Imagine not being invited for Shabbos dinner and going home from shul to eat all alone. You eat, you read, you read some more and when you look at the clock, it’s not even 8:00 pm.
For some that sounds like a dream come true, and maybe it is for one week. But what if that was your experience each and every Friday night. While others spend their week looking forward to laughing, singing, talking, and playing games, you experience each week the anxiety of waiting and wondering if an invitation will come, and, if so, from whom and who else will be there.
At what point during the week do you stop waiting and start dropping hints in the hope that someone will give you the dignity of at least acting as if they thought to invite you, rather than your having to invite yourself. You don’t want to feel like a chesed case or be assigned to people to host you, so when the invitation doesn’t come, you just go home and eat the backup minimal spread you put together in case nobody at shul asked you to come home with them.
If the above depiction seems harsh, it is a paraphrase of what has been described to me by those who experience it directly. If we understood that this was the alternative, we wouldn’t trade our full Shabbos tables, busy Friday nights, cooking, cleaning, serving and clearing for anything in the world.
We, the greater Jewish community, excel in times of crisis. We show up, we volunteer, we coordinate, pitch in, take over and do whatever is necessary to help those going through illness or loss to make sure that they don’t feel alone, isolated or abandoned, even for a moment. But what about those who are chronically alone, either after the crisis passes or without a crisis ever having arisen?
I was recently talking to a couple of people from our shul about the experience of being single in an observant, family-centric community. They answered by sharing a letter with me to pass on to you. These are their words:
Dear BRS Member,
I’m your neighbor. I live on your street. We wave to each other during the week as we get out of our cars, as we come home from work, or collect our mail. We smile and act as if we know each other. We say “Good Shabbos” to each other as we pass each other on our way to shul. But as friendly as we are to each other, you may not know this – I sit by myself eating Shabbat meals week after week.
While you sing zmirot and share words of Torah, I thumb through the weekly while I sip my soup alone. I’ve tried to fill my own table by inviting guests. It’s wonderful to host others, but as a single person it is difficult to sustain these activities week after week.
As I watch you invite your many friends into your home, I think to myself. “Isn’t there room at their table for just one more?” I’m happy to bring a delicious dish or a D’var Torah, or participate in a lively discussion. I’d be happy to contribute to your Shabbat table. I love living in the BRS community, but often, my Shabbats and Yom Tovim are long and lonely.
Perhaps the next time that you are planning your menu and guest list for Shabbat, you could please consider your single neighbor and add just one more chair to your table.
Our conversation and their letter got me thinking. Here are a few thoughts:
To those who are married:
Regularly ask yourself, whom do you know who might be alone and would greatly appreciate your invitation. Don’t make it look as if you are doing them a favor by saying things like, “do you have your meals covered” or “do you have a place to go,” but invite them like you would anyone else – in advance, with class, and with happiness that your guest can put it on their calendar.
Being single doesn’t define a person; it is one facet of his or her life. Don’t invite singles as a group, as if it is your weekend to offer them Invite and engage your neighbors based on their personalities, professions, interests and views.
Don’t just think about Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. There are other times during the year when it is painful to be alone. Invite someone to come over to join you for Chanuka candle lighting (though each person needs to light in their own home), exchanging gifts and making latkes. Make room at your Thanksgiving table, at the meal before the Yom Kippur fast and other such times.
Don’t feel or act entitled to invitations. Show up with wine, flowers or a gift, offer to make something, or make a donation to Tomchei Shabbos to say thank you, but don’t take the hospitality for granted.
You may not be able to offer home hospitality in return, but you can offer to take someone who has hosted you several times out for dinner to say thank you.
Don’t only rely on invitations; take initiative. Arrange pot luck dinners, coordinate singles events and meals, and network with friends, so you are on their radar and in their thoughts.
As a result of an event in the parsha last week, we refrain from eating the sciatic nerve, the gid ha’nashe. Why? Before going to meet Esav, Ya’akov Avinu went back to retrieve “forgotten items” and he ended up wrestling the Angel of Esav the entire night. We commemorate the injury Ya’akov sustained by abstaining from eating from the place where he was wounded. Normally, when our people triumph over an enemy, we commemorate the event by eating, not by abstaining, so why the prohibition of gid ha’nashe?
The Chizkuni explains that this mitzvah doesn’t correspond to our triumph, but rather reminds us how Ya’akov got injured in the first place. Vayivaser Ya’akov levado, Ya’akov was all alone and as a result he was vulnerable and exposed and ultimately attacked. The mitzvah not to eat the gid ha’nashe reminds us of our obligation to make sure a Jew is never alone again.
So, the next time you are planning to host, set an extra seat or two for your neighbors and ensure that nobody ever has to wrestle with being alone.