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Monday, July 28, 2014

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The holiday guests

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Commencing the issue of September 27, web columnist Lauren Aginsky joins our print edition under her married name, Lauren Kramer.

Every year on the High Holidays I wonder if there are Jewish students or young couples in my city who are far from home. If I knew who they were, I’d invite them to join my family around our dinner table and hope that I might alleviate the heartache for home I once felt when I stood in their shoes.

See, before our kids were born, my husband and I relished a nomadic way of life that involved packing up and moving to a new city at frequent intervals. His internships made the moves feasible and fed our mutual sense of adventure. We relocated three times in three years, navigating our way across the United States and exploring national parks and different communities along the way. The only time it really hurt was on the High Holidays.

That’s when my longing to be with other Jews, celebrating at someone’s home, became overwhelming. The prospect of the two of us sitting around our own table for a holiday meal just didn’t feel right. I longed for the warmth and company of another Jewish family, since his and mine were too far away.

So I’d pick up the phone, call the closest synagogue and meekly inquire if any shul members cared to extend an invitation to a couple of Jews far from home.

My husband would roll his eyes. “Do we have to do this? Invite ourselves over?” he would complain. He hated the idea of being an unwanted guest at a stranger’s table. I imagined how blissful it might be to feel part of someone else’s family, if only for a meal. To enjoy the High Holidays vicariously by being surrounded by excited children and parents who put the thought and planning into their holiday meals that I planned to do someday when I had a family of my own.

Of course, it didn’t always work out that way. At a Rosh Hashanah dinner in Boston we were acutely aware that we were unwanted guests who’d been accepted at the 11th hour as an act of charity. That night, instead of conversing with others at the table we somehow found ourselves with our hands in the sink, tasked with washing and drying the dishes. Hubby glared at me, a grunt of indignation in his eyes.

Sometimes my requests for a High Holiday invitation just didn’t work out. But those were the minority of occasions. In San Antonio, Texas, we were immediately included by a group of expats whose first invitation was followed by many more for Shabbat dinners, breaking of the fast and barbecues. In their company we found support, made lifelong friends and were adopted as surrogate family members. Those meals deeply influenced our impressions of the city and our readiness to consider staying longer.

Our family numbers six now, and when we invite siblings it quickly swells to a crowd. But amid the noise of preparation, prayer and the meals that follow, my mind’s eye looks for the Jewish singles or couples who need the spiritual food of a warm, family meal. I wish I could lay a place at the table for them, because I know exactly how it feels. 

 

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