August 28, 2014
|Susanna with her family the year they moved
It was a brisk September Sunday. I was with my younger children
at the assembly that happens before the start of religious school. My husband was with our older child at the other location where the older kids attend religious school. It was the first day for all of us. Earlier in the week, we moved from another state into our new house. Our lives were in boxes.
The kids and I sat through the assembly. We sang some songs. The rabbi
told a story. It was very nice, and also uneventful. I had been in an interfaith marriage for over 12 years at this point. It was not my first time at this rodeo. I knew the drill. But I didn’t know anyone. When we first walked into the assembly everyone was chatting and sharing summer stories. We sat there quietly. As the assembly wore on, I felt less and less comfortable. I was a stranger in a strange land all over again.
After I ushered my middle son to his classroom, that feeling of anxiety was getting greater. I was feeling very much the outsider. There was a bagel breakfast in the social hall, so I went there. Food is always a good idea in my book. I got a bagel and sat down. My younger daughter was still with me, so I had her to keep me from being totally alone.
The tables filled up. We were still sitting alone. Then a really nice woman with a son asked if they could join us. She introduced herself and started asking me questions about where we were from and engaged me in conversation. At one point, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t find my dishes so we hadn’t been able to eat a proper meal in days. She offered to bring me some of hers. She even offered to bring us a proper meal. She introduced her son to my daughter; they are both about the same age. Then every single time I saw her, she said hi to me. To this day I will never forget the kindness and welcome she extended to me. I was very anxious and nervous and she helped me wash all of that away.
The High Holidays find many of us looking around the temple not knowing very many people. For those of us who attend regularly, we will have people to chat with, but newcomers or folks that don’t attend much aren’t as lucky. I imagine that many of them feel like I did; nervous and anxious. It’s hard to be “the new kid” at any age. Many “new kids” like me, will know the drill. But, some may not. What can you do to make it more comfortable for these strangers?
My mother always told me, no matter what situation you are in, always choose to act in the most kind way possible. Sometimes that means going slightly outside our comfort zone. I know I am not a huge fan of talking to new people. But when I think about the kindness paid to me when I was “the new kid,” I think it might be worth giving it a shot.
Sometimes we never get to know the impact of a kindness, but maybe by just introducing yourself to someone who is new to you at services, you might encourage that person to become more involved in Judaism or even your temple. Maybe you will meet someone really cool. No matter what happens, your kindness is never wasted.
This is not just something you should do during the holidays. Do it all year long. If you see someone who might be new at temple, at a PTA meeting, at the gym or any place you frequent, it doesn’t take much to stop and say hello and introduce yourself. You never know who you might meet!
To this day, I remember the kindness paid to me on that September morning, when I felt like a stranger and someone sat down and included me. It continued from there as she continued to stop to chat with me in the coming months. I am willing to bet the woman in this story does not remember this encounter with me, but look at the impact her very small act had on my life. As we are at the start of another year, I would like to challenge all of us to try to go out of our way to be welcoming to the people who could use a friendly face.