“When are the Chinese coming?!” my 4-year old son Yeshaya asked me enthusiastically last Friday morning. You see, that night we were to be hosting 20 tour agents from China for a Shabbat meal. My children were overwhelmingly, well, gung ho about the idea. I responded to Yeshaya, “Our guests from China won’t be coming for another 7 hours.” He thought for a moment and proclaimed with great know-how to his younger sister, “Because it takes 7 hours to get here from China.”
Seeing that I had a stumbled upon a great educational opportunity, I proceeded to explain to him that they weren’t coming all the way from China just for dinner, but rather that they were coming to visit the Land of Israel because it’s an important and precious place in the world. “They go from spot to spot learning about the country, and one of their spots is our Shabbat table.” Hence began a lengthy discussion of what’s so special about Israel, about Shabbat..and even about our house. I watched as a quiet flush of pride washed over Yeshaya’s face.
One of the things I love about being a host family for tourists is precisely this sense of pride that I see flourishing in my children as they share the beauty of Shabbat & Jerusalem with people from across the globe. What could be better than coming together over a scrumptious meal, sharing with and learning from a vast array of guests from every walk and creed, and exposing my children to the wider world from the secure comfort of our own living room? Each week we accumulate new friends from new lands, with new stories and a slew of new Shabbat memories.
And then there is that other wonderful gift that comes with hosting our international guests. It’s what I call ‘tourist goggles’. For as part of the evening program we take the group on a personalized tour of the Old City as the siren sounds for candle-lighting. Of course, the highlight of the tour is the moment we step out onto the plaza of the Western Wall. Our ears meet the symphony of 3000 people all gathered together for Shabbat at this majestic holy site. Our eyes meet the many faces of the Jewish people…strimmel-stacked Hassidim, black-hatted haredim, uniformed soldiers, starry-eyed “birthrighters”. Everyone a little awe-struck, all dressed a little differently, yet all shuffling around together on the same white-stone stage. And that’s when I put on my very own pair of “tourist goggles”. For when they glimpse the Western Wall for the first time, I am able to glimpse the Wall for the first time. I borrow from them their eyes and encounter this sacred site again for myself.
Time and again I find that in sharing ourselves, our city and our rituals with others we are able to re-encounter our own life in poignant new ways. All too often, in the daily drone of my days, I forget just how miraculous this city is. Usually it is little more than the scruffy streets where I shlep my bags and pay my bills, where I get stuck in traffic and kvetch in unison with the passengers in the car. But after an evening of Shabbat of a Lifetime, I am able to remind myself that I have been waiting 2000 years to get stuck in precisely this Jerusalem traffic. I have been waiting 2000 years to pay these bills and shlep up these scruffy streets. I have been waiting 2000 years to share the gift of Shabbat in Jerusalem with the pilgrims of the world.