Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sometimes it takes a newcomer....

Everybody is welcome at our table. You don't have to daven in our shul - you don't have to agree with our hashkafah - (though a bit of guest etiquette is always appreciated). But unless you out and out disrespect us or otherwise set a supremely bad example for our children, you are always welcome in our home.

As a hostess though, I am often feeling my "inner Julie" (OK, if you are under "ahem" years of age you won't get the Julie McCoy, cruise director extraordinaire, reference... just wiki or google "Love Boat" and suffice it to say she was responsible for everybody's good time) and when the conversations get a bit controversial, I'm not very good at defending my position to some of our guests as strongly as I would like to.

You see, the shul we are proud members of strives to keep its traditions and minhagim alive by adhering to customs, practices and nusach that have survived many generations. It does set us apart from many of the other shuls around, that sort of "evolve" with the preferences of their members and don't adhere to any one set of minhagim. This Yom Tov, on second night, we had two lovely young guests at our table. One is a new member of our proud congregation and the other is a staunch supporter of one of the other neighborhood shuls. This second woman was saying how our shul was so closed minded because we try to adhere to these minhagim of old and she did not at all accept the concepts of newcomers to the shul following "minhag hamokom" or the concept that is brought down of "Al tifrosh min hatzibbur" (don't set yourself apart from the group). She kept insisting that heterogeneous was the way to be accepting, and that kindly and gently offering a newcomer the opportunity to "fit in" to our homogenous group (for instance by offering a tallis which is the minhag of all men in shul single or married...) is a manifestation of our "intolerance of differences" as she sees it. (Now in truth, you must know, that our shul's welcoming committee only offers visitors the opportunity to fit in... nothing is forced down anybody's throat, though a certain dress code is required for an aliyah, there is none for davening alone)

Well, our new member proudly said, "It doesn't sound like YOU are being very accepting! You want everybody to be like YOU (i.e. heterogeneous) and YOU are the one who is being closed-minded by not allowing us to be homogeneous in our own shul!". I thought about that and it was a "hmmmmm" moment for me. She was right! Why did it bother this other woman that we were not "heterogeneous just like her"? Doesn't that exhibit a form of homogeneity (in their heterogeneity) and isn't that EXACTLY what she was accusing us of?


frumcollegegirl said...

that's what they say: always remember that you're unique; just like everyone else

Juggling Frogs said...

You hit the nail on the head, G6 (or should I call you, Ms. McCoy?)

Having a dress code is not intolerant. It's not really a minhag, and therefore can be mandated by the shul, and fits under the al tifrosh... category.

Minhagim vary with respect to single men/boys wearing the tallit. If it's the predominant tradition in your shul to wear one, then offering one just makes sense. (We're yekkish, and my son is used to being the one of the only teenagers wearing a tallit in shul and at school.)

If a bareheaded man came in and was offered a kippah, would THAT be intolerant, too?

Juggling Frogs said...

Clarification: The dress code can be mandatory because it's NOT about minhagim. But for minhagim, people should follow their own.

Offering is just polite. Obviously, forcing someone to deviate from their minhagim is not okay.