Lifestyle tips for Orthodox Jews

The lifestyle guru Marie Kondo has a show on Netflix with whizz ideas about how to tidy your home. I paid little attention to her until she had the chutzpah to suggest that a house should have no more than 30 books. THIRTY BOOKS. This provoked the journalist David Aaronovitch to tweet that one should have “a minimum of thirty books by your bed. Otherwise you can’t be certain of having something good to read.”

Kondo’s advice made me worry that many Orthodox Jews would take it on board, because as a community we’re never entirely happy with our homes. If we’re not paying a builder to do an extension, moving stuff around, renovating rooms or buying cupboards from Ikea, then at the very least we’re applying for planning permission, wondering if we need to get planning permission, or moaning about the fact that the Council never gave us planning permission.

I therefore feel duty bound to provide my own Konmari advice perfectly tailored to Orthodox Jews. Bear with me, it’s a random assortment of tips relating both to the home and how to have a perfect Shabbat.

Firstly the books: have as many as you want but pay attention to their arrangement. If the rabbi’s coming over and you want to be seen as that good Torah-loving Jew, make sure the sefarim you haven’t opened since your bar mitzvah are the first thing he sees. Push your Lolita, Anais Nins and Henry Millers to the other end, preferably behind other books. The Guide to Jewish Humour, Alan Dershowitz’s Chutzpah and Aerial Photos of Israel go somewhere in the middle.

Now to the drinks cupboard and the single malts in particular. Your most treasured 30-year-old McCallans go right at the back. I keep mine in the attic. These are for special occasions: Brits, Bar Mitzvahs and the like. Then there are the good quality whiskies that you save for your close mates who you occasionally see and share a good dram. They should sit somewhere in the middle. Finally, the passable whiskies doled out to guests: these should be placed at the front, concealing the better quality drinks so your guests don’t know what they’re missing.

There’s something else I want to mention, but it pains me to acknowledge this – the black market of Shabbat regifting. You know what I’m talking about. The pareve mints that your guests gave you last week – what do you do with them when you’re both on a diet? Hey presto, those people who invited you for next Shabbat, you now have something for them! And so at any one time a finite number of Barkans, Bendicks and Jelly Bellys are making their merry way around the entire Jewish community. Store these in one place and be sure never to be short. We all know that “Oh no, we never got something for the Goldsteins” feeling that hits you one minute before Shabbat. And for the love of God, keep a record of who gave you what. It’s unacceptable to return the same gift given to you in less than a two-year period.

Fridges are never ever big enough. Whenever you buy one, cast your mind into the future. It’s Erev Rosh Hashanah, you have four kids and the next day you’re hosting 12 people for lunch. We’ve all played that frantic game of shuffle the food around the fridge until it fits late into the night. For those of us who’ve experienced this we know that transient feeling of relief when everything is neatly in place until we spot the steady drip of chicken soup on to the cheese soufflé below. And that bag of carrots and broccoli is weighing so hard on the apple and pear crumble it’s in danger of disfiguring it. And then there’s that bottle of Coke that wouldn’t fit in the fridge door that’s now lying on the top shelf leaking down the back of the fridge. Buy big, buy industrial, get something communal with your friends or worse case scenario beg your mother-in-law to use her fridge.

Clothes space in the master bedroom: some go by the 80/20 rule but if you’re an Orthodox Jew, your wife should occupy at least 95 percent, and yourself, five, if you’re lucky, seven. But hey ho I’m not bitter. After all, we guys have it easy — we pretty much wear the same types of clothes six days a week. (Own up now if you’ve ever been to shul on Friday night in your work suit).

If there’s one constant in our lives that happens week in week out, but we never seem adequately prepared for, it’s Shabbat. Like fire drills we know they’re going to happen but when it does, we’re taken by surprise. As a man I know that time wasted getting ready for shul could also be usefully spent getting our kids dressed or filling up the Shabbat urn. So to try and do everything at once, we end up being a little slack. Before we know it, we’re racing halfway down the street with our flies undone, a sweat patch on the back and tie flapping in all directions.

I suggest a simple solution. All shuls should be equipped with changing rooms and lockers. Drop off your Shabbat clothes the night before and go to shul in a t-shirt underneath your jacket, no one will notice and you’ll save so much time.

The issue of when a man should shave before Shabbat is a contentious one, too early and you’ll develop stubble, too late and you find yourself running round the house leaving a trail of hairs in your wake. My recommendation is the office at lunchtime. So you get a few stares in the gents, but it’s a hassle free zone, no screaming children or wife telling you that you forgot to take the kugel out of the freezer.

Similarly, there are other things that need to be done in quick succession: time switches, heating, the Shabbat urn, plastering the light under the fridge, leaving certain lights on, ensuring that whatever is in the car that you need is out of it, recording the football on Sky and of course switching on your Out of Office in case a client needs to contact you at midnight on Friday. We know the routine, but week in, week out, we seem unprepared. So divvy the tasks out between you, make your Amazon Echo bark out the instructions and rehearse what you have to do two or three nights before. Road test your Shabbat prep for worst case scenarios: your family have arrived from Israel and need picking up from Heathrow, there’s no hot water, a powercut (your mother-in-law had a powercut and has no food), you name it, we’ve all been there, so no excuse not to prep!

And now to skip to immediately after Shabbat, which can sometimes be as messy as the run up to it. Like all joyous occasions, this one has a number of hangovers that must be addressed. I’ve noticed that in almost every home, some guy leaves his jacket hanging over the chair in the dining area. This along with the Havdalah set and a few nasty wax stains can often lie abandoned for too long. Maybe it’s meant to be there, so how about a cupboard nearby where you store it for a week so it’s easy and convenient to get at and put back.

With only one day a week where we can go out in the car, shop and take the kids out to parties, Sundays are as valuable to Orthodox Jews as Shabbat, albeit for different reasons. So please don’t spend it picking up all the bits and pieces you left at the people you stayed with or ate at over Shabbat. I have a neat solution to this. A roving car driving round your local area for 24 hours after Shabbat, picking up and returning these left behind objects. Rather like doctors on call they await that announcement on the Walkie Talkie. “Yeah the Goldblums 40 Broadfields Avenue, yeah they need you to pick up a feeding bottle and tie from Watford Way in Hendon, yeah yeah the family are definitely in.”

So these are my tips. If the Orthodox community needs a lifestyle guru, with this blog I pitch my eligibility.

About the Author
Born in London, Ethan lived in Israel for a few years. He is an experienced social researcher in government and the charity sector, and has also advised Jewish organisation doing their own surveys.
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