Happiness and the Guest List

New York City apartment living presents the challenge of limited space when it comes time for family gatherings and celebrations. While square footage might be lacking, heart space can be expanding and accommodating. For example, my uptown friends host large dinners to celebrate Jewish holidays. In addition to their own parents and children, they invite young adults who don’t have their own families with whom to celebrate. Reports of these meals are filled with joyful retellings of the lively conversations. These holiday gatherings are a fulfillment of an obligation established in this week’s Torah portion, which teaches us to expand our guest lists to increase happiness.

Who are these young adults getting invited for holiday meals at my friends' apartment? The most recent edition to their dinner table is a young man in his twenties. A classmate of a son-in-law, the guests’ mother died last year and father summarily moved to the left coast with a girlfriend. Now this young man has ancillary parents with whom to spend holidays due to my friends' largesse.

Another couple recently “adopted” was referred by Footsteps. If you aren’t familiar, Footsteps serves persons leaving an ultra-orthodox community and, generally, no longer in contact with family. Through its programs, Footsteps helps its participants engage in a new but inclusive and more diverse Jewish community. These are just a few examples of the guests who have made the gust list for a joyful meal in my friends’ apartment on the Upper East Side.

Happiness can be as simple as offering a meal to celebrate a holiday. The gathering of generations, performing rituals and welcoming guests - these are all cause for joy. Torah prescribes such celebrations. At Deuteronomy 12:12 and 18 such rejoicing is commanded, as Moses instructs the people to gather, bring offerings (a sacred barbecue), and other contributions, to be consumed before “the Lord your God in the place your God will choose with your sons and daughters and your male and female servants, and the Levite in your towns, happy before the Lord in all that you do.”

A holiday celebration, choice foods, and the company of friends and family is a prescription for happiness as our holiday celebrations are enhanced by the connectedness we foster.

Not everyone has a nurturing family for celebrations and holidays. Making dinner for Rosh Hashanah? Invite a friend or two to join you.  Not invited out? Make your own meal and invite friends. When all are welcome, happiness expands. With only five weeks to go, it is now time to extend your invitations and plan for a happier new year.

R’ Evan J. Krame