Miles above the earth, sitting snuggly in my seat, surrounded by 200 other travelers on JetBlue’s LAX-JFK shuttle, I felt alone. Not one to make conversation with strangers on a plane (who, once discovering I am a rabbi, begin to tell me about every Bar Mitzvah they ever attended), the usually outgoing me becomes very introverted. I sat quietly, pondering in silence and sadness about how easy it is for an individual to feel invisible even amidst a crowd of people. If connecting with others requires openness, self-disclosure, and a willingness to feel vulnerable for a moment, it also needs an impetus: someone or something that invites an interaction.
It made me think about Or Ami, about how much attention and energy we devote to making people feel welcome, and about how there still must be are people – even members of our congregation – who feel uncomfortable or invisible. Yes, Or Ami does so much to try to break down barriers. We offer explicit welcomes on the website to interfaith, special needs, LGBT, and multicultural/racial individuals and families. We insist on nametags (with first and last names) at all programs and services. We begin each service by inviting guests to introduce themselves. We call the entire congregation three times a year, just to check in and to convey the message that “you matter to us.” Henaynu, being there for each other, defines our congregation.
Yet thinking about the other me, that man sitting in silence on the plane, I wondered how else might we model a welcoming atmosphere? What could we do to be more proactive, welcoming those for whom being quiet or introverted are part of their self-definition? Since my best ideas always come from others, I invite you to share your thoughts.