Host Families and Hitchhikers Hospitality in Israel
By: Maya James
December 6, 2018
“It’s just how we are, don’t thank us.”
"You’re welcome anytime. And tell your family to come stay with us when they visit, too.”
“What are you, crazy? Of course we’d love to have you stay for longer.”
“Come visit us whenever you want. The door will always be open.”
During my semester abroad, these kind (and occasionally chiding) words from my host families mitigated the worst of my homesickness and taught me how nuanced kindness and hospitality can be. For my Jewish host families, hospitality was inviting me over for the high holidays, Shabbat weekends, and Shabbat dinners. For my Bedouin host family, hospitality was inviting me to meet their extended family, feeding me, and showing me their favorite places around Nazareth, and especially, Shibli. For my international student family, hospitality was giving me cookies and allowing me to study in their apartments whenever I felt particularly homesick.
Just within Israel, I have experienced hospitality from Jewish families, Christian monks, Bedouin families, Eritrean refugees, Palestinian shop owners, and of course, international students. I have spent weekends and moments with so many more people, whose backgrounds are so detailed and divergent, that I can only give their stories half the time they deserve.
This introduction to my host families and kind strangers is not intended to create a laundry list of people that have made such huge impacts on my life. But rather, I intend to give a glimpse into the wide range of folks that live in Israel, and to explain how Israeli hospitality comes from everyone living within this intricate space, including Israel’s overlooked minorities.
“Do you want more olives?”
I met my Bedouin host family through my gifted roommate, Haneen. Haneen is a Bedouin Ph.D. candidate and travels back north during the weekends to see her family in Shibli. The one weekend she took me back with her, I ate obscene amounts of her family’s handpicked olives, met with her extended family, and watched Turkish soap operas and the evening news with them. I also realized we shared similar struggles of being "other" in a country we are entitled to.
“I don’t think she’s met a Bedouin before…”
After our return from Mt. Tabor (right next to Shibli), Haneen and her father explained to me how their village, Shibli, benefitted from Christian tourism. During our discussion, we picked up a hitchhiker, a young woman who planned to hike through all of Israel. She was from a small kibbutz in the south and was shocked to see that Bedouins were the ones offering her a ride to her next destination (as opposed to who, I was unsure). Although straightforwardness is a particularly Israeli trait, she made it clear she had never met a black person or a Bedouin before. As awkward as she made the car ride, I admired my roommate’s composure during the exchange and could relate to her fatigue when it came to dignifying her existence. Minority groups, wherever they may exist, are nothing to gawk at—they really are just another group of people sharing the same land. They too, can offer kindness in familiar ways.
“What movie do you want to watch? It’s in Hebrew if that’s okay.”
With my host family in Be’er Sheva, I watched Princess in the Frog with my host sister, enjoyed a few Shabbat meals (and a wonderful breakfast made by my host brother), and even gained the trust of their dog, Blue, who pretended not to understand my angry gestures when she tried eating my Hebrew homework.
“It’s really nothing.”
This same family took me out shopping for new running shoes (so I could attend another hike with my other host family) and bought me a scarf the moment I mentioned it had become a bit colder at night.
“Really, we insist, it’s nothing.”
All my host families insisted they were doing the bare minimum to host me, but did not realize this meant everything to me during my toughest moments in Israel. They reminded me of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. This phrase originated in Orthodox Judaism, but has evolved to mean that Jews now assume responsibility for the welfare of society and the world.
If the hospitality of my host families has taught me anything, it is that Jews are certainly not alone in their efforts to make the world a better place.