Many years ago, on my way to work I stopped by a local kosher establishment to pick up a bagel to take to work for lunch. I began chatting with the owner. He didn’t recognize my face and we began to schmooze. I told him I had just returned from Eretz Yisrael and how much I missed bagels…it is so hard to find a good, real, bagel in Jerusalem. His daughter was in seminary there…where did I learn? All the regular stuff. He then asked me where I went for Shabbos.
Tears welled up in my eyes and began to spill down my face.
You see, I was living in my father’s house which was just too far to walk on Shabbos. I love my family but they were not the least bit interested in frumkite. I did teshuvah in Israel for the most part and even though I lived less than a mile from this warm, strong, and family community…I knew no one. For about two months I had been making a quiet Shabbos alone. Sitting in a quiet house alone. Watching the sun set and waiting for it to set again…alone. I was wishing Shabbos away because it was lonely and sad. Can you imagine WISHING Shabbos away?
This man just said this was IT. He said you are coming to us for Shabbos, I am calling my wife RIGHT NOW. He did. AND she called me back as soon as I walked in the door at work.
It was a rainy icky day on Friday and I really wasn’t up to meeting new people. I called to cancel my Shabbos plans. I will never forget these words…the Mrs. said…You can sleep and stay in your pajamas the entire Shabbos. You don’t even have to come to the table if you don’t want. BUT you can’t stay alone on Shabbos. It just isn’t good for your neshama.
How could I say no?
I think that one of the most difficult challenges for BTs is when you are living in a Kehillah and you haven’t become part of it yet. For men it might be easier because you meet other men in Shul. For a woman, if she doesn’t daven in Shul it can be much more difficult. I felt like a burden. Why would a family with 6 kids want ANOTHER person at their table? Why would they want ME sleeping over? How can I call them and ASK to be a Shabbos Guest AGAIN when I was just there last week? How could I not realize that this is Shabbos. Opening our doors, adding a chair to our table, making a bed for someone who doesn’t have one.
Now, I just laugh at it all. I don’t know how long it took for it all to click in my head. It might have been after living another stretch of time in Jerusalem and helping to serve meals at the Machlis’ house in Maalot Dafna (the Machlis family host close to, if not often more than 100 people, for every Shabbos meal in their home at their own expense). Some of the people were homeless but many more were people who just didn’t have any place else to go. Guests don’t always realize that THEY give the host an opportunity to do a mitzvah. Many times families who are used to having a full table of children feel empty and lost when children grow up and move away. Many young families can use an extra hand playing with the children or just want to chat in a language other than “baby talk”.
It is so essential to become part of a community. When you are single it is a great way to network for Shidduchim, to hear about Shiurim in the community, and to just meet other people. They become your family. And while you are feeding your Neshama you are truly giving them an opportunity to do a Mitzvah.