Our house is very small – two bedrooms, a 13×13 eat-in kitchen, a living room and a sunroom, but no dining room. Consequently, it’s very hard to have more than one other family over for shabbat dinner. In fact, hosting even one other family of four requires exiling the children to eat in the sun room. It would be easier in the summer, when we could eat in the backyard, if only the mosquitoes didn’t strike with a vengeance. (I like to throw a big sukkah party every fall to make up for all the entertaining I don’t do the rest of the year.)
So last night I threw a big shabbat dinner. Many of my favorite people in town came with their kids, and I didn’t have to cook, pay for it, or clean up very much. I even had babysitters!
What was the secret? I volunteered to organize a shabbat potluck for my shul. I made a flyer, reserved a room, and asked for a small budget to buy grape juice, challah, and hire two teenagers to play with the kids after dinner. Eleven families attended. We began with some quality together time – I led/taught a few shabbat songs before dinner, then we all lit candles together (I bought a bag of votives) and we stood in a circle and blessed our children. After all the brachot, the kids took off almost immediately for the playground, and the adults sat around eating delicious vegetarian food and having grown up conversation. Someone even brought beer!
I complain sometimes (ok, fairly often) about the lack of resources for family programming at our shul. The flip side of this arrangement is that volunteers are welcome and given a fair amount of latitude to create, well, anything, if they are willing to take some initiative. So, while I may not have a dining room, I do have plenty of initiative. I’m looking forward to creating some more off-site home-shuling, at least until they hire a new family educator.