We’d created a haven for them to unburden their hearts, and sent them away with the sweetness of home cooking
I’ve always hated selling raffle tickets. When our children received those little raffle booklets from school with instructions to sell as many tickets as possible to raise money for the educational institution they attended, I’d smile — then groan inwardly.
“We’ll go out after school,” I’d say, and, trailing a bevy of expectant children, we’d knock on our neighbors’ doors. I understood why the children balked at going out alone and wanted me to accompany them. It was hard to knock on doors and request a donation. Often, I’d just give in and my husband and I would buy all the tickets ourselves.
Years later, we watched our precious son-in-law go up and down streets collecting for his kollel. As his enthusiasm gave way to despondency, and his stories of having doors firmly closed on him or being left on the doorstep in the rain tumbled out, we began to think about what we did when the doorbell rang. I made a silent promise to myself that we’d never treat anyone that way.
So between eight and ten in the evening, we opened our doors to everyone who knocked. The mitzvah evolved slowly. At first, we invited our visitors inside to sit in the warm living room. One day I realized they might be hungry and thirsty, so I made a large batch of cookies, brought every collector into the dining room, and sat them around our table. The staple became chocolate chip cookies, but sometimes I also made a kokosh cake — things I knew they’d enjoy.
I’d wait for their brachos and answer “amen.” I’d hand out paper bags to fill with goodies to take home. One evening saw me frying endless batches of doughnuts. They were consumed before I could get the next batch on the table.
We’re not rich, but we gave everyone who came by. My husband had a tzedakah book where he meticulously recorded all the donations. He had rules — those with current Vaad certificates testifying to their legitimacy received more than those who simply appeared, but that was never ironclad. Sometimes the meshulachims’ stories moved us to tears and we just gave.
While my husband talked to the men, I brought the women into the kitchen, redolent with its fragrance of cooking. And we talked. Even though there were times when I couldn’t understand their words, the language of love prevailed.
I’d hear their stories, and we would cry together. I’d look at their family photos and show mine in return. I’d take their names and daven. Even now that we’ve made aliyah and no longer do this on a regular basis like we did in England, I still have some of those names tucked into my siddur.
It wasn’t the money that brought people back again and again. We’d created a haven for them to unburden their hearts, and sent them away with the sweetness of home cooking. They became part of our family.
Everyone came through our door. The learned and unlearned, the unwashed, the unkempt, those reeking of cigarettes, the ones who needed extra attention because the world was too difficult for them, and those who came back week after week just to sit at our table.
There was a lady who called me “Mommy” who came once a month. I’d empty my cupboards into her bags and tell her to come back soon. Before Pesach, she’d appear, and I’d give her the groceries I knew she couldn’t afford to buy.
While we shared their problems, they shared in ours. When I was sitting shivah for my father, they insisted on coming in and wishing me arichus yamim. When our daughter came to stay after giving birth to twins, they showered her with brachos.
It wasn’t easy. Some would shout, venting their frustration at life. We listened and empathized, knowing their behavior came from a place we couldn’t understand. Hopeful men and women would come armed with computers, insisting we watch their videos while there were 20 or more men around the table. And there were times when we just wanted a day off — but we never took one.
Why? Because we grew to love every single one our callers. Now that we’ve made aliyah and no longer do the same thing, I still have the urge to make chocolate chip cookies — just in case.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 688)
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