“Loving the stranger” and “welcoming the stranger” are not always equivalent. How can we go out of our way to help those who are unfamiliar to us?

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Last winter, I heard a knock on my door at 10:00 pm. I had moved into my house the month before, and at this hour, my young daughter was fast asleep upstairs. A neighbor’s dog walker had locked herself out of their home with all of her belongings inside. She was visibly upset, and I had to decide if and how I would be able to help her.   

Our Torah teaches,

וַאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם:

“You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

-Deuteronomy 10:19

This is a verse I have been thinking about a lot lately. It forces of me to think about what it means to create a welcoming culture, and what it means to feel welcomed. However, our verse doesn’t just say welcome the stranger. It says love the stranger. Which is an entirely different level than inviting someone in. This Torah verse and action is seen as a positive mitzvah (commandment) in Jewish tradition.

Before my congregation and I pray together, I often try to greet as many people as possible as a way of embodying welcoming. It helps me to feel their struggles, joys and pains as we engage in creating holiness together. This concept of welcoming and building community isn’t new. We can call it radical acceptance, audacious hospitality or my favorite, kehillah kedoshah (holy community).

As I reimagine Jewish communities in the 21st century, this is what stands out to me as the first step. Once we achieve loving the stranger, I hope the other work of difficult conversations, growing Jewishly together and living out our values will fall into place.

The dogwalker and I became friends. She brings my family the most delicious chocolate-chip, craisin, crushed oreo cookies whenever she stays nearby. Because in her moment of need, I went out of my way to help her.