Welcoming strangers warmly, kindly and with cookies

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This week Jews are in the middle of the eight-day festival of Sukkot. One of the customs of the holidays is to recite a prayer welcoming seven imaginary “ushpizin” (exalted guests, prounounced “oosh PEA zinn”) into the sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David.  Sukkot, when we eat our meals in little huts in our yards or on our patios – or at least try to, weather permitting – is also a great opportunity to invite real guests for a meal. So it’s a busy week, with much hosting and much visiting.

(For a very funny take on Sukkot customs among the Orthodox in Israel, you’ll enjoy a 2005 award-winning Israeli movie called UshpizinHere is a good review of it. The movie is available currently via Amazon video streaming and through Netflix.)

Thinking about the ushpizin started me thinking about hospitality as a religious value. It’s quite a popular topic right now. In fact, our intrepid publisher, David Crumm, did his Read the Spirit  column on exactly this topic last week, with an interview with the Rev. Nanette Sawyer author of Hospitality—The Sacred Art. I also came across warm words about another book on the topic of religious hospitality, The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality by Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian pastor.

A religious value

I know that welcoming the stranger is intrinsic to Judaism. It starts with Chapter 18 of Genesis, where Abraham, still recovering from circumcising himself (can you imagine?) sees three strangers approaching his tent. He immediately jumps up to prepare food and drink for them.

Throughout the Bible, there are stories of people who were shown favor by God because they were hospitable to strangers. The Israelites are repeatedly told to welcome the stranger, because they were once living in a foreign land.

Welcoming guests—especially strangers—is important in just about all religions.

The Qu’ran tells a similar story about Abraham as a way of showing Muslims that they should make the guest feel comfortable by meeting all of his needs before the guest even mentions them.

The law of karma in at least one Hindu tradition holds that  one who treats others with hospitality will be offered hospitality in turn. We can make the world a better place through our acts. The thinking is, “God himself may come to test my character, therefore let me treat every guest as God”—again echoing Abraham’s experience with the angels.

In the Detroit area, 30 interfaith leaders have joined together in a program called the Hospitality Initiative, looking to find ways that religious groups can be hospitable to one another. It’s coordinated by Charles Mabee, director of Christianity studies at Oakland University. Read more about it here.

Being hospitable means making people comfortable, which often means putting yourself in your guest’s shoes. Here is a delightful story by political consultant Frank Luntz, about the hospitality shown to him by Tricia Lott, wife of former U.S. Senator Trent Lott.

Hospitality is tied to food

Hospitality is also inextricably tied to food. How often do we measure the worth of a host’s welcome by the bounty of the table at which we are fed?

The expression “cold shoulder” comes from the opposite of hospitality. In times of old, a cold roast of mutton would be to served unwelcome guests instead of a nice, hot meal.

Such a custom could come in handy. Even when you are warmly hospitable, sometimes you have to give your guests a little nudge that they are coming perilously close to wearing out their welcome.

“Time to go” without the cold shoulder

My husband’s Aunt Hannah taught us a brilliant way to let guests know it’s time to go. We had been visiting with her for an hour or two, enjoying tea and cakes and wondering how to extricate ourselves gracefully. Finally Aunt Hannah asked, “Would you like another cup of tea before you go?”

“Oh no, no, no,” we said, “we really must be going.” Problem solved without the cold shoulder.

I like to keep cookies on hand to welcome drop-in visitors. This recipe is called Trailside Oatmeal Cookies because they’re good to take along on a picnic or hike. You can convince yourself that they’re good for you because they contain lots of healthy stuff like oats, peanut butter and dried fruit. And they freeze really well, so you might want to stash some away in the freezer so you don’t eat them all up yourself before you get a chance to serve them to guests.

One more thing before I leave you: I recently received this question on my other blog, Bobbie’s Best Recipes. I have no clue about the answer, so I’m asking all of you! If anyone can help this reader, please let me know.

This is not a comment but a question. Years ago at a friend’s house for dinner his mother cooked a meal of Egg Noodles, shredded cabbage, Polish sausage. There was also fennel seeds in it. I am sure there was other things like butter, and spices, but I do not have the recipe and sadly that dear lady is passed away now. Can you possible help me to figure out what might have been in this recipe, it was so good. I know she baked it in the oven before serving it, as she brought it right out of the oven to the table. I hope you have some suggestions as to how I could recreate this recipe.
Thank you
Joan Abbott

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