by Danya Shults
After a decade in New York City, my husband and I moved across the country to Los Angeles in October. We had a handful of friends and no permanent place to live when we arrived, and we didn’t know how long it would take for us to plant roots and feel like part of a community.
Within weeks of our arrival, we were enjoying chewy chunks of challah and meaningful conversation at Shabbat tables across the city. Old friends who knew we were moving jumped at the chance to welcome us to LA, and folks we had never met were adding us to their invite lists because their spouse’s cousin’s spouse was someone we both loosely knew. As soon as we unpacked our bags and bought a few missing kitchen items for our long-term Airbnb, we hosted our own Shabbat dinners, unashamedly asking our guests to BYO chairs, which brought us one step closer to feeling like bona fide Los Angelenos.
Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, is a day of rest and reflection, and it is one of my most meaningful spiritual and well-being practices. It’s also the perfect opportunity to observe another Jewish tradition, hachnasat orchim, “bringing in guests.” These ancient rituals help me recharge and feel whole every week.
When I was growing up, my family had an open door policy on Shabbat. From the entire cast of my high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof” to friends of friends of friends passing through town, all were welcome at our Shabbat dinner table, where we’d hum traditional melodies, sip matzo ball soup, and talk until my dad fell asleep at the head of the table.
Every single Saturday afternoon until I went off to college, I’d bring my best friend home from synagogue for hours of noshing, gabbing, and napping. Sometimes, we’d hear a knock on the door and discover that our friends from down the street had come by to join our happy, peaceful, lazy chill fest. Other times, we’d walk down the block to a friend’s house, arriving just as they were finishing up an hours-long lunch, and we’d grab some challah from their table and chat.
When I went off to college and studied abroad in Chile, the tables turned. A Santiago rabbi introduced me to a family whose last name was similar to mine, thinking we might be related, and by the time we figured out that we weren’t, they had already begun treating me like their own, and blood didn’t matter. They invited me to regular Shabbat dinners and took me on their annual family Passover vacation to the beach. Even though I was a hemisphere away from home, this family’s hospitality meant that I always had a safe, fun, caring place to go in a city I was just beginning to understand.
No matter where I’ve found myself on the map, from Latin America to Los Angeles, I feel at peace when I’m seated at someone’s Shabbat table or hosting others at my own.
"There is a realm of time," Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his classic book, The Sabbath, "where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord." Rabbi Yochanan, a leader in the early era of the Talmud, said that hospitality is even more important than praying, because inviting people into our homes shows our gratitude for all that we have and helps us connect to the Divine.
Shabbat is an opportunity to (re)connect with others. When there’s nowhere to be, nothing to achieve, and just being is the goal, deep, rambling conversation ensues, silences are rejuvenating, and true bonding occurs.
We can all benefit from warm generous hospitality and meaningful relationship building as a balm for our our busy, hurried lives and often surface-level online connections.
Here are four tips for incorporating the radical hospitality and serenity of Shabbat into your own life at any time:
Be intentional, not perfect
Hospitality doesn’t require hand-thrown ceramic dishes from Sausalito or a perfectly curated playlist. It’s about the substance of the experience and the inner beauty of your intentions. Welcome your guests warmly at the door, seat them strategically to foster meaningful relationships, and conclude your gathering with a thoughtful prompt for action.
Don’t just entertain, but bond
Invite people into your life, not just your home or office. Build friendships, not Instagram followers. HOLSTEE’s Reflection Cards can help you cut through the small talk, straight to the meaningful stuff that will make you feel more connected with old and new friends.
Extend an invite to someone you don’t know (well)
Do you know someone who has just moved to town? Have a new colleague who has yet to blend in with the team? Invite them to hang and help them feel welcome. Why not post on Facebook to see if any of your friends’ friends need someone to meet up with or a place to stay when they’re passing through town?
Show up, even when you’re not invited
OK, don’t show up when and where you’re not wanted, but show up proactively for your friends, whether or not they’ve asked. Maybe you have a friend who just went through a rough break up and needs to hear from someone who loves them, or perhaps someone close to you had a baby and needs a quick food drop-off and hug. Don’t wait for a big invite or event to show up for the people you want to deepen your relationships with.