Adonai appeared to him (Abraham) by the terebinths of Mamre; he (Abraham) was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men (angels) standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tents to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then go on-seeing that you have come your servant’s way.” They replied, “Do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent of Sarah and said, “Quick, three measures of choice flour! Knead and make cakes!” Then Abraham ran to the herd, took a calf, tender and choice, and gave it to a servant-boy, who hastened to prepare it. He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate.
Hospitality. This section of this week’s Torah portion shows us the gold standard for the demonstration of hospitality. Our biblical role models; Abraham and Sarah. We see at the onset Abraham “ran” to the strangers to greet them. Then he bowed to the ground and offers them a modest invite to stay and take advantage of his hospitality. He then prepares a wonderful feast of fresh cakes, curds and meat and waits on them to see to their needs. How sumptuous a feast, a blessed experience for the travelers!
I feasted recently on a wonderful demonstration of hospitality. It was just like a feast, though I didn’t eat! It was noteworthy for me as I had never experienced an attempt at hospitality so finely orchestrated. While travelling recently, I attended a Friday night service that astonished me. I sadly, have visited congregations where the hospitality was lukewarm to nonexistent. Come now, we have all been there! Standing, and placing oneself strategically with a cup of tea in your hand, smiling gently and waiting for some sign of a welcoming or conversation… how about just a “Shabbat Shalom.”
Not at our beloved RTR! However, oy, unfortunately for the Jews in the pews, or not in the pews for this reason, this can be normative, according to the researchers studying the science of welcoming and hospitality in our congregations. However, things are turning around rapidly and most congregations are trained or are being trained in the art of truly and appropriately welcoming the newbie or stranger that enters through their doors for worship. Groundbreaking books published on the subject, such as “The Spirituality of Welcoming” by Dr. Ron Wolfson and workshops galore on the topic have changed the way shuls greet the congregant and stranger on a Shabbat eve or morning. Rightfully so, right?
A coup d’oeil… I arrived to two smiling congregant volunteers opening the door for me to enter…other smiling, name tagged lay leaders worked the foyer to meet and greet… More lay leadership stood at the entrance to the aisle in the sanctuary, handing out siddurim, smiling and chatting and yet another lay leader walked the aisle, back and forth, greeting and seeing to the needs of the already seated. They moved fluently as if a tag team, so that at every twist and turn there was a smiling face ready to make sure that you were feeling as welcomed and as comfortable as can be. As a guest from out of town, this felt amazing! I felt blessed.
By the end of the evening, I felt enveloped in a community that was in reality thousands of miles from my home and practically everyone there took the moments it takes to learn my name. The effort came across as truly joyous and never was there a moment that it felt disingenuous. I left fulfilled and glad that I had happened upon this community to worship with.
Religious communities are ever more cognizant of the way the stranger or rare attendee is greeted once inside their holy spaces. It’s all very important for the individual community, the stranger in our midst, and the Jewish people as a whole that all of us get it right. I am presently blessed to be attending a series of workshops held at the JCC, as one of the representatives of RTR, along with representatives from all the Rockland County Reform and Conservative congregations. It is called, “Connected Congregations.”
Over a series of four lectures, which include special group exercises and workshop type experiences, we will learn or review the reasons for creating, and the special ways to create a “connected congregation.” I look forward to sharing with you more as I attend these workshops over the next few months.
I end with a prayer for us: May we all be like Abraham and Sarah, present and striving to make true connections, as we greet the stranger or disenfranchised in our midst. And may we make those we encounter feel truly welcomed – in our homes, our communities and our hearts.
Cantor Arlene Frank