I was raised in an Italian-Catholic household. It felt to me, as a child back then, that we were either always going to visit someone or someone was coming to visit us. Whether a weekend, a holiday or an after-school get together, it seemed our relatives, friends and neighbors needed a lot of attention. Of course, we never went anywhere empty handed—my mom (of blessed memory) was big on Jello® salads—and wherever we found ourselves, there was always plenty of refreshment. It is no surprise then, that when I married a Jewish man, welcoming people to our home, with enough food to feed a small army, felt very comfortable.
It did not take me long to learn that I was merely walking in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah (perhaps they were a little bit Italian?) whose tent was open on all four sides to welcome and provide nourishment to anyone who might pass their way. Abraham and Sarah taught the world about hachnasat orchim/hospitality by welcoming strangers. And what a welcome! Freshly baked cakes, a tender and choice calf and various dairy dishes formed the feast set before the visitors; actually, angels in the form of men.
If Abraham and Sarah could provide such a feast for people they did not even know, how much more should we do for our family, friends and neighbors? The people we see every day. Hachnasat Orchim/Hospitality does not require the enormous efforts of Abraham and Sarah. A piece of fruit and a glass of water, store-bought cookies and a cup of tea, or an invitation to a casual dinner are all excellent examples of hospitality.
Our world is so filled with electronic communication; think about the gift we can give our children by introducing them to new people at holiday gatherings, at Shabbat meals or any time. Inviting a coworker, a friend, a new neighbor or even a rarely seen family member to your home for a visit or a meal can lead to wonderful discussions. From tales of your childhood to what you were like in school to how you all have connections to this “stranger,” you, and most especially your children, will spend time learning about you, each other, THE other, a world beyond the keyboard and most important, hospitality.
Here are a few books that might give you some ideas for bringing new people into your home:
Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary and Richard Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. Barefoot Books, ©2005. Ages 5-9.
Mama Panya wonders how she is going to produce enough pancakes for all the friends her son Adika invites to eat with them as they walk to the market, seeing as she has only two small coins in her pocket. Fortunately, no one shows up for the meal empty handed so the friends enjoy a small feast together.
The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ©1985. Ages 4-8.
Have you ever had a family reunion, where relatives from all over gather in one place? All of a sudden, you have cousins you never knew about, from places you never heard of. It is a wonderful experience, because you are “…so busy hugging and eating and breathing together.” This fabulously illustrated, joyously written book will help you experience a very big family reunion.
Yonderfel’s Castle: A Medieval Fable written and illustrated by Jean Gralley.
Henry Holt and Company, ©2009. Ages 4-8.
King Yonderfel never turns anyone away from his castle. Even when his ogre landlord takes half his mountain away, even when his castle becomes the laughing stock of the entire community, and even when taking in another person imperils everything he has, the King risks it all…and triumphs in the end.
Seven Fathers retold by Ashley Ramsden, illustrated by Ed Young.
Roaring Brook Press, ©2011. Ages 6-10.
A cold and lonely traveler seeks hospitality during a blizzard. Stumbling upon a house bright with lights and oozing warmth, he asks the first gentleman he sees if he can stay for the night. “I’m not the father of the house. You’ll have to ask my father. He’s around back, in the kitchen.” Thus begins a mysterious journey that will inspire a lot of questions and discussion about the meaning of the traveler’s journey and what kind of hospitality he actually discovered.
Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ©2006. Ages 9-13.
When Ted sees a face peeking out from the windows of a house he knows to be empty—he’s the paperboy after all!—he is sure there is a mystery to be solved. What he discovers is more than a mystery, in fact: All the clues lead him to an answer that will help one family, while ensuring the survival of his small Midwestern town. All he has to do is extend a little hospitality—without getting caught!