We like to host. This is what my fridge often looks like on Fridays.
I get goosebumped just thinking about the shining faces, the tears shed, the sacred space held at these holy feasts.
People think I’m this amazing hostess. Oh, I am. But not the way you think.
In fact, I’m a fretful wreck in the kitchen. But it doesn’t matter. Because I have THIS 6-step formula for how to host the ideal Shabbas/holiday meal. Here’s my secret:
First of all, DON’T.
Yeah, you heard me. Don’t do it. If there is even a remote chance that you will end up a driveling mess of mother-nerves and householder-resentment, just skip it.
The first step in fabulous hosting is to know thine own self…and thine LIMITATIONS. If you are going to end up a monster of overwhelm, don’t let slip that robotic Yes. Cancel it. Built up your reserves. You’ll get another chance in about 7 days.
Stop Lying & Start Honoring Your Insides
Let’s say you do decide to take the plunge…When your guest asks, ‘Can I bring something?’ – NEVER lie and reply, “Oh, just bring yourself.”
That’s usually just a load of bunk you are sweating to uphold in the hopes of looking flawless.
Now maybe that smiling got-it-all-covered visage is your deepest truth. Mazal tov. I admire you. A blessing on your head…But if there is any, and I mean any, residue of bluff there, just practice letting it drop. Far too many of us have a gag-order on our authenticity when it comes to hosting. We repress the heck out of our genuine overwhelm and pay for it later when we explode at our kids & our partners.
I consider it my contribution to conscious community to not play in to this quiet game of martyrdom any more. For the sake of all that is healthy & mentally sound, let’s stop suppressing our inner needs and speak some truth to our guests already.
Potluck Is The New Paradigm
Some people get crafty in the kitchen, I just get anxious. So what started happening to me was that I would get so stressed out before a meal that I started hosting less and less. It was an all-or-nothing game. Either I had to be perfect or I would shut down shop altogether.
In my quest for balance I discovered potluck. And I feel lucky indeed.
Here’s my favored potlucky formula: We provide essentials of drink/wine/challah/dips and let’s say a brisket and salad. Totally doable on a Friday. Everyone else brings a dish. A significant dish, mind you – A fish, a quiche, a curry. Walla. It’s a royal feast.
And what’s more – it’s Egalitarian. Everyone’s a king, no one’s a slave. No more heavy top-down hierarchy to get in the way. Gone is the model of burnt-out families where the wife is the korban on the altar of a lavish table. We MUST morph the expectations and the definitions of ‘holiness’ into healthy holiness, shared responsibility and cooperation.
Don’t go nuts, go potluck.
Educate The Youth
How I wish that someone had educated me when I was young & single. I saw Friday as my fun day. My get out and go hiking day. My coffee with friends til 3pm day. My paint my nails day. You got the message…. Now that I’m a mother of four it’s my day of one thousand and one tasks to be done at light speed and still not all accomplished. G!d, I wish someone had told me the truth about family realities back then. So, I’m going to do it now…
WORD to single people – If you are going to a family for a meal, know this. These people are tired. They are zombie-tired. They are To-Do-list-to-the-moon tired. And they are conflicted. They want to host you and all your friends. And they are limited. Just like they are stretching their vessels to have you, you stretch yours to be had. Lend hands!
To all you hosters – Let your single guests in on the Reality Tv show that is your mad-hectic life. Invite them in – to play with your kids, chop the veggies, shlep out the garbage. I don’t care. Just be real. Allow them to get dirty with the enormous mess that exists behind every perfectly-set table. You can talk Torah with them as they wash your dishes. Or talk life. Show them what being the CEO of a home is really like. Teach them some new-paradigm Shabbas-etiquette where everyone contributes to the cause and all come out feeling more empowered for it.
For Parents – Don’t Host At The Expense Of Your Kids.
Please parent-people, don’t let your ideal Shabbas meal be at the expense of your darling mess-makers. If you’re like us then this is one of the few windows in the week to actually connect with the kids. And this is an ideal ritual for doing so.
Here’s how we do it:
Bribery. Yes, I am willing to air the dirty truth of my parenting.
Generally my kids take off to play upstairs after the challah and dips course. I call them down before dessert and make a deal. I put aside choice healthy food for them and then leverage the heck out of dessert. “Whoever wants cake, first eat at least 10 big big bites of this green stuff…”
Once you have fulfilled your Mother Jones regulated version of being a respectable parent…pull out the chocolate chips. Pose questions about the parsha. Age-appropriate questions for each kiddo. If they answer it right, throw them a chocolate chip. It’s a joy-fest memory-maker you will cherish forever.
I am so not above bribery when it comes to Torah learning. The Torah should be sweet. And those precious kids are the chocolate chip treats that sweeten the meal for the whole table.
Finally And Most Importantly — Don’t Be Fooled By The Food:
You heard of Susie Fishbein? She’s the Jewish Martha Stewart of kosher cookbooks. I (affectionately) call her Susie Fish-bane-of-my-existence. I get all indignant just thinking about those cookbook-standards that no middle class multi-child’ed woman can sanely reach. What’s worse is that all those pretty settings entirely miss the point of a Shabbas or holiday meal.
Because it’s not just a meal. It’s a ritual.
The food is the just the excuse. Don’t let it trip you up or hold you back. The goal of the meal is to create a sacred space for people to connect- to each other, yes – but more essentially – to their very own souls.
You see, our souls are like scared animals crouching under the table. The gift of a great ritual meal is that it coaxes our souls out and invites them to sit firm and flourishing in our seats. When we realize it’s so not about the food, what do we care if the fish is overcooked? As long as the singing is strong and the conversation is a communion. Get rid of the prep stress and put the stress on the soul instead.
Here’s how to dish out the real soul food:
Prepare content beforehand, just the way you would prepare the food. Zone in on a theme for the meal. Base it on a teaching from the parsha or the nearest holiday. Share a little Torah on it and pose a question to the table. Make it personal. Not just intellectual. Not just informational. Preferably something with a psychological twist so that everyone can apply the teaching directly to their most intimate real-time lives.
The obvious example – Let’s say it’s almost Passover.What are you currently enslaved to and what would it take to get free of it already? Go around the table and share. Process it. Give & get feedback.
Granted, my husband and I are die-hard therapists, so we tend to invite everyone to share their neurosis freely at the table. (Guests beware.) By us, it’s like a gourmet group therapy ritual. We have been known to lead a meditation, do impromptu spoken word free-styling, dramatic renderings, on-stage dream interpretations.
Find your own style. Just remember to keep it creative. Keep it moving with l’chaims. Keep it focused, go deep and make sure everyone gets the chance (and feels comfortable) to freely speak and to let their souls speak.
A great Shabbas/holiday table is a crucible for witnessing each other. It is a playground for G!d expression. A feast of creativity & togetherness. Let this goal be your hosting North Star.
Don’t be fooled by the food. That tasty spread is just the bait to get your soul into the seat.
The learning, the personal transformation, the connections – those are the real feast!
QUIZ: Here’s a quick final quiz for you to review and find out which of the 4 Hosting Archetypes fits you best:
The Martyr – The Masker-of-Truths – The Healthy-is-Holy Host – The Soul-Food Chef (AKA Shefa Chef)
You get a call Thursday morning from a single person who wants to know if they can come for Shabbas. And maybe bring a friend or 3. And a bottle of wine of course. Your response:
1. “Great. What do you like to eat and what time works for you guys to start the meal?”
2. Out of your mouth: “Don’t worry about the wine. Just bring yourselves.” Inside your head: “Oh my Lard, my stress level just went from mild to extra-sauna.”
3. “Great. I’m a big believer in the power of group contribution. Can you come by on Friday for a few hours to help?”
4. “Yes and bring some Torah to share along with that bottle of wine!”
Friday morning usually finds you:
1. Biting your nails and pounding your coffee as you rush around in a frenzy to prepare a meal Susie Fishbein would be proud of.
2. Kvetching to your partner or to yourself about how much work you have to do.
3. Chatting to the many helpers you have gathered around you while you all group-chop vegetables.
4. While you prepare for Shabbas you are listening to a youtube class on the parsha, pondering a Torah to share and a question to ask your guests that will best foster introspection and growth.
Saturday night usually finds you:
3. Glowing from a gorgeous Shabbas. Cleaning up only a little, because your guests amply helped you clean after the meal.
4. Feeling thankful, soulful & significantly more evolved after everything you learned over Shabbas.
Which one(s) are you?
Mostly 1’s = The Martyr
Mostly 2’s = The Masker-of-Truths
Mostly 3’s = The Healthy-is-Holy Host
Mostly 4’s = The Soul Food Chef (AKA Shefa Chef)
The real question is not “Who are you?”, but rather, “Who are you going to be next week?!”
Keep it real friends.