I won't go after your husband-please don't sit me with the teens

Shabbat and Holiday hospitality for single women.

Ellen Fischer

Judaism Shabbat Table Crowns
Shabbat Table Crowns
צילום: INN:EF

Not twenty years hence, I still recall my host loudly announcing the seating arrangements in his sukkah:  “Husbands and wives at this table; everyone else at that one”

I followed my host’s directive as I saw his wife wince.    Both knew I had just separated from my former husband and was spending the Fall chagim as a newly single middle-aged woman in the Orthodox community.

I am not prepared to write a statistically researched treatise on female singlehood in Orthodox religious-social settings.    

My experience, while possibly more common, is my own. At that time, among my reservations was a concern that I would be shunned or marginalized in a community where I long had had the stature and comfort of being a married person. As I went over in my mind the names and faces of divorced women who complained of being left out, I began to observe patterns.   One woman bragged of being a “close friend” of a man whose wife also was her friend, and at whose home my example was a regular Shabbat guest.

The same woman also complained that she had been pawed and grabbed by the husbands of her friends who walked her home after she ate a Friday or Yom Tov night dinner at their homes.   As with much of what is said to and around me, I chose not to question, challenge, or otherwise act on the information. I simply took note.

As I gratefully accepted and continue to appreciate the kindness of being included, I also recall a set of practices that I imposed on myself.    I never articulated them at the time. Only now do I share them with women whom I personally know and only when they share their own difficulties or fears of social ostracism.    

I had a 10-second Kiddush Rule.    I made a point of only holding extended conversations with women at the Shabbat morning Kiddush.     If greeted by a man, I spoke to him a maximum of 10 seconds alone while fully visible at the food tables.  If he was married, I animatedly asked about his wife and sent along my regards as audibly as was practicable without being obnoxious.   

As a single woman, I always attempted to maintain a pleasant appearance because it was my married friends who introduced me to my now husband who continues to be the love of my life.   

At the conclusion of the night-time meals, either the couple would walk me home or the husband with at least two of their children would accompany me.    

I made a conscious effort never to bear myself in a way that anyone – male or female – might interpret as flirtatious or unduly familiar in the presence of a man whom I encountered in shul or my friends’homes.  

To this day, I remain grateful to my friends who included me at their Shabbat and holiday tables and who did not make me feel like I didn’t belong with the adults in the room because I no longer was attached.