I'm thankful to all of my guest posters who are keeping this blog active while I deal with some other things and catch up on some work. Thanks Mom in Israel! Post follows:
Guest post for Orthonomics on Seminary Girls
Many thanks to my blog-friend and now real-life friend 'Sephardi Lady' for inviting me to post.
The scene: Monday evening in the dormitory hallway. Girls crowd around the public phones, trying to organize a place for Shabbat. I finger my asimonim and my address book, searching for someone I haven't been to in a while. People know that girls need places and are always inviting them for Shabbat, but I am shy. Also, my mother taught me that it wasn't polite to invite yourself to someone's house, so I don't call people that I felt weren't sincere. The people I reach sound disappointed when they say, "This week isn't good for us, but you can call back in a couple of days if you're really stuck." A couple of days is too late; I have to sign up my Shabbat location by Wednesday morning. And who wants to go to someone on an inconvenient week?
The school doesn't leave us completely at loose ends, and maintains lists of families that have offered to host students. You can also stay in the dorms and be invited within the neighborhood, or cook for yourselves in your apartment's kitchen. The catch is that you have to be with a friend, and my friends have more Shabbat invitations than they can handle. So Tuesday evening finds me knocking on my friends' doors, hoping that their hosts' generosity can be expanded to include an out-of-town hanger-on.
When Sephardi Lady mentioned that girls have been asking their parents for money for Shabbat meals [link], I sympathize with the girls. It's no fun to go away every single week, unless you are visiting close relatives. Parents who can afford to send their children to Israel should be expecting to pay for all of their daughters' meals, and not be dependent on the graciousness of near strangers.
One friend agrees to get "set up" with me for Shabbat, and we go to a kollel couple. It turns out that the hostess has "setting up" of a different kind in mind; she is looking for shidduchim for her husband's colleagues. She sees that I am not interested so she concentrates on my friend, pumping her for details whenever I go to the bathroom.
Now I'm on the other side, and I still think the system doesn't work. I live in an out-of-the-way, unglamorous place as far as overseas programs are concerned. So on the rare occasion that I am asked, I am usually glad to host. If not, I say no. But I gather that families in other locations get asked quite frequently, and may feel pressured to agree.
There are two reasons programs for girls don't provide for Shabbat. One is shul. When my college had a rare in-Shabbat, we were brought to the yeshiva next door for davening, and ushered out before we had a chance to socialize. Also, yeshivas consider Shabbat an important part of the bonding experience, while girls traditionally spend Shabbat in a family environment (and are expected to help, whether they go home or to hosts).
I met a woman recently who spent a year in a Bet Yaakov type seminary in Israel. Most of the families that the seminary sent her to welcomed her, but a few seemed more interested in the household help than in having a guest. From the moment she walked in, she was on duty to help with the children and housework. Some families did not have enough food even for themselves. Once, she was shown a bed with sheets that reeked of urine. Often the wives were overwhelmed with caring for small children and desperate for a break. The seminaries felt that this was good training for the girls and a fair exchange for meals. The woman I met added that she complained if the situation was bad, and the seminary would stop sending girls to that family.
Then there are the summer programs. One of them asked a community to host high-school-age girls for Shabbat. My friend told me that at noontime Friday, the bus dropped off two girls who were expecting lunch. Why should baalabatim, who are already hosting guests for Shabbat meals, provide Friday lunch for girls whose parents can afford to send them on a summer tour? Mimi of Israeli Kitchen describes a similar situation. Mimi told it as a humorous story, but there is a dark side as well. What if those girls hadn't been so friendly and well-mannered, or Mimi couldn't have spared the extra food? I remember being advised to eat lunch on Fridays so I wouldn't arrive at my hosts starving.
I benefited so much from the hospitality of others. As a single, I was grateful, although I didn't understand all that was involved. But at what point does it cease to be hospitality, and become taking advantage?
I don't blame the students at all. I simply believe that the girls' programs need to limit the number of free Shabbatot. And we haven't touched on the issue of holidays, and harder still, the days before and around the holidays.
I don't see the situation changing anytime soon. So unless your daughter has close friends or relatives she can use as a base, I suggest the following to parents:
- Ask the programs when and how they arrange home hospitality. Try and choose a program that does not rely on weekly hospitality .
- Teach your children how to act in the homes they are visiting. Jameel posts some guidelines.
- If your children are spending a lot of time in the home of another family, send a note to the family thanking them. Consider sending a gift as well. (In general I don't appreciate or expect gifts for hosting, but long-term is different.)
- Find out where your children are going for Shabbat, with whom, and how they know the hosts.