Identity, Politics, Religion

How Welcoming is "Welcoming"?

Cross-posted from the IFF Network Blog.
On Monday, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (of the Conservative/Masorti Movement) posted a video to YouTube explaining the importance of having a welcoming website. Aimed at synagogues, the video was publicized by an email sent out by the FJMC.
What’s interesting about the video (and email) is that it never explicitly states something like, “synagogue websites should say, ‘Our synagogue is welcoming of all families, including interfaith families and families of diverse backgrounds.'”
Instead, it suggests:

Your congregation’s website is your most important tool to attracting today’s Jewish family. Your website’s ‘welcome’ must be obvious. It needs to greet the visitor in a meaningful and sincere way. For example, if you’re welcoming interfaith families, children and adults with different ethnic backgrounds, or gay and lesbian families, words like ‘welcome,’ ‘open,’ and ‘diverse’ need to be prominent and obvious.

Buzz words aren’t enough. If you’re welcoming of “interfaith families, children and adults with different ethnic backgrounds, or gay and lesbian families,” say so! Use those descriptive words! The video shows interfaith families (a family standing in front of a Christmas tree and a menorah!) and shows that we should be welcoming to interfaith families (the word “interfaith” on a doormat!), but doesn’t say to use the words on the websites.
It seems like the Conservative Movement wants to be welcoming of interfaith families, but doesn’t think it can outright say so. But it can. And should.
This is a great start. I appreciate that the FJMC is making this effort, and we all know that making changes in synagogues can be a slow and arduous process, but… Let’s just take it a step further.
What do you think? Watch the video and leave a comment:

13 thoughts on “How Welcoming is "Welcoming"?

  1. What happens when the ‘welcomed’ non-Jewish spouse walks into a Conservative synagogue and has to spend hours listening to a service in a language s/he doesn’t understand and has no connection to?
    Try putting THAT on a website.

  2. Just to note:
    – the 2 different rabbis that appear are both male
    – all the figurines using, searching and interacting with the synagogue or website are male
    things to think about when designing a welcoming synagogue website guideline video.

  3. I think this is a fantastic video and a great effort. Much respect. There might be some quibbles, but it moves the ball forward and is likely to reach lots of people.

  4. The suggestion to use CLEAR and DIRECT language around inclusion is absolutely correct. Buzzwords like “welcome” and “diverse” are better than nothing, but they simply aren’t clear enough for people who feel marginalized or who assume synagogues don’t want them. And yes, lots of LGBT people, Jews of color and people in interfaith relationships DO assume that synagogues don’t want them.
    As I’ve explained to congregational leaders around LGBT inclusion, too many LGBT people see a tagline of “Congregation X welcomes everyone” as containing a hidden asterisk, with an unwritten footnote that says “we welcome everyone, but you!”
    Also, in response to Dave, I’m not sure I agree with your specific example, but you’re totally on target about being sure the “welcoming” congregation is really actually welcoming. It’s easy to say, but is your shul really doing it, in reality? Pro-actively? Repeatedly? With humility? Would people outside the “mainstream” (however defined) see themselves reflected and/or honored in the congregation’s liturgy, programs, and self-presentation, and not just tokenized or ignored?

  5. And Jew Guevara, yes, this is a well-made (and fun) video, all criticism aside. It will no doubt be useful for many and if the suggestions it contains become a minimum standard in the Conservative Movement (or at synagogues broadly) it would be a HUGE step forward.

  6. Would people outside the “mainstream” (however defined) see themselves reflected and/or honored in the congregation’s liturgy, programs, and self-presentation, and not just tokenized or ignored?
    With respect, is this why Jews, LGBT or otherwise, to go shul, to “see themselves reflected and/or honored in the congregation’s liturgy”? Please explain what this means, exactly.

  7. Victor, a lot of Jewish practices (and this is true for other groups) developed at a time when the faith community exercised more coercive social, political and spiritual power over adherents. Nowadays, in open societies where liberal Jews can thrive, Jewish institutions are changing to reflect that all Jews are ‘Jews by choice.’
    Part of this is developing outreach that responds to a history of marginalizing some groups by making it explicit that those groups are now welcome. Being reflected in liturgy is just one mechanism for that. The broader concern is that Jewish practice, broadly defined, is a compromise between competing social forces. Change has always been there, and it’s continuing.

  8. Victor: I would add to what Jew Guevara said, by responding to your rhetorical questions with a “yes.” Straight, married Jews (esp. with kids) DO “see themselves reflected and/or honored in the congregation’s liturgy, programs and self-presentation.”
    They may not self-reflect consciously on that as being a reason they go to shul (although, sometimes they do), but the positive feedback loop and the feeling of being affirmed is absolutely one thing driving them to congregations. The congregational and communal norms that affirm heterosexual, in-married Ashkenazi Jews are taken to be so “normal” that the particularist focus of those norms becomes invisible.

  9. The question was not rhetorical. I don’t find it particularly helpful that you would make such strange assumptions. My inquiry was quite serious. It’s one thing to suggest that joining a congregation in prayer benefits the individual through communal affirmation and societal interaction. This is fine, and natural; We are enjoined to daven with a congregation. It’s quite another to consider the focus of divine service to be some variation on honor-seeking and the glorification of self. This seems to me to be the very opposite of divine service. Perhaps you can explain how it’s not.

  10. It’s hard to quarrel with the wisdom that the website should express that the congregation is welcoming to everyone, including interfaith families, GLBT individuals and families, people of color, seekers, etc. But if the website doesn’t reflect the reality of the congregation, it doesn’t mean diddly.
    Will the stranger be greeted at the Oneg Shabbat? Introduced around? Honored with an aliyah? Invited to participate in the life of the congregation? (We operate a soup kitchen every Wednesday. Would you like to come help us serve? Please come back on Tuesday evening for our adult ed class on kabbalah.)
    Does the culture of the congregation make every member a member of the membership committee?
    It’s not totally true that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. You get one chance on line, and another in person. And I submit that the second is more important than the first.

  11. Victor: It’s quite another to consider the focus of divine service to be some variation on honor-seeking and the glorification of self.
    I don’t think anyone is saying this. Liberal synagogues should take steps to make sure that previously excluded people not only are welcomed inside of the synagogue building, but know that their presence enriches the community. It’s not self-glorifying to want to contribute something to a group, rather than just having to feel like a freeloader who gets to consume something others have already constructed.

  12. MS is right–
    not only
    -all rabbis depicted are male
    -everyone using a computer is male
    but also
    -no people of color are depicted
    -women are displayed only as counterparts to men, and wearing long hair and dresses
    -gay couple onscreen for half a second
    and, basically, assumption that “you” (straight, white, male) are trying to attract “them” (other people) who are not already in your community.

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