Finding a Friendly Face

By Martha Ginsberg | Issue Date: February 2010

New York can be a lonely place. So can BJ. It’s so easy to peek in and say, “Wow, this is an amazing community. What an inspiration. This is where I want to daven. This is where I want to belong.”

So you go to Friday night service. That’s when everyone goes, and you think for sure you’ll at least meet a few people. Or maybe you go on a Saturday morning and there’s a kiddush. You’re bound to meet someone. That’s how congregations work, right? But you went last week and felt so alone. The kiddush felt awkward; you weren’t sure how to say what to whom, so you had a little bagel and egg salad and looked around before grabbing your coat and heading home. But you’ll try again today. Today will be different. You assume, or maybe hope, “someone will talk to me.” Or maybe you’ve been coming on and off for 10 years but have gotten married; they’ve moved to Brooklyn. They have kids now and their lives are different. Or they’ve retired and moved to be near their children and grandchildren, but you’re still in the city. And maybe you’ve stopped coming, maybe you’ve thought, “I should go back to B’nai Jeshurun. I made so many friends there.” But you go and you’re familiar with some faces, but mostly not, and everyone has their cliques. Why is it so hard to break in? You hear the Rabbis talk about all the ways to get involved, but the main thing you want is a friendly face that confirms, “Ah yes, this is the place for me.” You just want to make some kind of connection. It’s lonely to look through the sea of faces after services, searching for a friendly one as you put away your siddur, considering the prospect of heading home for a quiet Shabbat meal alone. But then the woman sitting next to you smiles and says, “Shabbat Shalom.” The spell is broken. And you respond. And then something crazy happens: She asks you if you come often, you exchange a few words, and suddenly you’ve made a connection. You may never see her again, or maybe you’ll see her next week. Who knows? Maybe you even meet the people she’s with and establish some commonality. Her daughter next to her is back in town from Ann Arbor, and University of Michigan is your alma mater. Who knew? Either way, you’ve made a connection. This is a friendly shul after all.

Martha Ginsberg is a longtime BJ member and serves on the Potential Members Team of the Membership Committee.