Most visitors to the Middle East have experienced a part of the region’s incredible hospitality. Whether it is the family who invites you over for a giant meal, the shopkeeper offering coffee and a chat, or the man who goes out of his way to give you directions, the culture of hospitality is unforgettable and often humbling. These acts of kindness are often attributed to a story about Abraham.
As the legend goes, Abraham was sitting in his tent when three strangers approached. After he had prepared them a meal and washed their feet, the three men revealed themselves to be angels and told Abraham that his wife would give birth to a son. The moral of the story is to always offer kindness to strangers because one never knows when they will be angels.
The story is said to have taken place in a town called Mamre, which some traditions believe was about a mile outside of the center of Hebron. The meeting itself was supposed to have taken place at the foot of Abraham’s oak. Although the tree associated with this legend died in 1996, scholars estimate the tree to be about 300 years old, though it could be a descendent of Abraham’s original tree. In addition to the story about Abraham, this oak is also said to be the place where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus rested on their flight to Egypt.
Abraham’s oak is tended by Anwar Zablah, who has taken care of the tree for over thirty years. He usually has a stack of postcards to hand out to visitors, which show the oak in 1960, when the tree still had green leaves, and himself as a small boy standing underneath it. Today, Zablah tends “Abraham’s daughters,” two small oaks growing nearby, which are the progeny of the original tree.