Dear Parents of Yeshiva and Seminary Students in Israel,
We, the citizens of Israel, are so excited that your dear children have chosen to spend time connecting with their past and planning for their future.
As we approach the first break of the yeshiva and seminary year, and your young adults spread out to hosts across the country, please review the below tips, which will help them avoid some unfortunate mistakes.
Remember, your children are your responsibility. We are happy to help, and this nation is B”H built on chessed. So, please read the tips below and discuss them with your children.
1. Ask Early, Leave Early
Supermarkets in Israel close around noon on Erev Shabbos and Yom Tov. The good sale prices are typically earlier in the week. If your child is heading to friends, family or strangers for Shabbos or Yom Tom, ask prospective hosts by Wednesday, or Thursday morning at the latest. Friday morning emergencies happen, but this should be avoided whenever possible.
Similarly, leave your yeshiva or seminary early. Busses here don’t run close to Shabbos or Yom Tov. I cannot tell you how many times I and my neighbors have received that dreaded phone call, asking us to drive an hour or more each way because our guests didn’t leave early enough. And remember, this is while trying to finish cooking and get everyone in the house ready. Nobody wants to get home in the 18 minutes and miss a shower, let alone miss Mincha and the chance to prepare Arba Minimum because a group of seminary girls couldn’t get out of bed until noon, then went out for lunch, before thinking about how to get to their host.
Similarly, don’t arrive at 2 PM expecting to go out to grab a slice of pizza. Stores here close early – those that open on Erev Shabbos or Yom Tov, that is. Your hosts won’t be surprised if you want to eat on Friday, and will likely be happy to provide a nourishing meal.
If your child doesn’t want to arrive too early because it can be awkward, ask the host what time they recommend arriving.
2. Ask Nicely
When approaching a prospective host, don’t inform them. Ask politely. Be prepared to sleep by a neighbor. Never make a demand of a host.
My neighbor got a call Thursday night from a sizable group of guys. He lives in a Yishuv, and was a 25 minute drive from a supermarket. He didn’t know any of them; they got his number from friends. He said yes, went shopping, and started cooking at 11 PM. Then, they called Friday morning to ask what hashgachos he holds by. Not cool.
3. Figure Out Dietary Needs Upfront
If your child or their countless friends coming with them have an allergy, ask your host if they can accommodate. Waiting until after candle lighting means that the host wasted their time and money on food, and won’t be able to provide for the guest. And that brings us to an unfortunately common concern…
4. Be Mindful of Chumros vs Halacha
Kashrus here is often more robust and different than in the US, Canada, or UK. Encourage your children to ask a shayla before asking their host at the dinner table what hashgacha the meat is, and then avoiding it for the rest of the meal. Similarly, asking or demanding a host to spend 4x or 5x more on a specific hashgacha that may not be available in their neighborhood may not be the best way to go. Embarrassing someone is a de’oraysa. Eating one BaDaTz over another is a chumra. I’m not your Rav, but it’s better to ask ahead than to offend. When asking, also ask your Rav what to do if the host goes to a kiddush, shalom zachor, or has guests over who bring a dish. There is nothing wrong with holding a high standard. Just be respectful.
5. Ask What You Can Bring
Some families may not have the money for soda. Bringing soda, wine or treats will be very exciting for this family. But it will be weird if the family are healthy eaters. Similarly, some families may not eat a cake without a hashgacha, even if everyone in the yeshiva buys from the lady who makes it in her house. Or candy from that store in the shuk they think is Badatz, but locals know to be problematic.
We had a chevra of yeshiva guys from one of the top yeshivas show up with a really expensive bottle of bourbon. They made it clear that they were looking forward to a party. We don’t serve hard liquor around young adults to avoid this situation.
Offer to bring your own linens (if you can). This is a normal practice in Israel. When in Rome…
6. Manners Matter
It is normal for many young people to sleep late, but not every neighborhood has a 9:30 AM or even a 9 AM Shacharis on Shabbos. Israelis tend to daven earlier, and even the modern crowd is machmir on zemanim. Ask what time davening and meals are, and participate.
You are visiting a family, not staying in a hotel.
If you are concerned about being by yourself, it’s fine to ask to bring a friend, or even ten. Just ask nicely and don’t twist anyone’s arm. Even if she is your favorite aunt.
Play with the kids, shmooze with the family, offer to help set up, serve and clean up. Participate in the activities. Don’t drink too much, and in general, if you aren’t sure about something, ask. Be a mentsch.
Don’t ask about politics or weigh in on joining the army, not joining the army, Yom Haatzmaut, hashgachos, politics, hafganos, which gedolim are right or wrong, etc. You never know who is at the table. It goes without saying that one should not fight with their host over these issues.
7. Be Mindful of Minhagim
Over Succos, you will find that Israelis typically sleep in the Succah. If you prefer to sleep inside or outside, ask your host ahead of time if this is okay by them.
Israelis generally don’t wear tefillin on chol hamoed. If this is your minhag, consult a Rav about whether this should be done in public in Eretz Yisroel.
If you intend to keep Yom Tov Sheini, first make sure your hosts are prepared to accommodate before committing to coming. This may require that they avoid Chol Hamoed activities or miss work on Isru Chag. On Pesach this gets even more complicated, as it means not turning over the kitchen for another day.
If your hosts aren’t in a Chutznik neighborhood, you will likely have to ask a shayla about how to handle davening.
Even the Torani or Bnei Yeshiva in the Dati Leumi world may dress differently, without suits in some places. Nobody will care if you show up in full chassidishe levush. Similarly, a modern orthodox yeshiva guy may find himself in Geula. People generally will not care if you are wearing a blue shirt. But as a rule of thumb, dressing up is easier then dressing down. And there is nothing wrong with being the only hat in shul.
If you are a seminary student, ask your teachers or host what kind of community you are going to and what the norms are. Wearing shorter sleeves or a denim skirt for example, could be offensive in some communities.
8. Learn From Everyone
Baruch Hashem we are zocheh to have Jews of every color, language, background and economic class. If there is one chicken being shared by a family of 8, and they give you an entire piece, enjoy it and certainly don’t refuse it or pick at it because you don’t really like chicken. Marvel at their chessed. If they are eating tomato soup with cheese on Friday night, imagine what they would be serving if they didn’t have a guest! They may be giving the guest their own bedroom!
Your children will encounter tremendous baalei chessed, who host 20, 50 or more people at every meal – often out of their own pockets. They will be invited to strangers for meals. Learn from these experiences and try to help however you can.
They will IYH meet Jews from places they never knew existed. This is the beauty of Kibbutz Galuyos! Encourage them to interact, to learn, to listen, and to experience it all. It goes without saying that if someone is a different color skin, you don’t comment on it or behave differently around them.
We look forward to hosting your children, and know that they are young adults. Mistakes and errors happen, and we are used to it. Enjoy our amazing homeland, our amazing people and don’t forget – if we all managed to make it here, maybe you can too!
A Happy Israeli Host