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The Shabbat Primer

The Mitzva Of Hospitality: Being A Host

Singles As Hosts

Single people may feel uncomfortable with the mitzva of hospitality. Some of these feelings may arise from their concept of traditional Jewish attitudes, and some are simply inherent in the role of being a single host. In either case, with initiative and acceptance of themselves, singles can overcome these problems and enjoy offering others a truly satisfying Shabbat.

Chief among the obstacles for singles is the sense that they don't quite have the right, at least not yet, to be a host. Somewhere inside they believe that their natural role is to be guests at someone else's table. They find it extremely difficult to imagine themselves at the head of their own table. Even singles in their late thirties told us that they and their single friends rarely invite Shabbat guests, but, rather, go regularly to the homes of married friends.

The main reason for this appears to be the traditional Jewish ideal of what Shabbat should be. It's striking that our singles feel quite comfortable hosting friends for other occasions during the week. They all frequently invite friends to drop by during week nights for coffee or for an informal supper. But hosting Shabbat dinner seems to demand qualifications they feel they lack. Without Father at the head chanting kiddush and giving a dvar Torah talk, Mother serving course after course of traditional delicacies, and all the children and guests clustered about in between - what is Shabbat? Even talented, innovative Jewish singles who excel in their professions find it hard to imagine that they could offer a satisfying Shabbat experience in their own way.

Divorced and widowed singles can have a particularly difficult time getting up the courage to be a host on Shabbat. They may have beautiful memories of a time when things were more "the way they should be" at the Shabbat table. Now they just don't have the heart to host an experience which will probably be lacking in their own eyes. They're "grown-ups," but there's always the temptation to revert and just be invited to someone else's home. Then, too, after sharing the tasks with a spouse for years, making Shabbat all by themselves can seem overwhelming. If, however, they have several children, they rarely have any other option but to be the hosts, and the load is all on their one pair of shoulders.

Jewish singles, both the never-married and the formerly-married, often project their attitudes upon their potential guests. They may believe that guests would really prefer to go to a "complete" family, where they could experience the "real Shabbat" they're seeking. "I'd like to invite neighbors and strangers who need a place to go for Shabbat," says Rivka, "but I hesitate to give my name to the volunteer hospitality groups. I just always think that these people want to go to a family where they can learn about Shabbat. I don't feel I can really educate them." Shoshanna sometimes senses disappointment in the groups of overseas teenagers she hostesses. "They're stuck with me instead of a family," is the message she picks up.

Another obstacle mentioned by our unmarried resource women who don't have roommates is the need to perform all the Shabbat roles oneself. Rivka remarks that she would feel silly, like a one-woman three-ring circus, if she tried to serve the food, keep up the conversation, lead the singing, chant the kiddush, pour the schnapps, give the dvar Torah, and answer questions all by herself. She's come to accept the Shabbat she can provide, but she still feels that certain ingredients are missing. For some reason she's never tried the obvious solution of asking someone to co-hostess.

There are, then, some definite obstacles for the single host to contend with. Underlying all of them is a feeling of lacking legitimate status, aggravated, one must admit, by traditional Jewish attitudes toward the single life. "Singleness is far from ideal in the eyes of the frum (religious) world," says Shoshanna. "There are certain aspersions cast upon single women. That may be the reason I'm not wholly part of that world. People think it's somehow odd and deviant that I would buy my own flat, rather than rent and wait for a husband. I justified it to myself at the time by saying I would have lots of guests."

The most successful among our single resource people recognize the problems, accept them as enduring, not temporary, and take hold of their life as it is. By so doing, they are able to find workable solutions. Rivka, for example, looks for new opportunities to be a hostess. For Shabbat she seeks out people from her neighborhood who she wants to know better. Twice, she held a home Purim Megillah reading which was great fun for everyone, particularly for her elderly guests. "It's a fine way to break into single hostessing," she says, "because so many rules and rigid expectations blow out the window at Purim." Other happy occasions, such as Succot, Lag BaOmer, and the singles' holiday par excellence, Tu B'Av, also offer good openings for beginners.

Rivka enjoys her group of single friends who share Shabbat together by taking turns at each one's homes. But she also suggests, "Take the initiative with your married friends. Invite them. Don't always sit back and wait for them to invite you. And if you feel Shabbat is lacking without kids, invite families living close by. I can tell you from experience that couples with more than three kids are thrilled to be invited. Their friends usually also have lots of kids, so they're always hosting singles who can be fitted in. But nobody asks them."

If you feel depressed or inadequate hosting as a single, get support. Ask a close friend to co-host with you. Or, once again, consider being part of a Shabbat workshop. Such a framework is excellent for seeing that you get the encouragement and push you to actually carry out your good intentions. Having to take on all the traditional Shabbat roles oneself is, understandably, daunting to a single. To repeat, the solution can be to co-host(ess). Then one of you can pour schnapps and keep the guests company while the other dishes out in the kitchen. If you're embarrassed asking a friend of the opposite sex to perform a mitzva traditionally done by a spouse, try Shoshanna's solution. She invites a mixed group of married couples and singles and then spreads the honors among the different men present. One says kiddush, one gives a dvar Torah, and so on.

Inviting a mixed group of married couples and singles also alleviates any problems with the laws of modesty. Some of our singles say they see no necessity for married "chaperones." They feel perfectly free inviting only other singles in a mixed sex group. Three of our resource women, though, single and married, said they invited only couples or singles of the same sex. Among mixed single groups, one claimed, there were "undertones" which, though certainly not immoral, "undermined concentration on the Shabbat experience."

In conclusion, the essence of the matter is for you as a single to refuse to remain passive. There are basically two challenges. The first is to accept your Shabbat as a legitimate alternative to the classic ideal. Some guests may even prefer it. Not everybody wants to be "educated" at every Shabbat table, and younger guests, especially, may feel more at home with you than with an awesome Torah-observant family of twelve. Also, let us admit the plain fact that Shabbat dinner with kids is not always what it's cracked up to be. Young children can be intrusive, interfering, and distracting - not at all conducive to a good discussion of Torah commentaries. So your Shabbat table can offer a welcome quiet, a sophisticated atmosphere for adults. There is also an opportunity here of developing an alternative singles model of Shabbat. Retaining most of the traditional features, it could nevertheless be more relevant to you and your single guests.

The second challenge is to accept yourself as a legitimate Jewish adult. Shoshanna says, "If I spend week after week as a guest, I start to feel like Little Orphan Annie. I'm also a Jew celebrating what is central to every Jew, Shabbat. I hope my singleness won't be a permanent state, but I'm living my life at the moment. Life is with people. People know I enjoy having them, so I get plenty of guests."

Adds Ilana, "The mitzva of hachnasat orchim was given to every Jew, single or married. I'm well over bat mitzva age. It's up to me to be a hostess, and not only a guest. Besides, I get so much more out of Shabbat when I'm the one offering it."

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