Why are my children settling for a second-rate sheva brachos?
Sheva: We’re not trying to be impersonal, but we’re stretched beyond our limits.
Mindel: I know you’re so busy, but shouldn’t you extend yourselves this time?
I hung up the phone with my daughter Sarah, a huge smile on my face. It was official! It’s always a simchah when a grandchild gets engaged. But with Chava, it was special.
Not just because she’s the oldest granddaughter, the one whose birth catapulted me into a brand-new role, but because we’ve waited years for this.
Chava may be the oldest of the cousins, but she’s the — what, seventh, eighth? — to get married. Two of her own younger siblings are married already, with her blessing, but still… if anyone deserved a special simchah, it was Chava.
“They want to keep the engagement as short as possible,” Sarah told me the next day. “They’ve waited long enough for this, and if they don’t get married before the Three Weeks, it means waiting almost another month, and then mid-summer is not a great time, because so many people are away…”
A seven-week engagement? Wow. But I totally understood. Chava wouldn’t want to wait a few months, not after she’d waited so long to get to this stage in the first place.
“Let me know if I can help out with anything,” I told Sarah.
Sarah laughed. “We’ll be fine, Ma. Chava is super capable. She’s already busy with sheitels and we’re going to choose a gown tomorrow.”
“Well, anything else? Sheva brachos?”
“I think they’re sorted, believe it or not. I mean, assuming that the family makes one, like always…” Sarah counted aloud. “Yup, the nights were grabbed up. So many people have been waiting for this.”
“I know,” I said, my voice laced with relief.
I was looking forward to the family sheva brachos, I reflected. In a way it was the best part of the simchah. With the stress and chaos of making a wedding over with and the young couple relaxed and excited, it was a chance for the family to sit together and enjoy each other instead of getting lost in the music and the noise and a hundred other guests. I was glad that my children did this for each other. “The aunts’ sheva brachos” was always a fun affair, complete with grammen and games and inside jokes, my son-in-law Yidi on the keyboard, and the teen grandsons performing in some impromptu choir. And of course, the theme centered around something special about the chassan or kallah, which always kept things entertaining.
Sarah, as the oldest, was usually the one organizing everything — except, of course, when it was her own child getting married. I should really call Sheva, my second daughter, and offer to help out, make the challah rolls or something. I was sure she’d be glad for the offer.
tried Sheva once or twice, but couldn’t reach her. I wasn’t too worried; Sheva had a full-time job and a busy household. She always called me back eventually, and if not, we’d speak before Shabbos.
Sure enough, a couple of days later, her number sprang up on my screen.
“How are you, how’s everyone?”
“Yeah, baruch Hashem, all great.” She sounded breathless. Sheva’s always running around; I guess that’s how she gets so much done. “What’s doing by you, Ma?”
“Baruch Hashem. Tatty and I are fine.” I looked around my clean, quiet kitchen. I definitely had more time than my daughter these days. Maybe I could do some kugels as well.
“About the sheva brachos, I wanted to offer you and the others help with the cooking. How about if I make the challos and kugels?”
I expected her to gratefully accept the offer, probably hurry to update her lists and adapt the job distribution accordingly, but instead, there was a long pause at the other end of the line.
They were making sheva brachos for Chava, weren’t they?
“Ma, thanks so much,” Sheva finally said, slowly. “Just… I didn’t realize no one mentioned it. We’re not cooking for the sheva brachos this time, we decided to do it in a restaurant. Yael said they did it for her brother, and it was really nice…” She trailed off.
I blinked. A restaurant? Where did that come from?
“But — but…” For a moment, I couldn’t put it into words, but then I pictured the family events that we’ve always had, and I blurted out, “That’s really… going to be a different kind of atmosphere, no? Much less personal… much more formal… not like the other ones we’ve made as a family. And isn’t it really expensive?”
“It is, but honestly, Ma, we just couldn’t manage it this time,” Sheva said. “And besides, buying all the food and paperware and décor isn’t cheap either. And this time, we’re not inviting the younger kids…”
“Not inviting all the cousins?” I was aghast. “But — what about the whole family getting together, the atmosphere, the kids preparing entertainment and stuff…”
“It’s going to be a beautiful sheva brachos,” Sheva said stiffly. “I’m sure Chava and her chassan won’t mind not having Uncle Tzvi do his whole dressing-up act, or the nieces not doing a shtick, or whatever. It’ll be elegant and beautiful and the men can still sing, it’s not like there won’t be an ‘atmosphere.’ ”
“That’s — not the same,” I said, shaking my head even though she couldn’t see a thing.
I thought of how Chava had spent the night in the hospital with Sheva’s ten-month-old Yitzi when he’d been hospitalized with RSV. I thought of how Chava had cooked most of Pesach for Devorah when she’d been on bedrest. She’d always been so gracious about helping anyone in the family who needed it. I would have hoped my daughters would remember that now.
And I thought of the sheva brachos my daughters had made for Chava’s younger siblings when they’d gotten married. The games, the action, the lively fun, the attention and the themes and the private jokes that kept everyone laughing all evening. And she’d get a staid sit-down dinner at a restaurant, with waiters in black shirts and aprons.
Very elegant. Very formal. Not what she deserved.
hat can you do about it?” Moshe asked practically, when I told him about the disappointing sheva brachos plans. “Maybe if you offer to take on some of the preparation…”
“I did — that’s what I called Sheva about to begin with,” I said. “It didn’t seem to make a difference. They’ve already decided.”
Moshe tugged at his beard, an old habit. “But you’re really not happy with the plans. So maybe there’s something more you can do, to make it easier for them to change things.”
I thought about what was stopping my daughters from hosting the sheva brachos themselves. They were all busy, for sure. Maybe I could offer to do the hosting? If no one had to host — clean the house, block off the dining room for a day, clean up the wreckage afterwards…
“I’ll offer to host it,” I decided. “I’ll get Maria for extra hours, she can clean everything before and after, I’ll help them set up, and if the boys will just go to the gemach for extra chairs and tables, it won’t be a problem at all. And I’ll do the challos and kugels, and we can get some of the meal catered if that makes it easier. I’m sure they’ll find it manageable that way.”
ut Sheva and the others didn’t see things the same way as me.
“It’s really nice of you, Ma, but it’s not just the hosting or the cooking or anything specific, it’s everything, you know? Paperware. Program. Décor. All the little details, transporting everything, hot plates… running in and out the kitchen, even. I’m just not up to it, and neither are the others. You know what I mean…”
I didn’t really — I didn’t see it as such a big deal, not with six of them pitching in to help. But if the serving was the issue, I could deal with that.
“I can hire waiters, if that helps,” I offered.
“Ma, thanks so much. But this is… pretty final. I don’t think everyone will change their minds now.” Sheva paused. “Yael booked the restaurant and everything. We paid the deposit.”
I opened my mouth to offer to cover the cost of the lost deposit, then I closed it again. They weren’t going to change their minds; I could hear that. Nothing I would say or offer or do would make a difference.
“It’s going to be fine, really beautiful,” Sheva continued. “Chava will enjoy it, and you know what? This is probably what we’ll end up doing for the rest of the nieces and nephews. Baruch Hashem, there are lots of simchahs on the way, and life is busy, we can’t stop and create themed productions anymore for every single one.”
hated to admit it, even to myself, but I was upset with my children. Okay, so it was too much for them to go all out for every family simchah. Baruch Hashem, we’re a big family, and there are five cousins in shidduchim now, with more on the way.
But couldn’t they push themselves a little, just for Chava?
Especially because I knew my granddaughter. She loved this kind of stuff, the themes and the family time. She wasn’t the type to enjoy a formal dinner at a fancy restaurant.
Sarah confirmed my suspicions the next time we spoke on the phone.
“How’s Chava doing?”
I could hear her smile through the phone line. “Great. Really great. She’s such a relaxed kallah, it’s amazing! And she’s so excited for everything, the chasunah, the dancing — you know her, she’ll enjoy every second…”
“For sure.” I wondered what Chava thought about the restaurant idea. Or had they not told her yet?
“I was talking to Sheva about the family sheva brachos,” I said, cautiously broaching the subject.
“Oh, really? They must be so busy with it. No one’s updated me at all,” Sarah said, laughing a little. “I mean, I know how much planning it takes, we did it a few months ago for Devorah’s Sruli. Chava’s really excited for that one. She was telling me the other day that most of the sheva brachos are gonna be more serious, the neighbors, the friends of her parents-in-law… but the family ones are always a riot, so much fun. She’s excited for her chassan to have a chance to get to know everyone better.”
“Ah.” My mouth was dry. What should I say? She didn’t know a thing…
“Anyway, it’s a little crazy here, I better run,” Sarah said, giving me a way out. For a moment, I considered telling her to wait a minute, break the news that the family sheva brachos wasn’t going to be the event that she and Chava were hoping for. But this was my kids’ decision, their thing. They would have to own it, break the news to Sarah… And maybe, I thought, hearing her disappointment would make them realize how much a homestyle event would mean to Chava? Maybe they would change their minds?
But I felt terrible as I hung up the phone, picturing Chava’s excited anticipation for something she wasn’t going to get.
If I could tell my daughters one thing, it would be: Your niece waited so long for this simchah. Can’t you give her the joy of having the kind of event that she’s dreaming of?
I was delighted for Chava. And for my sister Sarah, and the rest of the family. It was a huge simchah when she got engaged, and a real relief for them. Chava hadn’t had an easy time of it, and although baruch Hashem the family is at a stage where there are many nieces and nephews in shidduchim and plenty of family simchahs, this was still something special.
I hate to admit it, but when we heard the date of the wedding, I winced. At least I lived locally and wouldn’t have to travel. Summer is my absolute craziest time of year, since I run a teen summer program on top of my regular job. Coupled with the fact that the kids would be out of school with no routine, I felt like I was balancing a tower of blocks the height of a skyscraper, and a single extra thing on my to-do list would bring it all toppling down.
told my sister Esther as much when we spoke on the phone one night, well past midnight. I was racing around the house, trying to get ahead of the laundry and start on Shabbos cooking — it was Wednesday already, how was it Wednesday?! — and from the sound of things, she wasn’t faring much better.
“So the twins only just fell asleep, and it’s a madhouse here and I’m falling off my feet, but if I don’t do something now, it’s just gonna get worse in the morning, right?”
I threw a load into the dryer, stuffed an armful of whites into the washing machine, and made a sympathetic sound. “I should tell you to leave it and go to sleep, but you won’t listen.”
“And then what will you do, without my company?”
“Probably go to sleep myself.” Which wouldn’t be such a bad idea. When was the last time I’d hit the sack before 1 a.m.?
“We should make a support group,” Esther said. “Need Sleep Anonymous. I have lots of friends who would join.”
I thought of my friend Bassi, working full-time plus with eight kids at home. My sister-in-law Raizy had just had her fourth; they lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment, and she clocked in eight hours days working remotely to support my brother-in-law in kollel.
“Me too,” I said.
“How does anyone do it?” Esther asked. She seemed to think that the ten years I had on her would give me the answers. “I mean, look at Ma, she had a bunch of kids too. How did she manage?”
“Ma didn’t work,” I replied automatically. “Life was different then. So many women just stayed home, ran the house, took care of the kids… honestly, it’s a full-time job of its own.”
“I wish,” Esther sighed. “Don’t you?”
I finished folding the last shirt, and headed to the kitchen. Maybe I’d be able to get the kugel out of the way before going to sleep.
“I’m not sure,” I said to Esther. “I mean, I really enjoy my job. And the summer program too. But balancing it all is a little crazy. Just getting through a regular day feels like running a marathon. Uphill. And that’s a typical week, forget about pre-Yom Tov, first day of school, all the extras that come up.”
“Oh. Extras.” Esther’s tone shifted. “I almost forgot why I called you to begin with.”
“Not to schmooze? I’m insulted.”
“Ha, ha. Of course, to schmooze. But I wanted to schmooze about the sheva brachos for Chava.”
A leaden weight dropped into my stomach and settled there.
I’d been trying not to think about that. Imagining that somehow, tomorrow or the next day or maybe next week would be a little calmer, and I’d be able to have the headspace and time just to plan this event (forget doing the shopping and cooking, maybe in another lifetime I’d have time for that).
“I spoke to Sarah yesterday. Do you realize how quick the engagement is? The chasunah is in, what, six and a half weeks? We need to start planning.”
“Planning,” I echoed. Mechanically, I dropped a peeled potato into a bowl of water and started on the next. “Like we have time for this.”
“Time? Of course, we don’t have time. But if we plan it now, maybe I can somehow squeeze in my stuff over a few weeks, not have to do it all at the last minute…” Esther sounded exhausted.
“You need to go to sleep.”
“I know. You know what? Someone else should take care of this. I just can’t.”
Someone else. Code word for me? I’m the next oldest sibling, after Sarah, so I guess it was logical for me to take charge. And I loved Chava. She’d been there for me and the others when we needed her, and if there was anyone who deserved a special sheva brachos it was her. But I just — couldn’t.
lthough, now that I thought about it, who could? Devorah, who lived out of town, worked long hours herself, and had a daughter with special needs to take care of? Just yesterday, she’d texted me what a hard time she was having trying to figure out whether to bring Shira along to the wedding, maybe with an aide to take care of her, or to leave her behind (but where?). Finding a family to host a child with severe disabilities was no simple matter.
Then there was Chumie, who cared for her mother-in-law in her home, and never seemed to have a second to so much as reply to a text, between doctors appointments and medical crises and her own kids and her job.
Esther’s twins were barely a few months old. She was back to work and had a lively brood on top of the babies to care for.
And Baila, Leah, my only sister-in-law Yael… all of them were at the frenetic young-mother stage. It wouldn’t be simple for them to start coordinating a sheva brachos either. And only Chumi and I were local; just getting everyone together, the travel, the accommodation, the packing and unpacking and all of it, would be overwhelming enough.
Overwhelming. That was a good word.
I looked around. The half-peeled pile of potatoes. The dishes in the sink. The mess on the floor. The toys scattered across the hallway, the bills I needed to take care of, the clock ticking steadily closer to — was that 2 a.m. already?!
Someone else needed to take care of this, I thought, echoing Esther. But who?
was Devorah who opened a WhatsApp chat for the siblings minus Sarah, and titled it “Chava Sheva Brachos.” Someone else — probably Esther — added an exploding-head emoji to the group name, and by the time I got around to reading the chat, someone else had changed the emoji to some generic one of celebratory glasses clinking together. Okay, ha ha, everyone. What about the sheva brachos itself?
I scrolled through the 26 messages. Most were my sisters insisting that they had no time or energy for this.
I feel so bad, but Naftali is up every single night, the entire night, screaming. I can’t even think straight, let alone stand up for long enough to make some fancy dessert, Baila wrote.
A string of sympathetic emojis followed.
Have u taken him to dr? Devorah asked.
Helloooo? Of course. Four times. He insists it’s “just colic.”
Poor Baila. But this conversation had to get back on track.
Ugh, colic is super stressful. Don’t blame u for having no headspace for 7brachos, I wrote.
The chat went silent. Eventually, my message was blue-ticked; everyone had read it. Oooh boy, we were seriously not going to pull this together if this was the status quo.
Several hours later, a new message popped up. It was Yael, the youngest and the only sister-in-law in the family.
Guys, I had an idea…
The next few minutes she was typing, stopping and starting and making me wonder what on earth she was planning to suggest.
Finally, a short message popped onto the chat: We recently made sheva brachos for my brother, in a restaurant. It was really nice, and minimal prep work. How about we do that for Chava and save everyone the work?
Esther responded with a bunch of thumbs-up signs.
Isn’t it crazy expensive? Devorah wanted to know.
Yael sent an approximate quote, along with a voice note. I hit play.
“Look, I know it’s more than we’d spend on our own sheva brachos, but let’s do the math, everyone’s so overworked and stressed out, maybe it’s just worth it?”
Chumie: no x to listen 2 voicenotes. But I’m in to pay 4 restaurant.
A response from Chumie, wow.
I think it’s worth it, Baila wrote, following by a chorus of agreement. I added my own — I’m in if you’re all on board — and put down my phone with a feeling of relief. Money was money, true, but it wasn’t time, or stress, or my mental health. And Chava deserved a beautiful event. This was the perfect solution.
was the perfect solution… but no one wanted to tell Ma. The family sheva brachos that we made for each niece and nephew when they got married was a big deal for her. She lived for family, and loved rehashing these events with her friends. And they were fun. My sisters had pulled off beautiful ones for my Simi and Yehudis when they’d each gotten married. Fancy menus, incredible décor, personalized themes, hilarious grammen and program — it had been really nice. And we’d done the same for Devorah’s Sruli and Sarah’s married kids. But while the final result was heart-warming and really special, the weeks of preparation and time that went into them was… not something I could do anymore.
And neither, it seemed, could my sisters.
But then Ma called, blissfully oblivious to the fact that Yael had already paid the deposit for the restaurant and we’d finalized the menu last week (in under an hour, simply checking off boxes on an online form, can you imagine?), offering her help in making challos and kugels. Oh, boy.
I so did not want to be the one explaining what we’d decided to do. Knowing Ma and how much value she placed on these family events… it wasn’t going to be easy.
But it seemed like I didn’t have a choice.
“Thanks so much for the offer,” I said, picking my words carefully. “I guess no one mentioned though, that we’ve decided to make the sheva brachos in a restaurant this time. Yael said they did it for her brother, and it was really beautiful.”
“A restaurant?” Ma repeated. “But… but—” her tone changed from dumbstruck to stricken. “We’ve never done that. Isn’t it going to be a whole different atmosphere? Less personal, so formal — not like a real family event.” She thought a moment. “And besides, the money… it must be so expensive to do it that way. Doesn’t anyone mind the cost?”
“It’s expensive, yes, but honestly, Ma, we just couldn’t manage to do what we usually do,” I said. “Besides, buying all the food and paperware and stuff isn’t exactly cheap either. And we decided not to invite any of the kids under high school age, so that saves money too—”
“Not inviting everyone?” Ma’s tone rose. “But this is family, this is the event that everyone looks forward to, the kids look forward to it more than the chasunah! You know how they love making entertainment and the games and everything…”
My phone buzzed against my ear. Yikes, carpool for Yoni! I really had to go. “It’s going to be a beautiful sheva brachos,” I said, hoping I sounded reassuring. “And Chava and her chassan will be fine, even without the nieces doing some shtick or whatever. It’ll be elegant and beautiful and we can all sing together, it’s not like there won’t be an ‘atmosphere.’ ”
called again later that evening, and again the next day while I was at work. I called her back while I was on a grocery run, literally — I was dashing around the store throwing stuff into a cart while juggling the phone and my list in my other hand.
“I was thinking about the sheva brachos,” Ma began. I stifled a sigh. “And I was thinking, it’s really so much nicer when we make something personal, ourselves. But I get that you all felt it was too much for you right now.”
She said it in that tone of voice that made it clear that she really didn’t understand why we felt it was too much. Like, why can’t you just divide up the work, what’s the big deal?
“Anyway, I was thinking how I could make it easier for you all,” Ma continued. “And I’m really happy to offer to host the sheva brachos, and do some of the cooking myself. I can even pay for catering for some of it, and maybe we can order some desserts or something? That way, there’s less for everyone to do, and you won’t need to worry about setting up, cleaning…”
I actually stood still for a moment and shut my eyes.
“Ma,” I said. “I — I hear you. It’s really nice of you, but it’s not just the hosting or the cooking, it’s everything. There are so many details to arrange. Paperware. Program. Décor. Transporting everything. The seating arrangements. The hot plates. The serving and cleaning up, Esther and Leah and Baila have little babies, Yael’s expecting… we’re just not up to it.”
“I can hire waiters,” Ma offered, spectacularly missing the point.
I shook my head into the phone. A woman gave me a strange look. “This is… I think it’s pretty final, Ma. I don’t think anyone will change their minds,” I told her. “It’s going to be fine, really beautiful, Chava will enjoy it, don’t worry. And you know, we’ll probably keep doing this for future weddings. Baruch Hashem, there are lots of simchahs on the way, and life is busy, we can’t stop and create themed productions anymore for every single one.”
I thought that was the end of the discussion, but later that night, the sheva brachos chat was hopping.
Ma called you too?
She’s all upset.
She wants to host it, thinks we’ll change our minds…
I hope you told her it’s not changeable!!! Yael paid the deposit already.
I feel bad, Ma says that Chava was really excited for our sheva brachos, Baila wrote.
You mean MA was excited. You know how she loves the stuff we do with themes and everything.
My stomach twisted. I hated disappointing Ma — or Chava — whoever it was. But come on! It wasn’t as if we canceled the sheva brachos, it was going to be a family event, a nice one, in a beautiful restaurant. So it would be a little different from the others we’d done. Different wasn’t bad. Maybe Chava and her chassan would actually enjoy the elegance and the mature atmosphere.
I sent my sisters a message to that effect, and received some cautious agreement.
I’ll bet some of the marrieds will be jealous that they didn’t have it in a restaurant, Yael wrote with a winking emoji.
I wasn’t sure about that — there was something special about the family events we’d made in the past — but this could definitely be equally nice.
pparently not. I found out when the big night finally arrived.
We’d made up to arrive a little early to check on the setup and décor. It wasn’t necessary; the restaurant staff had done their jobs to perfection. It looked beautiful, elegant, classy; crystal jugs on the tables and linen napkins draped across each setting. The name cards were calligraphed and a monogrammed menu stood smartly at every place.
The program went smoothly, too: My husband Shimshy spoke, and Chumie’s husband Tzvi sang a grammen, to the accompaniment of some pre-recorded music that the restaurant played over their speaker system. In between, we got to sit and enjoy the fantastic food — it was amazing how much better things could taste when you weren’t the one cooking, serving, and clearing!
My sisters all looked happy; this had actually turned out to be a really relaxing night out for us, instead of the source of crazy pressure and stress for six weeks. It had been the right decision.
Ma, sitting at the head table with Sarah and Chava, didn’t look happy. But I hoped that she would realize how nice this kind of sheva brachos could be, too, because it wasn’t really possible for us to keep doing what we’d done until now.
I remembered what she’d mentioned about Chava having hoped for a similar event to what we’d done in the past. Was that true? She seemed fine, genuinely happy, and when I went over to her at the end to say goodbye and wish her one last mazel tov, she thanked me warmly for hosting the sheva brachos.
“You enjoyed it?” I asked her. “It was nice, no? I know we’ve never done this before, in a restaurant, but I think everyone really enjoyed, I’m happy you liked it.”
Chava’s eyes shifted to the side, and I was suddenly aware of Sarah and Ma both standing behind her. “Um, yeah, I mean, it was beautiful,” she said, kind of apologetically. “I mean, different from the other ones that we’ve done, so it was kind of — unexpected, you know, for a family sheva brachos — but the important thing is that we’re married, right?”
Chava winked, but her voice sounded forced. Uh-oh.
sther waylaid me on my way out the door.
“I think Chava was hurt,” she told me in an undertone. “Like, she felt like we just threw the money at her, didn’t bother to make it personal… she thought we’d do something really personalized like we made for the others, a whole theme and everything…”
I bit my lip. Really? Couldn’t she see that this was simply a matter of time and being overwhelmed, not because we cared about her less than the others? Surely Chava had the maturity to understand that this wasn’t about her, that we were doing our best to make her something beautiful.
It was a shame that none of us could tell her that.
“I tried to say something,” Esther said, reading my mind. “But Chava kept just saying it’s okay, she understands. I don’t think she does, though. I think she’s too sensitive about the fact that we did something different for the ones who got married first.”
I glanced back at Chava, noticing how Sarah had a protective arm round her shoulder, and Ma hovering over both of them. Had Chava confided in them her disappointment? Couldn’t they simply explain to her what was behind it?
My stomach clenched. It seemed like Sarah and Ma didn’t really get it, either. But we were genuinely doing our best to give the chassan and kallah a special night, and it felt like we weren’t even getting a chance to explain ourselves.
If only we could talk it out, explain that it was nothing to do with how much or how little we cared. It was simply that we weren’t capable of doing what we’d done in the past.
But with a final look back at the tight threesome sitting at the nearly empty top table, I realized there wouldn’t be any point in trying.
If I could tell Ma one thing, it would be: Things have changed over the years, and we’re simply not able to do the kind of prep that we used to do. Can’t you appreciate the beautiful gift we were able to give, and let the kallah and her family just enjoy it?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 915)
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