Southern Hospitality is a Jewish Value

Southerners are proud of our inherent devotion to hospitality and gathering. 

Sunday brunches, summer picnics, life events, and Friday night dinners are embroidered into the patchwork quilt that is the Southern community. Southern hospitality goes beyond welcoming neighbors into the home, or saying hi to a stranger. Southern Hospitality is  radical and deeply rooted in Southern culture. 

Judaism teaches us that hachnasat orchim, or hospitality, is the act of being radically welcoming to our guests, neighbors, and strangers. As the OneTable field fellow in Atlanta, I’m culturally inspired by my Southern roots and spiritually moved by my Jewish identity to be radically welcoming.

Southern Living Magazine writer Michelle Darrisaw highlighted six qualities of Southern hospitality taken from a survey conducted by Twiddy. A deeper dive into these qualities will reveal that they double as Jewish values we can bring to our own Shabbat tables. 

Black text reading at the top "Hospitality Hachnasat Orchim" comparing Southern qualities to Jewish values on light red background

Kavod (Respect): In the South, we address others with a base level of respect and recognition. Be sure to introduce yourself to your guests, provide a firm handshake and make eye contact. Take their coats, show them their seats, and help them make connections. It’s easy to get stuck talking about ourselves and fall into generic small talk around our tables. As a host, you can steer the conversation and facilitate authentic dialogue to take the work off your guests. Lastly, thank your guests for coming and dismiss them with a “see you later” rather than a “goodbye.”

Nedivut (Generosity): Nourishing others by feeding their bodies is radically generous. You can plan a meal at home, order in, or treat your guests to a night on the town at a nice restaurant. No matter how you do it, nourishing guests is all about being thoughtful and intentional with your menu. Think about your guests and take note of dietary needs. Challenge yourself to make one dish that’s meaningful to you so that your guests feel at home no matter where you gather.

Chesed (Kindness): When we open the seats at our tables to our guests, we’re extending our hearts, minds, and attention to them. Show that you care by listening before you speak and remember that you’re the curator of the Shabbat experience. It’s not all about you (though you should have a meaningful time, of course!) but about creating an experience for your guests to connect, recharge, and unwind.

G’milut Chasadim (Act with love and kindness): This quality is great for guests and hosts alike to keep in mind. As a host, it’s important to serve your guests — replenish the napkins, refill drinks, offer seconds (if available), direct guests to the restroom, and make the food accessible. As a guest, offer your service to the host by setting the table, distributing water glasses, collect plates for serving, or slicing the bread. The Shabbat experience is a communal one and the magic is in the process of everyone working together to bring warmth to your table.

Hiddur Mitzvah (Beautify the good deed): Practicing Shabbat is a mitzvah, or good deed. Shabbat looks and feels different for everyone. You may like to picnic in the park, order in pizza for game night, cook a whole meal from scratch, or invite guests for a potluck. Some hosts love flowers in mason jars, colorful tablecloths, assigned seat place cards, or soft music playing in the background. However you Shabbat, make it meaningful, personal, and add your own twist!

Tzedakah (Charity): It’s easy to host a private dinner for your close friends and friends-of-friends, but when you open your table, you have the opportunity to be a beacon of light, nourishment, and warmth for others who may have nowhere else to go. Be generous, be brave, and have an open heart and mind when planning your dinner. Pass along the magic of Shabbat and pay it forward.

Inspired? Click here to create a dinner or apply to become a host.

Erin Pirkle is a OneTable Field Fellow and Jewish educator born and raised in Atlanta. She loves Shabbat because it allows her to embrace her Jewishness and southern soul by building community and making others feel welcome. You can find her at the local animal shelter, baking new recipes, talking about her rescue dog Rufus, and obsessing over Atlanta sports teams.

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