A prayer near the beginning of a morning worship service in the Jewish tradition lists values that we can and should put into practice. One of those actions is welcoming guests, that is, showing hospitality.
I learned about hospitality from seeing my parents, relatives and other friends organize and host gatherings in their homes.
I also learned about hospitality from the verses in Genesis Chapter 18 that I read when I became Bar Mitzvah just over 50 years ago. That passage featured the story of guests who appeared at the tent of Abraham and Sarah, giving them the opportunity to demonstrate the usual enthusiastic welcoming that they would give to visitors who came their way.
The guests turned out to be messengers (from God) who brought news of the impending birth of Isaac.
I was reminded this week of a moment when someone who had once been denied a welcome came with her family to offer me an important invitation.
The reminder came with the news of the death of Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas on March 26.
Anyone who has studied “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the school desegregation case that was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court, may recall seeing a photo of a young Linda Brown standing outside of Monroe School. That school was two miles from her home, while another elementary school, Sumner, was right across the street from where she lived.
Sumner School, however, was open only to white students. Monroe School was where black children attended.
30 years ago, while I was serving as rabbi in Topeka, Linda, her mother Leola, and her sister Cheryl came to my Temple to invite me to be a founding Board member of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.
The Brown Foundation successfully worked towards the creation of the Brown v. Board National Historic Site, which was dedicated in 2004 as the National Park Service’s main museum to tell the story of school desegregation. The Brown Foundation’s first annual commemoration, in 1989, of the May 17 anniversary of the Supreme Court decision (in 1954) featured Rosa Parks as the main speaker.
Welcoming guests/hospitality is a value that we can and should extend to people throughout our community. On Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom, the Seder meal held on the first and second nights of the eight-day holiday gives families and congregations the chance to invite friends and guests to attend and to learn about a centuries-old Jewish tradition.
Recently, Morning Star United Methodist Church invited members of Temple Beth-El and the Islamic Center of Las Cruces to attend their Palm Sunday service on March 25. Church leaders acknowledged our presence and welcomed us with enthusiasm. It was a clear demonstration of how the value of hospitality can building stronger connections and bridges between people that can foster dialogue and even friendship.
There are many more examples of welcome that are being offered by organizations and congregations in Las Cruces to create communal connection, and to provide help to people who face serious challenges to their freedom, health, and well-being. Such efforts deserve our support.
May we find ways in our lives to offer a spirited welcome to someone we don’t know well, or to someone we do know, in order to strengthen relationships that could bring us gifts which we might not even be able to imagine.