Like so many traditions, the Jewish value of hospitality takes root in the Torah, specifically in Genesis 18. Here, Abraham opens his home to three strangers, offering them food, drink and a place to bathe and sleep. Abraham is presented as a proactive figure, eager to welcome wayfarers and receive them into his home.
The Jewish people of Jerusalem also displayed hospitality in the days of the Holy Temple. Visitors from all of Israel would flock to the temple for holidays, and the people of Jerusalem would open their homes to the weary travelers, offering them food and lodging.
The biblical parable of opening one’s home to strangers has transcended centuries and is still present in modern Jewish society. At a traditional Passover seder, an “open house” policy is declared with the words “Let all who are hard-pressed come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share the Passover sacrifice.” Another demonstration of the open reception of guests is seen in the empty table setting for Elijah the prophet, which demonstrates that he and accompanying travelers are welcome throughout the holiday.
Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the astonishing reaches of hospitality in Jewish communities worldwide. An Israeli counselor from my summer overnight camp announced via Instagram that he was embarking upon a three-month bike trip from Portland, Maine, to Miami, Florida along the East Coast Greenway trail. He was looking for families along the east coast to host him for one night. My family opened up our home to him, offering him food and lodging, just like biblical figures did centuries ago. Over dinner, he recounted his past travels and his struggles in finding lodging along his route. Because he planned on traveling 75-90 miles per day, he often could not find hosts adequate distances apart, and had to revert to hostels or motels. He told us that on rest days he traveled only 20 miles, which made it easier to find accommodations.
The next day he was planning on biking into New Jersey. No one that he knew offered to house him there, so he texted in a Facebook group labeled “Israeli’s in New Jersey.” The responses were incredible. Within an hour, he had received almost 15 offers, each a different number of miles away from his current location. With this generosity, he was able to plan his next leg of the journey to the exact timing he would depart and arrive.
It was at this moment that I realized how similar the stories of the Torah are to modern-day. Jews were and still are willing to open their homes to strangers within seconds of receiving a request for aid. This experience sent a beautiful message that a community bonded by religion was still connected despite centuries of separation spreading followers all around the globe. The idea that an Israeli traveler in a foreign country could find food and lodging with Jewish strangers within two minutes struck me as a symbol that despite geographical separations, the Jewish people will continue to be as cohesive as they were millennia ago wandering the desert of Egypt.