Family Matters: Home for the holidays

Everyone loves their families, but liking them is something else; see tips on creating a dynamic for a pleasant Rosh Hashana meal.

Rosh Hashana table (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Rosh Hashana table
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
It may be hard to believe, but the High Holy Days are fast approaching. Very soon it will be time to sit around the table alongside a few cherished family members and perhaps some less cherished ones.
Hosting such a holiday meal has been a complicated task for many generations now, and it doesn’t seem to get any easier.
Many hosts are spending the month of Elul, prior to the High Holy Days, creating a menu that will complement the guests’ requirements. The host will also be creating guest lists and seating arrangements and investing a few moments every day in a heartfelt prayer to God for an amazing dinner.
So, when hosting a holiday meal: What are the secrets to turn it into an amazing one?
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Know your enemies
It’s important to be up-to-date with the latest quarrels in the family. Make sure not to sit two guests that aren’t speaking to each other side by side at the table.
The awkward silence or constant bickering between those two is probably something the rest of the guests would rather avoid. Even if your life mission is to bring peace between people, putting those two in a stressful environment, surrounded by their family members’ watchful eyes, might not be the best way to go about it.
Leave politics at the door
There’s always something interesting going on in local and international politics. Another interesting talking point is the intense debating and loud yelling that discussing politics can bring to an otherwise orderly dinner table. So unless you’re bringing up a political subject in order to distract the aforementioned bickering relatives, you might be better off letting the family joker tell some stories. Or better still, sing some holiday songs to include everyone.  
The party pooper
They can be found in every family: A grandmother who is hard of hearing that whispers loudly in someone’s ear about how much she dislikes the host’s cooking; or an outspoken uncle who has to say it as it is, and asks the newlywed cousin who just returned from her honeymoon when she’s planning on getting pregnant. With family members who don’t find their remarks entertaining, it might be best to use “divide and conquer” as a preferred method. That is, if hosting both nights of Rosh Hashana, invite one on the first night and the other on the second night.
It’s true that after leaving politics at the door, there aren’t so many things to discuss at the dinner table, and a party pooper is always sure to make things more interesting. At the same time, you don’t want to encourage any of your invited guests to leave before main course, because of a very rude remark, implying that she’s been enjoying her food a little bit too much lately.
Children will be children
If the thought of sitting around the holiday table for a couple of hours sounds like torture, just imagine what the kids around the table must be feeling. Being cut off from their computer and TV with little entertainment around the table, it’s just a matter of time before they start creating some “excitement” of their own.
Some hosts would just excuse the children from the dinner table. Others are more afraid of the havoc those children could create around the house, now that they are unsupervised. Other hosts may want the kids to be part of the night.
In such a case, there are a few options.Try giving them a role, such as helping with serving the food and clearing the table. You may also get them involved in the conversation, by discussing the meaning of the High Holy Days and encouraging them to share what they’ve learned in kindergarten or at school. Realistic expectations
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have realistic expectations of the evening. It may turn out to be a night no one will forget, but it’s better to be prepared for what might happen. At worst, you may be surprised… for the better. Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at [email protected].
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.