Becoming a Welcoming Institution

Practical suggestions for your staff and greeters to help your Jewish institution become more welcoming to your diverse Jewish community.

May 18, 2022

By Keshet

 Kavod and Dignity: The Jewish value of Kavod — dignity — charges all of us to foster a culture of respect and affirmation from the moment someone enters our communal spaces.

Who is Entering the Community?

 Celebrating the diversity of the people our organizations serve

  • There are Jews of all racial, ethnic, and gender identities, and there are many people who are not Jewish who may be connected to your community or seeking your organization’s services.
  • It’s important not to make assumptions about who is coming through the door, and to celebrate the diversity of the people your organization serves.

Welcoming Strategies to Foster Belonging

  • Greeting Language
    • Typically, when someone comes through the front door, they are greeted. It’s best to stay away from any gendered language and instead use inclusive language such as: “Welcome,” “Good morning/afternoon/evening,” “How can I help you?” and avoid adding sir, ma’am, miss, or any other gendered term (see section titled Awareness of Gendered Language for more information).
  • Language Around Restrooms
    • When someone asks where the restrooms are, instead of naming either the men’s room and women’s rooms, name the general direction of the restrooms, specifically naming if there’s an all-gender restroom in the building.
    • If gendered restrooms are in separate areas, name all locations instead of assuming which restroom someone uses.
  • Rationale — Why is this important?
    • First impressions are important as they have the potential to set the tone for not only the whole visit but how someone views the institution itself. If someone is misgendered or mistreated, they may not want to come back. We can’t know someone’s gender identity or a respectful way to address them simply by looking at them/how they’re dressed so why guess and potentially make a mistake? Again, stick to neutral language that is inclusive of all people .
  • Addressing pushback
    • Every once in a while you may be met with someone who pushes back on the neutral-nature of the language being used, specific signage on bathrooms, or ask why you said something to them. Sometimes new things can feel scary or off-putting. If you are comfortable addressing the questions/pushback, great! If not, empower yourself to say, “That is the language we use here at X Institution. If you have more questions about it, please reach out to X who is our Operations Manager.” Another approach is by validating that this new language might feel off-putting but it’s X institution’s way of making sure each person within its reach feels safe, affirmed, and seen.
    • Other examples of questions/potential answers:
      • “Why is this signage outside the bathroom here?”
        • At X institution, folks can use the restroom that best matches their gender identity. We also have all-gender restrooms on floors X and Y so people of all gender identities can feel safe using the restroom.
      • “Why didn’t you address me as sir/ma’am?”
        • Is there a term you’d like me to use for you? I never want to assume what words someone uses unless they tell me first.

ID handling

 Safety and security in your Jewish community is important. Unfortunately, many mainstream security practices can further marginalize people who are already on the margins, including Black people and people of color, undocumented people, and trans/gender non-conforming people.

  • Why some visitors may experience anxiety around ID handling:
    • Many individuals are not able to acquire a government ID, whether because they do not have the funds, documentation, or transportation access to obtain one, or because they do not have citizenship or a visa, or access to the naturalization or visa application process.
    • Many individuals do not identify with elements conveyed on their IDs. For example, someone’s name or gender might not match what is on their ID, and both the fear of and the experience of being referred to by that name or by a specific gendered salutation (such as Ms. or Mr.) further marginalizes and oppresses them.
  • Tips for your organization
    • Avoid asking for government-issued ID cards.
      • Think critically about what information you may need from a government-issued ID card and think about other ways to gather that information, such as student IDs, gym IDs, employee IDs, etc.
      • Some people do not have a government-issued ID. Be proactive and think through alternative practices for such situations. Maybe you can issue a ticket with a unique barcode or ask for another form of ID.
    • If you must ask for a government-issued ID card, be mindful.
      • Many people (both cis and trans) use a different name than the name on their ID, so if you need to know their name, just ask. Do not ask for someone’s “real name.” If you must, ask for their legal name or the name on their ID, and also ask their name for communications. If your organization prints name badges for visitors, use the name for communications they have provided for the nametag.
      • Do not use gendered language (i.e. sir or ma’am) based on the gender marker on the ID. (See gendered language section below.)
    • Police presence may be a deterrent to members of your community. Because of high rates of police violence against LGBTQ people and communities of color, having police or armed security actually makes many people feel unsafe.
      • If you must have police or armed guard presence, communicate this to your community members in advance so that they have a sense of what to expect when they come to your space.

Awareness of Gendered language

 While we often tell ourselves that “gender doesn’t matter” or note that “we welcome everyone,” it is important to be aware that many everyday social interactions have historically included gendered language. In some communities, we are taught to address strangers as ma’am, sir, or miss as a sign of respect. The challenge with this is that it often requires us to make a guess about the gender of the person we are addressing. It is not possible to know a person’s gender by looking at them or hearing their voice over the phone. Making guesses about people’s genders will always lead to being incorrect some of the time. When a transgender or gender non-conforming person is misgendered, it can feel truly hurtful or cause a person to feel unseen or unsafe. In order to avoid this, it is a good idea to use non-gendered language such as “welcome,” “how can I help you?” “excuse me,” etc.

Pronouns are another area of everyday language that is gendered. In general, when we want to refer to someone we use a pronoun like “he,” “she,” or “they.” Some people use the pronoun “they” to refer to a singular person in a non-gendered way. Some people also use the pronouns “ze/hir/hirs” for this reason. These pronouns reflect what we understand someone’s gender to be, and provide an opportunity to convey our recognition and respect. It is important to always respect a person’s pronouns and use them correctly. When we make assumptions about a person’s gender, our use of pronouns will communicate these assumptions, which might be incorrect or hurtful. It is a good idea to get in the habit of avoiding using pronouns until we learn directly which pronouns a person uses.

  • Some examples might be:
    • Instead of saying “excuse me, ma’am,” try saying just “excuse me”
    • Instead of saying “do you know that man over by the entrance” try saying “do you know that person … “
    • Instead of saying “ladies and gentlemen,” try saying “folks,” “friends,” “everyone,” etc.

 For tips on creating a welcoming virtual space, see our guide at keshetonline.org/resources/supporting-lgbtq-youth-during-covid-19/

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