Greeting Newcomers in Shul

I recently sent an email to my congregation (United Orthodox Synagogues – UOS) on the importance of shuls being welcoming to newcomers. My email was motivated by having spent time in various orthodox shuls without being welcomed or greeted. I received the following email in response to my message. I share it with you in order to highlight the fact that while there are many important aspects of what attracts people to a specific shul (rabbi, classes, philosophy) the simple act of welcoming a newcomer is a major feature as to why people attend, do not attend, leave shuls in favor of another or stop attending shul altogether.

Dear Rabbi

It is very interesting reading your opinion of the way visitors are greeted in shuls.

All of my children have emigrated and all of them had experiences where they went to shul for months and were never greeted so they never went back.

My daughter in New York eventually went to conservative where she was made very welcome.

In fact my daughter in Sydney Australia has been going to orthodox shul almost every shabbat for two years since my husband passed away and recently told me she will not be going back because no-one ever talks to her.

UOS is wonderful the ladies in particular are very friendly and do make strangers feel very welcome.

When my son who is a member at ——— came with me to say kaddish the men all spoke to him and made him feel welcome so you can be very proud of your congregation

thank you for that

5 Responses to Greeting Newcomers in Shul

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    Shuls must become more welcoming to newcomers.

    Let us also remember the sanctity of the synagogue and the great respect all Jews must give it. It is the House of G_d, and the way we speak when we are in His House can not be the same as the way we speak in our homes.

    Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser gave a public speech in 1994 in which he pointed out: “According to both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Rabbis, it is better to not go to shul at all, rather than go to shul and talk [personal conversations].”

  2. chloe says:

    a cousin, graduate of Yeshiva HS, was saying kaddish & asked for the closest minyan.

    For minha we directed him a block away . He came back & reported being stared at to the point where he had to turn away for kavanah.

    In Baltimore it seems to be the norm that whether you say GUT SHABBES or SHABBAT SHALOM (we have large Israeli & Persian populations), there is often little eye contact, no smile, sometimes even a look of ‘do i know you?’ and (i suspect) what is on your head(hat, kippah: what sort?)

    Did R Gelman notice any of this when he was @ our shul?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The mention of Sydney, Australia brought back memories of the most amazing welcome that I have ever received as a visitor to a shul when we were on our honeymoon 23 years ago. Then I realized that the shul was actually in New Zealand before we went to Australia.

    It was Friday evening and my husband decided to check the nearby synagogue for service times. He came back to tell me that he had met someone at the shul who had invited us—a total stranger and his wife who was not with him—to Shabbat dinner at their home! We arrived early to shul and since there were few people there and no obvious mechitza, we assumed there was mixed seating. A different man from the one my husband met earlier approached us and greeted us as the visitors that we obviously were and graciously showed us that there were in fact separate men’s and women’s sections. I should mention that I am ethnically Chinese and have had some strange or rude reactions in shuls that I have visited based on my appearance, but I remember that the people that we met at that New Zealand shul were all friendly and welcoming. (Maybe that just goes along with the fact that we found New Zealanders in general to be some of the friendliest people in the world.)

    After the service, we went with our dinner host to his home. He and his wife seemed to be about our age—mid-twenties. They told us that they had to get their meat from Wellington because there was no kosher butcher in Auckland. (This is how I remembered that this dinner was in New Zealand, not Australia.) That meant that they were especially generous to share their very precious meat with us; I think they only ate meat on Shabbat. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Lopatin,

    Your greeting is heartfelt and makes those of us who are newcomers feel genuinely welcome in your shul.


  5. minda says:

    several instances:

    in the course of arranging to meet an Israeli friend in Amsterdam it seemed easier to arrive early spend Shabbat and then the Shabbat after. I wrote to EVERY Ortho synagogue in area. Got one icey reply(had asked for walking directions!) & one that was ambiguous. When i finally found the shul (two blocks fromthe hotel but across a canal), i was welcomed& told about my luncheon arrangements, PHENOMENAL!The building had been saved by neighbors during WWII& had limited ser vices with a lovely Brisk (MIR?) rabbi. A congregant told me he liked it so much he walked from AMERSFORT (current center of Jewish Amsterdam).

    We also had wonderful hospitality at Darchei Noam on Upper West Side of Manhattan.

    And in Teaneck from Rinat. (A neighboring shul advertised itself as friendly yet never answered & noone looked at either of us AND they had nothing for the visiting rabbi at kiddush!!!).

    Our kehillah, Netivot Shalom in Baltimore,announces visitors &always has lunch hosts.

    We must excuse European shuls as the necessity of guards makes services less than heimish.

    Our experience of Israeli shuls is limited to MO which seem much more relaxed than anywhere else we have visited

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