This week I wrote a post about how large b’nai mitzvah ceremonies can sometimes make people feel unwelcome at synagogue on Shabbat mornings–and boy, did the schmaltz hit the fan. It wasn’t a ground-breaking topic; communities have wrestled to find a balance on this point for years. In my post, I noted how I sometimes feel unwelcome, too, including at a particularly large simcha (joyous event) that took place last Saturday. Most importantly, 1.) I suggested ways to make people who aren’t part of the simcha crowd feel as welcome as the family and their guests, and 2.) I never wrote or suggested that b’nai mitzvah ceremonies should be removed from Sabbath services.
However, in response to my post, several angry and dismissive comments were left on my Facebook page by fellow members of my shul. They began with a comment that incorrectly characterized the point of my blog to be to remove b’nai mitzvah ceremonies from Saturday mornings, and continued with a stream of additional comments criticizing me or attacking me in an ad hominem fashion over this same point–which was never my point, to begin with.
Could I have written my original post more positively, less angrily, and more clearly? Absolutely. Could the commenters on Facebook have read my post with greater care (or in some cases, at all) before sharing their own strong opinions? Absolutely. In the end, some members of my community were left feeling that I was attacking the b’nai mitzvah kids, themselves, and after writing a post about feeling unwelcome, I was left feeling even less welcome.
I apologize to those whose feelings may have been hurt by my blog post. That wasn’t my intention. But I stand behind my actual points: that large simchas can and often do send a message that the family and invitees are more welcome than regular congregants; and that there are simple ways to help alleviate that on days when shuls know the b’nai mitzvah crowds are going to be unusually large–to make sure that everyone feels equally welcome.
Finally, a few points of order. As Mrs. Garrett sang:
“You take the good,
You take the bad,
You take them both,
And there you have the facts of life.”
Life, Jewish or otherwise, is multifaceted like that. No one should expect anything different from a blog about a person’s journey through it. Members of my community have celebrated along with me several times when my words relating my Jewish experience have touched others–whether via a speech in the sanctuary or a blog post re-published nationally. I’m grateful for the support and the readership.
But as I found during my conversion journey, the Jew-by-Choice (JBC) blogging community is tightly knit and altogether excellent, but small. I began writing exclusively about my experiences as a new Jew to help widen that blogging pool for the benefit of other Jews-by-Choice and people who may be considering joining the Jewish people. While it is never my intention to cause hurt feelings, neither in good conscience can I be inauthentic about my experiences and observations as a JBC.
And I hardly think a Jewish blog that didn’t have something to complain about would be all that authentic. Do you?
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.