How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

July 24, 2007

It’s the Irony, Stupid: Hospitality and Spirituality in the Middle East, Then and Now

When I started writing this (Sunday, July 15 or thereabouts) I didn’t know where it was going, so I didn’t post it. It took about a week for the realization to sink in that the thing that brought these two subjects into relief for me was the irony and sadness over the powerful positive connotations I held based on history, our sacred texts, ands personal experience, and the terrible depths of hostility and spiritual corruption we’ve reached today in the region. I am leaving much of the piece intact as I first wrote it, with the addition of the link to my friend Scott’s powerful piece at the end.
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Two aspects of Middle Eastern culture, and how they are played out today in the Middle East and here in the US, came into sharp relief for me recently: Hospitality and spirituality.

The hospitality I’m referring to is the “open door” policy extant in many Arab and Israeli homes – whereby friends, family, and sometimes even strangers are welcomed with open arms and well-stocked pantries, often with no advance notice. Last Sunday, after a lovely late morning playdate and light picnic at a park near our house, we invited a couple of the friends we were with back to our place for lunch. Eric & Shauna said they had to run a bunch of errands so they would take a rain check. Half an hour later, as we were noshing with Tamar, the one friend who’d come over initially, they called and said they were done, and would we mind some company. Without hesitation, we added two place settings to our dining room table, and our impromptu gathering lasted until the late afternoon. Once we’d started feeding them, Eric admitted that he’d only called because Shauna thought it’d be weird to just show up on our door unannounced. I assured her that it would not have been weird at all and that they are encouraged to do that sort of thing any time they feel like it. Jenn isn’t Israeli, but her subscription to this same philosophy is entirely unsurprising considering our compatibility with each other (which we discovered very early on – like on our first date).

When Jenn and I were looking for our first house together a couple of years ago, we walked into the abode we now call home and fell in love with it, largely because of the layout of the dining room/living room, which is really one enormous room divided only by the entryway from the front door, with no steps or walls separating the space. We immediately realized that this room could hold more than two dozen people at a festive meal, a scene we hoped to see brought to life in our home as often as possible.

Later that same night, as I was rocking Hadarya to sleep, I recognized (in the truest sense of that word: I revisited the knowledge, or cognition, of) the blessings she has brought into our lives. We are committed to giving something back in acknowledgment of and gratitude for those blessings. On her birthday, we want to do something to honor the sacrifice and bravery of her birth mother; and we also will continue to recognize the role my bone marrow donation played in the cosmic balance of our lives and our struggle to expand our family.

I don’t believe in an active God of history, a literal being of some sort that has a hand (outstretched or otherwise) in everyday events. My conception of a “higher being” is much more along the lines of a shared human trait of Godliness, a spark of divinity that each of us carries. The more people recognize that spark within themselves (and choose to follow its guidance rather than ignore it), the more God is present in the world.

All of these thoughts and experiences got me thinking about the geographical region where I was born, and the one I now reside in, and whether there’s some qualitative difference in how people relate to each other and to God in these two regions (and elsewhere). The whole cradle of civilization thing, and the old joke about the God hotline being a local call from there, make it clear that other people have thought about this before me (I’m not claiming originality here), and I don’t have any answers, but I’m thinking about it.

Modern history, unfortunately, puts hospitality and spirituality in a different light: A recent scene from the West Bank where the open door is specifically shut in the face of a neighbor (92 MB WMV – even with broadband, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth it here it is on YouTube), and the centuries of religion-based hostility and violence in the Middle East (um, read/watch the news?), highlight only the differences between the peoples and downplay (if not outright ignore) the positive aspects of these qualities.

I was aided in my move forward to post by this gut-wrenching recollection by my good friend Scott of his visit to Hebron. I was in Hebron for a couple of months – including the High Holy Days – while serving in the IDF in ’92, so I can sadly say that his characterization of that place is spot on.

Now I just need to figure out how to react and work for change.

2 Comments »

  1. Finally read the piece. Glad I did. Shared timing is an amazing thing. I hope and pray the new year brings good things for you and Jenn, and peace to all around the world (and a happy 1st birthday to Hadarya!)

    Gamar chatimah tovah.

    Comment by Scott — September 18, 2007 @ 21:40

  2. […] violations have occurred at the hands of settlers, and, to my great shame, at the hands of Tzahal, our Israeli Defense Force, when they have uprooted, destroyed or stolen […]

    Pingback by Looking forward, looking back | How Do You Jew — August 19, 2010 @ 16:28

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