Sunday, November 6, 2011

Iranian Jews Know How to Make Strangers Feel at Home

It's that time of the year when we read about Abraham, the 3 angels and how Hachnasat Orchim -- welcoming guests into our midst -- became an integral part of the Jewish way of life. But are we practicing what we preach?

While none of us go to the pains that Abraham did by washing our visitors' feet, there are Jewish communities around the world who have their own special touch in making guests and strangers feel at home. This past January I brought up a unique custom practiced by Turkish Jews. After seeing a recent CNN Fareed Zakaria GPS piece on Iran, I decided to find out if there is a specific custom practiced by Iranian Jews. Sure enough, there is and it revolves around a tea ceremony.

Iranians use a samovar to heat and boil water, with the tea essence brewing on top. The water is carefully poured into small glasses. If foam appears in the water, it is not served. It must be crystal clear -- a sign of respect for the guest. Rose water -- which has a distinctive flavor and is an important ingredient in Iranian cuisine -- is provided in a separate glass for those who want to add it to their tea. Cookies are served as well. Sugar cubes are placed in a small glass server and handed around, with everyone taking a cube and placing it in their mouth. The tea is now ready to be drunk. All of this is done as soon as a guest enters the house. It's the Iranian way of showing guests they are wanted and respected.

This charming custom should get you thinking. Are you doing enough to welcome new members into your community.  Are you teaching your children the importance of this value? What about new students in a class? Are you making them feel wanted and part of the group? Have you dedicated a specific time and day for a welcome party? Think about how you can create your own Hachnasat Orchim custom that's your cup of tea.

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