Be My Guest

The concept of Ushpizin – the guests that we invite to our sukkot has always been intriguing. Why are those particular people chosen, why over Sukkot, why are they restricted  to the porch or the deck, why not be really hospitable and invite them “in”? The idea of encountering these people is exciting, informative and enriching, why not extend our hospitality more often? There are a number of other occasions we bring a virtual guest into our lives. On  Pesach, Havdalah, at a Brit we evoke but more poignantly include Elijah as an integral if not essential part of the event. Virtual if not close encounters of another kind…

Did the Kabbalists who innovated the tradition of the ushpizin foresee a time when they would be so necessary, that for some these may in fact be the only guests allowed or to be welcomed into our sukkot? How might we prepare for these compelling meetings? Each day we are invited to embrace the stories,  the attributes, the values symbolized and manifested through the personalities we welcome. This year of all years we need to extend and expand our virtual invitations, engage with more people, open our minds and our hearts to the views of the other whilst we live on the other or the out – side. Sukkot is the time where our perspectives must change, that is in essence what we are playing out.- Looking in from the outside. What a profound and humbling way to begin the year. As outsiders; people less “privileged”, less white, less in control. Our perspectives can only change through the encounter with others, learning their stories, their failings, their challenges and re-meeting ourselves. So we have guests, Ushpezin, some real, many virtual. Seeing things differently requires being in a less closed or restricted place, open to the elements as well as new ideas. 

How astonishing therefore that we begin our encounters with Abraham and Sarah, the first “Ivrim” -Hebrews -me’ever, those from the other side, perceived and therefore described as “outsiders”. Now have that conversation with them! Some of the overarching themes and tensions, from Abraham and Sarah to King David, surely relate to powerless and powerful, strong and weak, secure and vulnerable. These issues are timely and timeless, they become the foundations for the ethical life that we are invited to re envision and re establish, as we once again shortly begin from Bereishit, the beginning.

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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