It happens in our shuls as well. It may be a guest, a parent visiting from Israel, a new family, or even a quiet member who is overlooked. No one says hello, and he or she falls through the cracks.
When it occurs, there is intense pain. What can be more hurtful than isolation? The worse form of incarceration is solitary confinement. People who are not greeted are deeply wounded. As a Rabbi, I have received more calls about this issue than almost any other area of concern. Our shuls are generally friendly, and members are warm individuals. But once in a while, someone is left out, and they end up falling through the cracks.
I know why it happens. We all rely on the "other fellow" to welcome the guests. That's a big problem, because when everyone relies on someone else, no one is left to say, "hello". If we would all resolve to be the "other fellow", people would stop falling through the cracks.
Here is what we must do. When someone new arrives, each one of us must take responsibility to welcome this person. "How are you? What is your name? I am so and so. Can I help you? It's nice to meet you. Enjoy your stay..." After all, we don't want even a single person to fall through the cracks.
And when we say "good shabbos" after davening, don't shake hands with your friend nearby. They will be okay even if they don't receive your blessing. Look for the person who you never spoke to before, even though you've been in shul together for twenty years. Your "good Shabbos" will be more meaningful, because it may save someone from falling through the cracks.
Pesach is a great time to think about this problem. The Halacha requires that bedikas chometz (the search for chometz) extend to chorin visadakin - the cracks and crevices, because you never know what small particles of chometz may have fallen through the cracks.
There is a powerful symbolism contained here-in. Chometz represents the good intentions that run afoul, the great plans that have spoiled and turned sour. That's why we must search the chorin visadakin, to make certain our positive aspirations have not fallen through the cracks.
Now here is the essence of it all. Crumbs have no feeling, while human beings have frail hearts and tender souls, and are easily offended. We spend weeks preparing our homes for Pesach, scouring and cleaning in a frenzy, searching for the insidious chometz, just to make sure that not one single crumb has managed to slip by. If only we made the same super-effort to insure that every human being is greeted properly and given the respect that a tzellem elokim (one created in the image of G-d) so richly deserves. What a difference that would make. This year, as we search with our candle through the nooks and crannies of our homes, let's do some soul searching as well, and resolve to no longer allow anyone to fall through the cracks.
Rabbi Yaakov Luban
Rabbi Luban is the Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of the Kashruth Department at the Orthodox Union. He is the Rabbi of Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, NJ.