When in Rome: A Lesson in Radical Hospitality

By Aaron Leven, OneTable’s New York Program Coordinator

When I was 19 years old I went backpacking through Italy with a few of my close friends. With a fair amount of hubris, we landed in Rome without a plan, ready to conquer every site worth seeing, having no doubts we’d be just fine. We landed on a Friday, and decided we’d go to the Great Synagogue of Rome that night, confident we’d be able to find someone to host us (all six of us) for Shabbat dinner.

After getting lost for 45 minutes on our way to shul, we arrived at the very end of services only to find out that the synagogue was hosting the Pope that weekend. As a result there were only very exclusive dinners planned with the sole purpose of hosting and impressing the very high profile guests who were here for this occasion: the Mayor of Rome, the Israeli Ambassador to Vatican City, and you know, the Pope. Defeated, and unsure how to proceed, we were approached by a kind gentleman who recognized that we were clearly from out of town. He asked us if we had a place to go for dinner, and before we could really explain he waived his finger as if to tell us, “follow me.”

We arrived at his penthouse in downtown Rome at a gorgeous dinner. An original Monet sat on the wall, a five-course meal was served, and Jewish academics from around the world, welcomed us and made us feel at home.

In Genesis 18 we learn that Abraham, upon seeing three wandering travelers in the desert, begs of them that they come into his tent. He makes sure to bring them water, he bathes their feet, and beseeches them to rest under the tree. Throughout the Talmud and in later Rabbinic literature the mitzvah of hakhnasat orchim, or welcoming guests, is emphasized over and over again. I am proud to be a part of the OneTable community because of the way that we embrace this mitzvah. Radical hospitality, the notion of opening up our homes to guests to relax, rejoice, and build community is not easy. It takes courage and can be hard work, but it is also so rewarding. I am still grateful that Italian man opened up his home to us seven years ago, and also feel comforted that if I’m every looking for a place at a Shabbat table, OneTable is here to help me, and all of us, Shabbat Together.

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