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Saying Hello First


Hevei makdim bishlom kol adam – “be the first to greet each person.”  It seems right for my first message to be one saying hello, so here it goes.  My late and beloved teacher, Rabbi Meier Schimmel, was always quick to be the first to greet anyone he encountered – sometimes even to the surprise of strangers and passersby.  But it was part of his way of looking at the world, validating the importance of every person, and honoring Judaism's belief that each person’s is created in the image of God.

It always impressed me as a small thing that pointed to something really big.  So many people it seems to me go through life feeling sad or lonely or just too often forgotten for the human beings they are.  How overwhelming the task can feel to try and help all those people, to try and show that you’re trying to really see them.  How can you do it?  Saying “hello” is a meaningful way to at least start, to at least attempt to acknowledge the human beings who are all around us and yet who we too often don’t.

But it can be more than personal advice for how one person tries to honor the divine in others.  It can be a way for a whole community to act.  I certainly try to infuse my work as a rabbi with this motto.  It doesn’t always work, but it at least helps me prioritize, helps me organize how I will approach the people of our community.

How might it shape a whole community?  How might a house of worship go about “saying hello first”?  How might we all work together to strive to honor and acknowledge the souls of all those around us?  How might our prayers, programs and preaching be different if we were trying to “say hello first” in each of those situations?

I'd love to talk to you about your ideas on this and share some of mine.  You can email me at rabbi.benson@nsjc.org or call the synagogue, 631-928-3737 – I’ll say "hello" first when I answer the phone!

Rabbi Aaron Benson is the rabbi at the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.

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