Just about 26 years ago, I climbed the steps to the brass doors and entered the CBHT sanctuary for the first time. You might not have recognized me then, with my long hair hanging in a bushy ponytail. (I knew nothing about man-buns.) I don’t recall who greeted me at the door, but I know someone did, and welcomed me. I also cannot remember anything about Rabbi Ratner’s sermon that evening; I’m sure it was a good one, and that he smiled a lot while he was on the bima that night. I did not become a member until my 30s, years later, but every time I did attend services in my 20s, I felt even more welcome. After my family joined and began to attend services regularly, the warm hospitality I enjoyed was transformed into the warm welcome I could offer others as they visited our temple for the first time.
More than 50 years before I was welcomed into Beth HaTephila, my father was welcomed into Mishkan Tefila, a synagogue in Boston. He was 10 years old, spoke no English, and knew very little Hebrew. Nonetheless, he started attending Hebrew school five days a week (presumably taught by an English-speaking teacher).
Many of his fellow students were, like him, German refugees, with Germanic-sounding names and limited knowledge of English. Despite their status as “enemy aliens” during the war, they were all welcomed into the synagogue. He was also welcomed as a foster child, for a few months, by another English-speaking Jewish family, in part to learn the language, and partly because the family was so poor. I am sure it was not an easy time for my father, being just a child, or easy for his host family, or even the wider community of German-Jewish “enemy aliens.”
I was not a refugee when I was first welcomed into our temple community; we are fortunate to live in more peaceful times, when there are many fewer Jewish refugees compelled to seek new homes. Nonetheless it is our tradition to be welcoming, audaciously hospitable as we say now, to everyone who comes to our doors. We do this because it is our tradition, it is a mitzvah. We also do it because we remember the welcomes offered to us, and to our mothers and fathers, and all of our ancestors.