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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jewish Hospitality

On Sunday I'm off to a two-week trip to Asia, which means I'll be spending the holiday of Shavuot (Tue-Wed next week) in Singapore. I was planning on ordering meals at the local synagogue, as I did with my family last time we were there. But then it turned out I didn't need to.

I had mentioned the fact that I was going to be in Singapore for the holiday to a friend from Tokyo (whilst letting him know I'll be there for the following shabbat). And lo and behold: a day later I get an email from someone I do not know, inviting me to have the holiday meals with his family in Singapore. Apparently, my Tokyo friend wrote to him about me and the guy promptly emailed back with the invitation.

This is possibly quite a unique phenomenon. I know of no other community or group of people, certainly not as large and far-reaching as the Jews, where you can land anywhere in the world and if there's a Jewish community there, chances are you will not be left out in the cold. This is of course not true of every Jewish community and certainly not true of every person belonging to such a community, but during my four years in Japan I have seen this happen countless times. We ourselves hosted many people in our house for shabbat dinner or shabbat lunch, visitors - complete strangers - who just turned up at the synagogue on Friday evening.

Chabad have obviously made such hospitality a profession (I myself check if there's a Chabad house in places I travel to for the first time), but the "personal touch" of Jewish families who invite strangers to their home is still very much alive and kicking. Despite my intrinsic cynicism, I find it rather heart-warming. There, I've said it.

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