Recently, I was visiting out of town family in St. Louis when the topic of synagogue membership came up around the dinner table. I asked what I thought was a simple question,“Where do you belong?” I expected to hear the name of one congregation. The answer wasn’t so simple.
“Well, we pay dues at our large Conservative synagogue nearby,but the kids go to religious school at a different shul where many of their friends attend, and we love the holiday programming at another new, but smaller synagogue across town.”
It got me thinking that the concept of “belonging” to a synagogue is no longer synonymous with where one pays his or her annual dues. The idea of belonging goes much deeper than that, extending to an actual feeling that people have when they enter the doors to a synagogue. To me, belonging is being home, amongst people that embrace and accept you.
I have called Adath home for my entire life. I belong here. I can still see the loud, garish carpet at the entry to Shandeling Hall on Dupont Avenue, and smell the strong disinfectant in the bright pink tiled girls bathroom. I’m convinced there is no choir in the world that can sing Sim Shalom on Rosh Hashanah like our Adath choir can. I still can’t pass the beautiful bride’s room without recalling my own wedding day here. And the fact that Greg and Kathy on the facilities team have watched my kids graduate from the Gan and become B’nai Mitzvah is something really special. I embrace Adath because Adath has embraced me, providing me with the spiritual guidance of caring staff and clergy and the emotional guidance of new friends that I now call family.
Now, in my role as VP of Membership, I am the lucky one who gets to make that first call to welcome new members. Of course I love asking where the new member is from, if they have family in town and what brought them to Adath. But the question I am finding most revealing is, “Now that you belong here, how can we help you really belong here?” For as many new members as I ask, each one gives me a unique response.
We are blessed with a large congregation at Adath, which presents both challenges and opportunities as it relates to belonging. Creating a welcoming congregation means understanding the countless ways we can create belonging. There is no one size fits all prescription for belonging – it must be customized and cultivated one congregant at a time. Whether belonging happens at a spirited SPA service, at the lively entrance of the Gan Shelanu or around the sweet table at Shabbat kiddush lunch, the important thing is that it happens, and that we all work together to create a sense of belonging at Adath.