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The empty pages of our guest book

It's not Shabbat services I miss most these days; it’s the fact that we have not hosted any Shabbat guests for the past nine months
Credit: Acadia

In August 2005, we were asked to host a young man from Memphis, TN, for Shabbat. He was quite personable, and we enjoyed our Shabbat meals together, delighted to have been able to offer him hospitality for the weekend.

When he was ready to leave on Saturday night, he asked, “Do you have a guest book that I can sign?” Apparently, a guest book was standard fare in his Southern community where he grew up, and he was wondering if we had one. We told him that we didn’t, but my wife and I were quite intrigued by the idea, given how often we hosted company for Shabbat.  So we found an empty notebook — and the Feldstein Guest Book was thus created, with the young man from Memphis having the honor of being the very first entry.

I was thinking about our guest book recently. We actually completed our initial guest book a few years ago, and now have a second guest book that we started. But since the pandemic began in March this year, we haven’t hosted any guests … and the pages of our guest book have sadly remained empty.

This week, I retrieved our first guest book from our bookcase — and glanced back at all of the comments from guests who we have hosted over the years. It was a real trip down memory lane! Most of the names I recognized. A few I couldn’t place. But all of the comments were uniformly appreciative of the hospitality we had extended to them. It made me feel so good that we were able to engage in this important mitzvah for so many years, for so many people.

Thank God, we have a large house with many extra beds… and we are also very close to both shuls to which we belong. So when hospitality was needed for someone staying over for Shabbat, we were often called on to host a family with several children, which we gladly agreed to.

Over the many years that we have lived in our community in Stamford, I have also chaired a couple of rabbinic search committees — and the responsibility of hosting the various candidates we were considering often fell on our shoulders. I actually enjoyed these weekends immensely, and have maintained friendships with several rabbis who visited with us – even the ones who we decided not to hire! It was a lot of fun looking back at the comments from these rabbis in our guest book. There have also been some noted scholars who have graced our home for Shabbat — and I have the guest book entries to prove it!

For many years, we invited Yeshiva University students to come to our community for Simchat Torah as part of the regular Torah Tours program that the school organizes. There were concurrent programs at both of the shuls in Stamford to which we belong. We always hosted a half dozen of the participants to sleep in our home over Yom Tov, and also invited the entire group of 12-18 participants from both shuls for dinner on Shemini Atzeret eve, which soon became an annual tradition for us. It was a lot of fun — and I even remember one shidduch that resulted from the interaction at our table! Reading the entries in our guest book from these young Yeshiva University students brought back a lot of wonderful memories.

The most unusual story of guests we ever had for Shabbat involved an unexpected visitor.  One Friday afternoon in December, when Shabbat started early, I made my way to shul, and found a young couple with a suitcase standing in front of the building. I introduced myself and asked who they were and where they were from. Apparently they lived in Queens and were on their way to Bridgeport to spend Shabbat with her family. Traffic was horrendous on I-95, and it soon became clear that they weren’t going to make it to their planned destination before the start of Shabbat. They remembered that Stamford had an Orthodox community, and decided to head towards the shul, not knowing what to expect.

I told them to quickly get into my car, and I’d drive them back to our home so they would have a place to sleep and eat. They gratefully accepted, and they made it back to our home right before sh’kiah, just in time to light Shabbat candles. We had a very pleasant Shabbat, even though it was not exactly what either of us had planned. Their entry is recorded in our guest book for posterity.

The pandemic has affected so many people, in so many ways. Shabbat has certainly not been the same for all of us since March. Many people lament the fact that they cannot attend shul like they used to… or if they are attending shul now, it’s just not quite the same. Prayer, though, is a very personal experience at its core (even though there are halachic benefits to davening b’tzibbur). So for me, the Shabbat experience I miss most since the pandemic began is not the shul experience. It’s the fact that we have not hosted any Shabbat guests at our home for the past nine months.

God willing, a COVID-19 vaccine will soon be widely available to all of us, and we will be able to once again host guests in our home for Shabbat. Yes, there will be a big gap in the date from the last entry to the first post-COVID entry in our guest book. But my wife and I are looking forward to filling the empty pages that still remain in the book with new comments from those who we will soon be inviting once again.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the founder and owner of MGF Marketing, a direct marketing consulting firm. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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