Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Appreciation Wednesday: Singing for My Supper

A lot of married people wonder why more Jewish singles don't host Shabbat meals, even meals for families. So I want to say right now that I do often host meals, and have even invited over families. It's hard to have families because my apartment is tiny (I have room for up to 5 guests at my table, tops) and not particularly child-proof, and some of the families I have invited live far away and said that their little ones just can't walk that far but thank you. However, I am very conscious of the fact that just because I am single does not mean I cannot cook, and it does not mean that I can't child-proof my apartment to some extent, or that I am absolved of the social responsibility to return invitations. So, you'll often find me on a Friday, stuffing zuchinnis, basting chicken, peeling potatos, and chopping vegetables, in anticipation of my honored guests - be they single or married. I usually enjoy the process.

Yet, hosting meals, when you live alone, takes some maneuvering. Since I do not live with (or near) family or even a roommate, I have three choices: invite people over, hope I get invited out, or eat alone. If I'm not invited out, I always try to invite friends -- who more often than not are in the same boat as I, and are grateful for the invitation -- but then you get into the matters of: Have I started extending invitations early enough in the week to get the people I want? Have they made other plans? If I start inviting people too early, then sometimes I get a precious invitation to a family afterward and must turn it down since I'm hosting. But, wait too long and everyone says "I have plans." Remember, if I'm not invited and no one comes over, then I'm by myself.

And of course, there is the matter of cost and cooking time, relative to what I'm doing anyway. People with families are usually buying food and cooking up something for Shabbat anyhow; having a guest or two doesn't significantly add to the cost or effort of the meal, especially an "easy" guest (like me) who is just so grateful for the company that she doesn't care at all how simple the food is, or how messy the house. It costs the same to buy two challahs, a bottle of grape juice, a gefilte fish loaf, etc whether one is cooking for 5 or for 6. But the difference between cooking for zero and cooking for 5 is very large, proportionately. A person cooking for his/her family will spend the same amount of time making a cholent whether the cholent is for 8 people or 9. But for me, it's a question of "do I invite people over and spend time and money making chicken and kugels, or do I not have to cook at all or spend anything?"

Often on Thursday night, after a busy week, I'll realize that I have no Shabbat plans. It's depressing, usually, to spend Shabbat alone (yes, there are times I enjoy the down time and the quiet, but usually Shabbat goes better as a community event). So, I'll call some of my closer friends, the ones I don't feel I have to "impress" with elaborate cooking, and see if we can get together for a small meal with good friends, deli, salad, and nice conversation.

But again, it often happens that those friends have plans, and then, unless I'm really up for an "alone" Shabbos, the begging begins. My friends might ask their hosts if I can come, or I'll call families I know "to say hi" and hope they ask me if I have plans for Shabbat. A couple of times I've resorted to asking my shule rabbi if he could set me up somewhere. I cannot tell you how degrading this all is. It's an awful feeling.

So, on this Wednesday, I am expressing my appreciation to those families everywhere who make a point of inviting singles to their homes for meals. I am referring specifically to those families who call the singles early in the week and ask them personally to come, rather than simply saying "call me whenever you need a meal." It is hard to put into words the relief and gratitude I, and many others, feel when someone calls and not only absolves me of the responsibility and cost of cooking, but also shows that they they like my company and went to effort to seek it out.

Those usually become the families that I do feel comfortable (mostly) calling "whenever I need a meal." I know that they really like it when I come, because they go out of their way to invite me.

In particular, I appreciate Ruth and Moshe Cohn of Old Katamon, who often call me not one but two weeks in advance, and are always incredibly gracious. And Sara and Rich Brownstein of Baka, who invited me enough times that I finally believed them when they said I really can call on Thursday night or Friday morning if I'm stuck - and their door is always open.

I appreciate Rachel Miskin, Gila Staum, and Esti Yaari - a set of roommates, and good friends to me, in San Simon - for not only having me over for meals often, but making me feel like "part of the family." I can't count how many times I ended up falling asleep on their couch after lunch and staying over until the end of Shabbat. Thanks, guys.

I appreciate my friends Sarah Beth and Ari Solomont in Chashmonaim, and Simcha and Beth Shapiro in Kochav Yaakov, for asking me about twice a week "when are you coming over for Shabbat?" and making it safe for me to call on Thursday night if I decide I have to get out of Jerusalem.

And I appreciate Yael Rockoff and Natalee Cohen, both of whom, when they are around and also stuck on Thursday night, make wonderful "Shabbat buddies." They are good enough friends that we can say to each other "I have no plans either, but come over and I'll, I don't know, buy a kugel and defrost a babka." Where there is babka and good friends, there is happiness.

And finally, I appreciate the "hospitality committees" at synagogues everywhere, especially the ones who work during the week to make sure everyone is "set up" for meals before Shabbat, so that fewer people have the stress of going to shule on Friday night not knowing whether they will be eating alone or not that night.

Tizku l'mitzvot.

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