In essence, there are four basic ways to make plans for Shabbat and Yom Tov:
- You could do it yourself – prepare the food, prepare the accommodations, build a sukkah, kasher your kitchen for Pesach, etc.
- You could have someone do it for you – be a guest for a meal or overnight, visit relatives, use a community sukkah, etc.
- You could pay for it – buy takeout, pay for a community dinner, book a hotel room, go on a Pesach resort vacation, etc.
- You could lower your expectations – this could be expectations of decor, eg. paper plates and basic menu, or it could be forgoing minchagim, chumrah, or even outright cutting halachic corners, depending on your circumstances and level of religiousity.
These options aren’t mutually exclusive and many people will do some combination, even within the same Shabbat or Yom Tov. You might cook one dish from scratch (1) and buy another dish already prepared (3). You might host guests at your home one meal (1), and be a guest at another meal (2). You might host (1) a potluck meal (2), so your guests bring food that they cooked (1) or bought (3) to you. If you choose to stay at your relatives (2) and your relatives are lousy cooks and/or less religious than you and unable to accommodate your level of observance, you will probably need to lower your standards/expectations (4) or stay at a hotel (3). Or stay home and not visit them (1).
When I first started romanticizing Orthodoxy, I had this idea that becoming Orthodox would not only make me a better person on a spiritual level, but also a better person on an adult functionality level. Planning around Shabbat, meal prepping kosher meals instead of buying whatever – all of this would make me better at organization and time management. I pictured myself becoming queen of running a Jewish household, hosting awesome themed Shabbat meals for massive numbers of people, while excelling at everything else on my schedule, because somehow, the decision to wear longer sleeves and cover my cleavage would correlate to incredible time-management and hostess abilities (i*)
*This would be Option #1 per the list above, but I’m putting i instead to show that it was imaginary, magical thinking, like an imaginary number.
It turns out that if you are bad at time management and then become Orthodox, you remain bad at time management. You just have more things to cram into your schedule and then fail spectacularly at, and then you get to feel not only the failure for being hopeless at adulting, but also religious guilt.
I wound up marrying a guy who was almost as hopeless at organization and household management, and even more hopeless at time management, than I was.
I did manage to host a limited number of Shabbat and Yom Tov meals (in all honesty, I don’t even really like hosting, unless it is under extremely specific circumstances with a highly curated guest list). Mostly, for Shabbat and Yom Tov, we were either at home by ourselves (1), or managed to be really cool guests at other people’s houses and exploit our families’ goodwill (2).
Now it is nearly Sukkot. Our Own Ineptness + Non-Ideal Housing Situation That We Are 100% Responsible For = We will not and cannot have a Sukkah. COVID-19 has largely removed being a guest and/or visiting relatives (2) from consideration. The options now are to spend lots of money and driving time to go on a Sukkot retreat in City I Don’t Live In, which aside from the expense, does not really work out well from a scheduling perspective (3). Or we could lower expectations, stay home, and not have a sukkah (4), which is the clear path of least resistance.
Honestly, Sukkot is not one of my favorite holidays, not even close. But the idea of no sukkah feels weirdly sad to me.