Early in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah set the standard. On a blisteringly hot day, Abraham runs after three desert wanderers, insisting they come inside for nourishment. What makes his act so memorable is that he doesn’t wait for the wanderers to knock on his door; instead, he goes out to meet them where they are and invites them in.”
The above quote is from Rabbi Rick Jacobs’ presidential address at the URJ Biennial this past December in San Diego. He went on to describe arriving at a congregation where he was greeted by someone with a name tag who had a less than enthusiastic greeting for him until she recognized that he was the guest speaker, at which time she turned on the warmth. That, he concludes, is not audacious hospitality.
Rabbi Jacobs challenged us to each go home and spread the word to our congregations – to every member of our board, our staff, our committees, all our members – to make it their job to be as welcoming as Abraham and Sarah.
What would audacious hospitality look like at Oak Park Temple? It would start with each of us spending a moment looking around when we’re in the building, and noticing others. As I mentioned in my Yom Kippur speech, try to find someone you don’t know, especially if they are standing alone, and make it your job to greet them. A simple “Hello” or “Shabbat Shalom” can go a long way to making someone feel comfortable and welcome here. (“Shabbat Shalom” works best when it is in fact Shabbat. It sounds a little odd otherwise. Gut Yuntif works much better during most holidays, and Hello or Good morning is a pretty good bet on Sunday mornings! )
But as Rabbi Jacobs notes, it doesn’t end there. To make Oak Park Temple truly a place of audacious hospitality, we need to not only say hi but get to know one another. One of the wonderful things here is the staggering number of ways that can happen, in ways both big and small.
Join a committee, or a study group, and get to know the other people in the group. Chat with a stranger over coffee and bagels on a Sunday morning, or wine and cheese at a 2nd or 4th Friday, or cookies at an oneg on other Friday nights. Come to a 2nd Thursday Culture Salon or a Sisterhood dinner or movie, or Mel’s movie on a Sunday afternoon. And while you’re here, whenever you’re here, make it your job to find someone you don’t yet know and get to know their story.
Rabbi Jacobs goes on to say:
“…Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so that people don’t feel left out; it’s an ongoing invitation to be part of a community where we can become all that God wants us to be – and a way to transform ourselves in the process. Audacious hospitality is a two-way street, where synagogue and stranger need each other. Hospitality is not just our chance to teach newcomers but, just as important, an opportunity for them to teach us.”
Let’s make Oak Park Temple a place of audacious hospitality. In November, Rabbi Jacobs will be visiting Oak Park Temple to help us celebrate our sesquicentennial. When he arrives, instead of seeing a greeter that growls at him, I hope he can witness audacious hospitality, not because you recognize him from a poster, but because we are all in the habit of welcoming the stranger.