Setting the Table: Service Versus Hospitality

I love watching cooking shows in my spare time.  Although I cannot eat in any of America’s top restaurants, I find something deeply satisfying about watching people prepare a delicious meal, whether I am debating the candidates on Top Chef, letting my mouth water at the dishes consumed on Adam Richman’s Man Versus Food, or simply catching a random demonstration on the Food Network or Travel Channel.

This week, I am reading Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table.  Meyer, one of the most successful restaurateur’s in the United States, describes how he came to create some of the most innovative restaurants in New York City, and how each restaurant fits within a guiding philosophy of how one should engage in hospitality.    Meyer argues that there is a fundamental difference between “service,” the delivery of a product, and “hospitality,” how one feels when he or she receives a product.   Meyer writes:

“Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of our success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel. Service is a monologue—we decide how we want to do things and set our own standards for service. Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response. It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.”

When I read Meyer’s quote, I found myself thinking about the analogies one can make between the hospitality industry and Jewish organizations.   On the one hand, anyone can receive a service from a Jewish organization, whether it is religious school education, support from a social service agency, or pastoral care when someone is sick.   On the other hand, how receiving that service makes someone feel will determine whether or not what the Jewish organization provides enters the realm of “hospitality.” Using terminology from Jewish prayer, service is the keva of an organization, the technical delivery of products, while hospitality is the kavannah, the extent to which the service is provided in a way that is thoughtful and caring.

If we want to take Meyer’s philosophy seriously, we must ask ourselves whether or not the Jewish organizations we care about provide service or hospitality, whether they engage in monologue or dialogue.  How we answer this question will say a great deal about whether or not the Jewish Community feels ready to go out and engage the Jews of the twenty-first century.    All the rest is commentary…

Bnai Mitzvah Birthright: An Immodest and Audacious Proposal

I would be not where I am today were it not for the life-changing experience I had in United Synagogue Youth, where I served as a chapter president, regional president, international vice-president, and counselor and group leader on USY on Wheels for six summers.  My story is not unique.  In fact, I am certain the vast majority of professional and lay leaders in the Conservative Movement today are products of either USY, the Solomon Schechter Day Schools, or Camp Ramah (and sometimes all three).   However, the reality is that so few Conservative Jews participate in any one of these educational pillars that it begs the question as to how our movement would be transformed if we “bet the house” on immersive Jewish education, and made it possible for every child to see USY, Schechter, and Ramah as their birthright.   Today, I published my latest post for the CJ Online, entitled A Bnai Mitzvah Birthright, where I make that exact proposal.  Read my post, and think about what it would mean to make this immodest and audacious idea a reality.

I am a Teacher, I am a Text

When I worked at Brandeis University as a Community Educator for the Genesis Program, I developed a fascination with the connection between relationship-building and learning in Jewish education.   As a masters student, I was able to turn this fascination into a thesis, where I published a detailed analysis of how Jewish day schools can make relationship-building an educational priority for teachers.  Today, I am proud to say that I distilled many of these ideas into an article for HaYidion, the magazine of RAVSAK, entitled I am a Teacher, I am a Text.  The article is available online or in print, and I hope that you will consider reading it, as it was a labor of love straight from my heart.   I look forward to hearing your thoughts.