I’ve been involved with countless Jewish communities, all across the spectrum of religious observance, and the shocking, upsetting and disheartening thing I began to notice recently was this: the communities which claim to be inclusive, and dedicated to making everybody feel at home, are quite often the least welcoming ones. The ones which say “our doors are open to everyone,” usually forget to add that although you may be allowed to walk through the doors, you won’t want to keep coming back unless you do things their way.
It’s bizarre. Ironic, even. When I felt estranged from my own faith- cast aside, cut off, left out- I immediately sought out shuls which made a claim to be welcoming and accepting of everybody. Once I was inside, I found that the opposite was true, and was pushed further and further away from Judaism.
My Jewish journey has had ups and downs- times when I’ve adored my religion and felt connected to G-d, and times when I’ve wanted to- and actively planned to- leave. But today, I feel particularly spiritual and as I reflect on all the times I’ve been shunned and pushed away, I begin to think that maybe these things happened for a reason: to teach me to seek out others feeling lost and excluded, and welcome them back.
If this was Hashem’s way of trying to teach me a lesson, it worked. Whenever I see someone standing in the corner, or sitting alone, or just looking like they’d rather be some place else, I make a conscious effort to go and see how they’re doing, and help them realise that their presence is important to me, because I, too, have been in that very same position not long ago.
I’ve said this before, but if you- the person reading this now- feel welcome and at home in your community, I want to ask you a favour. Next time you see someone new, or someone who’s alone, or someone who, for whatever reason, might not be as comfortable as you, I ask you to go over to them and extend the hand of friendship. You never know what a difference it might make.