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Can I un-invite a friend to Shabbat dinner?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected].

Dear Bintel,

I am arranging a Shabbat dinner for a friend who recently experienced a Covid loss. When I was reviewing the details of the dinner a third friend came over and heard the plan. Of course we invited the third friend but that was not our original idea. I don’t want to sound petty, but we had been trying to keep it intimate to be able to hold the woman who experienced loss in a more profound way. How do I continue with the dinner plans and not hurt the friend who just by chance happened to overhear our plans?

Not Every Time and Place

Person ducks as challah is thrown at their head

Image by Liana finck

Dear Time and Place,

The return of social invitations brings back this classic conundrum. What do you do when you’re making plans with one friend, and another person is hovering nearby, clearly not included?

In this case, the invitation has already been extended. If she is a very dear friend, and you really believe her presence will detract from the goal of the meal — for example if she is not at all close with the bereaved friend — you can send her a loving note that says something like, “I loved seeing you in synagogue! This is going to sound awful, but I realized that Amy is still a little fragile in these early weeks, and we had planned a small meal as a result. The addition of more people might be rough. I should have thought of that before inviting you. Any chance we can reschedule for another week soon?”

Usually, though, it is just not worth it.

For what it’s worth, I love planning out Shabbat elaborate meals, carefully calibrating the guest list, and being intentional about seating charts. Last minute invitation requests always upset this order, but the truth is that I cannot remember a time they upset the meal.

When I worry, I often think back to a Friday night dinner I hosted a few years ago, to celebrate the end of a yearlong professional seminar I had participated in along with five other multi-faith chaplains. The six of us had spent the year deeply sharing in a weekly, 8 a.m. seminar, and this would be the first time we had gathered outside the classroom. I was really looking forward to it.

At the last minute, a close friend texted me to say she did not have plans for Friday night, and asked if she could join in my meal. This beloved friend is a vivacious individual whose enthusiasm can take over a room — fun, but I was worried it would unbalance the energy of my group. I explained we wanted an intimate meal, and she told me she could come and keep quiet, because she didn’t want to sit home alone and “eat in silence” as she dramatically put it. At that point, I invited her; it was clearly important to her, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. We all had a great time. Or, at least, I don’t have any memory of this extra guest negatively impacting the atmosphere I was trying to create. I think about this when I try to remember that it usually all works out.

The trouble is that these decisions often have to be made in the moment, with very little time for reflection or finesse. As a result, most of us do what you did; default to the most socially comfortable option — being gracious and inclusive — and then regret and resent it later on.

But we really don’t have to. For the future, you can grab the friend’s arm and warmly express how much you would love to invite them over soon, or simply gamely finish your plans. People know they can’t be included in every invitation, and the pressure to expand your meal is often in your head.

Still, this time, since the invitation has already been extended, it seems more harmful to uninvite her unless there is tension with her you haven’t mentioned. Four is still an intimate meal, though it might be worthwhile to tell your extra friend about the meal’s intention, just to make sure she arrives in the right mindset to add to the support of your bereaved friend.

My hope is that this additional friend will bring unexpected warmth to your gathering, and not upend the goal of comforting your friend.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to [email protected].


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