A number of years ago, when we joined $current_congregation-1, we were invited to a new member welcome dinner at the rabbi’s house. At this dinner, they went around the room asking people to introduce themselves. The litany began: doctor, lawyer, entertainment industry executive, doctor, lawyer, sole practitioner business, doctor, lawyer. When they got to me, I tentatively raised my hand. Engineer.
Fast forward to $current_congregation. As I look around the congregation, what do I see. Doctors. Lawyers. People who have their own businesses. Teachers. People doing various social work. When I look at the programs and who volunteers, again it is the same thing — the lawyers, the real estate agents — people who are essentially their own bosses and have their own businesses. What don’t I see? The engineers. The “blue collar” workers who work for someone else, have the regular hours. I know they are in the congregation… but you don’t often see them.
This isn’t something new. Back in my camp days, I stood out being the person who was interested in the non-medical sciences. I was the person who had the footlocker lined in decoupaged program listings. I wasn’t the person who was pre-med, pre-law, or in the humanities.
I’m mentioning this — in the first of what is likely to be a series of posts of Jewish community* — because I think our congregation life is excluding a class of people. We talk about making our congregations be welcoming places… but welcoming for whom? They are welcoming for those who can contribute money due to their profession — top executives and business owners. They are welcoming for the parents of children, who are active in the schools. Are they welcoming to the blue collar worker? Are they welcoming to the employee who has regular hours and commutes, and perhaps cannot have all the time flexibility of others? Are they welcoming when the primary fundraisers are $200 a plate dinners, art auctions, and similar events.
$current_congregation-2 was a much smaller congregation, distinguished by the fact that there were few “big machers”. Fund raisers were regular dining out nights, where a percentage went to the temple. There was an ad book where the community placed ads, and there was a wide variety of ad prices so all could participate. We never felt “less than” at that community because we couldn’t make major contributions. Anyone could be active on the board without financial pushes.
We send a message about our welcoming nature — and our inclusiveness — not only with what we say, but with what we do. We can say we are welcoming to interfaith and all forms of relationships, but send economic messages that belie that inclusiveness. We have to have a congregation where people from all professions and all financial levels can feel welcome and be active.
*[And now the explanation on why you’re seeing this stuff. I’m a Vice-President of our Men’s Club at $current_congregation. Our president went to the recent MRJ (Men of Reform Judaism), and came back with a load of books on leadership development, making welcoming congregations, and such. As I work through them, I intend to capture my ideas in posts. I’m currently reading one on being a welcoming congregation, and that seemed to fit with this concern I’ve had for years on being the “odd man out” as an engineer in an environment of doctors and lawyers. Yes I know there are many famous Jewish scientist and engineers … but were they active in their congregations and in leadership positions? See what I mean? A future post rolling around in my head will go to the notion of Masculinity — these books for Brotherhood activities talk about getting men together to express their “Masculine” side, but what is that really? Is that getting together for beer, poker, and football? So expect a future post exploring Men’s Fellowship.]