Creating a Welcoming Space - April 2, 2021

Who are the people in your life that helped you feel like you belonged? What was it that they did that helped create that feeling?

Posted
April 2, 2021
Graphic of head with talk bubble above

Creating a Welcoming Space - April 2, 2021

Who are the people in your life that helped you feel like you belonged? What was it that they did that helped create that feeling?

Posted
April 2, 2021

"There is no house like the house of belonging." -David Whyte

JFS Friends

Sometimes at what seem to be the darkest moments you find the greatest gifts of kindness. My father became sick during my freshman year of college and passed away during my junior year. When I retuned to campus after sitting Shivah I mapped out the synagogues that had minyans (services) at times and locations that would best fit with my class schedule so that I could continue to say Kaddish.

The morning minyan that worked out best so that I could make my early class was an Orthodox shul close to campus. The first day I walked in I was nervous – having grown up outside the Orthodox community I wasn’t sure if I would feel welcome or accepted. The minute I walked in, however, I realized that everything would be OK – in fact, so much more than OK. The Rabbi came and greeted me and upon learning what brought me to services asked if I would like to lead the minyan. I sheepishly told him that I had not done that before but - before I could go any further -he said that he would be there to help me and it was all settled. He then steered me to the lectern and when I had finished laying tefillin motioned for me to begin. Halfway through the service, perhaps sensing how nervous I was that I was doing an adequate job, the Rabbi leaned over and whispered, “There is already talk of having you lead High Holiday Services.”

It was at that moment that I knew that everything would be OK – not only had I found a convenient location where I could fulfill my obligation as a mourner but I also had found a community that would help carry me forward through a difficult time. What I learned from Rabbi Magence at Bais Abraham in St. Louis, extends beyond compassion and caring – I watched him over and over again help people feel that they belonged, he had a way of finding a connection and using it to help ease people’s anxieties. It was, and is, a skill that I have tried to nurture in myself and something that I aspire to incorporate into the culture of the organizations where I work and volunteer.

There is one final twist to the story that is worth mentioning. When I told my mother about what had happened she asked me the name of the Rabbi; when I told her I could hear through the phone her gasp – the Rabbi who had welcomed me so generously into the minyan was the same one that had performed the Brit Milah for my brother 16 years prior. There was something about learning of that very personal connection to my family that reinforced a lesson – that people are only strangers until we meet them. Once introduced, we often discover we are more connected than we ever realized.

My mother had a wonderful habit, that I used to find funny but now I more fully appreciate. When I would bring someone new home for a visit, my mother would say to them when it was time for them to leave, “Now that you have been here once as a guest with Carl you are now part of the family and there is no need to bring him the next time.” It always made me laugh but it was her special way of creating a sense of belonging. She was communicating that there were no limits on their acceptance, her phrase meant, “you belong – no strings attached”. My brother sand I would marvel that over the years my mother would tell us how she had heard from our friends who continued to call and check in with her and keep her up-to-date with what was going on in their lives.

Who are the people in your life that helped you feel like you belonged? What was it that they did that helped create that feeling?

One of the themes of Passover is remembering that we were once strangers in a strange land and using that experience to lead us to act with compassion and caring for those who are on the margins. To find a way to reach out to those that do not feel that they have a place and help welcome them and create a sense of belonging.

I am proud that here at JFS this idea is part of the Principles that we have adopted that guide our work:

“We live our commitment to diversity and inclusion in our staff, clients and the communities we serve and strive to create a safe, nurturing and welcoming environment for all people.”

Thank you to all of the people in our lives who have helped us feel safe and welcome, may each of us find a way to repay that kindness by doing the same for others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Carl Josehart's signature

Carl E. Josehart, MSW (he/him/his)

Chief Operating Officer

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