Guess Whose Not Coming to Dinner?

Ever since making aliya decades ago, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been visited by collateral relatives. So it was with great excitement that I learned that cousin Adele her daughter Jan and Jan’s two young daughters would be in the Holy Land and that they wanted meet for dinner. Immediately, I extended an invitation and Adele accepted for them all.

Right away, I marked the date on my calendar and began counting down. What a fun it would be to see Adele. Thirty years my senior, Adele was a member of my family’s rapidly dying older generation and she was a great talker, funny and full of life and chock full of stories from the old days, precious recollections, I longed—living apart from any relations, I longed for her to share. As to Jan, I didn’t know her very well., but given my warm feelings to her Mom, I saw her as a potential friend.
As much as I was excited, I my stomach was in a knot. I was aware that both Norma and Jan were intermarried and their spouses would be coming along
Could I host them? What we would do about wine, washing , benching and yarmulke wearing?

When a prominent kiruv rabbi assured me that that having the entire gang, was a mitzvah—especially since Jan’s kids who were halachic Jews, my stomach unknotted. And when the rabbi added that the non Jews could wash and bench a broad smile settled on my face.

This was going to be a wonderful evening I told myself. I would be a modern day Sara Imenu bringing the strangers into the tent and winning them over with my Glatt Kosher Martha Stewart hospitality.

When Adele told me that she was salt free and Jan a vegetarian, I scoured cookbooks and cooking blogs to find the best recipes and I even bought new table linens to make everything look pretty.

I had high hopes for this evening, sky high. As I saw it, Adele who had initiated the trip and was picking up the tab was ripe for Teshuva.. Now nearly eighty, she was reeling from a devastating personal tragedy—the kind of event leads to a spiritual search. Adele loved chulent and kishka and used expressions like nishtugedach in her everyday conversation. Tom her third husband was a half Jew, from the wrong side but he shared Adele’s Judeophilia.

As to Jan, though I harbored less hope Her husband was a 100 per cent goy–Polish, but her kids were full fledged seedlings of Avraham Avinu. Who knew how high they could climb, especially after dinner at my house?

But as the date grew near, my stomach knotted again. The spiritual futures of six souls and so much could go wrong. The meal could flop or it could simply not hit the spot for people accustomed to Cordon Bleu.Adele or Jan or one of the grandkids could appeared dressed in something outrageous. Was I to preempt that potential disaster with a cautionary phone call or would that strategy be off putting?

Even if the food worked and everyone’s clothing was okay, the conversation could hit a snag.. One of my kids could say something rude—or one of theirs or one of the adults could say something outrageous.

But before I could devise a coping strategy , Adele left a long message on my voice mail. She was cancelling, pulling. The family was just too busy; their guide was wearing them down. She was so sorry and she hoped that we’d meet the next time I was in Coral Gables, Florida—which would most likely be never.

Maybe Adele sensed my overly high expections and attendant anxiety or maybe she or Jan or the kids or the husbands were freaked by the prospect an evening in a hareidi home or maybe Adele was telling the truth, that they were simply too pooped out to visit their only blood relations in the entire middle east.

I will never know that true reason why the dinner didn’t happen.

What I do know that this is all for the best. Rejection is Hashem’s form of protection. This family reunion was not meant to be. Our paths were not meant to cross at this time. Perhaps because neither I nor my family were up for this challenge or perhaps because of problems on the other side.

But that doesn’t eliminate the sadness. I’m sad, full of regrets, mourning the evening’s unfulfilled promise, just as the Shehina mourns for the millions of estranged Jews who never visit the relatives at all.

9 comments on “Guess Whose Not Coming to Dinner?

  1. Honestly, the best thing you could possibly do when considering entertaining not (yet) religious relatives, is to set aside any religious hopes/ aspirations and just really concentrate on ‘it’s so nice to see you again, let’s get to know eachother’s families.’ When I entertain friends/family members who are not yet/not quite Orthodox I make it a point to accept them as is. Tell your relative that you’d love to have them, and not to worry, they are welcome “as is” and will not have any religious observances/ rituals to perform; just a delicious meal, good company, and the opportunity to reconnect with family members. Good luck next time!

  2. Sometimes a neutral venue is best.

    In similar situations in future – suggest a restaurant or coffee in the lobby of their hotel.

    Or an outdoor location geared to the children – I can imagine modern parents fearing that your house is run on more formal lines than theirs, and dreading having to discipline their children.

    Less commitment than a home visit. And they feel closer to their safe zone.

  3. Kiruv shmiruv — I’d be thrilled if my cousins came to dinner, even my exceptionally kind and wonderful non-Jewish ones. I find frumkeit to be a lonely place for a baal teshuvah. My parents are gone now. MY MIL is gone. My FIL can’t get around so well and rarely visits. Can’t we just ENJOY our FAMILIES without bringing our own personal agendas into it???

  4. You don’t know, and may never know, what actually led to the dinner plans being cancelled. Maybe Jan’s husband, the one hundred per cent non-Jew, vehemently objected to dinner at your home. Maybe there were loud fights about it and wearily, for the sake of family unity and marital harmony, Adele reluctantly had to cancel. The main thing is that you did all you could to make it happen: grade yourself “A” for effort. Like the Yiddish saying, “Mentsch tracht und G-tt lacht,” man proposes and G-d disposes.

    There is a Chassidishe mayse about how about two hundred years ago, a well-known rebbe was prepared to be the mohel at the Brit Milah of the infant son of one of his young followers. However, the young father’s own father-in-law was an enemy of Hasidim and opposed to this particular rebbe. While the young father and his rebbe were at Shacharis, the father-in-law got together a quick minyan, obtained his own mohel and accomplished the deed. The young father and the rebbe came back from davening ready to perform the Brit Milah on the baby, only to find it was already done!

    The chasidishe rebbe later explained to his followers that because he was all ready to do the mitzvah of Brit Milah on that infant but the mitzvah was taken away from him by circumstances totally out of his control, it was deemed as if he had done the mitzvah perfectly, in its utmost best manner.

    Similarly, Anxious Ima, who was ready to perform the mitzvah of Hachnosat Orchim to its utmost, using her finest table linen and tastiest recipes tailored to her guests’ food preferences (much like Avrohom Avinu killing a calf for the malachim), is counted in the Divine records, so to speak, as if she did the mitzvah to its highest level of perfection.

  5. We are not always able to do things for kiruv, but at least we can always pray.

    After I finish my normal Shemoneh Esrei, I recite addition requests in the paragraph that starts with the words: ELOKAI NETZOR. This is permitted by Halachah, just ask your local Orthodox Rabbi.

    Several of the additional prayer requests I just mentioned are for teshuvah.

    Some siddurim include Parshat HaTeshuvah, which is a prayer for teshuvah similar to the Parshat HaMann prayer. In my siddurim, it is printed two pages before the Parshat HaMann prayer.

    Last but not least, if anyone reading this message has a Jewish web site or Jewish blog, then please link it to:

  6. beautiful post. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out the way you had wanted but, as you wrote, “This family reunion was not meant to be. Our paths were not meant to cross at this time. ”

    Maybe another time. I think the fact that your cousin and her family knew you were making a meal that they could enjoy has merit on its own.

  7. Kiruv is Chesed. And Chesed is giving to the person what they need.

    It’s not simple determining what another person needs at a given point of their life, but I think you’re thoughts were wonderful and you were prepared to give them everything they needed to feel comfortable in your home.

    I just had a thought, perhaps you can send them a video greeting of your and your kids telling them you’re sorry they couldn’t make it, but you wanted them to see the family and your home anyway.

  8. When this type of kiruv opportunity presents itself, it’s always a good thing to ask: would I be as enthusiastic about getting together with these people if there were NO possibility of kiruv? Would I welcome them an enjoy their company anyway? If not, there’s always the possibility that the guest may feel that they’re a kiruv case, rather than a genuinely desired guest.

    Personally, I feel that sincerity is everything. Were you planning to be upfront with your relatives about your kiruv hopes? Or what?

  9. To this day I regret that I did not do whatever was necessary to get my husband to agree to let my parents come for Shabbos (read Friday night) or the seder….I would have (and did) offer them the opportunity to stay over, but I did not really “know the script” and my husband was adamant about them not coming and then driving home. What an incredibly lost opportunity.

    I think, with the efforts you put into preparations, you would have done just fine – it meant so much to you, and you have a shared family histroy that will enrich any conversation.

    I’ve learned we can’t/shouldn’t give up any opportunity for kiruv; to many stories about ba’alei tshuva show Hashem’s hand when we may have though otherwise.


Comments are closed.