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.
If Or Ami is so involved in blogging, eNewsletters, twitter, and Facebook, why am I sitting with our president Susan Gould and Board Member Kim Gubner (and 75 other rabbis and Jewish community leaders) in a Board of Rabbis and STAR sponsored seminar on Communicating and building relationships in an age of New Media?
We are here to hear and learn and figure out how to deepen the conversation within our community.
It is fascinating how many synagogues are experimenting with various social media and new media. I am fascinated by how so many are struggling to figure out how to get it started.
Workshops on working with the Main Stream Media mix with presentations on Social Media (facebook, del.i.cious, LinkedIn, Twitter). Conversations on how one-sided presentations (main stream media) is taking the back seat to the back-and-forth sharing and engaging of social media. A debate broke out as to whether what online communities are “real” communities or “virtual” communities.
I tend to believe that these communities are real. I do as much (more?) counseling that happens by email and facebook, as I do face to face. More people connect with our messages shared by eNewsletter, blog, facebook, than through a Shabbat evening sermon (and I would argue, a higher percentage of listeners/readers than most rabbis – even those in the bigger synagogues – do on a typical Shabbat eve/day at services). People connect, share, build relationships, inspire, motivate… and we synagogues do too.
I am proud that our Congregation Or Ami vigorously uses multiple types of social media and new media to create conversations between rabbi and congregants, and more importantly, between congregants themselves. I am excited to figure out how to deepen the connections…
The seminar is energizing for some of us; overwhelming for others. Some are frightened by the options for connecting, and the fear of the amount of work to do to make it work. Others, myself included, are energized by the new opportunities to bring people into the conversation… about Judaism, Torah, spirituality, God…
Enough. I’m multitasking during this fabulous presentation. I must get back to the seminar (and to multitask on another task as well).