Of all the rotten stuff we’ve endured this past year, a silver lining has been our family Shabbat dinners. Though pre-pandemic dinners with other families were lovely, I didn’t realize how stressful it was to get everything together as a host or even a guest for Friday night dinner after a long, busy week.
Now that grownups are getting vaccinated and the weather is turning nice, we’re starting to get invitations for (outdoor) Shabbat dinners again. How can we maintain the respite of our relaxed, guest-free dinners without just saying no to everyone?
At the risk of being flippant, just say no! After more than a year of not having the option to extend or accept social invitations, we’re now in a moment of potential clarity, where you – and many others — realize that the impulse to accept invitations just because you’ve received them isn’t good enough anymore.
After this extended period of feeling like we were without choices, I hope you find it empowering to realize the choice of how you spend your time and who you spend it with is actually up to you.
You should hang onto your family’s beloved pandemic Shabbat dinner rituals. Continue doing whatever you’ve been doing on Friday nights that has felt like a silver lining, and continue to enjoy the quiet, calm time with each other. Especially as more things open and perhaps kids go back to school or adults go back to offices, you may find that you need that family time even more on Friday nights than you have this past year.
So very many parts of our lives need and deserve recalibration during this strange time of re-entry, and it’s just fine to leave the question of Shabbat meals alone for now and reassess when it feels like it could use another look. Keep doing what works for you for as long as it works for you. If at some point, you get an invitation that sounds really fun, then by all means say yes. But even then, don’t be afraid to cut out early or admit that you kind of wish you’d stayed home.
None of this is a prescription for maintaining permanent isolation, though. Many families find that Shabbat lunch is a much less stressful time to host or be hosted. You’ll likely be more rested on Saturday afternoon than you were on Friday night and so will your kids and any guests you have over. Food can be served cold, kids can play outside while it’s light out and you’re not bumping into bedtimes. (Though, to be fair, depending on the ages of any children involved, Shabbat lunch can bump into naptime, which is its own complication).
Taking off your mask to eat with other people may still be a ways off for some people’s comfort, and Saturday afternoon outdoor playdates are also an ideal stepping stone to consider. So many of our social experiences in the before times emphasized eating with other people and, out of necessity, many people, myself included, and found out just how wonderful it can be just to be with other people on a walk or at a park – food not required.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that this advice — to say no to invitations — is in direct contrast to the advice I gave last week — to say yes to any opportunities to socialize. People had very different kinds of experiences from each other over the past year, and so people’s reentry needs and goals will be different, too.
There is nothing wrong with either question or either approach. Rather, we all deserve the kinds of social outlets that will be most supportive, authentic and nourishing (with or without actual food) as we reengage with our friends and communities.