Tag Archives: hospitality

How high should your standards be?

Preparing for a trip

Part of the fun in going abroad for a vacation after so many years is learning about how much the world of travel has changed. I don’t mean how much our destinations have changed, because I’ve never been in Florence and Venice before. It’s the process of preparing for a trip that’s so different.

For example, how did we book hotels 20 years ago? Ask a travel agent? Look up possible hotels in travel guides, magazines and brochures? Then phone the hotel to book and confirm and hope it’s the best possible deal for our needs. Now it’s completely different. Continue reading How high should your standards be?

Jewish Airbnb? Not on Pessach!

Jewish Airbnb?

Jewish AirbnbI recently got an email inquiring if there is a Jewish version of Airbnb.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is a site for finding vacation rentals and travel accommodations in private homes worldwide. They claim to have arranged lodgings for over 25 million people in 190 countries in private homes and even in 600 castles.

The question about a Jewish version of this service is valid for any time of the year, but I find it especially meaningful during Pessach.

Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!

In the early sections of the Pessach Haggadah, we recite the phrase כל דכפין יתי ויכול “Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!”. We don’t say this on any other Holiday; only on Pessach.

Pessach is known as a family festival even in the least traditional circles. We gather together; family, friends and casual guests, to recite the Haggadah, eat Matsah, Marror, feast on a delicious meal and sing the traditional songs. This isn’t a random ethnic development but rather a central part of how the festival is celebrated  since we came out of Egypt over 3300 years ago. From the first Pessach Seder till today we eat as a family group. Not alone. Hospitality is a priority on Pessach.

There is nothing foreign about Jews renting out accommodations for vacation. Just check out how many hotels there are in Israel and in prime Jewish vacation spots like Davos, Switzerland, the Catskills and everywhere else. Private people rent out their homes too. But there’s nothing distinctly “Jewish” about it. It’s pure business. For some reason I don’t connect with the idea of a Jewish Airbnb. The Jewish model of hospitality from the time of Abraham, is central to our collective identity more than any business model.

Here are a few examples:

Jewish Hospitality

Chabad: They have a comprehensive search engine to find nearly every Chabad House on the globe. I write “nearly” because I discovered one Chabad House somewhere that wasn’t publicized on their site for security reasons, but when you contact the administrators about specific locations, they’ll tell you. Meals are usually free on Shabbos and Yom Tov. They only charge during the week to cover costs. Check out their site at Chabad-Lubavitch Centers – Advanced Search.

Jeff Seidel: He has a comprehensive worldwide listing of contacts and places to stay at his Online Jewish Travel Guide.

Shabbat.com: This site is very similar in design to the Airbnb site but you are hosted for free. To quote their site:

Shabbat.com was established as a Jewish social network to allow people to connect and meet in a safe and friendly environment. Perfect for those traveling for business, backpacking across the country, studying abroad, or simply looking for a little inspiration.

JewGether: Jewgether was started by Israeli students, not necessarily religious Jews, with a mission in mind. To quote their website:

Jewgether is a social network that connects Jewish people from all over the world, allowing them to host or be hosted by one another. Jewgether’s mission is to encourage Jews all over the world to open their homes, hearts and minds to each other. No matter what kind of Jew one is, Jewgether offers an opportunity to get acquainted with and to learn from one another.”.

I’m not personally familiar with their service but the idea is wonderful.

In summary, renting out a place to stay is perfectly legit, but for it to be considered an authentically Jewish act, hospitality is closer to the mark.

BTW, those utilizing the authentic Airbnb services, see my post on Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations.

Chag Sameach!

Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations

Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers returning from the campaign: This is the rule God commanded Moses:

As far as the gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead are concerned, whatever was used over fire must be brought over fire and purged, and then purified with the sprinkling water.

However, that which was not used over fire need only be emmersed in a Mikvah.  (Parasha Matos 31:21-23)

The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The Jewish Toolbox

Backpacking and living on your wits in the backwaters of civilization as a Kosher-observing Jew means that you need to be familiar with the basics of Kashering kitchen utensils wherever you go.  Of course you can carry around a few things like a pot and pan or you can buy new stuff (and immerse them in a Mikvah) at each stop, but sometimes you’ll need a broader Jewish toolbox, including some Kashering skills.

Kosher for Airbnb

Kashering skillsLets say you decide to find lodgings through Airbnb (airbnb.com). For those not familiar with Airbnb, they describe the company as follows:

    Airbnb is a global community marketplace that connects travelers seeking authentic, high-quality accommodations with hosts who offer unique places to stay.

It sounds like a great idea for those who prefer to stay in a vacated unique private residence rather than in a regular hotel. For a Jew though, it means you’ll need to Kasher some basic kitchen equipment, at the very least.

Kashering Skills

I did some searching and found a very comprehensive online guide for Kashering a complete kitchen. The Star-K Pessach Kitchen Guide by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, is focused of course on…Pessach, but what’s effective for Pessach will be effective also for Kashering a non-Kosher kitchen.

Star-K Pessach Kitchen Guide

For those who prefer an audio-visual explanation:

So next time you decide to rent an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Kasher the kitchen first and have a great time!

How to Be Welcome Wherever You Go

Hosting is Like Gambling

Welcome Wherever You GoTaking in foreign house-guests is like gambling. You may meet wonderful people from the other side of the globe arriving with a bottle of your favorite wine and flowers. As a bonus they’ll even keep you entertained with inspiring life stories.

On the other hand, your guests could be sullen, irritable people with no manners and plenty of B.O. If that isn’t enough you’ll discover to your chagrin that a few silver pieces from the closet have gone AWOL. It’s all a matter of luck and of being a good reader of people.

Jewish tradition strongly encourages inviting guests (Hachnasas Orchim) to your home. In fact the Midrash states that “Greater is the act of receiving guests, than of receiving the Divine Presence”. There are astonishing tales about how far the Torah Sages went to receive guests.

Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz, the Chozeh of Lublin, kept an open house. He himself served his guests, who were from all walks of life. One day a poor man came to the house and the Rabbi served him a meal. When the guest was finished his meal, the Rabbi cleared the table and brought the empty plate and utensils into the kitchen.

The poor man was astounded and said, “Rebbe, I understand that the Rabbi occupies himself with Hachnasas Orchim to fulfill the Mitzvah. But why does the Rabbi clear the table himself? Doesn’t he have servants in the house? The Rabbi replied, “Taking out the pan of ashes from the Holy of Holies in the Temple on Yom Kippur was part of the tasks of the High Priest.  Am I more important than the High Priest?”.

Welcome Wherever You GoOn another occasion, a guest arrived in middle of the night. The Rabbi tended to him himself, serving him a meal and preparing his bed. The guest was unrefined and his strong smell indicated that he had neglected to bathe in the recent past.

The next morning, the servants in the house wanted to send him on his way due to his odor. The Rabbi rebuked the servants and responded, “Don’t wake him; let him sleep until he wakes up on his own. God provided me with the opportunity for Hachnasas Orchim, and you want to ruin it and snatch it away from me?” (Niflaos Harebbi, Ch. 90)

Being Welcome Wherever You Go

After reading stories such as these I can get the mistaken impression that when backpacking through Europe and arriving at a Jewish community for Shabbos, I can expect unconditional love and care without any obligations on my part as a guest. Don’t make that mistake! A guest has far more obligations to his host then the host has towards him.

Welcome Wherever You Go

Here’s a list of common Don’ts and Do’s in order so that you’ll be welcome wherever you go:

Don’ts

  • Don’t invade your host’s privacy. Don’t read her mail, (snail-mail or Gmail), walk into his bedroom or ask personal unsolicited questions.
  • Don’t smoke in their home (or even outside near their windows) if they are non-smokers
  • Don’t get drunk at their table.
  • Don’t talk non-stop or stay silent throughout your stay. Balance is the key.
  • Don’t sit on their couch all day long whether you are watching TV or just spacing out.
  • Don’t criticize your host; not about their kids, marriage, cooking or political opinions.
  • Don’t use their electrical appliances or equipment without permission.
  • Don’t take food from the fridge, freezer or pantry if you weren’t offered.
  • Don’t show up without notice.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome (better leave before the first subtle hint).
  • Don’t live your dirty clothes or any other belongings strewn about the house.
  • Don’t feed their kids or pets without getting the green light. They might be allergic or on a special diet.
  • Don’t bring in other guests uninvited.
  • Don’t expect the household to suddenly revolve around you.You need to adopt their customs and not the other way around.
  • Don’t take anything from the house (even a roll of toilet paper) without permission.

Do’s

  • Nail down the dates of the visit before you arrive — and stick to them. Let your plans be known, especially if you intend to be absent in the middle and will be coming and going at odd hours.
  • Be clear about who’ll be joining you (including your significant other, kids, pets or traveling companions).
  • Welcome Wherever You GoPack smart, so you won’t need too much space nor will you need to borrow clothes from your hosts.
  • Keep tabs on your stuff. You’re not staying in a hotel, so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. A good rule of thumb: When you’re not in your room, it should look like it did when you arrived. Put your clothes away, hang up your towel and straighten the bed every morning.
  • Follow the house rules. If they take off their shoes at the door and wear slippers (like in Korea), respect and follow their lead.If they lock the doors at all times, do the same.
  • Keep your kids in check. Just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean your kids can go berserk in the house. Your kids are your responsibility.
  • Help out with the chores. Even little things like clearing the table are meaningful to your host.
  • Bring or send a thank-you gift and follow-up with a note. When you get home, send a quick note to let them know how much you enjoyed your stay. It’s the thought that count.
  • If you use it, replace it. Borrowing toothpaste or sunscreen is fine. But if you end up using it up, devouring an entire box of cookies or polishing off the last bottle of milk, it’s time to go to the store and replenish the things you’ve used. Be generous and considerate, and not someone who eats their friends out of house and home.
  • Be reasonable about sharing a household bathroom. If the house only has one bathroom, ask when it is convenient for you to use it and don’t stay in the shower for an hour.
  • Be careful about Internet and phone usage. If you need to use the Internet or phone at your hosts’ home, rather than assuming you can use their facilities, make sure you ask them first if this is okay with them – even if they have an unlimited plan.
  • Do your own laundry.
  • Entertain yourself. It’s not the job of the hosts to occupy you.
  • Be ready to catch public transportation and taxis. Your host isn’t your chauffeur.
  • A short stay is a pleasant stay and leaves everyone feeling good about each other. As Ben Franklin once said, “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
  • Keep yourself neat and clean and brush your teeth regularly (whether you do so at home or not).
  • Be appreciative. Thank them regularly for the food, the company and whatever they do for you. Don’t wait till you leave to say a short thanks.
  • Do bless the host. In fact there is a special blessing for the hosts to be recited at Birkas Hamazon.

The Talmud (Tractate Berachos pg. 58A) states it succinctly:

A good guest says; “Look how much the hosts did for me. All the meat and wine they brought was for me. All the cakes they brought were for me. Everything the host did was for my benefit”.

But a bad guest says; “What did the host do for me at all? I ate only one slice of bread. I had only a piece of meat and I only drank one cupful. Everything the host did was for himself and his family”.

Be a good guest and the doors will always be open to you.