Social media finds homes for those dining alone on the holidays

Shelley Feldman, left, and Debbie Madesker-Wronzberg.

It’s not every day that you get inundated with holiday meal invitations from total strangers from across North America and beyond, but for Shelley Feldman of Toronto, that’s exactly what happened for the first night of Rosh Hashanah this year.

It all began when Feldman posted on Norene Gilletz’s popular Facebook group, “Norene’s Kitchen,” which is 9,000 members strong, saying that she was hoping to find some easy recipes to make her meal for one seem festive and traditional. Some members offered fabulous “easy peasy” recipes, as Feldman had requested, while others suggested looking for free community dinners, or joining Chabad for the holiday.

To Feldman’s complete surprise, some members began inquiring about where she lived and if she’d like to join their families for dinner. Dozens of invitations came pouring in from across Canada and the United States, and as far away as Paris and Melbourne. Members expressed how proud they were to be part of such a generous and welcoming group. Carly Greer of Toronto wrote: “It’s beautiful that Shelley received so many invitations! It’s nice to see Jewish women sticking together.”

My bubbe taught me that no one ever sits alone on a holiday.
– Debbie Madesker-Wronzberg

Feldman agreed. She was overwhelmed, but it was a wonderful feeling. “When I said I’d be by myself the first night of Rosh Hashanah and requested easy holiday recipes, I just thought of doing something that I hadn’t done before. It honestly never crossed my mind that I would get invitations to the homes of so many group members. I’m so farklempt!” she said. Feldman then had to decide which invitation, or invitations, to accept.

She thought a “Rosh Hashanah crawl” would be fun, but instead, she put every name in a box and chose randomly. The winner was Debbie Madesker-Wronzberg and her family, who live in Thornhill, Ont. When Madesker-Wronzberg heard that she was “the chosen one,” she joked, “Seriously….?! So now I must actually cook?!” The two women communicated by private message and then by phone and finally met. It was like meeting an old friend, according to Feldman. They share the same crazy sense of humour and sprinkle sarcasm liberally in their rapid-fire conversations and Jewish geography inquiries.

All joking aside, Madesker-Wronzberg explained, “My bubbe taught me that no one ever sits alone on a holiday. Very simple. And my little family, when we lived 3,000 miles away, sat alone one holiday. Yes, alone together is still alone – and that was all the reminder I will ever need.”

Norene Gilletz, the founder of the group, said that, “For some, holidays are joyful, surrounded by family and friends, while for others, extremely lonely. But you’re never alone with our virtual family in Norene’s Kitchen!”

The name that Shelley Feldman pulled out of a box, in order to decide which invitation to accept for the holidays.

Members agreed, praising Gilletz for the closeness of the group and having a gift for bringing people together through food. Ella Burakowski-Cohen, a longtime member, said that, “From the first cookbook to the latest, Norene’s recipes have been bringing families together for decades, and now neighbours and strangers. Norene, you should be kvelling for what you’ve created.”

Following this incredible exchange, Gilletz reached out to see if she could find the same sort of hospitality for a member who was feeling alone in Ottawa and also had no family or invitations for the holidays. The idea led to one group member offering to compile a directory for those looking for plans and those offering to host. The only stipulation is that the hosts need to have kosher kitchen.

As for Feldman, she said she’s “going to have to go through this whole thread and note who lives where so I can keep track, and maybe do some travelling in the future.… I’d love to meet everyone behind these generous invitations. I feel like they are my family now.”