Were you to play a game of word association, Pesach would immediately be connected with “cleaning “and “company” (and possibly, potatoes.) Pesach is the one holiday that magnet-like, pulls families together.
The beauty of Yom Tov is that members of an extended mishpacha, who rarely connect face to face due to geography, are motivated to reunite, and new generations are given a golden opportunity to get acquainted and reacquainted and build bonds and memories that will enhance and solidify their sense of kinship.
In order for this emotional attachment to happen, everyone – both guests and hosts – need to create a safe, comfortable and harmonious environment that will sustain the simcha of being together under one roof.
I’ll start with “safe.”
One might think that when it comes to child safety, the more adults physically in the home the better; that in a house full of parents, someone has an eye on each kid no matter where they are.
Unfortunately, those who think this way are sadly suffused with a false sense of security. Grown-ups in a group are often distracted. Adult siblings may be schmoozing, working in the kitchen, learning, nodding off, playing with some of the kids or be otherwise pre-occupied and not fully paying attention.
In the meantime, adventurous little Yanki has slipped away, no longer interested in his cousins’ chess game and has pushed open a sliding door (that an older kid unbeknownst to the adults, had unlocked earlier). Baby Malki has successfully pulled herself up the steps – but isn’t physically able to safely descend; and Yossi and Devori have toddled into Bubbie’s bedroom – and are eyeing the delicious looking candy in the pill box on the night table – all under the nose of a dozen grown-ups.
Sadly we have heard horrific stories of children who wandered off unnoticed despite being surrounded by family, with tragic results. Parents must be very vigilant and know where their children are at all times – even if there are other adults around. Hefkeirus is not an option.
Those hosting guests with toddlers and small children, or conversely, those being visited by elderly guests should baby-proof and/or elder-proof their homes. This includes putting tight plugs in electric outlets; installing safety locks on windows and cabinet doors – especially in bathrooms and the laundry room; and setting up safety gates by staircases.
Hosts should tie up curtain cords or window shade strings, remove dangling computer and cell phone chargers from floor level outlets (or anything else a person can trip on), anchor or remove slippery floor rugs and install a safety bar and slip-proof mats in the shower/bathtub.
One should not be stingy when it comes to using electricity: Keep the lights on over Shabbat/Yom Tov in the hallways and guest bathroom. In the long run, it may be the best cost-effective action you ever took.
If possible, learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on both children and adults as well as CPR. (I personally know of a young chossen who almost choked on a chunk of potent horseradish root he swallowed at his in-laws’ Seder. He was used to eating romaine lettuce.)
In addition, local emergency or Hatzollah phone numbers should be visible wherever there is a phone.
Often someone is coming with a new family member – a chosson/kallah or baby. It’s a good idea for both host and guest to ask if anyone has food allergies or intolerance to certain items, such as scents or perfumes. (Personally, I find that linens laundered with scented detergents or dried with a fabric softener sheet make my skin itchy and my sinuses go into overdrive. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I read a shul’s newsletter requesting that attendees not put on perfume or cologne because of a member’s severe sensitivity.)
Safety measures are important – but so is comfort. Hosts should ensure that the bathroom being used by the guests have a FULL liquid soap dispenser (it’s amazing how fast the soap can get used up). There should also be a FULL box of tissue for Shabbat/Yom Tov use. Again, the balabusta would do well to not underestimate how quickly these very necessary items get used up – especially if there are small children using the facilities. In addition, a can of air freshener is always an appreciated item, as is a bottle of hand moisturizer and a container of wipes (both baby wipes and disinfecting wipes)
A wastebasket lined with a pullout plastic bag is a necessity rather than a convenience. One can throw soiled diapers and personal hygiene products into the bag without worrying about leakage or exposure. The bag can then discreetly be deposited into the outside garbage cans.
It’s incumbent on guests to toss away their garbage when they leave. Often your host might not get to a third floor or basement guestroom for several days, and may not appreciate the pungent stench emanating from a garbage full of old diapers and used tissues left behind.
Which brings us to a big sore point when families get together, one which can negatively impact the shalom bayis and family unity that is the whole point of the gathering: not being a contributing member in making the holiday happen.
Going for Yom Tov /Shabbat to your parents/in-laws, your siblings or to your children should NOT be equated with going to a hotel, where everything is done for you. There, all food preparations, food service and clean up are automatic and not your concern – but that’s not the case in your host’s home. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in feeding (non-stop it seems) hungry hordes of adults and children, and then cleaning up. Every able-bodied person should pitch in and contribute to the effort. Even children should be encouraged to help. It is good chinuch for them and will make them feel important.
As fatigued as you may be from your daily hectic lives, as much as you crave time off from your responsibilities – your host’s home is not a vacation spot. Nor are your hosts less tired than you – they may in fact be beyond exhausted just from the tumult of having company. It is grossly unfair to ACT like a guest – and dump your chores and tasks on them or other guests.
Likewise, guests should not be treated as servants, especially if there is a glaring discrepancy in the amount of work demanded from them in comparison to what other family members are asked to do. There is a potential for tremendous resentment, offense, umbrage, even bitterness if either host or guest feels taken advantage of or unfairly treated. Instead of the Yom Tov unifying the family and strengthening its ties – it may irrevocably unravel them.
Yom Tov literally means “a good day.” It can and should be one for everybody – hosts and guests alike. With foresight, consideration, thoughtfulness, prudence, respect and concern – it will be.
Have a joyous and peaceful Pesach.