A Guide for the Guest
Question: I plan to be studying next year in a seminary in Jerusalem where it is customary for girls to often have their Shabbat meals in the homes of local families. Lacking experience as a guest in the home of strangers, I am anxious to know what the right thing to do is.
Answer: Although your hosts will consider it a pleasure to have you enjoy their hospitality and add a special dimension to their Shabbat table, there are some things you should know so that you will not be guilty of abusing their generosity. The most important rule is: come on time and leave on time.
When you receive an invitation for a Shabbat meal, make sure to ask exactly when the meal will begin. Then do some research on how long it takes to walk from your residence to the home of your hosts and schedule yourself to arrive a few minutes before the start of the meal.
If you are planning to take part in Shabbat services in a local synagogue, make sure that those services end early enough for you to arrive at your hosts' home on time.
It is nice to offer your hosts help both in serving the food and removing the dishes afterwards. At the conclusion of the meal offer your thanks and prepare to leave unless you see that your hosts would like you to stay on for further chatting.
Gifts are not necessary but something of token value will always be appreciated, especially if it can be enjoyed at the meal in which you are participating.
Have a productive year in Israel and a very "good Shabbat" every week.