By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
We’ve gotten used to our new Shabbos routine around here. After too many weeks of scrambling to muffle our pain with plans and guests, Jeremy has blessed and joined our family, and assumed the role of Shabbos Abba that had been so glaringly wanting. But last week, he needed to be away for a simcha, and once again I found myself reminded of how it was for us “immediately after.”
For me, during those years when I was alone with the kids, I’d start formulating Shabbos plans on Monday. At the start it was mostly my parents or other family members who joined us for Shabbos. If plans fell through and I didn’t have something concrete by Wednesday, I’d go into panic mode, though my parents or mother-in-law were always on standby.
For those of you wondering how hard it is to be a single mother of 5 young kids and make Shabbos plans for the family, the answer is: very. I usually just opted to invite company, because I hated having to drag the kids out on a Friday night. There would be sleepover company, eating company, and I’d pack an arsenal of plenty of (often forced) cheer to go around.
A lot of times, as shared in my many writings on Shabbosim and yomim tovim being surprisingly enjoyable, we’d have great experiences at our Shabbos table, even when I’d anticipated the worst.
We’d have some regulars, we’d occasionally have some new faces, and overall, this portion of our lives introduced a concept of stretching our comfort level past the capacity we thought it would go.
It taught both me and my kids that even though we really don’t want to try something new, sometimes that’s where the best experiences will be found.
When Moshe was alive, we’d entertain occasionally but because the kids were young, it was always more of a chore than something fun.
Meals with family and neighbors were our go-to for when we wanted to have guests but didn’t mind if the kids would be flinging food across the table at each other. These people had already seen us in every which way, and I had no qualms about them witnessing an occasional tantrum during the soup course. We had company so often during those years that till today, my kids will regularly ask me who will be eating or staying over on Shabbos.
Little did they know that for all those years, I was having people at the table primarily to distract them (and maybe myself) from noticing who was missing, as if I could ever even achieve such a thing. And till today, I don’t know if it was me convincing myself that this is what they needed or if it was what I needed.
Regardless, we got through a very trying time in our lives and now because of those years when we’d have a variety of people here, that habit of having company sort of stuck.
It might not be as formal as others’ Shabbos meals with the good dishes and the cups that are so delicate that they might break if you place them too firmly on the table, but it’s still always a lot of fun.
I became a fan of buffet Shabbos meals and way fewer dishes.
At the same time, once things here settled back into a new rhythm in our house and I no longer had to mask what was supposed to be a happy Shabbos experience with a bunch of people, for the first time in a long time, I was able to sit among my people.
It still hasn’t gotten old when Jeremy asks me what I want to do on a random Shabbos and I recall that nervous energy in my mind from not too long ago. The planning and cooking and hosting and laughing at things when I just wanted to relive the sitting among my family and appreciate it instead of think it’s a guarantee.
Last week was thankfully a rarity. In the end, we had a great Shabbos with plenty of friends and neighbors stopping by.
On Friday night, we had company and I looked around the table at our guests and thanked them silently for being at our unconventional Shabbos table. My kids knew the drill. Yosef set up for the minyan, Dovid made Kiddush, and it was muscle memory from a time when we didn’t have someone’s arrival back home to anticipate.
What made this all much easier was that we knew where he was and why he was away but that he’d be coming back after Shabbos. Jeremy has solidified our family dynamic in more ways than I could possibly write. There are some feelings even for me that can’t quite be captured via the written word.
One of the most important things he’s done for us though is bringing back the happiness that Shabbos deserves to have. Providing that feeling of belonging and being the glue that put the broken parts of us back together again. n
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.