be really pointed to as a reason for coldness, although I have noticed that Hebrew speaking guests are treated better than s Lo Medaber Ivrit crowds. As to having many visitors, this is counter intuitive. Most of the shuls I’ve been to in cool spots were filled with visitors every week and they were still mighty friendly folks.

Someone tried to excuse the coldness of their shul once, by trying to tell me that they’ve had so many experiences with visitors and folks trying to “mooch” of their community, that the shul had become quite unfriendly towards outsiders, crazy as it seems, they were dead serious.

I guess I always feel that kindness is never out of place, one can never go wrong by extending their hand to say good shabbos to someone they haven’t seen before, yet so many people choose the stare and wondering route instead of welcome and make a kiddush hashem route that seems like it would be a given in places where shul is more than just a place to catch a quick 20 minute shachris before the ride in to work.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Dan November 26, 2012, 8:12 AM

    The way to get a defunct blogger back is to not invite him for a shabbos meal, apparently.

    • Heshy Fried November 26, 2012, 11:00 AM

      Actually I’m on the other end these days, I host people for sleeping and shabbos meals, well once we get some darned furniture. I’m also a member of one community for the first time ever that happens to be one that is uber friendly, although for anti-social folks it could pose a problem.

  • Challah Maidel November 28, 2012, 1:58 AM

    A shul is technically a bastion for communal and Jewish affairs. Therefore its the responsibility of the Rabbi or the community leader to welcome in newcomers and get them acquainted with other members of the shul. Sadly, there are shuls that neglect this responsibility consequently having newcomers and visitors alike second guessing the residents of the community. It wouldn’t make the community look good if people were moving out because no one couldn’t be bothered to be hospitable and friendly.

  • A January 3, 2013, 1:38 PM

    The State of Affair of friendliness and achdus in the regular orthodox shul world in the U.S. nowadays is overall a shanda. Must be the influence of the secular world as it stands today, but that, along with all the others is a sorry excuse – a way for congregants and the Rabbi to take the easy way out, and not do anything about it. In my opinion it’s every member’s responsibility that comes as part of being a member of the shul, but rarely have I seen any shul officer or Rabbi, want to rock the boat and take a chance on making the paying shul members feel the slightest bit uncomfortable and unsettled about things not being the way they should be at their beloved shul. Why there is the possibility, that bringing the issue up, might end up being a pocket-book cost for the shul officer in the form of business or potential business from fellow shul members; and as far as the Rabbi goes – he’s on the shul members’ and officers’ puppet strings, so he can’t make too much of a stir – or, oh – oh. The attitude is: don’t rock the boat or you might end up getting too much discomfort or G-d forbid get thrown overboard. It’s great to learn about and to just have to shut up and take. The first hand experience of this dynamic in a lot of the shuls that I have visited, made the whole thing hit home, and now I intimately understand why things are as they are on this of-course, trivial, issue.

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