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The Accidental Hostess

Chany Rosengarten

It started with one secular student whom her husband met in the Rebbe’s anteroom. It snowballed into a kiruv initiative that has touched thousands of lives.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Walking up the wooden, slatted stairs to the Baum* home, you smell Shabbos even if you aren’t aware of its imminent arrival. A thick chicken soup is bubbling on the stove next to a tall pot stacked with saucy ribs. On the opposite counter, a large, bathtub-like Crock-Pot puffs that bean-potato-meat aroma that we’ve all come to love. On the floor is a delivery from the local grocery; cases of chips, sodas, plastic goods, and bags and bags of chocolate chips, all waiting to be put to use.

It’s a regular Thursday night at the Baum home.

“I used to fret when my baalei teshuvah walked in on Thursday night,” admits Leah Baum. “I wanted them to arrive an hour before Shabbos, when the table was set, the Shabbos clothes were donned, and the house looking like we were ready to greet the Shabbos Queen with grace.”

But her company enjoyed coming precisely when the challah dough was rising. The guests wanted to be there when the pile of Costco’s best fresh fruit arrived in stunning arrays and were laid on the counter. They wanted to be part of the “Yanky, did you come out of the bath yet? Shlomo, it’s your turn now” cheerleading.

“I learned a lot about hosting. I came to understand the benefit of showing baalei teshuvah the regular hectic parts of our lives, and not just times we like to showcase, like Friday night. They get to see behind the scenes: How much food does a family need for Shabbos? How does a family juggle five children under the age of ten? Who prepares the Shabbos candles; how much does the husband participate in domestic matters; how do you cook ten courses in one day; what do you do after Havdalah; are frum families really normal? These are all important questions for a person who has never lived this life. I’m happy to let people find out.”

Leah used to be afraid to let people see her children fight. Today she knows it’s perfectly okay to be comfortable and relaxed. Yes, her children squabble. Yes, she takes time out for herself after a taxing Shabbos. Yes, her house looks the part when she has just made twenty-two dozen chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, potato kugels, cabbage salad, tomato dip, teriyaki salmon, gefilte fish, challos, chicken, farfel, meat, pecan pie … and she still has a couple of recipes lined up on the counter. It’s all part of the waxing and waning of life. A mess happens, you clean it up. A fight erupts, you forgive each other. A shidduch doesn’t work out, and life moves on.


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