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Tuesday
Sep192017

MAKING YOUR GUESTS FEEL AT HOME

In Tishrei, one holiday follows another, and many of us are busy hosting guests. We spoke with four women who have many guests throughout the year, and heard from them how guests impact their home and families. • Insights and advice for successful hosting from veteran hostesses.

By C. Ben Dovid

A house full of guestshow does this affect your family? What does hosting provide for the host family?

Ilana, whose house is always open to numerous guests, sees hosting as having a positive influence on her children.

When I became a baalas tshuva, I saw religious families around me in which the children were used to giving and sharing, and I really liked it. Boruch Hashem, I have a family of my own now and my children are involved in doing, hosting and giving, and this has a very good effect on them.

Sometimes, it is really hard. All kinds of people come to us, and they arent necessarily the kind who project good feelings to those around them. Sometimes, its hard for the children to accept these people. Then I talk to my children and explain the importance of the mitzva of hachnasas orchim. We do not do a mitzva for our enjoyment. Its no feat to host only nice people, the kind who will always find themselves a place where people will be happy to have them. The challenge lies in opening your heart to those who need attention, a listening ear, and a warm home.

When my children complained about feeling uncomfortable with a very old lady who comes to us occasionally, I asked themif she was your grandmother, wouldnt you happily welcome her?

They get a hands-on lesson in real Ahavas Yisroel and implement what they learn when guests come to our house.”

Mrs. Nitzan Ron:

There is a big difference between Shabbos with guests and Shabbos without guests. The word orach (guest) has the word ohr (light) in it and the word for fragrance, reiach, and I feel that guests bring light, flavor, and a special fragrance. I once thought there are guests who are harder to host, people who arent religious, guests who entail extra inconvenience, etc. However, time and again I discover that on these occasions I am given special strength from above, a certain siyata dShmaya in the cooking, preparing, and actual hosting. It is this kind of hosting that gives me a greater sense of personal elevation.

There are occasions when I feel that it is necessary to devote time to the family, but in most cases, a Shabbos with guests gives everyone in the family so much. The children learn to love and accept people who are different than they are. They meet people from different backgrounds and see how we treat everyone in a positive way. I also discovered that on a Shabbos without guests, the children fight moreapparently when they are in giving mode they are more likely to be tolerant of each other.”

What helps make hosting successful? How do you give your guests a good feeling?

Rochel:

I make sure to prepare the guest rooms ahead of time, with everything guests might need. I also try to give them as much attention as possible, to talk to them, especially when they are strangers, people who are getting involved in Judaism, or those who really need a listening ear. When guests are coming for Shabbos, I try to finish my preparations earlier so I can sit and talk with them. In my experience as a guest, I wasnt comfortable when my hosts were preoccupied.”

Ilana takes a different approach:

My guests quickly get into the atmosphere and routine of my home. My entire family participates in hosting. If I am busy, the children immediately serve drinks and welcome the guests. When my children are involved, it doesnt only make it easier for me, it also helps the guests feel more comfortable. The children take the initiative to talk to the guests, and it immediately creates a comfortable atmosphere.

I dont find it necessary to constantly hover over the guests. They see me and my home in its natural state, even when I havent managed to change from a robe to festive clothes. I serve very plain food. I try to make sure there is enough for all. I also allow myself to occasionally use store-bought food. I never urge guests to eat but enable each one to eat as he wishes. If the guestschildren are not behaving properly, I feel free to point this out to them. I would not be able to go on hosting if the children continued jumping on the couch and scattered food all over the house. Since our guests keep coming back and sometimes find it hard to leave, I have to conclude that they feel comfortable.”

Nitzan thinks that guests feel good when they feel that their hosts are happy to have them. When hosts are genuinely happy to have guests, this is felt by the guests. She adds:

In order to give guests a good feeling, it helps to give them free rein in the house. If a guest asks me whether she can take something out of the refrigerator, I tell her with a smile that she may, and that the next time she doesnt need to ask. She will quickly catch on that I mean it seriously. You need to prepare cereal for your baby? Please go ahead, and maybe you will prepare some for my baby while youre at it.

I let the guests pick which room they will sleep in and leave them clean sheets and towels for them to arrange themselves. In general, when you let guests help you, it gives them the feeling that they are at home.”

Yael emphasizes the role of children in hosting:

We host many people, including tourists and new immigrants with whom we dont always have a common language. I think its thanks to the children that we are able to communicate. When people come for the first time to a strange place and dont understand the language, they feel uncomfortable at first. Children contribute a lot towards a lighter atmosphere.

If the guests themselves have children, the children of both host and guest bridge the gap between the adults. Even when the guests dont have children, my children are used to helping dispel any tension in their natural way. You dont need a rich vocabulary in order to play with little children, and in general, people feel more comfortable in the company of children.”

How do you include children in hosting? How do you make them feel part of the action? What do you do when children find it hard to accept the guests?

Yael puts the emphasis on personal example:

The children see their mother interacting with the guests and serving them, and they want to join in. I see my children naturally offering cookies and drinks to guests when they come in, without my telling them to do so. Its something they absorbed by seeing me do it.”

Ilana also thinks the children learn by personal example although she thinks its important to discuss it too:

I explain to the children that its important for us to treat the guests nicely, especially those guests who are harder to host. My children have complained about messes left behind by guests, about bad odors, or about other things that make them feel uncomfortable. They know not to say anything in the presence of the guests. But after the guests leave, I hear the complaints.

In these situations, my personal example is not enough. I make sure to listen to them and understand them, and I talk to them and explain, again and again, what a privilege it is for us to have guests and to truly fulfill this mitzvanot just to have guests for our enjoyment. They get the message. Its also a matter of habit. I see, for example, how children from small families have a hard time, at first, getting used to the idea of large families while a child from a large family is used to it and enjoys it. The same is true for guests; the children are used to giving up their rooms on many Shabbasos and forgoing their comfort to some degree, and they do so happily.”

How do you prepare for guests? What are the most important things to do before guests arrive?

In Yaels opinion, when you host often, the preparations are not that many:

When you are accustomed to hosting, you have your routine. The cooking goes quickly when you need to cook in larger quantities. In the past, these preparations took me a lot of time. Once I got used to having many guests, I manage to do what needs to be done in less time and with less bother.”

Nitzan thinks the cleanliness of the house is very important:

Its very unpleasant when guests come and the house is not clean and orderly, though you shouldnt get carried away with cleaning either. I make sure the house looks presentable, but I never take this to an extreme. With the cooking too, I cook in honor of Shabbos and not in honor of the guests. I have no interest in impressing the guests with special dishes. My goal is to honor the Shabbos with tasty, simple food. I think this also contributes to the guestsfeeling of comfort, because they dont feel that I went too much out of my way for them. The hosting is a pleasure and not a burden.”

Rochel refers to a different kind of preparation:

When guests come, especially strangers, its a good idea to think ahead of time of topics for discussion. Although we dont always know many details about the guests ahead of time, I use the information I have to help me find topics of mutual interest, to think of a book that I have in the house that might interest them.

It also pays to think ahead of time about any difficulties that might arise and to come up with solutions. You dont need to devote much time to these preparations, and you can definitely leave room for spontaneity. While cooking and organizing you can give this some thought. It can be very helpful.”

Ilana thinks that the most important preparation is gathering your strength:

Of course you must be sure there are cold drinks in the fridge, enough food, and an orderly house, but its very important that you rest. You need to be relaxed so that you have enough patience to welcome your guests properly.”

Many of us feel that hosting, especially strangers, is too hard for us because we dont have enough room in the house or enough patience for people we dont know. Sometimes there is the fear of being judged negatively, and sometimes it seems that cooking in such large quantities is too complicated. Would you say that hosting is for everyone?

Yael:

I also thought that way initially; I was sure that hosting was not for me. Then, it worked out that we had occasion to host people, time after time. At first it really wasnt easy. The preparations, the forgoing of our familys privacy at the Shabbos table, and my desire to appear perfect were all uncomfortable challenges. I think the solution in overcoming these difficulties is simply to face them head on. Do not be afraid of hosting. Dont demand too much of yourself; prepare simply and remember that if you feel somewhat uncomfortable with guests at first, they certainly feel that way since they are in an unfamiliar place. When your focus is on how you can make them feel better, you will forget your own discomfort.

Over time, I learned that I am really not under scrutiny and so I was liberated from those feelings I had at first. When I saw how having guests had a good effect on my children, I decided that hosting is for me after all.”

Rochel:

Someone who is afraid of hosting is usually imagining a house full of guests who feel as though they are in their own homes, staying for long periods of time, and expecting to be catered to in every way. There are homes like that and women who can handle that, but many of us dont find this realistic. Most homes cannot turn into hostels for the unfortunate, and most women cannot serve as social workers in their spare time. However, every home can host a few guests occasionally.

For those who are afraid of having guests, its best to do it gradually. Have only a few people and not on a regular basis. With time and experience your capabilities will expand, and when you get used to it you can increase the number of people or have guests more often. Everyone can be a host; just do it in a way that works for you.”

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