Today is January 21, 2019 -

Creating a Culture of Radical Hospitality

By Rabbi Steven Abraham

At the conclusion of the High Holy Days, Beth El took part in a survey put on by the Gallup Organization that looked at membership engagement. While there were critiques of the survey, we believed that it would help guide the lay and professional leadership in creating a more engaged congregation.

As we looked at the data and spoke to professionals at Gallup, it became clear that engagement is about how you feel and not how much you do. A Beth El congregant could show up twice a year and feel completely connected to Beth El, while on the other hand we could have someone who is in the building multiple times a week that feels disconnected from their synagogue community.

Attendance, while important, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

With that in mind, here are a few items that we will be working towards in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Brit Kodesh – A Holy Covenant
A core of Jewish belief is the concept of covenant. One covenant exists between God and the Jewish people, the other between the people themselves. On a daily basis we all have obligations, whether to our parents, our spouse, our children, our jobs…the list goes on and on.

Like every American synagogue and the vast majority of volunteer organizations, there are dues to belong to our congregation. We exist through dues and donations in order to run the wide variety of programs and services our
congregants expect. In becoming a member of our synagogue community, you indicate your acceptance of your spiritual and financial obligations to your synagogue community. In turn, the synagogue and its leadership pledge to live up to its covental responsibilities.

Over the next few months we will begin to flesh out that relationship. As a synagogue, we owe it to our membership to create worship services that reflect the love and inspiration that are at the heart of Jewish tradition. Our congregants should expect our synagogue to challenge them; emotionally, spiritually and perhaps physically.

We should be a place you come when you need to cry and when you need to celebrate. In the same breath, as a congregant of an engaged synagogue, we expect you to participate in prayer once a month, both for your own benefit and that of the community. We also want you to feel empowered to get involved outside the walls of Beth El, to make Omaha a better place to live.

A Covenant is a holy relationship that depends on equal love and support from both sides for it to succeed.

House Parties
While we are not against planning to bring a DJ to your house, our hope is to create an atmosphere where congregants can meet outside of Beth El to discuss issues and challenges that face them in their everyday lives. At Beth El, our goal is not only to bring you into the building to do Jewish, but to help bring Jewish into your everyday lives. Perhaps a house meeting will take place for those who have lost a loved one in the past year, or for those families who are headed into their child’s b’nai mitzvah year, or perhaps another geared towards those with aging parents. These sessions will be hosted by congregants and open to our entire congregation.

Radical Hospitality
It is clear from the survey that our congregation is friendly; people feel that when they come to Beth El they see a welcoming face; nevertheless it is time to up our game. Over the past few years we have been friendly. Now we must practice radical hospitality. What does that mean exactly? It means that we must go above and beyond to be welcoming to our fellow congregants and guests. When you see someone you don’t know, go introduce yourself (it’s ok to talk during services). If after an event, Mens Club, Sisterhood, Shabbat… etc, there is someone missing who would normally attend, give them a call or drop an email. Let them know you missed them. It will mean the world to them.

A synagogue is only as strong as the relationships it helps to cultivate and maintain. A synagogue that creates a culture of radical hospitality is one that is making an investment in its most important commodity — its people.

The Gallup Survey was a snapshot in time. Some of the data affirmed already held beliefs, while others gave us insight into areas where we still need to improve. We would not be the loving, caring community that we are without you, and we appreciate your time and feedback about your engagement at Beth El.