Having an open heart and being organized are primary qualifications for having guests on a constant basis. I’m a stay-at-home mom who hosts between fifty and eighty Shabbos guests on an almost weekly basis; my husband is in kiruv and we raise funds privately for this. Hosting guests on this level must be a labor of love.
Why an open heart? Your guests might span the spectrum of Jewry, and conversations around the dining room will run the gamut. Some will be starting out in Yiddishkeit, while others might be frum from birth and there will be many shades of gray. It has to be okay with you. Just know that each guest around your table is a Jew who wants to experience the beauty of Shabbos—and you are helping him or her do that. My husband, children and I believe that each and every Shabbos can be a life-changing experience and we treat it as such.
Organization is key. It’s helpful to have an extra supply of the ingredients for cooking and baking on hand, as well as stashes of paper goods and other necessities for entertaining. Because we entertain on a macro level, we have two industrial-size refrigerators in our kitchen, an industrial-size freezer in the basement and an industrial-size food processor.
Having a schedule is crucial. Try spreading your preparation for Shabbos throughout the week. Assuming your schedule allows for it, on Sunday and Monday you can bake challah, kugels and desserts. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday can be reserved for cooking. Friday should be set aside for last-minute errands. If at all possible, try to keep Fridays calm and not too overwhelming.
Stay simple. Keep the menu repetitive—week after week we serve the same foods: challah, fish, dips, chicken and meat, kugels, dessert. Usually, I make challah with two five-pound bags of flour and we supplement with store-bought challah.
Opt for speed over perfection. It’s irrelevant to me whether or not my matzah balls look alike or are the same size. You need to enjoy your guests and not worry about every last detail.
If your children are still at home, it’s a good idea to make hachnasas orchim a family effort—not only will it lighten your workload, it will teach your kids lifelong lessons. My children are involved in the food preparation, setting tables and cleaning up. My sixteen-year-old daughter bakes. Each Shabbos, my husband thanks each family member for his or her help. If a particular child isn’t so helpful one week, turn a blind eye. Not everyone can be “on” all the time.
Try to get to know every guest at your table personally. After the fish course, have each person introduce him or herself. This creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere. More important than the menu is the attention you give to each person who enters through your door.
Hosting guests often means providing sleeping accommodations. We find out in advance who is coming and what their particular needs are. We have an abundance of pillows and blankets and plenty of sleeping options. For guests who need more private or quiet accommodations (which a busy home like ours can’t necessarily provide), we reach out to families in our neighborhood.
It’s absolutely essential to set aside “family only” time as well. Every now and then, we have a “Klatzko only” Shabbos so we can be alone with our children and grandchildren.
To engage in hachnasas orchim on a regular basis requires being organized and efficient and having lots of energy. But the connections you develop with people and the thrill you experience by helping them grow in Yiddishkeit—while they become like family members to you—make it all worthwhile.
Shani Klatzko lives in Monsey, New York with her husband, Rabbi Benzion Klatzko, and children. Her husband is the CEO and founder of Shabbat.com, a social network service aimed at the worldwide Jewish community. Shabbat.com, which has 100,000 members, sets up users with hosts for Shabbos.
Leah Lightman is a writer living in Lawrence, New York with her husband and family.