Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Guest Post: Seminary and Shabbat

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:
  1. Ask the programs when and how they arrange home hospitality. Try and choose a program that does not rely on weekly hospitality .
  2. Teach your children how to act in the homes they are visiting. Jameel posts some guidelines.
  3. 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.)
  4. Find out where your children are going for Shabbat, with whom, and how they know the hosts.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting and I have another thought... it can be very tiring and overwhelming to be the guest week after week- answering the same old questions, having the same old "base line" conversations, having to look your best and act your best and help set up and clean up. What if the girl just needs a break. I don't understand why the seminary can't have "in" Shabbats be the norm and "out" Shabbats be once a month or so...

Anonymous said...

How sad. And how ridiculous. I spent two great years attending seminary in the states along with college. I met some wonderful girls and learned in an unpressured atmosphere. I know that Ahavat Haaretz is important, but at what cost both emotionally and financially?

Anonymous said...

I remember going with a friend to "a friend of a friend" for a Shabbos and really being confronted with someone who lacked for money for the first time. Most hosts were very welcoming, but the constant pressure to find a place was very uncomfortable...especially for someone like me who had virtually no family at all in E"Y. (The school I went to happened to be somewhat progressive and not only was the "in Shabbos" a monthly event, but the teachers were extremely kind and invited us to their homes frequently, so it could have been worse). I had completely forgotten what this situation was like until reading this post, so thanks for the heads up.

Lion of Zion said...


i haven't heard that word in a while. you should probably define it for the young ones.

Lion of Zion said...

good post

"The seminaries felt that this was good training for the girls and a fair exchange for meals. "


"And we haven't touched on the issue of holidays, and harder still, the days before and around the holidays."

this wasn't an issue for me as we didn't have any vacation time for the holidays. but there is (was?) a nice bnei akiva program called tochnit nissan for students with no where to go during בין הזמנים

"I live in an out-of-the-way, unglamorous place as far as overseas programs are concerned."

it's so sad that so many americans students live in a bubble in jerusalem for the entire year. (and it's not even like you're that out of the way.)

in my yeshivah we were actually thrown out of the dorms for most shabbatot (the yeshivah was on a kibbutz and our rooms doubled as guest housing). without any family in israel i had to be resourceful. i stayed in many different types of communities, met wonderful people and saw the real country. some weeks i just called up a complete stranger and invited myself over.

Lion of Zion said...

just to clarify the last sentence (so it doesn't make me sound that bad), i would get the number of the mazkirut of a yishuv and explain that i was an american yeshivah student who wanted to see what it was like in their yishuv. i wrote about one experience here:

mother in israel said...

I am reading the comments with interest.

There were positives to the experience. I met a variety of Israelis and learned to speak more Hebrew than my peers.

An asimon is a phone token, which were fed into the phone at an alarming rate.

Commenter Abbi said...

Ah yes. We just had this situation last week, as MII knows already...

During my year i relied very heavily on one family in Har Nof. I appreciated them then (i went once when i was sick!!!) but now I'm truly astounded at their hospitality. The gift idea was a good one, MII and I hope my parents thought of that.

The other issue in the mix is that since we don't have Sundays here, shabbat is the only time for families to be together. Having guests is nice, but every week can have a serious impact on family time.

I agree, seminaries need to clean up their act about Shabbat.

LOZ: I did tochnit nissan. I loved it! I think at the time they also had Tocnit Tishrei, for Succot as well. For Pesach, I stayed on what was then Kibbutz Meirav (i think it's now a Yishuv shitufi). We had a great time getting everything ready for Pesach, helping out in the Peuton, working in the sunflower fields. Those were great memories.

mother in israel said...

Abbi, you remind me of something. I had heard about one couple that regularly hosted large numbers of Shabbat guests. I knew the woman slightly from NCSY. Finally, desperate, I called her, and she said that for the reason you mentioned, they decided to have guests only every other week and that this was an off week. I never called back.

nmf #7 said...

I left seminary probably more recently than most of the commentators- so I acutely know how it feels. I had no family in Israel, several friends- and felt that the whole concept of having to call up people and ask for a place to stay at was a way the seminaries invented to work on our gaa'vah.

I ended up several times at families who did not have enough food for us (I was placed there by the seminary), several times at families who did not have room for us to sleep at (we slept by neighbors), and several times I ended up alone in the dorm with another 2-3 girls.

However- on a more positive note, this year, the girls in some seminaries- I have checked- after much complaining by the parents (why doesn't the seminary provide meals if we are paying for a year's stay?) have developed more of a rotation system- in that one room must stay in every week, and all those who need places can stay- or more mandatory in-Shabbosim- so that way less families in Israel are put out by feeling the need to accept Shabbos guests.

Anonymous said...

My son was once hosted by a couple in Tzfat. He said they did not have enough food or even enough cutlery for the guests. I don't know how he ended up there but I was mortified. But, truth be known, some righteous people thrive on having Shabbat guests, no matter what their economic situation and they don't consider themselves too poor to host. People like myself can't understand that, I would be ashamed not to serve my guest bountiful meals, but these tzaddikim just see the spiritual part of hosting.

Anonymous said...

As somebody who very happily hosts seminary girls quite frequently, I'd like to add my two cents:

1) There is now a wonderful program called "Anywhere in Israel" that finds hospitality for yeshiva & seminary students in Israel. They have a vast network all over Israel, and get feedback from the students so they know what the families are like for future reference. We get called from time to time to host, and we are always very happy to do so.

2) Don't get caught up by the occasional outlandish story of a girl's miserable experiences as a guest. I think it's fair to say that this is the exception rather than the rule.

3) About the expectation of help - obviously it's a big chutzpa to demand that guests watch the kids, serve, clean up, and so on. From my experience, though, girls are very happy to help, and even when we plead with them to sit down and relax, they want to help as much as we allow them to. we have 4 young children and our guests are often very helpful even though we never ask for help and make it clear to them that they are more than welcome to relax and "hang out."

4) A little bit of a side point, but why don't yeshiva guys also help out? This should be a very important part of chinuch, showing young men how busy and complicated family life is.

Elliot said...

Our family hosts many students during their year in seminary/yeshiva. For all the complaining about the poor girls, we see it from the other side.

Most of our guests are very nice. They participate in the meals and help with the setup/cleanup. Some are clearly just shnoring. They arrive, eat, sleep, sleep some more, eat lunch, sleep and leave. Thank you for coming, but we really like to meet our guests and this is just chutzpa.

The other issue we have is that most guests come once and never come again. That's fine, but we really do enjoy making more lasting friendships. We would be happy to host people 3, 4 or even 5 times during their year. But they don't usually come even twice.

My take away is that most girls indeed find places each and every shabbat. Furthermore, they use this as an opportunity to visit different places (and have an adventure!). Trying to change this practice is probably not going to help. Its part of the culture.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Overall, we've been very happy with our guests that have come to visit -- and we're happy to host them again as return guests.

When I was in yeshiva, going to families for shabbat was never due to economics, but to learn more about Israel. Yeshiva would have been very happy for us to have stayed "in" the entire year, without leaving.

(Not that their food was so spectacular.)

MII: Thanks for the link :-)

Anonymous said...

We were expected to eat Shabbat meals with families when I was in seminary. I did that for several months, then gave up and cooked my own Shabbat in the apartment. While many families were warm and genuinely interested, some hosts felt free to interrogate guests about their families, backgrounds, and reason for becoming religious. I didn't see why I should expose my personal life to pay for a meal. Several of my room-mates felt the same.
When I got married and hosted guests myself, I found myself on the other side, as MiI pointed out. But I think the key is to stay relaxed and accept your guests as they are. During a discussion of the parsha once, a guest defended Amalek as "the underdog in the story." Well... but apart from that, he was sweet in a goofy New Age way, and we had him over again. Just didn't take his stuff seriously. On the other hand, a guest who ate silently, got up without offereing to help, and disappeared into the guest room was not invited back.
Shabbat is too precious to allow folks to spoil.

Lion of Zion said...


i don't remember tochnit tishrei, but both it and tochnit nisan were not necessary for me. my program (midrash u-maaseh) ran all the way through בין הזמנים, during which time we were on kibbutz tirat tzvi. i remember kashering the kitchen for pesach and making hundreds of gallons of chocolate spread, besides the regular kibbutz work.

for us the biggest problem wasn't shabbat or בין הזמנים, but rather finding a place to crash if we wanted to go out just for the night (public transportation was limited and hitchhiking could take hours). more than once we slept in public areas. now thoses were memories.

ProfK said...

The basic question still is "Why aren't the seminaries providing for Shabbos for their girls?" Why should the girls be in the position of having to find places to be, places that they may or may not feel welcomed in? It is not that the price of seminary is a nominal one; they charge two arms and three legs. The responsibility for providing Shabbos meals should be theirs. To constantly have to rely on the "kindness of strangers" puts many girls into situations that their parents would not tolerate at home but that they accept as the price of being in Israeli seminary. Frankly, the girls can get the "Israeli experience" being a guest only one Shabbos out of a month.

RaggedyMom said...

What a great post, MiI, on a fresh topic.

I think that the experiences I had as a guest in various homes and communities throughout Israel not only taught me a great deal about frumkeit, family life, and different places across the country, they also set the stage for my interest in hosting guests at my own eventual home. I didn't grow up in a home with regular guests, and seeing that in sem gave me an appreciation, both of the families and for the hachnasat orchim experience.

Sure, some Shabbos experiences were better than others (I can remember a couple of really awkward experiences with family fighting and tension, but that's life too, I suppose). Overall, though, I felt like my hosts usually didn't have expectations that I would entertain them with my life story, or take over with kitchen and childcare responsibilities beyond the reasonable realm.

On Thursday nights, as our "Chesed night," my roommate and I would go to the home of a former high school teacher who had made aliyah, and help with the preparations. We'd fold the family's laundry (2 sets of twins! among other kids) while we ran our own laundry in their machines. Some of those conversations over peeling potatoes with my former teacher were far more relevant and left a greater impact than some of my classes did.

Abbi, I did Tochnit Nissan too - it was great! Definitely one of the highlights of the year. We were on Kibbutz Shluchot. I remember going fishing in the ponds nearby on Chol Hamoed, using matzah balls as bait, bamboo as rods, and I actually caught a few fish!

Quasi-related: I do think that it would be good for seminaries with girls from modern orthodox high school backgrounds to diversify their Shabbos host lists (and their staff) so that the girls see that there are lots of ways to be frum in Israel.

Commenter Abbi said...

LOZ: Yes, I had a lot of friends on M&M. I spent many shabbatot at kibbutz. It was a very convenient Shabbat destination!

Anonymous said...

Is girl's seminary cheaper than guy's yeshiva? Why do the guy's have meals but the girl's don't?

Lion of Zion said...


real reason: because the guys will starve to death before they make their own food

excuse: it is bitul torah

Anonymous said...

The experiences in Israeli homes could be used as an object lesson that unlike Americans, Israelis live with fewer conveniences and comforts.
I can also understand (being a veteran parent of 2 kids who learned in Israel) why parents are not thrilled to pay so much for seminary and then having their kids scrounging for meals.

Anonymous said...

My son is in an overseas program in a Yeshivat Hesder which has every third shabbat off. Typically, he is invited to the homes of Israeli students which is an advantage of an overseas program in an Israeli yeshiva. In his case, Shabbat is not much of an issue, but the holidays were tough -- particularly since the Israeli friends were observing one day while he was keeping two. He claims it was fine, but I have to say it certainly cast a cloud over my own chag. (BTW, his Yeshiva is in Petach Tikvah which doesn't strike him as that out of the way, particularly since he compared it to another program on a kibbutz up north that he was considering. I guess it is just what perspective you are coming from.)

Anonymous said...

LOZ - excuse: it is bitul torah

Just an excuse, but really BS. Preparing food for oneself is *not* bitul torah. And besides, they do plenty of bitul torah other ways throughout the day, taking out an hour or so each day (or taking turns) to prepare food is a good exercise for them. That brings up a very sweet memory for me - when I was in 6'th grade at Moriah school in Haifa, every day three or four kids would leave class and help the cook prepare lunch in the kitchen. I used to love when it was my turn every few weeks. Too bad I only attended 6'th grade there and the rest in the USA.

I never attended Yeshiva full-time in Israel, instead I worked (really worked, not like the typical American "volunteer" ... i.e. complainer) on various kibbutzim over the years, and attended a few classes at Bar Ilan one year. The work on the kibbutzim was wonderful and character building for me, believe me, waking up every morning at 3:30am to work is not easy, and I am so thankful now that I get to arrive at work at a normal time (8:30-9:00am) and get to sit at a desk behind a computer or in a conference room everyday. Working in the fields is tough, working in the barn is tough, working in the chicken coops is tough (and smelly :-). Working in an office has been easy.

I also think I learned a lot more about the real Eretz Yisrael than sitting in a Yeshiva. While I lived in Yerushalaim, my brother (11 years younger than I am) attended Yeshivat HaKotel and I would often walk over on shabbat for vatikin and to listen to Reb Nebenzahl, and while the yeshivah life is very good for some of the kids, it is very destructive for some others, and mostly indifferent for the majority. I do think a year in Israel is very valuable, but I do not think that year ought to be in Yeshivah (or Seminary) for everyone.

flo - his Yeshiva is in Petach Tikvah which doesn't strike him as that out of the way

Petach Tikvah really isn't out of the way, in fact, it is one of the most convenient locations in Israel to get to most big cities. My sister-in-law (who is visiting here in Florida right now) lives in Shaariya right near Tzomet Sirkin, and from that tzomet, you can catch a bus to almost anywhere (to Yerushalaim, to Haifa, and most places in between). My wife and I lived in Petach Tikvah right after we were married for about a year.


Commenter Abbi said...

All of this debate about PT is cracking me up on this post!

Zach Kessin said...

Does it strike anyone else as odd that girls who come from families who are well off enough to send them to Israel for a year are going to families who are having trouble putting food on the table and expecting to be feed etc?

It seems that the Sem is putting some people in very odd positions

mother in israel said...

I live in Petach Tikva. It is fairly convenient to get to. But people from Jerusalem do not like to leave Jerusalem, and there are few direct buses. People who know us do travel to us, just not strangers. Flo, give your son my email or email me for the phone number--we live within walking distance from the yeshiva.

Commenter Abbi said...

zach- the issue is that many seminaries don't even allow the girls to stay in on an "out" shabbat.

So yes, i blame the seminaries for foisting well off girls on families who might not have the means to host.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I hate to defend anything charedi-sounding but I will defend the bitul Torah excuse anyway... I hated leaving yeshiva for Shabbos - it involved making too many phone calls, too much travel (my yeshiva was not in Jerusalem), too many uncomfortable situations. Sorry, I went to yeshiva to learn and I just wanted to be left alone... (and when my parents came to visit I saw them on the Tues. evening they arrived and after eating at some restaurant they said we'll see you on Shabbos - they also understood why I went to yeshiva).

Anonymous said...


More appropos to the prior posts but very relevant:


Anonymous said...

RaggedyMom said:
"I do think that it would be good for seminaries with girls from modern orthodox high school backgrounds to diversify their Shabbos host lists (and their staff) so that the girls see that there are lots of ways to be frum in Israel."

Wouldn't this also be good for seminaries with girls from more yeshivish high school backgrounds?

Lion of Zion said...


i was thinking the same thing

RaggedyMom said...

Tamar - Of course that is true. But it is perhaps more congruous when a yeshivish girl's sem has only chareidi teachers and shabbos hosts than when a girl's sem for girls from MO backgrounds has only chareidi teachers and shabbos hosts.

The yeshivish background girl will identify more with her teachers and hosts, as she probably expected to grow up and be like them. Whereas a lot of the girls I knew with MO backgrounds found that the sem environment called their upbringing into question, perhaps unnecessarily.

This is a total digression from the topic, though, and I apologize!

Anonymous said...

I don't know of any seminaries for girls with more MO backgrounds that have only chareidi teachers and shabbat hosts. Yes, the girls' upbringing might be cast in a different light once the students are made to delve more deeply into the study of halacha, but that is by no means a function of a chareidi monopoly in any faculty. "Modern orthodoxy" in Israel is often incongruous with "modern orthodoxy" in America, and this is reflected in the halachic education that many girls in "MO" seminaries receive from "MO" faculty members.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mom In Israel -- I will give my son (Eric) your email. I appreciate it!