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How I Dealt With My Anxiety Over Hosting

How I Dealt With My Anxiety Over Hosting

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It was the first night of Passover, and my husband and I were having 20 people over to celebrate the holiday. We’d never had the seder at our house, so this was a very“You can’t put plastic in the oven!” big deal. The main course was a big fat turkey, and I was in charge of heating it up.

In all the madness of the holiday, I’d forgotten that plastic melts in ovens. And the turkey was in a plastic dish that was melting away at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. “What’s that smell?” I asked my husband, Danny. He checked. “You can’t put plastic in the oven!”

He hurriedly took out the turkey and saved most of it. The pan was not so lucky. Thankfully, it didn’t taste like plastic at all, and we enjoyed the meal. But I will never forget my mistake, which was caused by simple hosting anxiety.

By the time I had converted to Judaism in 2015, I learned that hosting people for Shabbat and the holidays is a big mitzvah. And I enjoyed having people over for parties. These parties were BYOD (bring your own drinks), and I’d put out a few snacks. I wasn’t used to cooking large meals for upwards of 20 people. (It took me five years into converting to finally bake a good challah.)

Over the years, I observed the extravagance of Shabbat meals. Shabbat is supposed to be a special day when you go all out to celebrate. I had gone to people’s houses where they would literally serve a few different kinds of challah, three salads, eight dips, two main entrees, 10 sides and three desserts on a normal Friday night. This was a lot to live up to.

When I first started hosting after I got married, I put all the emphasis on the food. Preparing the meal on the Thursday or Friday afternoon before people arrived, I’d think over and over: “Is this enough food? Will they like this? What if my chicken gets burnt? Will my hot plate properly heat up the food? Oh no, the carrots are underdone!”

If something went wrong with the cooking, I’d hold my breath while the food was being passed around the table and look for cues that people didn’t like it. “Oh no, he didn’t take more than a few carrots,” I’d think. “Why is nobody going for seconds?”

It was exhausting. One time, a guest asked if he could have more chicken. We had a few people RSVP at the last minute, so we had to cut up the chicken into smaller pieces so that everybody would get one. We had to say sorry, there wasn’t any more. Another time, a part of a guest’s chicken was slightly undercooked. He pointed it out in front of everyone. I was so embarrassed and didn’t want to host for a few weeks after that.

I’d also fixate on impressing new guests. My husband and I have a lot of non-observant people over to give them a good Shabbat experience. Some of these people have never done a Shabbat meal or haven’t participated in Jewish activities since their bar and bat mitzvahs. It was on me to make sure they had a great time. If I messed up my cooking or my hospitality wasn’t excellent, they might not want to do Shabbat again, I thought. It would be my fault.

It got to be too much. I took two months off from hosting a ton of people and just made dinner for me and my husband. We also went out toIt was better to focus on the quality, instead of the quantity other people’s houses. But it was lonely to just eat with Danny, and I missed feeding people and having fun with them in our own home.

We talked it over and decided that instead of hosting every week like we’d been doing, we could host once a month for a while until we were able to handle more. Perhaps it was better to focus on quality, instead of quantity.

I also realized that I had been too hard on myself. I’m an excellent cook, but everybody has their off-days, especially when making a huge amount of food. I didn’t have to provide an array of dishes. Some challah, a starter salad, gefilte fish, chicken, a vegetable side and a starch would do. Even that was a lot of food! Most people only ate a few things, and we’d end up having a lot of leftovers.

Nobody was judging me on my cooking or holding a grudge because I forgot to offer them a drink. They were, I hope, just happy to be there. I remembered that the Shabbat meals I most enjoyed were the ones with lively conversations. And I was always just grateful to be invited in the first place. Just being asked to join someone for a meal makes me feel good.

Shabbat meals are about bringing the holiness into your life and connecting with your fellow Jews. They aren’t about how good the doughiness of the challah is or how well the chicken is spiced.

Though I have to say, a scrumptious, non-plastic-tasting turkey is a gift from G‑d.

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer and personal essayist in Los Angeles. She writes for The Jewish Journal of L.A., Grok Nation, Aish and Tablet. She has a wonderful husband, comedian Danny Lobell, as well as two dogs, five chickens and a tortoise.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous February 15, 2017

Such an interersting approach. We can all learn from you Reply

jim dallas February 14, 2017

i couldn't do it, not even come close! and your writing is marvellous too, all the best to you and family! Reply

Chana Brooklyn February 14, 2017

Happy hosts make happy guests! I've been married and hosting for over 30 years and still have hosting anxiety sometimes. Your article is spot on! Thank you and best wishes for continued stress free hosting - L'Chaim! Reply

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