Orthodox shuls reaching out with a poster from OU

When you enter an Orthodox synagogue these days, you may notice something new — an official welcome, courtesy of the Orthodox Union.

A colorful poster, adorned with a white dove, bluebirds and flowers, was mailed recently to every OU member synagogue in North America. Along with its welcoming text in English, it also features a quote from Pirkei Avot that translates to “Greet everyone with a cheerful disposition.”

In Northern California, OU member shuls are Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, Emek Beracha in Palo Alto, Kenesset Israel Torah Center in Sacramento, and Magain David Sephardim Congregation and Chevra Thilim in San Francisco.

The poster is one of the latest in “Reaching Out, Changing Lives,” a series of outreach initiatives introduced at the OU’s Biennial National Convention last Thanksgiving in Jerusalem.

“Too often, our synagogue members, who feel very comfortable in shul, fail to greet newcomers. By encouraging them to reach out their hands in welcome, we hope to foster a warmer and welcoming environment that will encourage first-time visitors to come back again and again,” said OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb.

Rabbi Judah Dardik of Beth Jacob Congregation, who recently received the poster, said he would hang it to greet people walking into his synagogue. “The concept of walking into a synagogue and having something explicitly say ‘welcome’ is beautiful,” Dardik said.

Beth Jacob has been incorporating the concept of welcoming into their entrance for a while, he said, including having greeters at the doors to assist anyone who seemed lost or unsure. He cautioned that the poster “is not a substitute for actually going and doing it — people extending a hand or a smile.”

Still, he says, he enjoys the aesthetics as well as the message. “The poster is a great thing. It sends a message that this is a place where we actively welcome and push the spirit of welcoming.”