A few weeks ago, my fiancé, Adam, and I went on a vacation to our first all-inclusive Mexican resort – a place called Secrets Capri in Riviera Maya. With five days and nothing to do but relax and enjoy the sun (and, sadly, some rain), we came back feeling refreshed, reinvigorated, and tan – or, let’s be honest, slightly less ghost-colored.
As a Jewish professional, though, you can never really take a vacation. Every aspect of our resort made me think of my job as a Jewish communal professional. This time, I was a guest at a resort in a new country feeling very welcomed; most of the time, I’m busy welcoming guests to our community and folding all the towel art.
So, dear friends, I present you with the list of what we can learn from my Mexican vacation.
1. Don’t make me feel lost
We booked our transfer from the Cancun airport to our resort through the same company as our overnight stay, and they told us to look for the people in the bright floral shirts. They greeted us as we walked out of the terminal, and sent us to exactly the right place. We never felt lost and we didn’t have to ask directions from someone selling homemade jewelry – though that sure would have been interesting!
When a newcomer comes to a Jewish event, would he know where to go? Is there a greeter at the door? Someone with a name tag who makes sure he’s not lost?
2. Create an over-the-top first impression
When our van pulled into the resort, we were greeted with friendly faces, cold towels, water bottles and champagne. And if you walked in a few more feet, there were apples and chocolate chip cookies. Wow! I would have never thought to ask for a cold towel, but I guess after a long flight and a long van ride, it was nice to be able to wash my hands in the humid weather. Instead of beginning our vacation dirty, hungry and thirsty, the resort showed us right away that they care about us and want us to be comfortable.
In the Jewish community, what would someone see when they first walk in to your event? Is there a pitcher of water and maybe even a bowl of apples near the entrance? Some congregations offer an oneg (reception) before worship services – it sure puts people in a good mood and gets them ready to focus on prayer and song when they have a full belly.
3. Offer something for everyone
The list of activities offered at our resort was extensive – water aerobics, a bags / cornhole competition, Pilates, dance lessons, Spanish lessons, towel art, watching Monday Night Football, different kinds of movies, and even a daily feeding of the lobby turtles. There seemed to be something for everyone.
Do our Jewish organizations offer a wide range of activities, or are we catering too much to one group or another? Do we assess our clientele and build programs based on their needs – or do we just offer what WE think they need?
4. Personal invitations
I probably would not have gone to water aerobics on my own. The water was cold, it seemed silly, I didn’t know anyone, I was scared, and somehow I couldn’t convince Adam to go with me. But Hector, one of the entertainment staff members and the leader of the class, went around to every person lounging around the pool and asked if they would be coming to the class. With a personal invitation, these people – myself included – felt a bit more comfortable throwing a bookmark in their book and dipping their toes in the water.
Just because we offer a spectacular, meaningful, artsy, delicious, Jewish-tastic program, it doesn’t mean people will come. We have to ask people to come. Make them feel welcome. Invite them, help them out of their chair, and walk with them to the event. And chances are, these potential Jewish communal newcomers, like silly-looking Lia in water aerobics, will actually enjoy the event and maybe even come back the next time.
5. Remember details.
My mom likes to tell this story of the one time our family went on a cruise – a Disney cruise when I was in kindergarten. As soon as we walked in the dining room, our waiter would immediately bring me chocolate milk and get me plain buttered noodles with no parsley. My tastes have evolved a bit since then, so my food desires in Mexico weren’t as complicated, but it’s nice to know that people remember things about you. We started recognizing the resort staff and they recognized us; and one particular hostess at the breakfast cafe knew that when Adam walked into brunch, he’d probably ask for a waffle.
How many times do I hear Jewish communal professionals – myself included – say that they have bad memories and have a hard time remembering names? It’s just unacceptable. We need to go out of our way to train our brains to be able to remember names and facts. Who in your community is gluten-free? Whose mother just had surgery? Who just gained a new grandson? If your Jewish organization is anything like my workplace, most of this information is readily available. Read the emails, read the newsletters, ask questions, and even eavesdrop a bit on the hallway conversations. Show that you remember who your constituents are and they will notice.
We can’t spend our whole lives as guests in an all-inclusive resort in the warm, humid air, but maybe we can take these experiences – and the ones you witness in your own life at the grocery store, the movie theater, and your client’s office building – to make our community stronger, warmer, and more welcoming.
Let's get to work – we’ve got lots of chocolate chip cookies to bake!