Put your toe in the water
Rabbi Shapiro wrote these words for a congregational e-mail on Tuesday, August 2, 2011.
I’ve encountered something new in the last several months.
In speaking to people who are not members of Sinai and who are considering visiting the congregation, I’ve heard several of them speak with what seems like tremendous fear. Actually, fear may be a little strong. Let’s say, instead, that at least some people seem to think we will bite them when they visit.
It’s as if Sinai was a body of cold water and even putting a toe in the water was going to hurt.
Does this make sense to you?
Many years ago Leonard Fein wrote an article about a phenomenon he called “fear of Judaism.” Fein suggested that otherwise bright, competent adults feel uneasy in the synagogue world because they think they lack the requisite skills for synagogue life. A Ph.D. from Harvard quakes in his boots when he is asked to do the Torah blessings. A major CEO remembers stage fright from her Bat Mitzvah and years later still worries about being able to “achieve” in the sanctuary.
I think some of those non-members I encounter also bring with them a kind of guilt. They feel bad about not being the kind of Jews they think they are supposed to be. They probably don’t have as much Jewish background as they wish. And so, they hesitate even when it comes to stepping into the Temple.
What are we to do?
There isn’t a single “solution” to the problem. But I do know what I tell those non-members who are afraid to put a toe into the water. (My message would be the same for Temple members who may be intimidated by the Temple.)
I would say, “I sense your concern. I understand why it may seem as if the threshold of the Temple is very high. But take one step and we at Sinai will take a step as well. We’ll meet you wherever you are. We welcome you whoever you are. No expectations. No apologies necessary. The door is open. Honestly. The doors to Sinai and to Jewish living are always open.”
Or to phrase it in terms of the summer, “Come on in. The water is fine! We’re glad to have you with us.”
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