The Other Side of the Table: Do’s

Do’s, Don’ts, and Never-Evers from Shabbos Hosts

From the Tuesday-morning question of where to go, to the panicked Thursday-night calls asking if there’s room for one more, Shabbos plays a major role in a seminary girl’s experience. However, the process doesn’t end once a place and meals are secured.

Come Motzaei Shabbos, the girls all come back and tell everyone about their weekend’s experiences, misadventures, and the “amazing” people they met. Rarely do they stop and think about those on the other side of the table — the hosts. Like the girls, they too have their pet peeves and preferences, as well as their interesting stories. Family First spoke to Shabbos hosts to get their perspectives and pointers.


Help Wanted

All of the women agreed that one of the nicest things about having seminary girls over is the help.

“Most of the girls offer to serve and help. I don’t have girls over for the free labor, but it’s appreciated,” said Rochel Katz,* of Ramat Eshkol.

Leah Kaufman from Maalot Dafna agreed, but added another point.

“While I love the help, nine times out of ten, I get up to serve and two girls follow me into the kitchen,” she said. “I can count to six, and another two girls enter because they feel guilty that they’re sitting while their friends and I are working. The last girl follows them in a moment later because she doesn’t want to be the only one sitting at the table. Keep in mind that I have the standard Yerushalayim kitchen, with barely enough room for me, let alone all of my ‘help.’ So when I have girls over, I need them to help in shifts.”


Help Not Wanted

However, while help is appreciated, it’s only helpful if you can competently carry out the task you’ve offered to do.

“I got married on Rosh Chodesh Nissan and moved to Eretz Yisrael shortly after,” reminisced Chaya Bonne from Rechavia. “My first time hosting a group of girls was that following Shavuos. I had ten girls over and one of them offered to help me cook for the next meal. Since I was newly married, and not so used to cooking, I really appreciated the offer. She told me she was going to fry up some onions for soup, and I should go relax. She was putting some oil in the frying pan when I went to go lay down. I was down for probably a minute before I heard the explosion. I ran into the kitchen to see ten panicking girls, a small grease fire, and a charred countertop and cabinets.

“Offering to pitch-in is nice,” concluded Mrs. Bonne, “but only if you know what you’re doing. If I wanted a grease-fire, I could easily have started one myself.”

Shaindy Miller from Ramat Shlomo had an experience that was just as memorable.

“I had a group of girls sleeping over for Shabbos. Friday night, after they returned from their meal, they told us that they were going to take a walk around the neighborhood. It sounded like a good idea, so after they left, our family decided to do the same. The girls must have been faster walkers than we were; they beat us home. How did we know? Because the door to our house was locked — and we had no way to get in. We must have knocked for twenty minutes. The girls didn’t hear us because they had already gone to bed. I, my husband, and my five children ended up sleeping over at a neighbor’s house.

While we appreciate girls locking up after themselves if they get home late, we’d have appreciated it even more if they made sure we were home first.”


New Guest, New Playmate

Having seminary guests benefits not only the mothers who host them, but the kids as well.

“My kids and I love having girls come over for Shabbos,” says Leah. “Seeing the girls get so passionate about Shabbos and Torah reinspires me. My kids also love the extra attention they get. My son Moishe is thrilled when we have girls over; he finally has someone willing to play those long board games with him!”

“My husband and I have very busy schedules during the week,” echoes Rochel. “When you have six children, kein ayin hara, who all want Mommy’s and Tatty’s attention now, while Mommy and Tatty would like to spend some time with each other, the girls are a big help.” And the girls love having adopted little siblings when they’re far from home.


Calories Don’t Count on Shabbos

Seminary girls are notorious for the miniscule portions they consume at Shabbos tables. However, picking at their food often gives their hostess the wrong impression.

“I don’t know if it’s me,” says Rochel, “but whenever I have girls over, no one eats! They take a spoonful of this, and a quarter of that! I’m a picky eater, so I understand, but it leaves me wondering if there’s a problem with my food.”

“It may be that no one feels comfortable eating at a table,” muses Leah. “I tell girls that I’m not a professional shadchan — I won’t penalize them for actually eating something. Often, I spend hours cooking a meal, only to serve it and watch girls take a half of a piece of chicken, a sliver of kugel, no dessert at all because ‘carbs are bad!’ One time, after the girls cleared the food platters off the table, I came into the kitchen and found them all taking food from the platters, eating away! They were starving!”


A Gift Worth Getting

To show their hakaras hatov, most seminary girls bring their family a gift  But what is the host’s “gift of choice”? Chaya admits that she prefers cake over the ubiquitous candy platters.

“However, I usually get flowers,” she says. “If you’re bringing flowers for your host, don’t arrive only one minute before lichtbentschen. It takes time to find the vase and arrange them. Five minutes before lighting is usually hectic, and most people just can’t spare the time.”

Leah prefers something else.

“I really don’t need a gift; a simple ‘thank you’ is more than enough. However, the best gifts I ever got from seminary girls were the ones for my kids. One group brought a new game for them to play on Shabbos. The game was not expensive, but it made my children feel like a million dollars.”


Just So You Know

While the overall experience these hosts had with seminary girls were positive, most had a point they wished they could tell their seminary guests.

“Please try to come on time,” Rochel requests. “I understand if you come late because you got lost on the way, but oversleeping is not an excuse. So many girls don’t realize that the entire family is waiting for you to come, and we’re hungry! We don’t want to start without you, but we’re not sure whether you’re coming or not. When the meal starts an hour late, it throws off the entire family’s schedule.”

Leah, however, has a different issue.

“We host girls from all of the seminaries, including the ones for those not-yet-observant. The not-yet-observant girls know enough to try to dress with tzniyus, to at least wear a skirt, because they respect who we are as frum Jews enough to conform to our sensitivities. What annoys me is that it’s often the frum girls from the frum seminaries who don’t dress tzniyusdig-ly. Either their clothing is too tight, or they’re wearing a pencil skirt that barely covers their knees, so when they sit on my couch, their legs show. They know better, and even if being fully tzanua is not a level where they are holding, at least respect my family enough to dress modestly.”

The overall experience is good, and Rochel has reassuring words for harried students.

“Don’t panic over Shabbos plans. We’ll have a good time, you’ll have a good time, and everything works out in the end.”


* All names have been changed

(Originally Featured in Family First, Issue XXX)


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