Friday, September 20, 2013


The word 'ushpizin' is not your typical Hebrew word - in fact, it's not Hebrew at all.  It's Aramaic and it simply means 'guests'.  It loses some of its mystery and otherworldliness in translation but the word is rather befitting considering it is precisely those 'otherworldly' guests that we invite into our home each night of the Sukkot holiday.  Seven biblical guests - one each for the seven nights we spend eating in our Sukkah.  We are told to rejoice in our holiday with our spouse, our children, our servants, the widow, the orphan, and the one who has no food.  Our rabbis teach us that true joy is shared joy.  Without extending a welcome to others, our holiday cannot be complete.
There is not one Sukkah I know of in my community that is empty of guests.  Everyone is walking in the streets carrying bottles of wine, casseroles, desserts and even cholent pots as they make their way to their host's Sukkah.  And while everyone's Sukkah is packed in with good friends and family, it's rare to find complete strangers wandering around our familiar streets looking for a meal and a Sukkah.  When you live in a closed yishuv like ours, it makes that part of the mitzvah difficult to fulfill.
Yesterday, Erev Shabbat, we played hooky from the regular hustle and bustle that Friday usually brings.  Thankfully, I did not have that much cooking to do and instead of straightening up the house, making that extra side dish and catching up on the laundry, we opted to go to Jerusalem and walk through Machane Yehuda.  
Truthfully, we all had a hankering for Fishen Chips, which, for those of you who know of this little gem, makes the best fish & chips outside of London.  It is, some may argue, the holy grail of fish & chips this side of the Mediterranean.  What we didn't count on were the masses and hoards of people that had the same idea....
We decided to do take-out since finding a table in the shuk was akin to finding that proverbial needle in the haystack.  We found a quiet alleyway just off Agrippas and sat on a set of stairs and began to eat.  Just as we were dipping our french fries into ketchup, three Breslever chassidim pushing a used infant crib into the small pedestrian alleyway pointed to the teeny tiny Sukkah sitting in the middle of the pathway and invited us to use their Sukkah.  Yisrael didn't want to be a bother and told them that since we were eating shahakol, we didn't really need the Sukkah, but they insisted and proceeded to remove the mattresses that were inside and even went so far as to bring extra chairs for Nava, Eden and I to sit outside the Sukkah (the Sukkah was just big enough - and tall enough - for Yisrael and Ezra to sit without moving a single muscle).  They told us to make ourselves at home and then said the greatest thing:
"You're our Ushpizin!"
I realized how important it was for them that we accepted their invitation - for them it was a way to fulfill the mitzvah to the fullest extent.  We were those strangers, those wandering Jews looking for a place to break our bread and they were incredibly happy that we happened to cross their path. It was serendipitous for all parties involved. 
We were so touched that after cleaning up our mess, Yisrael ran back to the shuk and bought them a bottle of Arak and we left a note thanking them for their wonderful invitation. It was the smallest gesture - they weren't using their Sukkah at that moment anyways - but it put a big smile on everyone's face, both the givers and the receivers...
This is the spirit of Israel and of Israelis.  They say that some of life's most important lessons are learned outside the classroom. Whoever "they" are, are 100% right.  Having your children present when these events happen are the best lessons we can teach our kids, the best lessons we can learn ourselves, the best way we - children and adults alike - can continue to grow.  
Chag Sameach!

1 comment:

  1. That place is great. Totally worth the calories...