Warm and Wel­com­ing: How the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Can Become Tru­ly Diverse and Inclu­sive in the 21st Century 

War­ren Hoff­man, Miri­am Steinberg-Egeth

  • Review
By – January 27, 2022

A quick glance at almost any syn­a­gogue web­site will yield the famil­iar phrase, we are a warm and wel­com­ing com­mu­ni­ty.” How­ev­er, though many com­mu­ni­ties aspire to be open and embrac­ing, they often fall short of the goal. In their newest col­lec­tion, Warm and Wel­com­ing: How the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Can Become Tru­ly Diverse and Inclu­sive in the 21st Cen­tu­ry, edi­tors War­ren Hoff­man and Miri­am Stein­berg-Egeth give us a roadmap to help all Jew­ish lead­ers, pro­fes­sion­al and lay, ensure that warm and wel­com­ing” is much more than lip service.

It’s clear from the first page that Hoff­man and Stein­berg-Egeth under­stand what is at stake in Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Hoff­man begins the intro­duc­tion of the book with an account of attend­ing a local syn­a­gogue and being com­plete­ly ignored. Luck­i­ly for the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, this encounter did not turn him off to orga­nized reli­gion. How­ev­er, Hoff­man admits that for many, this insti­tu­tion­al cold-shoul­der­ing can do irrepara­ble damage.

Warm and Wel­com­ing is full of these trag­ic anec­dotes. Each chap­ter is writ­ten by a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from groups that are often turned away from the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. One chap­ter speaks about the strug­gle of being a Jew of col­or, anoth­er from an inter­faith fam­i­ly, anoth­er with dif­fer­ent Israel pol­i­tics from the main­stream, and still anoth­er a mem­ber of the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty. Though each chap­ter is dif­fer­ent, they all seek to answer sim­i­lar ques­tions; what gets in the way of being wel­com­ing to this group? What is at stake when we fail at wel­com­ing them? What prac­ti­cal things can a com­mu­ni­ty do to be more wel­com­ing to this group? It is in answer­ing the lat­ter ques­tions that this book real­ly shines. Even if one under­stands well the prob­lems the com­mu­ni­ty faces with being open and embrac­ing, this book is a valu­able resource because it pro­vides work­able and effec­tive steps to rec­ti­fy one’s community’s shortcomings.

As one reads the book, oth­er ques­tions begin to arise. How does a com­mu­ni­ty pay for these inno­va­tions? How does one bal­ance rad­i­cal open­ness with a ded­i­ca­tion to Jew­ish legal norms and bound­aries that may run counter to them? What does warm and wel­com­ing look like for peo­ple out­side of the groups dis­cussed in the book? Thank­ful­ly, the book lets the read­er sit with those ques­tions and begins address­ing them at the end, though there is still more to be said about each. The final few chap­ters serve as a help­ful and broad coda on the very spe­cif­ic chap­ters ear­ly on that address the demo­graph­ic groups men­tioned above. Steinberg-Egeth’s con­clud­ing chap­ter is espe­cial­ly help­ful in this regard.

Warm and Wel­com­ing is an invalu­able resource for any­one who seeks to make mean­ing­ful change with­in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. The book pays close atten­tion to the lat­est sta­tis­tics about Jew­ish engage­ment, espe­cial­ly the 2020 Pew Report. As many authors remind us, we are at an inflec­tion point. With so many Jews ques­tion­ing Jew­ish life, we can­not afford to cre­ate bar­ri­ers to engage­ment. Being warm and wel­com­ing” isn’t just a community’s ide­al, it is its actu­al life­line. It is how it will sur­vive. If one reads the book’s essays close­ly, dis­cuss­es the authors’ rec­om­men­da­tions, and attempts to imple­ment them, one will find their com­mu­ni­ty can grow not only more approach­able but also more robust. Warm and Wel­com­ing is the best kind of book; it is high­ly rel­e­vant but seeks to become obso­lete if the rec­om­men­da­tions are tak­en seriously.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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