Beyond the Hug: How to Deepen Out TBE Ties

Posted on November 15, 2019 by Leigh Miller

As I reflect upon our recent High Holiday worship, I continue to return to thoughts on the impact that Temple Beth-El has had in my life, both as a long-time congregant and a relatively new president still getting my feet wet in this role. And much of what I wish to accomplish during these next two years is to do everything possible to ensure that our special community can become equally meaningful to each of you.

From the beginning of my time serving as a vice president (now five years ago), I have been greatly impressed by what I observe when I sit on the bimah during the High Holidays. From my slightly raised vantage point (but one that allows me to face all of you), I am able to see our whole community worshipping together, in one place, at one time – and it is a powerful and awe-inspiring sight to behold. If I had a completely impractical wish for something we could change during the holidays, I would have each and every one of the members of our community take turns on the bimah so they can see what I see and feel when seated in that place of honor – and share that amazing sense of awe and inspiration.

With this in mind, I will summarize some of my words from the president’s address that I gave during the morning service on Yom Kippur. I share them because of the very kind response it received and to take this opportunity to again convey my feelings about what I would like Temple Beth-El to mean to each member of our sacred community.

When I think of places that can be considered a refuge, a haven, or a sanctuary from the outside world, I first think about my home. It’s a place where we can be ourselves, with unconditional acceptance, warmth, caring and love. Home is also where we can reflect on the day’s events and put things into perspective for ourselves and our loved ones. Ultimately, home is where we try to make sense of the world around us.

But isn’t Temple Beth-El that same kind of place? Here we teach, we care, we celebrate life’s joys and life’s sorrows. We unconditionally accept everyone for who they are. This is a place where you can always find a network of supporters. Perhaps a difference between your “house home” and your “temple home” is that at Temple Beth-El, the events of the world pass through the lens of a Jewish identity. And in this home we also try to make sense of the world from that perspective, with hope that there is great value from understanding the insights that can be derived from thousands of years of teachings on issues that have inevitably occurred in other contexts over our history as a people.

If you’ve spent any time here at Temple Beth-El, you’ve probably noticed that everyone who comes onto the bimah gets a hug – and sometimes we are so busy making sure we get our hugs in, we step on toes, bump into each other or take a really long amount of time to find our chairs. And I suppose I’ve become a pretty big “hugger” myself over the last few years.

But I personally like to separate the world of hugging into three categories. There are regular hugs that mean thank you, good job or I kind of like you. There are embraces that are meant to convey deep meaning, such as “I love you” or “I’m so sorry for your loss.” But there is a middle ground of hugging, which I like to call the Squeeze. I think you know a regular hug when you get it, and I hope you know what an embrace is. But the “Squeeze” is a bit of a different animal.

A Squeeze is characterized by putting both arms around someone, holding them just a little closer and a little tighter than a hug and holding the position for just a few seconds longer than a hug. No words need be spoken, but it conveys a special meaning – perhaps something like “I care about you” – possibly more than you realized. And when you are on the receiving end of a proper Squeeze, you have no choice but to think, “Wow, that was really nice.”So, how is all of this connected to Temple Beth-El? I think for many of us, Temple Beth-El is the place we give hugs – which is very nice. But I suggest that we work toward taking this to the next level.

I would ask you to consider whether Temple Beth-El would feel just a little more like home if we gave each other Squeezes instead of hugs? How would it feel if we held one another AND Temple Beth-El just a little tighter, a little closer for a little longer? How would it feel if each of us could open ourselves up to this community just a little bit more?

I’m not talking about money, although I am always happy to have those types of conversations. I’m really talking about emotion, engagement and how each of us can individually connect just a little bit more with each other and with our special place at Temple Beth-El. If we were able to do that, then I know from my own experiences that our temple home could become so much more meaningful in each of our lives – and that our community will be so much the better for it.

I thank all of you for what you do for each other every day. And in the year 5780, please consider how you can hold your temple home just a little bit closer, a little bit tighter for a little bit longer. And how each of us can make Temple Beth-El a more meaningful part of our lives.

Leigh Miller


Originally published in the November-December 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.