How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love Yom Tov

Making Yom Tov requires a Jewish woman to be a frugal shopper, an adequate cook, an event planner, an astute student of Jewish law, and a gracious hostess. She needs to be all this while still being a wife, a mother, or often a career woman too. In short, making Yom Tov is an endeavor that requires a Project Manager. Being the balaboostah is not a simple task, as she must oversee all aspects of the project from start to finish. Over 20 odd years of running my own kosher kitchen in our Torah observant household, I have learned through repeated failures and successes how to stop complaining and love Yom Tov. Here are ten of my tips:

1. Always prepare well in advance.
Like any big project, making Yom Tov requires a schedule. Give yourself ample time, weeks or months if necessary, to do all the planning, shopping, cooking and freezing. Inviting guests is often best done at least a few weeks ahead of time, lest you find yourself disappointed that people have made other plans. It helps to know as soon as possible exactly how many people you are catering for. This way you know what quantities of food to buy, and you also have time to search for bargains. Then you can measure out your freezer, because unless you have a separate freezer for Yom Tov, (which some lucky women do) you will still be using it for everyday food storage. You need to know there will be room to store all the Yom Tov food, before and after it is cooked. I like to work out what to purchase and cook by dividing it into the number of servings for each meal. If I know that I will be serving 45 portions over the entire two days of a Yom Tov, then I know I need 45 portions of soup, 45 portions of fish, 45 portions of desert, and so on and so forth.

Then I cook in short cooking sessions over the course of days or weeks. To do a long cooking marathon into the wee hours of the morning leaves me too exhausted to go to work the next day. Instead, I grab an hour or two here and there, in the early evenings and on Sundays, to cook a tray of fish balls, or a tray of chicken, to bake a cake, or to make a kugel or two, etc. Then I pop them into the freezer with labels taped on the containers to keep track. Following this method ensures that by the time Yom Tov comes around I am relaxed and ready without panicking or having endured undue loss of sleep.

2. Never try to keep up with the big Rebbetzins or the Goldsteins.
Yom Tov became much more enjoyable for me when I stopped comparing mine to other women’s Yom Tov tables. I used to drive myself crazy by feeling inadequate when my table wasn’t as fancy or my food not as elaborate as the big Rebbetzins or the Goldsteins next door. It took me a while, but soon enough I realised that it was all so self-defeating. Just as no matter who you are, there is always going to be someone smarter, richer, or better looking than you, there will always be those women whose Yom Tov making is more efficient, more beautiful, and more tasty than yours too. Some women have more talent and an eye for aesthetics or cooking. Some women grew up with better Yom Tov making training than others, so they have an advantage. So what? At the end of the day, only Hashem knows your particular circumstances. And your circumstances includes things like your inborn talent, the amount of money you can spend, the amount of time you have, the amount of energy G-d gave you, your family situation (5 little kids under the age of ten is challenging for anyone), and the type of lifestyle you live. No one else can or should judge you. Remember, the only one you really need to impress is the Almighty. Only He really knows if you extended enough effort to honor the Yom Tov, and that is between you and G-d.

3. I make sure I cook what my family likes.
The most important people you have to satisfy is your own family. No sense of copying a great fancy recipe just because it looks great in the latest trendy kosher cookbook, or because your friends loved it, if your own family doesn’t like it. It’s your home, it’s your Yom Tov table, and your most special guests are your own family. Keep them happy first and foremost, and then your guests will also enjoy your meal all the more. If your husband likes plain instead of fancy, then make plain. You can prepare an extra dish or two just for the guests, but be sure the bulk of the meal satisfies your family. Remember, your guests will leave after the meal, but your family lives with you. Believe me, a family with happily filled tummies makes for more a much more pleasant Yom Tov and more shalom in the home.

4. Use paper goods.
Yes, I know you invested in fantastic crockery and cutlery, or maybe you have that special set handed down to your from your grandmother. So use them, for at least part of the Yom Tov if you must, but paper goods will save you so much extra cleaning time. After Yom Tov you will appreciate doing only two loads of dishes in the dishwasher instead of ten. And its less pile up in your sink and on your benches during Yom Tov too. Paper goods need not be expensive to be pretty and practical. I absolutely love popping them all in the rubbish bag after the meal, it’s a machayah!

5. Turn on Torah tapes or inspiring Jewish music while working.
Preparation time can be long, mundane, and mind numbing. You can utilize that time by making it inspiring. Not only are there heaps of Torah leaning tapes you can borrow or buy, but the internet has dozens of Torah websites that have unbelievably good Torah classes on audio. Listen while chopping, kneading, mixing, scrubbing, and polishing. Not only will you stimulate your mind, you’ll have some words of Torah to give over at the table, and the holy vibes of the Torah learning will get absorbed into your food making it all that more tasty.

6. Be inner directed.
Don’t look for compliments or appreciation from hubby, kids or guests. If you get it, then great, but don’t be needy of it. Get your head straight as to the purpose of making Yom Tov and, that is to strengthen your connection to G-d and to create holiness, to sanctify your home, and to do the mitzvah. Not everyone in your life will always understand how hard you worked, especially kids, and some guests, so get over it!

7. Go to shule only after I am rested.
I love going to shule, but not if I haven’t got the attention span or the energy. It’s better to get bit of rest or quiet time sometimes on Yom Tov mornings, even if it means missing a Kaddish or two. So what? We’re not men, we are not obligated to be there, we can daven just as well at home most of the time. It’s just nice if we can go and only if we enjoy it. And why drag your kids along if they won’t behave, or if you spend the whole time chasing them, or shushing them to be quiet?

8. Go to a Torah class or gathering if there are any.
No matter how tired I get on Yom tov afternoons, if there is a Torah class, or a frabrengen, or any type of speaker or gathering, I try with all my strength to drag myself to go. I find that once I am there I am always happy I went. After all that cooking serving, hostessing, etc., it’s great to have some social interaction with other women and it can charge your batteries up even better than a short sleep.

9. Indulge yourself and buy at least one nice new thing.
Get something nice for yourself for Yom Tov, whatever you can afford. If not an entire outfit, it may be a piece of costume jewelllery, or shoes, or get a facial, a manicure, or get the sheitel done. Whatever it is that makes you feel more feminine, more princess like, more pampered, do it, and do not feel guilty. The Torah agrees that we women need these little perks.

10. Endorse yourself for a job well done!
When it is finally all over and done with, when you have finally put that last dish away in its place in the cupboard, take a deep sigh and pat yourself on the back. You did it again!

Also posted on Shoshanna’s blog.
Originally Posted on 10/27/2010

30 comments on “How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love Yom Tov

  1. Dear Moms (and Dads!)

    Thanks for the article – great tipps to read again every time ;-)

    As I live in the diaspora, we are a little bit more used to the three days in a row hoidays. And for my part I better like THU/FRI RH as TUE/WED or MON/TUE RH! I like to cook very simple: Same dishes for all the three days in a row (Succots this year we had a vegetable curry, tomatoesoup, corn-green-salad, eggsalad with round challah and pana cotta for desserts in the evenings). I usually bake once round challoth before RH and freeze all for the next four weeks.

    May I refer to the recipe-sides at

    They have a very good concept for cooking: KISS (keep it simple, sweetheart). That helped me a lot when starting my own enterprise, which melted down the time for shabbes- and holdiday-cooking!

    Next days we will eat defrosted chiken-soup with matzballs, the same corn-green-salad (we love it…), chopped eggs and liver with the defrosted challe and chickenbreast in three diferent “styles” (apricot-chicken, fig-chicken in whitewine and orangechicken) with kugel (defrosted). I prepare the three sauces to bake the chickens in 3 plastiktubes (Tupper…) and just pour them over the chicken before candlelightning – bakes 1 hour to get ready.

  2. Shoshana you know I think you write really well and yes more would be great!!
    You have the seichel and the writing ability so for sure “go for it”.

    gut yomtov
    let’s meet in Yerushalyaim!! with Moshiach!!!

  3. Thanks for re-posting my article. Is this a slight hint that you would like me to write some more articles for you?

  4. And ladies, please realize that the day after Yom Tov is over, your enegy does not suddenly come back! I personally feel like a rag that the cat dragged in and am looking forward tremendously to this Shabbos when i can fall back into my bed and rest up!

  5. Does the newborn get the five pound bag and the peeler too? :)

    Also: Believe me, the wife wants ALL the children in the Sukkah with the menfolk when she is with the newborn!

  6. There was one recent five-year stretch from the early 00’s when Pesach fell on Thursday and Friday (a “three day Yom Tov” with Shabbos Chol HaMoed) four years out of the five. I think that’s the hardest three-day Yom Tov. Making Pesach is difficult enough without having to prepare six seudos in a row. However, the problem of Rosh Hashanah – Sukkos falling on Thursday & Friday is that it’s repeated three times in four weeks.

    I’d rather have a baby in the middle of Sukkot rather than Pesach. Women are exempt from the mitzvah of Sukkah, so the “kimpertur” and the newborn can sit inside with all the other kids, shoving the menfolk out into the cold and mist. Tell the husband of the “kimpertur” to read Charlie Hall’s comment about doing the cooking (a medal for Charlie Hall, that gentleman makes my BT Hall of Fame). Hand everyone in the family a five-pound bag of potatoes and a peeler. Go heavy on the fresh veggies (the Surgeon General says we should eat more servings anyway) and light on the processed foods.

  7. I love BBQ on Sukkot! Perfect weather for it (usually, not so much with the rain this year)and you are generally outside anyway.

    And try having a baby in the middle of it, talk about chaos! Not much take-out food in a small town either.

    Looked at extended calendar and it looks like three day Yom Tovs for the next 4-5 years, Yikes! (This was not in the BT pamphlet!!!) What a commercial for aliyah!

  8. I say “Amen” to having the men take major responsibility. I myself cooked the meals that had the largest number of guests these past yomim tovim.

  9. I think the most useful piece of advice here, though it was only implied, was allowing yourself to recognize that, yes, Yom Tov can be very challenging — or worse — and that it doesn’t make you a bad Jew to acknowledge that to yourself.

    The Yom Tovim are opportunities for elevation, but we are after all still bound to this mundane existence at the end of the Days.

  10. 1) Two conflicting pieces of advice we received:

    First we were told: Don’t make anything that requires last-minute effort. No dry-roasted meats, etc. Make potted and sauced dishes.

    Then we got to Israel, where the advice was: Make an easy YomTov lunch by firing up the barbeque.

    It seems that more Israelis cook – from scratch – on Yom Tov.

    A wood or charcoal BBQ can be lit on YomTov and just burns itself out. Fresh meats – including kebabs and chicken already on skewers can be purchased in the freezer section, and can go straight from the freezer to the grill. The rest of the meal is bread and store-bought hummus, coleslaw, and other salads.

    This makes for a lighter meal on extended YomTov weekends.

    2) Make AT LEAST one dairy meal during extended YomTov weekends. People need a break from heavy food. A casserole and baked fish dish – again, with prepared veggie salads and spreads – make a nice, light, meal.

  11. Rabbi Scher – good to hear from you! I am sorry if my comment caused any sort of concern – there are plenty of resources here to make my prep easy. By now, I am an expert in the preparation of last-minute meals and I use the full extent of my pantry. Maybe one day I’ll be more organized and have food already prepped in the freezer, but until that day, it’s quick and easy for me! As far as I’m concerned, when I come home from work today (probably around 3 pm), that is plenty of time for me to bake another batch of challah and prep several YT meals!

    And to Michael Balinsky – my husband is responsible for specific dishes, especially anything that concerns the grill. So yes, we are an equal opportunity home!

  12. Shoshanna Silcove, you not only gave us a very informative and helpful posting, but you made a wonderful response at #14 to Michael Balinsky’s question. Yaasher koach! Good Yom Tov!

    I would just like to share that I found it very helpful to leave my crockpot on for the entire three days of Yom Tov and Shabbos. Aside from making it simpler to get ready on Friday afternoon the Shabbos lunch cholent, I was able to prepare a split pea soup in advance from Tuesday night to Wednesday night (first night of Yom Tov). Of course, to facilitate the cleanup, I used a cook-in bag (they vary in quality, so be careful and don’t use the cook-in bag for serving or transporting hot food, only for cleanup after).

    I would also recommend leaving on the oven for all three days, if your particular model will do so. My oven shuts off after 12 hours automatically, which is disappointing over Yom Tov (it’s so helpful to be able to warm up pre-cooked frozen food items or to bake fresh cakes).

    Heartily endorse #4, use paper goods, and #3, cook what family likes. My family prefers veggies straight rather than kugeled or souffled (i.e., plain cauliflower or spinach or sweet potatoes). True, being kugeled is more fancy and dramatic, but each to his/her own taste.

    I have to go to shul for Yizkor on Shemini Atzeres morning. I probably will prepare fresh pepper steak for the lunch seudah on Thursday. Since it’s only me and my husband, not a lot of people to cook for, I can take ten minutes to prepare fresh food (which sometimes we prefer to precooked frozen meals, or as a change from the other meals which are going to be precooked frozen). That’s one of the nice things about being able to cook on Yom Tov, the opportunity to cook fresh (with certain halachic and practical restrictions, such as if there are a lot of people, it’s too difficult to cook it all fresh for that seudah).

    I would also add that one of the biggest challenges is to prepare the second night of Yom Tov meal in about six minutes flat, which is usually all the time you get between lighting candles after nightfall to when the men walk in the door from Maariv expecting to sit down and make Kiddush and eat the seudah. I find that the only feasible solution is advance preparation of some kind of “saucy” dish that can heat up quickly on the stove top.

    Also I think we are all going to find it very challenging to get Shabbos dinner and Shabbos lunch ready on Friday before candle lighting, since it is Simchas Torah and many shuls won’t end the dancing and celebrations until way past two or even three in the afternoon. Right after finishing the lunch seudah on second day Yom Tov, we’ll be rushing to put up the blech and the food on the stove for Shabbos. As Shoshanna Silcove wisely points out, advance preparation and planning are the key to “making” Yom Tov.

    Chag Sameyach! Good Yom Tov!

  13. Here’s a thought about Chol Hamoed, which becomes part of the overall Yom Tov project if you have kids that want/need/expect exciting outings–When we became BT about 15 years ago, we had pre-teens who heard about all the youth trips to big amusement parks on chol hamoed and of course, they went on every one of those trips until the giant roller coasters became boring to them, (or maybe it was the unreasonably long lines). In any case, years later and still with a youngster at home, I realize that kids (and parents) have bought into the idea that something very special should happen on chol hamoed, knowing that when they return to school they will have to compete with all of the exciting overnight trips their friends went on. I don’t know how far back the minhag of taking recreational trips on chol hamoed goes, but the bar is being raised ever higher. I’m guessing that in years past people were more satisfied with a family trip to the park, or some more modest recreation, especially since the Yom Tov itself is already so expensive. I recall hearing one lady reminisce about how her childhood chol haomed days were spent at home with her siblings waiting for her father to return home from the Rosh Yeshiva. And she had been content with this, but found herself troubled by her own childrens’ restlessness on Chol Hamoed, and their demands for trips and stimulation. Getting back to the poster’s theme, this year I found all the planning to be overwhelming, and would have appreciated just having a break during chol hamoed without being the activities director making sure everyone is occupied and happy— maybe it was all the rain this year that made chol hamoed more challenging. Anyway, it was good advice to keep the correct perspective and not complain; I tried to start my davening every morning with gratitude that my family was zoche to reach another chag to celebrate…..

  14. to Michael Balinsky:
    I believe it is my avoidah (holy G-d given task) as a Jewish woman to be responsible for making Yom Tov, just like the Kohaine in the Beis Hamikdash had his avoidah of animal sacrifices and the like. Husbands and kids can and should help, but the responsibility and the bulk of the task belongs to the akeres habayis, or the woman who is the foundation of the holiness in the Jewish home.

  15. Many folks in Israel do not have elaborate meals that are seen in Rosh Yeshiva’s homes. For some miraculous reasons which only happen in Israel, I presume, even a small quantity of food feeds many and guests are satiated. This is a true blessing.

  16. If you live in Israel, you will be spared the 3-day Yom Tov running into Shabbos scenario (except for Rosh Hashana) and will be able to enjoy Yom Tov more. That’s the ideal place to fulfill all the Torah commandments.

    I am truly inspired by life before aliyah to Israel which does prepare a Yid to be more connected to Hashem to inspire him/her to live in the Land.

    May Hashem make it easier for every Jew to make aliyah and stay. Not every Jew is fortunate or merit to stay permanently after making aliyah.

  17. Am I misreading this or why does it seem cooking here is the responsibility of women? Why can it not be shared?

  18. Houston Ima, there are so many observant people in that town. Can you borrow a main dish or two from someone’s freezer? The only other observant household in our neighborhood gave us a lasagna ‘they weren’t using’ last week. It really relieved some of the burden. You can always barter a future meal.

  19. Bob Miller – of course they do! But I minimize the use of those in my home. No worries – it’s 11 am where I am, I have a full day of work ahead of me, and my menus are semi-planned. I’m good to go! :-) Chag sameach everyone!

  20. @Houston Ima – but are you the “I only get mobilized and productive when the crunch is on” types? – NOT tongue-in-cheek – because I know some people like that.

    I haven’t cooked specifically for the upcoming yom tov yet, but I’ve been cooking doubles anytime I make kugel since I remembered in August, so I have 2 more to pull out of the freezer. Plus frozen leftovers of 2 varieties from last week.

    I did my menu planning last night, but we have some standard staples so that the picky kids all eat (see #3).

    Chicken and fish will cook tonight and early tomorrow, respectively, and we’re doing crock pot lunches all 3 days. Veges to chop for soup (pre-frozen), salad, and crock pot Wednesday, but I took erev YT off from work.

    Pre-planning and cook/freezing side dishes is my biggest savings. And DH hates using disposables, but we have china for 10 plus “weekday” Corelle for 8, so I wash one round during, then run the DW twice after.

  21. Um, it’s after midnight on Monday night and I haven’t made my menus yet or gone grocery shopping, and obviously haven’t done any cooking yet. And I work full-time. I guess I’m behind on this half of the Yom Tov (and yes, we are hosting!)… :-)

  22. This is great advice that will go a long way to help Yom Tom be more enjoyable for the hostess and the guests. I have also found that playing lively Jewish music energizes me when I do chores. Great article!

  23. Some guests are happy to bring one or more prepared dishes to add to the simcha and relieve some of the cooking burden on their hostess.

  24. JDMDad beat me to it. I’m passing this one on to my wife. One thing to add to the list: get your husband or older kids to prepare some meals. My wife works more hours than I do. After cooking Rosh Hashanah and break-the-fast for our beit midrash, she turned to me and said ‘I’m exhausted and I have to work, and you’re making Sukkot.’ In the end, I only made part of the food; but she was certainly right to say ‘I just can’t do more right now.’

    Also, your number 7 is very important. Our kids are all out of the house, so staying home in the morning means my wife can relax in a quiet home, enjoy the company of our animals, just enjoy the opportunity. Actually, I’m sometimes jealous; but I have an obligation to be in the beit midrash.

    Lastly, I would add: Don’t have guests if you just aren’t up to it. We don’t enjoy socializing as much as some folks do. Having guests all the time, even if you are ‘peopled out’ or otherwise not up to it can create a resented burden which one dreads, instead of a mitzvah and simhat yom tov. Like in everything else, there must be a balance here. We have to know and be honest with ourselves and families and friends.

    Hag Sameah! I hope everyone has an excellent last days of Yom Tov!

  25. This one is getting printed out and given to my wife! She works so hard for the Yom Tov meals (and does a great job… I already loosened my belt a notch since Rosh Hashana), but the stress level does tend to get high at times. G-d willing, when we move next summer, it’ll be to a place big enough to have a full size freezer we can use for some of your advice. Thanks for sharing this!

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