Keeping up with the Ushpizin
Tami Lancut Leibovitz
Since my childhood, Sukkot has always been a holiday of family and friends in our home, and not only in our home, all over the world and all over Israel. It even has a special term to describe the guests, derived from the Aramaic language for guest – Ushpizin.
What is so special about guests in Sukkot that they received a special term to describe them?
There’s a communal and mystical aspect of the festival of Sukkot that includes inviting guests into our home, including complete strangers that we help preform the mitzvah of sitting and eating in the Sukkah. We wish to fill our Sukkah with guests and the biblical sources provides a specific list about who should be include: men and women, boys and girls, employees, colleagues and workers, widows, and orphans and also the less fortunate among our community or in the words of the Rambam: “When one eats and drinks, one must also feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the other unfortunate paupers. But one who locks the doors of his courtyard, and eat and drinks with his children and wife but does not feed the poor and the embittered soul–this is not the joy of a mitzvah…”
Having all those guests from all paths of life also brings us etiquette questions and concerns, how to make everyone as comfortable as can be in our temporary home:
- Prepare ahead: If your Sukkah is grand and inviting and you expect friends and family to arrive to visit, create some basics that will allow you to offer gestures or small meals to your visitors. The hardships of hosting in a Sukkah comes from the flow of people that come in and out. It’s not proper etiquette to ignore your guests for food preparation reasons so make sure you create ahead of time a veggie and fruit tray, cheese and breads plate, pastries you can heat up and serve.
- Dishes are half the battle: Finding yourself in an endless circle of dish washing for 7 days will become a nightmare. Be good to yourselves and purchase a few sets of fancy disposable utensils and plates that you can toss after you use and save yourself time. Nowadays, the disposable dishes are so unique and pretty and they come in paper, plastic and even organic, recyclable and biodegradable materials you can use with no guilt!
- Keep the conversation alive: One of the rules about conversation around the table involves seating plans and planning of the table to avoid cliques and personal conversations around the table. In a sukkah set-up, it’s not always possible because the nature of arrival and gathering that keeps o changing. Make sure you introduce your guests to one another and even mention common interests they have with each other to create spontaneous conversations and interactions without you having to be the moderator at all times.
- When you are the guest: Part of Sukkot is also visiting friends and family and not only hosting! So, remember some key rules before you go visit; if you bring a cooked dish, call ahead to check if there’s allergy or restrictions you are not aware of,
if you come with a large family or group, call ahead to check if they might need extra things that can help your host,
On Sukkot, it’s not a bad idea to bring packaged cakes or bakery items that are sealed. There are 7 days in the Sukkah so your host may wish to serve the dish the next day if the table is already rich and full.
Call or text afterwards to say Thank you! Like you would do in any standard dinner or event you would attend. It’s a great way to make your host feel rewarded and joyous.
With that being said, don’t forget the essence of the holiday - Sukkot is time to see and host people we love and cherish, friends and family, beyond the rules and guidelines, the most important thing is a warm, authentic greeting and treatment throughout the visit.
May we all have a wonderful holiday!
Happy Sukkot Holiday !