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Downsizing, Grandchildren, and Hosting Guests for Shabbat

My wife Sharon and I are at the age where many of our peers are downsizing their residence. Some of our friends have moved to Florida … or spending the winter months there. Others have sold their homes and have moved to smaller quarters nearby.

Not us.

We like our house, even though it’s just the two of us nowadays.

Maybe it’s because we were extremely fortunate to have locked in a very low fixed rate mortgage several years ago – and now only have a few more years until it’s all paid off. The idea of having to take out a loan for 7% is not terribly appealing. (Then again, depending on what we would sell our house for, it would not be inconceivable that we could purchase something without a mortgage based on the proceeds of the sale…but I don’t have any desire to find out.)

I also dread the idea of having to pack up everything and move – after living in our home for 38 years. While it would finally force us to throw out items we should have tossed a long time ago, I am not too keen on sorting through decades of material.

But the main reason I don’t want to downsize is that I simply like the extra space we have. Twenty-two years ago, we did a major renovation on our home, adding two bedrooms upstairs, expanding our kitchen and dining room, and building a new family room. The added space allowed us to entertain Shabbat guests much more comfortably – and we definitely took advantage of this opportunity quite a bit.

When I chaired the community growth initiative in Stamford, we often hosted prospective residents who wanted to spend a Shabbat in the community, as we had several extra bedrooms we could utilize for guests. The youth leaders often called upon us to host Shabbaton attendees. And family members – cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles – are always welcome to spend a Shabbat with us.

Funny story – we once were at the wedding of our cousin’s son, and although we did not know the woman he was marrying, we went over and introduced ourselves to the bride. “Do you live in Stamford?” she asked us. My wife answered, “Yes, but how did you know?” She responded, “I was a Shabbat guest of yours for a meal a few years ago!”

We also host local families for lunch on Shabbat often – my wife comes from a family that had an open home for Shabbat guests, and we have continued the tradition of entertaining our friends in the community on a regular basis.

And then, of course, there are our grandchildren. We have three grandchildren – Sarit Maayan, Emma Pearl, and Henry Charles – ranging in age from 5 to 11 years old. And they all love to spend Shabbat with Mima and Zeidy, who also love to host them.

We used to have all three of them for Shabbat together – allowing their parents to take a well-deserved break from child rearing for a weekend. Recently we have shifted to hosting them individually, so we can give each of them a bit more attention while they spend Shabbat with us.

If we had downsized and were living in a one-bedroom condo, we wouldn’t have the luxury of entertaining our grandchildren as much as we do now. And they probably would not look forward nearly as much to seeing us, if we didn’t have the big family room that we have turned into a children’s library and toy palace.

I know that a lot of empty nesters enjoy the peace and quiet of a vacant home, during the week and even on Shabbat. Not me. Friday night Shabbat dinners seem very lonely these days. It used to be when our kids were home, we reserved Friday night for family time –and we didn’t invite guests. Recently we have begun inviting Shabbat guests on Friday night, too, and accepting invitations from friends – maybe because it’s a bit too quiet with just the two of us. Or perhaps going to bed at 7PM on Friday night during the winter is just a tad bit early.

A word about inviting guests for a Shabbat meal … I believe that no one should have to spend a Shabbat meal alone in their home. Regardless of what community you might live in, there are always some individuals who are living by themselves – and it’s awfully lonely having to make your own kiddush and hamotzi and eating alone.  Widows … singles … divorcees … our communities all have a fair share of these people who are by themselves for Shabbat, and who would like nothing more than to spend a meal with others.

Last week we hosted four young, local singles for Shabbat lunch. Two of them grew up in Stamford but were living in their own apartments. Another was a young woman from the Ukraine who had moved here after the war broke out in her country. A fourth had recently moved here, too. We had a lovely time, and our invitation was greatly appreciated. It’s likely all four would have eaten alone that Shabbat had we not invited them.

So, we are going to stay in our home – at least for now – and hopefully continue to host our grandchildren and other guests for Shabbat for as long as we can. We have plenty of extra beds, and a 12-foot-long dining room table that would look very empty if it were just the two of us eating dinner or lunch. And making a Shabbat cholent for two people just doesn’t make sense!

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at michaelgfeldstein@gmail.com
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