BY RABBI FRED GREENE / AJT //

Rabbi Fred Greene

Rabbi Fred Greene

This week’s parashah is called Vayera.

The title comes from the first words of the portion – Vayera eilav Adonai b’eilonei Mamre – the Eternal appeared to Abraham in the place where he made his camp, called Elonei Mamre.

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We read that G-d appeared to Abraham, but when Abraham looks up from the door of his tent, he sees three men who are clearly G-d’s messengers. Thinking that they are mere wanderers, Abraham offers them a morsel of bread, but prepares a feast.

He washes the dust off their feet and makes sure they are comfortable before they carry on with their journey.

In our day, we don’t think much about hospitality. If we go to someone else’s house, maybe we will bring flowers, chocolates, or some small gift. In Abraham’s day, the hospitality of a host could save your life.

Have we become more lax about it because we don’t need hospitality in the same way as our ancestors? We tend to own cars, cell phones, and subscribe to emergency road services; but a journey through the Judean wilderness posed great risk and a host provided safety.

The rabbis saw an important lesson in this chapter.

We recall Abraham and Sarah’s graciousness and hospitality at every Jewish wedding ceremony when we raise the chuppah (the wedding canopy) over the bride and groom, hoping that they will welcome and be kind to guests and strangers along their journeys in life.

How much more so should we keep our synagogue doors open to those seeking ways to connect with Judaism, the Jewish community, and G-d?

Many are fortunate to be part of a synagogue community that strives to be there for those who walk through our doors and enter our tents. Our hospitality can also save us from the unknown in the wilderness. Our congregations can provide sanctuary from a complicated, often chaotic world.

But let’s be honest: Have synagogues always done our best?

Certainly not.

Have we grown in countless ways?

I believe we have.

The last few decades have brought enormous change and growth. But of course, there is more to do.

In a recently released Pew Study, entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”, we learn a number of things (actually, rabbis already knew its findings; it just confirmed what we knew with statistics).

American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong Jewish identity. But the study tells us that one-in-five Jews (22 percent) describe themselves as having no religion.

It’s something that other faith communities are encountering throughout our country. Americans, not just Jews, are shrinking away from having any formal religious connection. Forty-five percent of “nones” (those who say they have no religion) believe in G-d, so it’s not that they want no religion; they simply are wary of religious institutions.

So what do we do?

We should welcome the stranger in our midst – but this time, the strangers are other Jews! We must make sure they are cared for.

We need to think differently as leaders and mean it when we say that all are welcome. We need to be more responsive to the needs of the disenfranchised, disillusioned, and uninspired.

Then, those who have written off the one institution that sustains Judaism and the Jewish People, need to take another look. They will need to let go of the notion of being served as consumers and replace it with a perspective of being engaged through relationships.

Those who want to perpetuate a Judaism that is compelling need to be willing to be met and grow together with others in community.

I don’t work in a store. I have nothing to sell. As a rabbi, my colleagues and I extend our hands to all who want a meaningful connection. We seek to be a part of communities that are vibrant, innovative, and serious.  But that also means we need partners.

I believe in these “institutions” – these synagogues; these are our safe places. It is where we learn and teach. It is where we struggle to find G-d, and even at times challenge G-d.

We search for answers, but more often we search for questions.

Our synagogues are like the tent of Abraham and Sarah. We seek to be open, safe, and hospitable.

Do we miss the mark sometimes? Sure, we are human, too, and we don’t have Disney’s budget. We have good people who want to make a difference in the Jewish journeys of others.

All are welcome in our tents.

About the writer

Rabbi Fred Greene is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Tikvah of Roswell. He currently services as Treasurer/Secretary of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.

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