How to Host the Perfect Jewish Family Gathering

April 26, 2015

5 min read


Aunt Esther is coming. First step: freak out. Next step: get to work!

Your Aunt Esther calls you up and says, “We’d really love to come to you for the week of ___________(Pesach/school vacation/Washington’s birthday)!”

You know your cue: “Sure, we’d love to have you!” (What you really mean: Can we please cater, eat out, or come to you?) Of course, you write it on the calendar, in big bold letters. And if it’s your husband’s aunt, you can squeeze in a few additional favors for at least the next six months:

”Of course we’d love to have you!” or in other words: “Can we cater?”

You: I need you to do the grocery shopping tonight to pick up a few things for Aunt Esther.
Husband: But Aunt Esther’s coming in four months.
You: I like to be prepared! You know how Aunt Esther can be!

The next step is a must: freak out. There are a variety of ways to do this, depending on a combination of your creativity level, age, life experience, social network. You can call your entire contact list. Or if you are more high tech, text, what’s app, email, tweet your entire network. Some great picture ideas-sure to garner sympathy are posting your grocery list or receipt, the inside of your fridge or freezer, your table covered in peels.

Then, you have to start a menu. Your Google search goes from curious: kosher chicken recipe enchiladas to desperate: kosher chicken recipe easy five ingredients. If you’re advanced enough, you end up checking out Pinterest boards, and spend five hours ogling over super talented balabustas out there who are obviously not you. Secretly, you contemplate hiring one of them as your personal chef.

Eventually, you start cooking. And cooking and freezing. Wow, how did anyone ever manage without a freezer? You pat yourself on the back for being so advanced when inevitably…

Auntie calls back. “Oh, and did I forget to tell you David is allergic to eggs, Esther is gluten free, Judy is on a Paleo diet and I’m watching my salt…And I’m sure you know the young ones don’t like anything with veggies. But don’t worry, whatever you make is fine, we love coming to you.”

Remember when Jews just used to keep kosher? Ah, those were the days.

You proceed to feed your family the chicken enchiladas while feverishly writing a new menu. There’s not much on it. Trying to make a menu is like a crossword puzzle, you put one dish in and it doesn’t fit with two people, put in another and six people won’t eat it. You contemplate sending a tweet to your followers “Martha Stewart never did this: Kosher holiday menu for 24 adults and 18 kids, all on different diets.”

When you finally have the menu down pat, cooked, and frozen, you try to figure out seating arrangements. Uncle David can’t sit next to Cousin Shimon, there’s always fighting about which organizations truly make the best use of charity money. The younger crew needs supervision and of course can’t be anywhere near the kitchen. And the newly married couple must sit together. They’re so cute. Right.

Two hours before the guests are due to arrive, you freak out (again) that there won’t be enough food. Quickly run to the local grocery and buy another few cases of drink, two platters of fruit, five family packs of junk food, and three tubes of ice cream. If all else fails, there will still be some ice cream!

Wonder of wonders, the crowd actually eats some of the food. Not that you get to eat, of course, you’re too busy serving, cleaning, settling squabbles, and trying to keep the house in livable condition. But the crowd is schmoozing, although the volume of conversation has its ups and downs, and most of the world’s politics are done by the end of dinner. Politicians should stop using focus groups. All they need is a Jewish family gathering. That’s where they will hear the cold hard truth. Anyone they want to know (and most of what they don’t want to know) comes up at that table.

After even the last stragglers leave you remember to thank everyone profusely for coming (Sure, you’re welcome any time! We love having you!) you are left with the last task cleanup. There’s enough leftovers to feed your local yeshiva, which you promptly freeze. (and promptly forget about. And throw out the next time you clean the freezer.) The table gets cleared, floors swept and mopped, dishes washed all while waiting for the disappearing rest of the family to come back and help.

You promise yourself next year you’ll do at least one of the following:

  1. Order takeout and pretend it’s your food
  2. Hire waiters, a live in, a cleaning crew, and a painter for the week
  3. Block your aunt from calling
  4. Never host such a large group in your house again

By next year however, your memory fades, and you answer, “Of course, Auntie. We’d love to have you. After all, there’s nothing like family!”

Next Steps