Dear Rachel,

I am newly religious and newly divorced.

The community I belong to has been very supportive, and makes sure I am not alone for Shabbat or the Jewish holidays. The problem is, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about eating at the same families’ homes all the time.

They tell me to view them as family and say I am always welcome, but this is so unusual for me. Besides not wanting to be a burden, I don't want to become too dependent on them by always expecting to be invited. I don't want to insult them or deprive myself of pleasant company. I’m just confused as to what the right balance is. I also don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

Doesn’t Want to Overstay Her Welcome

Dear Considerate,

You mention a problem that is quite common nowadays. Unfortunately, there are many single people out there, either widowed or divorced or never been married, who may feel uncomfortable in the family-oriented culture of the religious world.

Before I address your feelings, I’d like to mention a few things in general. It’s written in Psalms: “A world of kindness (chessed) will be built.” (Or, “Kindness will be built forever.”)1 The world is full of lovingkindness, first exemplified by the patriarch Abraham, whose most exemplary mitzvah was welcoming guests. While the secular world may encourage privacy and prefers guests in moderation, in Jewish culture welcoming guests into the home is considered an honor. And for the world to be built on chessed, someone has to be the recipient of it. Of course, you may wish you were on the giving end; but without anyone to receive, there would be no chessed.

We all have it in our power to give and to do chessed for others. I’m sure there are ways in which you do kind things for your hosts, as well as for other people. An attitude of gratitude is also chessed. People like to feel that their help is appreciated. Also, when you are invited over, you can (if you don’t already do so) bring a gift or dessert, or you can help serve or clean up. Even being a pleasant and entertaining guest adds a lot to the Shabbat experience. Try to remember that a table is not a Shabbat table without guests, and you are helping make this a Shabbat table.

There is a big difference between feeling sorry for someone and making someone feel welcome. Chessed is not pity! It is emulating G‑d, and just as you enjoy the Helping others will keep your self-esteem intactsun and fresh fruit knowing they are gifts of G‑d, you can enjoy other people’s kindness. I also suggest looking for new and creative ways to do chessed yourself. Everyone has special gifts for helping others. Helping others will keep your self-esteem intact and allow you to enjoy other people’s kindness graciously. Judaism isn’t about tit for tat, but about paying it forward.

If you’re worried about becoming too dependent on these people’s kindness, or just want a break from routine, you can always make other plans—go away on a Shabbaton or a Jewish singles weekend, visit a friend in another town, or go on a vacation. You can visit another community for Shabbat by calling the rabbi of the congregation there and asking him if there are families who need guests for Shabbat. You can also put together your own Shabbat dinner with other single friends like yourself, or invite your host family to your home one week. (If that’s a problem for any reason, invite them out to dinner on a weekday.) You can still be a regular guest and feel at home without coming every single Shabbat. Exploring other options will also provide you with opportunities to meet new people, which may lead to marriage prospects or other social opportunities. It’s important to do this without insulting your hosts; let them know that you feel comfortable enough to take a rain check.

Don’t judge the situation from a Western perspective. Your hosts are right: we are all one family, and they have obviously adopted you into their immediate family. Your feeling of discomfort seems to be coming from your end; if you project joy and gratitude at being at Project joy and gratitudeyour host’s table, and look for ways to help, you will probably feel a lot more comfortable.

I get the feeling that one of the reasons you find this situation uncomfortable is that you are afraid that this will remain the status quo forever. And that’s not necessarily so. You might very well remarry in the near future, or move to another neighborhood, or make new friends who want to share the honor of inviting you. Life is dynamic, and it’s unlikely that your situation won’t change at some point. Until then, it seems that these friends are happy to have you join them.

I wish you success in soon building your own home, where you will have the honor of hosting many guests. Then you’ll see how much your presence has meant to the families who host you.