All weddings can burn a hole in your pocket, but for Orthodox couples, the celebration doesn’t end the morning after. For seven straight days after a traditional Jewish marriage, each night is another joyous, and often costly, get-together. Relatives and close friends of the newlyweds take it upon themselves to make sure each Sheva Brachot meal is accounted for.
At their best, Sheva Brachot are an opportunity to extend festivities another week, where each dinner is followed by the same seven blessings recited at the wedding. Unfortunately, it is all too common for the gatherings to devolve into the seven hosts’ trying to best each other for lavishness. At its worst, it’s a status competition judged by who can rack up the most expensive bill.
When Eli Reiter was planning his brother and sister-in-law’s fourth outing last Tuesday, he knew the guests had already sat through several upscale eateries. So rather than spend his money on another high-priced party, he reached out to Brooklyn’s Masbia, NYC’s only kosher soup kitchen, and asked if they would be interested in hosting. “We’re socially expected to spend money on things no one cares about,” Reiter observed. “This is something that actually matters.”
Masbia loved the idea. “We’re all about enlivening the atmosphere,” executive director Alex Rapaport said. “Masbia isn’t run like a typical ‘soup kitchen.’”
It’s true. Wandering into the dining room, one could easily confuse it for a commercial restaurant. Squeaky clean floors, artful decor, and waiter service are a staple in all three locations, allowing the clientele to feel dignified. Founded as a single storefront in 2005 by Mordechai Mandelbaum, a Hasidic Brooklynite, Masbia has since expanded its network to three locations. Five hundred hot meals are served nightly from Sunday to Thursday, and residents can pick up frozen meals on Thursday night for the Sabbath, on which the kitchen is closed. Notably, the menu is improvised based on what type of donated groceries and produce arrive each morning, but the dishes always vary, even with limited ingredients (for example, sweet carrots one afternoon, salty the next).
All the money that would have been spent on a typical Sheva Brachot affair was donated to the charity. The Reiters sponsored everyone’s three-course meal, and secured a musician and photographer, who lent their services free of charge. After vegetable soup, mashed potatoes and roasted chicken were brought to the guests, with assorted fruits and hot tea available for dessert. The attire on display was a testament to how diverse a community Masbia serves: Hasidic garb blended with shorts and T-shirts.
It was clear that the regulars enjoyed the party. Over joyous music, some “customers” even joined the Reiters’ large table and dined with the bride and groom.
“I’m thrilled we did this,” Tzippy, the bride, said. She hopes the idea catches on and other young couples decide to give back to the community. “This was my favorite night of Sheva Brachot. No sacrifice was made,” the groom, Yitzchak, added. “We appreciated the patrons’ presence more than they appreciated ours.”
Elazar Abrahams is a former intern at Tablet, and will attend Yeshiva University after a gap year at Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem.