I’ve written this type of article a few times over the years, usually after the yamim tovim. So, I kind of expected to receive emails on this topic. The topic: those who are careless with their words with single during the Holidays. I will publish this article because those who wrote in need to be heard, but I am writing my own disclaimer: I don’t think people intend to purposefully hurt others. Because we are a society that communicates through words and emotions, both of which are subjective, there are bound to be instances where people misunderstand each other or don’t say exactly what they mean, or we end up playing broken telephone.
I can only write that which I know to be true. I grew up living in an apartment. I have many memories of my parents and grandparents packing up food in silver tins to carry to the local shul sukkah, or being invited to a someone’s home to be a guest in their sukkah. I also spent time being single and experiencing many years of yamim tovim passing, waiting for my bashert. What I’m saying is, I can relate to the email writers. But as a social worker, I can also understand how words can be misunderstood or misrepresented.
That being said, I am going to publish excerpts from emails I received during and after the yamim tovim. A few of them are from hurt singles: hurt because of how they were made to feel by others. Again, I don’t think that any of the speakers intended to hurt anyone, and if they knew the pain their words caused, they would apologize. I will also publish excerpts from singles who were made to feel special and included by others. I try to be fair and balanced.
As I always say, words can hurt, and everyone has his or her own interpretation of them. The message you intended may get muddled up in the delivery. So as the title says, it’s all in the delivery.
First excerpt: “My friend and I were invited for a meal to the sukkah. Everything was set up so nicely and the food was great, but the host gave a little speech during the meal that made me feel horrible. He said something to the effect of: He and his family were happy to invite all of those who don’t have a sukkah of their own, either because they aren’t married or don’t own their own home. Why couldn’t he just say that he and his family were happy to host everyone and end it? I know I’m single and I can’t afford a house in order to build a sukkah for myself, but it made him sound like a one percenter helping out the little unfortunate people in the world.”
To this person, I responded: Your host was trying to welcome everyone and was expressing the joy it gave him to do so. I don’t think he was pointing out all the reasons why his guests were invited, and you happen to fit the criteria. Sometimes people can be extra-sensitive about certain subjects, and this may be one for you. There may have been other guests present who may have been married but live in an apartment without a sukkah. Was your friend offended? Did you speak about this with him afterwards? There is too much of unknown information in your experience that you didn’t include in your email. I’m sorry that his words hit you so hard and made you feel less than whole. But you may be reading too much into his words.
Second excerpt: “I’m at a loss for words. I felt sucker-punched. Everyone was singing z’miros and one flowed into another. I thought one was done. I began one that I love in a nigun that I love. My host cleared his throat and started singing it in a different nigun, so I went along. Later, as I was leaving, he pulled me over to the side, away from others, and said that my nigun wasn’t a favorite of his, which is why he switched, but as a guest I shouldn’t try to take control. He actually said, “When you have your own family, you can do things your way.”
To this person I responded: I can’t believe the host actually said that to you all because of a z’miros tune. I’m in disbelief. But I’ll take your word for it. As someone who has been the guest of many, and has hosted many at my Shabbos table, there is not one right way to host. I have seen hosts ask guests to choose one of their favorite z’miros to sing in order to make them feel comfortable. Others ask for a d’var Torah. All I can think of is that he wanted to lead the z’miros in his own home where he felt that he is the leader, the chazan. I’ve been at plenty of Shabbos/Yom Tov tables where someone thinks he is the next Pavarotti, and doesn’t want to share the spotlight (even if he sounds more like a sick dog instead of Pavarotti). Did the host have one too many l’chayims? The only thing I can say is that the man at least had some seichel by taking you away from others before he said that, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed. I’d love to say that he didn’t really mean that because you don’t have a family and you weren’t the host, he didn’t want you hijacking his meal or z’miros. I’m not really sure what he was trying to say. His delivery and message are lost on me. But no one should make you feel as if you don’t deserve something because you aren’t married.
Third Excerpt: “They’ve been like a second family to me for years. I was taken aback when I was asked when they will be able to be a guest in my sukkah. I wasn’t expecting that. I’ve been like a ben bayis in that house. I’m friends with all the kids and even cousins. I never overstay; I always bring a small gift. It felt like I was being nudged to get on with it and get married, like it has been my choice to be single all this time.”
My response: You are entitled to your feelings, but you may be sensitive when it comes to this subject. I don’t think that whoever made that comment was thinking, “This guy is taking so long being single. He’s always here for Shabbos and Yom Tov. He owes us. We expect reciprocation once he’s married.” I interpret what was said as a brachah: Im yirtzeh Hashem, when you are married, you will have the opportunity to invite guests to your table. Think about it; if you are a ben bayis and they always made you feel welcomed, why would they change their tune now? It has nothing to do with overstaying your welcome or bringing a gift. It was their way of saying that, im yirtzeh Hashem, they should be zocheh to have a meal in your house when you are the baal ha’bayis.
Some singles are very sensitive about their singlehood, especially around the chagim. Frum Jews are very family-oriented. Inviting over family and friends for meals or for entire Shabbasos is common. While house hunting, I ask about a formal dining room and a renovated kitchen. I hope I would need the space for all the guests we will be inviting over and the s’udos that we’ll be preparing. Some singles organize their own s’udos for themselves and other singles, if they can’t go home or have no one to go to. No one wants to come home from shul and eat at a table set for one. I can empathize with these three people (and the others who wrote in) but I don’t think anyone wanted to offend anybody. But I am sorry you felt that way.
On the other side of the spectrum, I had singles write to me about how wonderful their yamim tovim were, whether they were invited out or organized a meal for themselves and others.
One excerpt of such an email: “I couldn’t help but think that the people sitting around the table were my family. We weren’t tied together by paper or blood, but by choice. They think enough of me, and I for them, to include me in their plans as if I was one of their own.”
Second excerpt: “So I went with my friend and I’m so happy that I did. The family was warm and welcoming. I found I had a lot in common with the wife. Because of our schedules, I don’t get together with this friend often, but hopefully the next time I spend a Shabbos with her, we’ll share another meal with this family. There are families that I feel comfortable going to for meals, but it was such a natural connection to this family.”
I’m not saying anyone is wrong or right here. But I think everyone can try to improve on words they choose to say, and also in what way they choose to interpret what is said to them. Yes, being single is hard and some say it gets harder with each passing year. But think about it: If you are an invited guest, the host probably didn’t invite you because he needed a punching bag. He may not know how sensitive you are, or it may be as simple as he had one too many l’chayims (as I mentioned above) and the words came out wrong.
Hatzlachah to you all.