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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