Jewish Journal

A Parking Space By Any Other Name

by Susan Esther Barnes

July 9, 2014 | 1:30 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

Rabbi Simcha Bunam of P'shis'kha taught that in one pocket we should carry a piece of paper which reads, “The world was made for me, and me alone,” and in the other pocket should be one that says, “I am but dust and ashes.”

Any time we’re feeling particularly low or discouraged, we should refer to the first note. Any time we’re feeling too arrogant or full of ourselves, we should ponder the second one.

Last month I was elected synagogue president. It’s a bit surreal. Suddenly, it feels like anything I say or do – in fact, anything I don’t say or don’t do – when I’m around congregants carries more weight. I don’t want anyone to think of me differently, or to treat me differently. I just want to help our community continue to grow and thrive.

A lot of exciting things are going to be happening over the coming year. Included among them is a continuation of our Visioning process, one result of which is two new people who will be joining us full time: a new cantor/rabbi and a new educator who is scheduled to be ordained as a rabbi next year. They will be launching our new “Jewish Living and Learning” initiative.

With approximately 1100 member families, there are a lot of different things going on all the time. One of my first tasks, which I have already begun, is to meet with various people who are staff and lay leaders of some of the many worthwhile efforts already in progress. Not to mention the meetings I want to have with past presidents to gain their perspective on things.

With all this happening, I find it interesting that the one thing people bring up the most often the first time they see me after learning of my election is the president’s reserved parking space.

You see, we’re very lucky to be one of the very few campuses in the country with a synagogue, a Jewish day school, and a Jewish Community Center all together in one place. It’s wonderfully convenient and helpful in many ways. The downside is parking.

It’s not unusual, when there is a large event at one or more of the buildings on campus, for some people to have to park blocks away, and hoof it. So I guess it’s understandable when people think I’m going to be enjoying that parking space reserved for the president.

There is something, though, about their focus on that space which makes me even more glad about what I did before the first person ever asked me about it. I went to the Executive Director, and asked him to paint over where it says, “President” and make it say, “First Time Visitor.”

I first read about that idea in the book, “The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Synagogue into a Sacred Community” by Dr. Ron Wolfson. It was the book that inspired me to start greeting people at the front door before services. It was the book that first got me thinking about what first impressions we give to people when they first arrive at the synagogue. It helped me to think differently about our priorities, and how I want to convey who we are.

I am president of the synagogue. The world was made for me, and me alone.

The parking space says “First Time Visitor.” I am but dust and ashes.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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