How did I become engaged in Jewish life?
The Snyder-Kepler family invited me to dinner after we met at synagogue. Then they invited me to holidays at their home. I met other people there, who invited me to their homes. We ate together. We did dishes together. We hung out together. Friendships were born. Kids grew up. And we’re still doing it.
It is not a “program” funded by institutions or philanthropists: it is a way of life.
I am in the process of moving into a new home. I’m organizing it with two goals in mind. First, it needs to be accessible enough that my honey and I can get old in it, and disabled friends can come to visit with dignity. Secondly, it needs to be set up like the Tent of Abraham: we are going to welcome friends and strangers (soon to be new friends) for Shabbat dinners, for lazy Shabbat afternoons, for holidays, and for study. And the house is going to be set up so that people’s children will be welcome, too.
I know this works, because it worked on me. Our home will not be a synagogue or a substitute for a synagogue. It will be a Jewish home, hospitably open to other people. We’ll find them at synagogue, we’ll find them in class, we’ll find them when they wander into our lives. And they will be welcome. And then we will teach them: you can do this. Invite someone over.
Because committing to serious hospitality requires daring from my introverted soul. I worry that I’m an awful housekeeper, I’m not a very good cook, I tend to run around barefoot at home, the dogs will misbehave, what will we do if they don’t leave? what will I do if they criticize me? what if what if what if … and it simply doesn’t matter. I’m going to give this mitzvah a go.
Because I know that it works. It worked on me.
Now: to any other Jews that are reading this: I dare YOU. When was the last time you invited another Jew over? I’m not talking to the congregational rabbis, I’m talking to the folks like me, Jews-in-the-pew. You don’t have to commit to it as a way of life – not now – just commit to doing it once. Then again. Invite someone over for dinner and Scrabble. Or lunch and the ballgame on TV. Or gardening. Or making brownies. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have them over. What matters is that you practice the mitzvah of hospitality. If you have a home, however humble, it’s fine.
Dawn Kepler of Building Jewish Bridges and I are starting a Pinterest board with resources for other daring Radical Hospitality folks. We have boards for:
… and we can build more! Help us build our files – what goodies might you have to share? A challah recipe? A great easy menu that can be made on the fly? A surefire way to make guests comfortable and introduce them to each other?
I believe that this can transform our congregations, if enough of us do it. Because we will then not be a group of people consuming services, we will be a real community, people who have eaten together and washed dishes together, who have maybe even seen each other at not-at-our-best times. We will have compassion for one another. We will have bright ideas. We will show up.
I dare you.