Community Begins with a Warm Welcome by Holly Levinson

Abraham and Sarah were welcoming people. Abraham’s tent opened on four sides to welcome travelers from all directions. Abraham did not wait for strangers to approach, he rushed out and greeted them. Sarah’s tent was equally welcoming, with its doors wide open. In fact, the Shechinah, the Divine Presence that seeks to dwell among us, was drawn to Sarah’s tent because it was warm and inviting.

I am Jewish today because of individuals who, whether they realized it or not, served as my Abrahams and Sarahs and welcomed me to their tent.

The first was my husband Hal. Rather than insist on a Jewish wedding, Hal proposed an interfaith one that would be meaningful to us both. Rabbi Lou Weiss, who officiated, was another Abraham. He helped us incorporate Judaism in a comfortable, inclusive way.

Family friends were my early Abrahams and Sarahs as well. I was nervous during my first high holiday service at Temple Israel. But the moment I walked in, Janet Jaffa, a dear friend of my mother-in-law, rushed up, gave me a big hug, and warmly proclaimed, “Mazel tov darling!” That welcome meant the world to me.  Hal and I still use the phrase “mazel tov darling!” during times of joy.

We enrolled our son Adam in the Charlotte Jewish Preschool. At CJP, Adam and I both learned about Jewish holidays, religion, and peoplehood in a welcoming environment.  Nobody required that I be anything other than what I was – a young mother doing her best to create a Jewish home.

Two Charlotte rabbis were my Abrahams during those early years. When I approached Rabbi Jim Bennett about converting, his response was, “Oh my gosh Holly, I didn’t even realize you weren’t Jewish.”  He opened his tent and studied with me one-on-one. Rabbi Murray Ezring also participated in my conversion.  Even though I was not his congregant, Rabbi Ezring could not have been more welcoming and helpful during that time.

Many Abrahams and Sarahs have guided my Jewish journey, and my hope is that our Jewish community continues to be a modern tent, open on all sides to those who seek to engage in Jewish life. Together, we can create a community so welcoming that we attract the presence of the Shechinah.


Holly is a 23+ year TBE member who is active in the Jewish Community and in the larger Charlotte non-profit community. Holly is currently the lay-leader chair of the Empty Nester/Baby Boomer Engagement Project and the immediate past President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte where she has been a board member for many years. She was VP of Education at Temple Beth El many years ago. She is married to Hal and they have one son Adam, who grew up in Charlotte and now lives in NYC. 

Her volunteer passions include mentoring young children from Charlotte’s low income schools and enabling them to experience nature and the outdoors.

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