Strangers and Friends, originally published Oct. 14, 2009

It’s not unusual these days to hear someone boast that they have more than 1,000 friends. Of course, they have never met these buddies as they are Internet “friends”. Given the opportunity, most people might even be horrified at the idea of actually meeting many of their “friends”.

We have an alternative way of making friends. It’s called travel. My husband and I just spent a few nights as guests in the apartment of people we didn’t know. Naturally, after staying at their home they are no longer strangers. Over the years we have experienced the other side of the coin, hosting scores of unfamiliar visitors at our own home.

You see, Sabbath-observant Jews don’t drive for 25 hours, from just before sunset on Friday or a holyday’s onset, until about an hour after sunset on Saturday nights or the holyday’s end. Sharing in a family event means that all the guests need to stay within walking distance of the festivities. Because most people who pray at a specific synagogue live within a walking distance radius, communities spring up around the house of worship. When someone in a community has a celebration, the neighbors accommodate their guests. In different circumstances, if you are on a business trip or have missed a plane connection and you can’t make it home before the Sabbath, or if you are visiting a town for a medical procedure, finding a place to stay in a religiously observant neighborhood is highly desirable, if not a necessity.

It is not at all unusual for us to get a call from one of our children asking if their neighbor’s aunt’s son-in-law’s business partner can stay with us for Shabbat. Sometimes a reticent voice is on the phone, timidly putting out a feeler having heard that we live in the area its owner needs to be in over the weekend. Most synagogues have a volunteer who fields calls from those coming from out of town and needing a place to stay. Shabbat is a home centered happening.

Over the years we have met hundreds of interesting people who have added spice and variety to our Shabbat day and table. While we did have two unpleasant encounters that left us eagerly anticipating the day’s end, those experiences have been far outweighed by positive ones.

Stories abound of marriages and business partnerships that have resulted from these types of guest situations, and of course each guest becomes a potential host when you find yourself in his or her neck of the woods.

In our case this past week, our daughter Rena and her husband Yoni invited us to spend the holydays of Shmini Atzeret and Simhat Torah with them. While their apartment could accommodate us, it couldn’t do so terribly comfortably. So, they asked their new neighbors to put us up. As Sabbath hospitality system veterans, this couple readily agreed and graciously welcomed us. Should they ever visit the northwest, we hope to be able to reciprocate.

Many people look at laws such as the no-driving-on-Sabbath rule as restrictive and oppressive. For those of us who opt into the system these laws are seen as opportunities. This particular one is an opportunity to forge new friendships and expand one’s circle of acquaintances in a far more meaningful way than a click of a computer button can yield.



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