Malkie Hirsch

By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

Shabbos is always busy around here and this week was no exception.

Today was my mother’s birthday, and since I got remarried I find myself hosting things like I used to, prior to our three-year hiatus.

The way this Shabbos came about was a bit unusual, but it still provided me with the chance to reopen my home the way it used to be. At times, though, I still feel like I’ve gone through a pretty intense identity shift when it comes to hosting events in my house.

In my young adulthood, I did what many others do: I got married and had kids on a pretty intense bi-yearly basis for 10 solid (and sleepless) years. I tried not to skip a beat and to learn to do all the things we women do—acclimate to new surroundings in moving to a new community, establish a career, nurture a fledgling marriage while raising children, and learn how to cook and host meals with friends (of yours and your spouse’s) and family members while praying that our kids act normal and that we’ve got it all together.

A tall order, I know.

Back when I was younger and still living at home, my parents had Shabbos and yom tov guests regularly but not at the same frequency as I have had over all these years.

There’s fear of the unknown, not being able to predict what your kids will be like that day and how they’ll act with the other kids who are there with their parents.

While we adults crave the likeminded company, the desire to see friends, or just to take advantage of the day when we get to disconnect to connect, there’s really no way of knowing for certain if at the end of a four-hour meal the adults will realize that the perfectly behaved kids have been quietly playing in the den without any supervision since noon … or if there will be several tantrums about seating before the meal even starts, food being thrown at each other, or maybe a ball is thrown into your glass window as you’re serving the main course.

By the way, these are all things that have happened in my life, which is how I’m able to constantly have material to write about.

You’re welcome.

For the first 11 years of my parenting career, I’d subject myself to the torture otherwise known as having regular Shabbos company.

Why?

Because as scary and unpredictable as it can be, it can also be wonderfully fulfilling. For me. (I know we’re not all the same.)

It’s the only day of the week when I have minimal distractions, no electronics, and hours to socialize.

There’s an art to hosting. Inviting people who will get along with one another, kids who will mesh well together, too, and where you can be the one who brings friends together in the right setting.

People host in different ways, and it usually indicates what type of personality they have.

There are casual hosts who set up a buffet in their kitchen so that people can take what they want. They sit by the meal and are completely present, engaging their company and enjoying themselves like their guests.

There are “Type A” personalities who invite their company on Monday, have everything set up days in advance, and have Post-It notes of which food will go into a certain platter by Thursday.

Sometimes they even plate the food individually for an artistic touch and because it feeds into their need to control their environment. They’re the types who are usually washing dishes as dirty plates get cleared off the table. Oftentimes, they don’t allow their guests into the kitchen because of the potential disarray as things are put away.

There are those who love hosting but don’t love the pressure of preparing so they love the pot-luck style of bringing their near and dear together.

There are also those who take the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim literally and provide to people who need a place to go on a Shabbos, whether it’s someone your spouse meets in shul who has nowhere to go for the meal or people who come from non-observant homes and are learning the ins of an observant life.

It’s not necessarily the people you’d want to have for social reasons as much as the people you feel you should have, who need you more than you need to have your friend’s family for the 100th time. And the challenge of making that not feel like two separate categories.

Three years ago, I suddenly fell into that second category in the blink of an eye, before I could even process what was happening.

One minute, I was the hostess who had company, and the next, I was being invited out with my kids to various homes because, suddenly, we were on our own.

I wasn’t ready for that shift in identities, from the “fun guest” to the “we should really invite them” guest, so I usually opted to stay home and continue to host company here.

I just couldn’t accept being the object of others’ concern because it took time for me to realize that our family dynamic was different.

It’s the way widows, widowers, singles, and divorcees feel when they’re invited to a home they’ve never been to before. If at first the realization as to why they were invited doesn’t register, it usually will eventually.

Although people meant well and I knew it came from a place of love, I kept my invites to my home and out at others very small. I wanted to have the same people we had always had for both my sake and the sake of my kids.

I knew how painful it was to have to relive the person missing from our Shabbos table on a weekly basis, so I was very insistent on keeping the company we ate with as familiar as possible. This meant that our regulars were in a rotation every few weeks or so. They know who they are, and as stressful as it was for me to keep up the constant entertaining, I know that for them to continue coming and supporting us had to be difficult at times, too. There’s a big difference between getting together for “the fun of it” and doing so for the need of it.

We kept it up for years. I was always relieved when I could bang out weeks of plans in advance, so I wouldn’t need to stress about what we’d be doing as each Friday approached. And while I know intellectually that I make good food and our home is a fun place to be, I could never shake the feeling that my guests were doing me a favor by coming, because we both knew I needed them there more than they needed to be there.

It gave me a special insight into the lives of those who live on their own and have to go through making plans like this week after week. It’s an understatement when I tell you how hard it is to coordinate Shabbos plans for a family of six every week.

It was a trying time and something I think about now that our reality is far from a time not too long ago when I wondered to myself when things would be different, and I could host the way I wanted to again—just for the joy of it.

As we set the table on Shabbos morning, deciding that there were too many people coming to eat to accommodate everyone at one table, I thought back about that time. The time I felt myself holding on for another week and telling myself that this week would bring me closer to getting back to feeling like a giver instead of like a recipient. To get the things back I always took for granted but this time understanding the gift it is to have, and appreciating it the way it deserved to be.

Menu planning, cooking, having guests, and balancing all that while handling little kids is difficult. But I get to be here with the people I love while having the support and love of someone who’s always in my corner. We had to go through a lot to get here, but despite it all, I’m thankful to have a joy I never knew to appreciate like I do now. 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.

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