Sign In Forgot Password

July 2018 Rabbi Arnow's Article

The Right Questions

What are the right questions to ask a person you see at shul? Here are some suggestions:

“How are you feeling today?”

“For whom are you saying Kaddish?”

“My name is ____. What’s your name?”

“How can I help?”

“Could I sit next to you?” or “Would you like to come sit next to me?”

“Can I introduce you to _____?”

If someone has been sick, they may not feel like going into their whole medical history. But one can safely ask, “How are you feeling today?”

When someone is saying Kaddish, if you don’t know for whom they are saying Kaddish, it’s just about always appropriate to ask, “For whom are you saying Kaddish?” You can also follow up with, “Tell me something about your loved one.”

If there’s someone you don’t know, don’t pretend—just introduce yourself and ask their name. and don’t assume it’s someone else’s job—it’s everyone’s job to meet people. But please don’t ask people if they are new—because if they’ve been coming for a year, and keep getting asked if they’re new, it can make them feel invisible and unnoticed. And you can ask someone’s name even if they’re not new—but simply if you don’t know it.

If you see someone struggling—with a heavy bag, looking for a page, looking for something or someone, with a child (or several children), with steps, with the elevator, with a walker, with a stroller, with books, with anything—ask, “How can I help?”

Don’t let people sit by themselves—at shul on Friday night or Saturday morning, at minyan, at Kiddush, or at a program. Ask them—invite them to sit with you, or plop yourself down next to them, asking if it’s alright. They may want a little solitude, but give them the option of some company. And this doesn’t need to be just new people who you’ve never seen. This is a kind thing to do for acquaintances too. No one should sit alone unless they say they want to be alone.

You don’t have to be the only person to talk to someone you don’t know that you’re just meeting for the first time. Introduce them to others. And the people to whom you introduce them can be like them—another mother of young children, for example, or someone not like them. But introducing people is a kind, welcoming thing to do. And you can introduce people you know who don’t know each other, or don’t know each other well.

Imagine if every single time you came to services on a Saturday morning or a holiday, you said every single one of these things to a different person. How many more people would you meet? How warmly would people feel welcomed? If you ask all six questions in a single Shabbat, let me know—I’ll publicly appreciate you from the bima or in writing, anonymously or not—your choosing. Do it every week, and you’ll be a hero, a tzadeek (saint) of welcoming and kindness.
Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780