I was chatting with a blog reader the other day over Gchat and I was telling him that I could hook up with folks to stay with for shabbos in the city he’s living near in upstate New York. I gave him a couple of people to call and his response was “Hi you don’t know me, but I want to invite myself for shabbos” and how insane that sounds. He was serious, he had never before in his life made plans for shabbos and had never been introduced to the art of shabbat hospitality.
Now I admit, I am the shabbat hospitality master, I have lived in and traveled to enough Jewish communities to have a huge network of people to stay with, eat at and sleep by if the need arises. I have stayed with my friends daughter in Omaha, eaten dinner and lit menorah at my buddies sister in Southbend and slept on the floor of the chabad in Anchorage for Rosh Hashanah, but I was really trained by the best – I learned the art of getting “shabbos hookups” in yeshiva.
When I was in yeshiva, it was the ultimate score to be invited to your rebbes house for a shabbos meal, this meant that you got to daven in shul (only if it was Friday nights) and eat a normal meal that would taste a lot better than the gruel they served in yeshiva. Getting the invite was random, you never invited yourself and random invites were rare. There are rebbes I had that never had me over for a meal and once in a while a kollel guys wife would say those longed for words “come back anytime” which meant you had to actually take them up on the offer and most people were too embarrassed to, including myself. One year I became friends with this dude Yossi (he may be reading this) who taught mishna brura seder and somehow I developed my art through him, I was able to crack that initial embarrassment and just invite myself whenever I saw him. Eventually I figured out what signs to look for and how to feel out the situation – was there a lot of back and forth talk over the phone? Did he say something like, we didn’t make much this week? There were so many different tones of voice I could pick up and clues as to “dude it’s not a good week” even if they didn’t say as such.
Things were never too problematic for meal invites until I lived in Dallas, the first place I moved to where I didn’t know a soul and due to the friendliness of the community it actually worked out quite well. It was the type of place where you could (and I did every week) walk up to someone and say “hey I heard you have good food – can I eat at your house?” and they would smile and say “sure”.
Not all communities are like that, in the Bay Area it definitely isn’t like that – people are a bit more closed – but that isn’t to say that you cannot call up and get the shabbos invite. I have a large enough network where, fortunately, due to the blog I can locate a fan in random places who is more than willing (sometimes begging) to have me over for shabbos. Luckily, most people recieving calls from me are comfortable enough to let me know that the answer is NO, which is cool, I just hate when you call up on Monday and it’s Wednesday night and they still haven’t said anything about shabbos – which always puts you in the “who do I call next” bind.