First off, I want to take this opportunity to wish all my fellow yidden ah gutten moed. I want to tell you my story, as I hope the positive aspects can be repeated, and well, you know, the negatives, my sincerest wish, is that people please learn from it.
I grew up in Crown Heights. My father was a melamed, earning a simple living. We grew up understanding that earning a dollar meant hard work. Our parents gave us everything we needed. There were wants, and sometimes we got them, and sometimes we didn’t. Every little girl loves new Yom Tov clothing, and in our house the little girls were no exception.
When I was about 7 years-old, Mickey Mouse came to join us for Tishrei. OK, he wasn’t really Mickey Mouse, he just got that name because he made funny faces, and sounds. When he spoke they kept us entertained. Mickey Mouse, (I have no idea what his real name is) came along with a group of about 6 French bochurim, who slept in our basement.
They came to be with the Rebbe and were frum. Their chasidishkeit was a beautiful asset to our house when they came for meals. We loved them. They would sing in the sukkah, and Yom Tov was just incredible. They taught me how to sing the pasuk Bereishis in French. (Today over 30 years later, I still remember it.)
Yom Tov was expensive and we were not rich. Every year, my parents sat us kids down, and asked us to choose. Would we prefer 2 new outfits, for Yom Tov, and not have so many guests at the table, or would we be happy with one new outfit each. I don’t think any of us hesitated. We always answered that lots of guests were more exciting. That was because they really enhanced our Yomim Tovim.
I had heard horror stories about guests in the neighborhood, but we never had negative experience. Actually, it actually paid off: I would walk into 770, find the first contingent of French speaking girls, tell them my name, tell them how many boys we’re hosting, and I was inevitably hoisted up between them to be able to see the Rebbe, his Holy face shining and my heart swelling as I got to feel the real “Ashreinu Mah Tov Chelkenu.”
17 PEOPLE? NO BIG DEAL
I got married and moved out of town, so I was unable to continue my mother’s tradition of hosting meals. By Hashgocha Protis, and lots of brochos from the Rebbe, and incredibly good mazal for which I thank Hashem every day, I ended up back in Crown Heights.
I was ecstatic. This year, my husband built from scratch a beautiful sukkah. It was 18 feet long which mean we could host as many people as I could cook for!
Walking down the street, I bumped into two brothers we know who live out of the country. I asked them if they would like to come to me for a meal. They gratefully accepted. At the end of the conversation, they told me, by the way, “our family is here for sukkos, so we number 6 people not two. We hope that it’s ok with you.” I smiled and said sure. I quickly called one of my siblings who is fluent in the language of this families’ origin, and I invited him.
At that point my meal now numbered 17 people. No big deal. I was used to it. After all, I had a perfect role model in my mother. I got up erev Yom Tov and happily finished last minute sukkah preparations, and worked on my menus. I was on my feet the whole day in my kitchen. I was happy, ess kumt a yom tov oif der velt. A passing rain shower could not dim our excitement. Bubby and Zeidy are coming, the kids have arts and crafts to show, and I have a home to host guests.
I happened to see one of the brothers of the family I was hosting, and I confirmed with him, you are coming tonight, right? 6 of you, right? We finished our last minute things, (did you ever notice that when you forget one thing, and run into the store for it, you come out with 5 bags? I am no exception) and came home.
My husband and the kids came home from shul, closely followed by my brother and his wife, my parents and some nephews came next. The family still had not shown up. An hour later, I’m in the kitchen when my husband comes in with the news that the family has shows up accompanied by another 20 people.
I walked into the sukkah and there were a bunch of girls sitting, and the family and entourage standing outside because there was no room to come in. My heart fell. What was this? What was I supposed to do?
My husband said he’s doesn’t know. My mother started with a speech about rolling with punches. My father told me that he didn’t raise me to turn away a guest (tell me about it). My father even offers to leave and make a seudah by himself in a dark sukkah, abi nisht avek shikken a gast.
But sukkah cannot fit 40+ people and we simply didn’t have enough chairs. With the benches and the dining room table chairs upstairs, we would be able to host some of women upstairs. My mind was racing, not as fast as my heart, we didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly, I got angry.
I didn’t stand and cook, and prepare for Yom Tov so that inconsiderate people could ruin my meal. If my parents left, with my brother and his wife, that would open another 4 spaces at the table. I would have a tzushterteh meal, and I still would be sending at least 16 people away.
I looked at the two brothers I invited, and I asked them what they thought I could do. They said, listen, these are people from our city, and they only tried their luck. If you don’t have room, they will go back to Aishel (I will not go into the amount of fundraising calls I had from them to help feed the “Rebbe’s” orchim.)
There was another issue: We had a policy that we don’t host single boys and girls at the same meal. With a heavy heart, I just said, I am not having the (uninvited and unidentified) girls in my sukkah. Apparently, the boys decided that if the girls go, they are going too. We ended up with 10 instead of the group of 6. The meal progressed. It was beautiful. The singing in the sukkah was gorgeous. The niggunim, with the harmony was incredible. The compliments were flowing in, like you would imagine.
After the meal (everyone helped clean), when we were both alone in the kitchen, my husband said, “In the 43 years that I am alive, I have NEVER sent anyone away from my table.” Had he moved to Crown Heights to reach such a horrible milestone? I was miserable.
The next day, I went to my mom. I told her, that I could not sleep a whole night over this annoying story. Did I really send 20 people away from my sukkah? Who does that? I can not tell you the guilt I have had all Yom Tov. Every time I saw an extra piece of Gefilteh Fish, or some of that meals’ leftover roast, I felt bad. ‘Those guests could have eaten it.’
The next morning, as I left my house, I found a plate of food (leftover roasts and potatoes) the guests have left outside my house near the garbage for the neighborhood cats. I guess that is what the people do in their city. Really now, that was all I needed.
I came to shul embarrassed that I had to send guests from my house. People were smiling around me, they were enjoying simchas Yom Tov. I was enjoying bile in my throat that I sent guests away from my house. My friends saw that I was unusually quiet. They wanted to know what was wrong. I hung my head in shame. My friends looked at me like I was crazy. “Ein Oirach Machnis Oirach,” I was told over and over again. I vacillated between horrible shame, and righteous indignation.
One friend related an opposite experience. She was asked to host 20 girls. She said yes. No one showed up. She slaved for nothing. They excused themselves with the fact that this sukkah was so far from 770 (I will not go into the fact that they knew the address when they asked to be hosted).
My brother tried to tell me that these uninvited guests were “fine” with what happened. They are on vacation. I wanted to know since when mentchlichkeit goes on vacation. I am left with questions. I am not ‘Fine with it.” I really wasn’t. I still am not.
My simchas Yom tov, and that of my husband was seriously marred by this story. Since when does coming to Crown Heights to the “Rebbe” entitle people to act without thinking? Since when does coming to the Rebbe entitle people to ruin our Yom Tov? I am still uneasy.
Please before you go commenting on COLlive, just remember, the Rebbe wanted guests. He bentched us for the guests we hosted. I just wanted brochos when I invited the family. I hope I will still have that zchus of brochos for hosting the Rebbe’s guest.
I didn’t write this op-ed so that people can rant about how inconsiderate people are. Is it possible though to explain this to the people coming? You are coming to the Rebbe’s shchuna. Real people live here. Real people that are not on vacation.
Consideration for us goes a really long way. Perhaps the rabbis in the out of town communities who are encouraging these masses of guests can also encourage mentchlichkiet and etiquette. Ein Orach Machnis Orach is a halacha.
Oh, and we don’t feed neighborhood cats here – we feed people. You can reserve that for your own town. Please do not make this article into a source for Loshon Hora. I already feel bad enough about what happened.