I thought I was done with huge amounts of food for a few days, but apparently not. Last night my roommate went to a family she met through her fieldwork for dinner. She had told them about me, and my name must have come up soon after she arrived at their house, so shortly after that I received a phone call – “Karen, you have to come. They’re saying it’s not good to be by yourself on Shabbat.”
So, having just finished my home-cooked dinner, I went over to this family’s house for another meal. I arrived right in time for the Friday night Kiddush, after which the table started groaning under the weight of challah, chicken with potatoes, stuffed peppers, a variety of different salads, hummus, tchina, pieces of pargiot (grilled chicken pieces, literally meaning “young chicken” [or maybe “spring chicken”??], peas, cooked chickpeas, rice, pasta, corn, and couscous.
After dinner was over, out came wine, vodka (which everyone was drinking with a Red Bull-equivalent), various kinds of nuts, and two different kinds of home-made cookies. A little later our host’s wife brought out various sliced fruits, as well.
Now keep in mind that I had already eaten a full serving of my rice and lentils at home when my roommate called telling me to come over. So I tried to keep my food intake fairly light…but our host literally kept putting food on my plate. Literally -I kid you not. As in, he would take a bowl of something, and scoop some of whatever was in the bowl onto my plate. “Why aren’t you eating more?” seemed to be the refrain of the evening.
Oof. This morning consisted of a nice long run and and bowl of oatmeal to counter the effects of that much food in the last three days.
Our hosts were great people, and it was really interesting for me to meet this whole family (of Yemenite descent), talk to them, and learn a bit about their Friday night traditions, which differ quite a bit from the ones I’m familiar with. But the most prominent characteristic of the whole family was their insistence on my presence last night (and their invitation to myself and my roommate to join them for this morning’s meal).
So I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase, “It’s not good to be alone.” I heard it last night from my hosts, and I’ve heard it several times in the past few weeks – for example, from a family friend who invited me to her home for Yom Kippur, so I “won’t be alone on the holiday.” When I said to her that I might stay here in Tel Aviv, the response was, “Well, if it’s worth it for you to be by yourself…”.
I am realizing (ore perhaps re-realizing) that one of the biggest differences between Israel and the USA is the extent to which collectivity is emphasized, in the form of regular family gatherings, extended family gatherings, invitations to extended meals, etc. The notion of spending a weekend by oneself – which I am happy to do after a week of running around meeting people and conducting interviews – is almost unheard of. I’ve been pushing myself to go with the flow and accept the invitations I receive – but I have to say it is absolutely exhausting.
So it’s really, really nice to be able to spend today – Saturday – in the quiet of my own apartment, with only the food I prepare for myself. At least, that’s the case right now. Who knows what the rest of the day may bring…