Number one: be welcoming.
As soon as you arrive at Camp Newman you are greeted by a large group of teenagers, clapping and dancing and singing “Shalom Aleichem.” You know you are in the right place and—more than that—you know that you belong there, and that the people around you want you to be there.
Judaism values the welcoming of guests. Abraham and Sarah welcomed strangers into their tent, rushing to help them wash the dirt off their feet and preparing them something to eat. On Sukkot we symbolically welcome our ancestors into the sukkah, already filled with the friends and family we’ve invited. On Passover we say, “let all who are hungry, come and eat.” And of course, Shabbat is traditionally a time for inviting others to share a meal with us.
We are a welcoming people. “Come in, sit, have a nosh.”
Arrival at camp takes welcoming guests to the extreme. And while our own guests might be taken aback if we greeted them with singing and dancing and clapping, we all know how good it feels to be warmly received and to know that we are wanted and that we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
In our own lives, think about how you let others know they are welcome and that you are happy to see them. It is not just inviting people to our homes. Think about when you are meeting a friend—are you wholly engaged and present, or are you on your cell phone and texting?
At camp we welcome each other with our heads and our hearts, with words and song. And once you arrive, you turn around to welcome others. There is a sense of ownership toward camp—everyone feels the responsibility to welcome newcomers.
So just imagine if we stretched that feeling to our synagogue. When Dr. Ron Wolfson spoke to our congregation last year he taught that we are each responsible for welcoming each other to our synagogue—that it is up to us to create that feeling of warmth and acceptance and to let each other know that we are glad to be here, in this place, together. Being welcoming is about being fully present and making a real connection with another person.