The following article by Sam Orbaum originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post and has been much republished and redistributed since. And for good reason - amazingly, his story is true. Anyone who has had the good fortune of getting to know the Machlises and the kinds of things that they do on a daily basis, realizes that the only major mistruth in Orbaum's article is its severe understatement. But, I would excuse him that. No serious nonfiction writer could possibly put the entire Machlis story to paper without risking the loss of all credibility with his audience. Their love, devotion, selflessness and 24/7 charity doings sound far too fairy tale-esque and unbelievable for people to believe without experiencing it for themselves ~ an experience, might I add, you will most certainly enjoy.

For the Love of Judaism

by Sam Orbaum

Mythological tales are told of saintly Jews abounding in humility, knowledge and wisdom, wondrous people just as close to God as to humanity.

I found one. And he's no myth.

I can be forgiven for having harbored cynical doubts after hearing about Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, and before meeting him. Here in Rabbiland, there are many with many fine attributes, a few with none, and perhaps fewer who are so lofty that -- in Jerusalem's religion industry -- they are failures.

Rabbi Machlis -- "Please," he would say, "Call me Mordechai" -- is a failure because he does not play the game. He is not loud enough about how quiet he is, he shuns the politics of power, prestige and influence, he doesn't understand the fashionability of false modesty, of cult of personality, of mystic stature-building. Doesn't hobnob or hustle, publicize or promote.

All he does, for heaven's sake, is do good. (And he'd really prefer I didn't write about it, but I declined to ask his permission.)

As Shabbat approaches, his household is busy preparing. It's a large family, so there's a lot to do, but they like having guests, so there's always a bit of extra work and added expense.

Not three or four guests.

A hundred. Maybe 150.

That's how it is every week in the Machlis household in Ma'alot Dafna, that's how it's always been -- for the past 18 years.

Why? Well, his wife is a great cook, and Shabbat is a beautiful experience, and they love people, so why not?

On second thought, the greater mitzva-macher is his wife, Henny. A semitrailer-load of splendid food goes through her small kitchen -- for Friday dinner AND Shabbat lunch. And they don't just serve a spoonful of this, a shtikl that: from the 18 chickens she cooks, to the three different kugels and array of salads, to the choice of four desserts (not to mention the gefilte fish, chicken soup, cholent, and even vegetarian alternatives), you can fress, take seconds, and go home heartily content.

Never mind that the family is (so I'm told) deeply in debt, that they pay for everything themselves, that they wouldn't think of scrounging for donations or institutional funding. Never mind that they are not salting away a nest-egg for their 12 children. They have this crazy notion that bounty should be shared, never mind if you can afford it.

Mordechai and Henny feed the thronging masses not just food, but morsels of learning, servings of hospitality, and great vatfuls of love of Judaism. They're not agenda-driven missionaries ramming religion down your throat -- because they're not collecting souls, they're nourishing them.

You eat, you listen to what Mordechai -- and Henny -- have to say about Torah wisdom and morality, and perhaps you'll stand up and contribute your thoughts, as many do. You sing or just listen; utter the prayers, or not; eat and leave, or stay and talk: even after the family has gone to bed, the door swings open and more people come in -- as late as midnight -- to nosh or shmooze. (Why they bother to have a door I don't know.)

It's one of the most enthralling Jewish experiences I've ever had in this city, where Judaism can be warped into such ugliness.

BEYOND THE food, and the food for thought, this is a remarkable encounter with people.

It can get unruly, vehement, or emotional to the point of tears. When the ingathering gets a chance to be heard, they don't always heed the rabbi's plea for sensitive, respectful political correctness. Hot, roiling debate might take hold.

But just as likely, someone might describe how they discovered their Jewish roots, beg forgiveness for anti-Semitism, or recall with reverence how the Machlis family changed their lives, and everyone will be quietly sobbing.

What startled me most was that close to half the assembled were gentiles seeking an intense Jewish experience. Mordechai and Henny are Americans in their mid-40s, and the proceedings are in English, but the Judaism is neither watered down for the most ignorant guest, nor pedantic and enigmatic for the most knowledgeable.

Indeed, there were a number of haredim and modern Orthodox present, mixed in with an amazing assortment of newly-religious, newly-Jewish or soon-to-be, elderly Sephardim, families and singles, neighbors, self-styled disciples of the rabbi, a few oddballs and kooks, the poor, the lonely, people under one influence or another. And of course, the Machlis children, a dozen beautiful youngsters aged one to 19.

Having grown up in such a pulsating environment, they are like the flower children of a '60s commune. "We don't need MTV," one of them chirped, "We have Shabbes."

There was a young man from Slovakia who had arrived on aliya five days earlier. A leggy, underdressed beauty from California, here with her husband on their honeymoon. A group of young South African Christians, one of whom had to go out for air because he was overcome by emotional tumult. A Christian Australian family, a day after arriving on their first visit. A middle-aged Florida tourist who spoke earnestly of Jesus, challenging Mordechai to respond wisely. And four young men who looked very much like soccer louts, German Christians profoundly self-conscious to be there, but -- encouraged by Mordechai's effusive warmth and sincere respect -- courageous enough to stand and state their feelings.

One of the Germans, Manfred, almost apologetic for his presence, needed us to understand that his name means "man of peace." Another of them asked me, wide-eyed and whispering, if this is how all Jewish homes are. I could barely answer for the lump in my throat.

People speak, awed, of the Machlis sense of charity and kindness. Stories are told...

When Mordechai walks home from the Kotel, he greets Arab shopkeepers with a friendly "Shabbat Shalom."

A homeless man sleeps in their van, and they never know who they might find on their couch in the morning.

The poor and hungry know they can walk in anytime and fill their pockets from the Machlis pantry.

A sorry old drunk was invited to the eldest Machlis daughter's wedding, and was honored by getting to dance with the bride's father.

Does it ever get to be a bit much? Doesn't this family sometimes crave a quiet, intimate Shabbat without intruders, just the 14 of them?

"Sure," said one of the girls, a 16-year-old identical twin. "We go away once every few months, just the family."

I was relieved to hear that.

"But," she added quickly, "We worry that some people won't have a Shabbat meal, so we leave food outside."

And that's the way it was... and is (except that the Rav and Rebbetzin now have 14 kids) ~ stop by the Machlis residence at any time and you're bound to see them feeding the hungry of body, mind or soul. On literally a daily basis Rav Mordechai and Henny dispense free food, monetary assistance, advice, encouragement, scholastic knowledge and help of all sorts to the many and varied groups of people who make their way to the Machlis's humble abode. To call their home an inspiration is quite the understatement, it is in fact Jerusalem's greatest soup kitchen, hospitality center, yeshiva, counseling hub and social center, all wrapped into one.

AND SO the purpose of this website
is threefold --

FIRST of all ~ on your next trip to Israel you Do Not want to miss out on the wonderful opportunity of meeting the Machlises, seeing what they do, participating in at least one of their Shabbatathons or other special events. These are truly interactive events where everyone has the opportunity to share whatever they would personally like to impart to the rest of the assembled. It is a Fabulous experience and should be a necessary mainstay on every tourist's itinerary. Now, Rav Mordechai and Henny don't know that I'm putting this website up, but no doubt they would love to personally invite you to their home for a Shabbat meal or otherwise.

Their address is: 137 Maalot Dafna # 26
Jerusalem 97762, Israel

Note: You may wish to call in advance of the Sabbath or holiday to make sure it isn't one of the few days that they get away with the family. Their telephone number is 02-581-3910 > From outside Israel dial your country's exit code followed by 972-2-581-3910}

SECOND of all, the purpose of this website is to start connecting the many thousands of people the world over who have experienced the Machlis's home and would like a venue to share their experiences. Of the many thousands who have enjoyed the experience, the majority of us unfortunately do not live in the State of Israel but would love to hold on to the inspiration and to learn of the latest goings-on and teachings coming from that corner of Jerusalem. And so(!), should you be so inclined, feel free to drop me a line at
telling of your experience at the Machlises, your teachings, others' teachings, the Rav's teaching or whatever suits your fancy. And, providing you give your permission, I will post your note to this blog. Please also be sure to let me know whether you're okay with my including your name and/or email address along with your note.

AND FINALY (and truth be told, this inspired my initial interest in putting up this blog) it breaks my heart to know that Rav Mordechai and Rebbetzin Henny could do so so much more if they could only afford to do so. For years and years they personally sustained their soup kitchen, hospitality center and the rest of their 24/7 chessed-a-thon all by themselves. Naturally however, millions of dollars doesn't grow on trees, and I happen to know (though again, they don't know that I'm putting up this site) that it's getting increasingly hard for them to continue to do what's all too necessary for thousands of Jerusalemites, tens of thousands of tourists and the world - and God - besides.

And so I figured that I would offer you the opportunity to buy in to the amazing works of the Machlises by helping to support all of the beautiful things that they do. ~ Hence the paypal logo.


Blogger m said...

Hmmm. Well, either it's my fault or Blogger's - I'm gonna blame Blogger.

It seems that somehow the comments that Were here, are no longer here. However!- I have managed to salvage the first comment (thankfully still stored in the Google SuperIndex) and remember the general content of the second (hey, I'm doin' the best I can) ~ and so:

We received a note here from Shoshana (

I think this is a great reason for a blog! I was once fortunate enough to eat a meal at the Machlis' and it was a very moving, touching experience. (Hopefully I will write about it soon, having been inspired by this blog.) Much Hatzlacha to you on this wonderful beginning!

6:36 AM

along with another note from anonymous (who seems to comment often and everywhere) regarding a few articles on the Machlis family available online. And in a moment I will hunt those articles down and bring them to you.

As well ~ for anyone concerned about this blog being up without the Machlis's permission ~ I spoke with the Rav on Friday and received his unenthusiastic permission (he hates the praises and considers them undeserved) to keep the blog up. Though he feels the praise undeserved (though of course it's Quite deserved) he knows that he can't continue to keep doing all that he's doing without any financial assistance from others and so he succumbed to let me do some schnorring.

In any event, I shall now set out to hunt down those articles referred to in Blogger's happier days and return to you shortly... }And if you know of any others, share 'em!

6:13 AM  
Blogger m said...


A Taste of Heaven

by Sara Yoheved Rigler

One Shabbat a young American student from the Hebrew University was among the 100 guests who crowded into the modest Jerusalem apartment of Rabbi Mordechai and Henny Machlis. This student, wearing a nose ring and an eyebrow ring, was determined to undermine every word of Torah Rabbi Machlis tried to share with his guests. Every time Rabbi Machlis spoke, the student would yell out, "That's stupid!" or "That's archaic!" or he would laugh out loud.

The seemingly infinite patience of Rabbi Machlis almost gave out. He sat down and said to his wife, "That's it. He's just too disruptive."

Henny encouraged her husband. "Ignore what he says. Don't speak to him; speak to his neshama [soul]."

Mordechai somehow continued. At the end of the meal, the obnoxious student left. As he walked out the door, seven-year-old Moshe, one of the Machlises' thirteen children, asked him, "Why do you have that dumb thing in your nose?"

The student retorted, "Why do you have that dumb thing on your head?"

Moshe answered: "Because I always have to know that there's something above me and higher than me and better than me. Now why do you have that dumb thing in your nose?"

The student returned to his dorm room and wrote in his diary: "Just imagine-that little kid knows why he's wearing a kipa, but I have no idea why I'm wearing a nose ring."

Three days later he returned to the Machlises' apartment, and announced, "I want to learn more about what it means to be a Jew. And I want to learn how to put on tefillin."


For more than two decades Rabbi Mordechai and Henny Machlis have opened their home to an amazing assortment of Shabbat guests. Every week 60-100 guests show up for Friday night dinner, and an equal number for Shabbat lunch. Who comes? Travelers, yeshiva students, university students, the homeless, the mentally ill, Hadassah ladies, tourists, lost souls, U.J.A. mission visitors, new immigrants, drunkards, widows, orphans, Sar El volunteers for Israel, Birthright participants, and truth seekers.

While most of their guests are from English-speaking countries, the Machlis family has hosted people from every continent, and from countries as far away as Japan, China, and the Philippines.

Some people come hungry for food -- the ample helpings of home-cooked gefilte fish, chicken soup, chicken with barbeque sauce, at least three kinds of kugel, an array of salads, vegetarian alternatives, and four kinds of cake. Of course, destitute souls could pick up food at a public soup kitchen, but what is Shabbat without Shabbat songs and words of Torah, which Rabbi Machlis provides as profusely as his wife's cooking?

Some people come hungry for love and warmth. Two orphaned young women in their early twenties have an apartment and good jobs, but on Shabbat they miss the family atmosphere they once knew. A refined 67-year-old widow ate alone every Shabbat for five years after her husband died; her independent persona dissuaded her friends from inviting her. Now all three enjoy the palpable warmth of the Machlis table.

Some people come for the spiritual inspiration and unconditional acceptance Rabbi Machlis radiates. Religious and secular guests sit side-by-side, most wearing kipot, some opting not to. Most people say the appropriate blessings, often for the first time; some opt not to. Everyone is encouraged to say a few words, of introduction or wisdom or personal reflection. Everyone is lovingly received.

A smattering of gentiles, curious to experience a Jewish Sabbath, manage to find their way to the Machlis house on Shabbat.

Once a group of ten Mormons came for Shabbat. When it was their turn to speak, each one rose and politely thanked the Machlises for their hospitality. When the last Mormon -- a young woman -- rose to speak, she burst into tears. She finally managed to compose herself, and declared: "I'm Jewish. Both my parents are Jewish. This is the first time I'm in a real Jewish home. I had no idea how beautiful Judaism is."

Once an American man in his early twenties partook of all the Shabbat meals at the Machlis home. At the end of Shabbat, he approached Rabbi Machlis and admitted that he was confused. Although his mother was born Jewish, she had raised him completely secular. In fact, he had become a born-again Christian, and had come to Israel with an Evangelical group in order to missionize the Jews. But what he had seen over Shabbat revealed that, contrary to what he had thought, Judaism was a vibrant, profound religion, full of love and compassion.

After a long conversation, he and Rabbi Machlis agreed that the young man would return with his whole Evangelical group the next day for lunch, and Rabbi Machlis would engage in a debate with the head of the group, who had a master's degree in theology. If Rabbi Machlis's arguments prevailed, the young man decided, he would enroll in a yeshiva to study Judaism; if his group leader won the debate, he would continue with his missionary activities.

Apparently Rabbi Machlis won, for the erstwhile missionary enrolled in yeshiva. The story did not end there, however. Several weeks later the fellow's mother flew to Israel. She stormed into the Machlis home and accused them of kidnapping her son into a cult. He had written that he would not eat in her home unless she made her kitchen kosher!

Mordechai calmed her down and brokered a deal between her and the heads of her son's yeshiva. Her son would return to America and study at a yeshiva close to home, on condition that she make her kitchen kosher.

Several years later, while attending a Torah class in New York, Henny ran into the young man, now sporting a beard. He told her that he was married, with two children, and that his mother also had become an observant Jew.

Sometimes Henny herself is surprised by the impact her home makes. One Rosh Hashanah, they had only 30 guests, including a young couple who had come to Israel for their honeymoon. The bride was an American reform Jew and the groom was a German gentile. The couple said very little, and seemed "pretty icy." Two years later, the Machlises received a letter beginning, "You probably don't remember us..." (Since there had been so few guests that Rosh Hashanah, Henny remembered them well.) The woman went on to write: "When we left your place, we said, 'This is the kind of home we want to have -- the light and the warmth and the children.' I had never realized that there was anything more to being Jewish than what I grew up with. We started studying Torah. Then we started keeping Shabbat, then kashrut, then I started to go to the mikveh. We just want you to know that next week my husband will be undergoing an Orthodox conversion."


Both Mordechai and Henny are Brooklyn born and bred. Both of their fathers were Orthodox rabbis. Mordechai, born in 1952, has rabbinic ordination, an M.A. in Jewish history, and is close to finishing his Ph.D. in Talmud from Bar Ilan University. Mordechai is a much-loved rebbe and teacher in a men's yeshiva, and also teaches Jewish Studies at Bar Ilan.

Henny, born in 1958, has a B.S. in education plus a Hebrew teaching degree from Yeshiva University and studied dietetics at Brooklyn College. She used to teach Jewish subjects in adult education. Since the birth of her sixth child, she is a full-time mother and homemaker.

The couple met in 1979 in New York. Shortly after they started seeing each other, it became clear that, as Henny says, "We both wanted to share the love and the joy and the beauty of Judaism, and to share Shabbat with everyone."

The young couple wasted no time in actualizing their ideals. For the first three months after their wedding, they rented a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, so that they would have a room to accommodate homeless people. The very first Shabbat in their apartment, Mordechai brought home to his 21-year-old bride a mentally ill couple to sleep over and eat with them for Shabbat. This couple became regular guests for the whole period the newlyweds were in Brooklyn. Three months later, Mordechai and Henny actualized another cherished ideal. They moved to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Within a year, the Shabbat scene began. Mordechai prayed the Shabbat morning service at the Kotel. Walking through the Arab shuk on his way home, the 27-year-old Mordechai encountered a middle-aged Jewish woman, an American tourist. He invited her to come home with him for Shabbat lunch. "I'd love to," she replied, "but I'm here with a few friends."

"Bring them along," Mordechai offered warmly. "There's enough food for everyone."

When Mordechai crossed his threshold a short while later, he had 40 Hadassah ladies in tow. Henny amiably cut up the gefilte fish into paper-thin portions. Impressed by the 22-year-old Henny's warmth and hospitality, the middle-aged women kept saying to her, "You remind me of my grandmother."

Another Shabbat both Mordechai and Henny were walking home from the Kotel. In the shuk, they met a doctor from Holland who was in Israel for a laser convention. They invited him home for Shabbat lunch. After Mordechai made Kiddush, he passed small cups of grape juice around to his guests. The Dutch doctor's hands were shaking so much that he could not grasp his cup. Finally, in an impassioned voice, he declared: "This is my first Jewish experience. Both my parents are Jewish, and Holocaust survivors. They would not let any Judaism into our home at all. Even when my son was born, they insisted that we not circumcise him. When I get back to Holland, I'm going to start studying about my Jewish roots."

Within two or three years of their marriage, the Machlises were hosting 20-30 guests at each Shabbat meal. From there, "it just grew. We bought another table, and filled it. We just kept adding tables."

Ninety people fit tightly into the Machlises' book-lined living room. The two sofas and the imitation Oriental rug, the only furnishings in the room during the week, are moved out for Shabbat. The overflow of guests sits in the fiberglass-roofed courtyard. When the guests exceed even the courtyard -- as they often do, depending on the season -- they sit in the small kitchen or at the tables set up outside the front door of the garden apartment. Henny's dream is to have the money to expand the living room, so everyone can sit together comfortably.


The Machlises' hospitality is not reserved for Shabbat. Rare are the days when needy persons are not sleeping in the Machlises' extra beds, or on their two couches, or on the rug in the living room. Every night one, two, or three men, too drunk or crazy to want to sleep inside the house, sleep in the Machlises' van. When Mordechai leaves for work in the morning, he can tell how many "van guests" he has by how many pairs of shoes he sees in the front windshield.

Once a drunk Russian immigrant in his early fifties came for Shabbat dinner. When everyone else had left, the Machlises discovered this man asleep on the floor. He woke up, vomited, and was invited to sleep on the couch. He stayed for a few months, during which time he gave up alcohol cold turkey. When he started to suffer withdrawal symptoms, Henny, alarmed, called up specialists to make sure it was safe for him. Eventually, they found him a job and an apartment.

Mordechai and Henny's ingenuous, non-judgmental acceptance makes them a magnet for troubled people. One day an American man, disheveled and emotionally distraught, came to their house. He told them he had no money, no place to live, and no food. So, as usual, they invited him to stay with them. Then he told them a story that was hard to believe. He claimed that he was a prominent attorney, a graduate of a prestigious law school, and that he was being pursued in the United States by certain people who had grievances against him related to his law practice. He said that he had fled to Israel a few days before with nothing but the shirt on his back, but that he owned a large house in New Jersey filled with his valuable possessions.

Since the man was an emotional wreck, anyone else would have dismissed his claims as wild ravings. Henny and Mordechai gave him the benefit of the doubt. They asked friends in America to check out his story.

It turned out that it was all true -- including the house in New Jersey. These friends, granted power of attorney, managed over a period of months to sell the house, pack up all of its contents, and send them to him in Israel. Today the attorney is successfully practicing law in Israel. He is happily married and owns a large apartment in Jerusalem.

Often during the week destitute people pop into the Machlis home and ask if they can help themselves to staples from the kitchen shelves. The answer is always, "yes." A fortune of tuna fish and canned vegetables disappears this way.

In addition to the Machlises' 13 children, Mordechai and Henny have scores of spiritual progeny -- couples who have found each other at the Machlis home or people who have been inspired to become observant by the Machlises' example. When these people have no money to pay the rent or buy food, whom do they turn to? Their spiritual parents, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Machlis, of course!


The massive Shabbat meals cost the Machlises at least $2,000 a week. Where does the money come from?

The Machlises live frugally, and over the years have borrowed enough money to finance their Shabbat project. Now, however, they are facing a financial crunch which puts the future of their Shabbat hospitality in jeopardy. Their apartment already mortgaged to the hilt and the coffers of a charitable fund set up to help pay for the food now empty, the Machlises are hoping desperately for donors to come forward and join them in their undertaking.

The specter of abandoning a project which feeds so many hungry people at a time when more Israelis than ever are in need fills Henny with apprehension. Where will the orphans, the widows, the mentally ill, and the homeless who have become regulars at the Machlis table go? Readers who want to take part in this huge mitzvah can make a contribution (which is tax deductible in the United States) to: American Friends of Hesed L'Orchim, 552 E. 5th St., Brooklyn, NY 11218.

May the light of the Machlis Shabbat table never be extinguished.

6:22 AM  
Blogger m said...


Henny's Secret

by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Henny Machlis's kitchen is an apt metaphor for her heart. A glimpse into the kitchen, less than half the size of a normal American kitchen, leaves one wondering how 200 Shabbat meals a week can issue from such a room. Similarly, one wonders how so much love and compassion for literally thousands of individuals can issue from one human heart.

Not the amorphous love the rest of us feel for all humanity as long as we don't have to put up with them eating in our living room, sleeping on our couch, showering in our bathroom. No, Henny's love is concrete and specific. It encompasses the lonely widows who have nowhere else to go on Shabbat, the homeless who sleep on the Machlises' couch and shower in their bathroom for weeks at a stretch, the lost souls who spend hours sipping coffee and pouring out their hearts at Henny's dining room table (the kitchen has no room for a table), and the unkempt, incoherent, often reeking paupers who come to the Machlis house for both food and love. [ See "A Taste of Heaven."]

The 44-year-old Henny looks a decade younger. Although she wears no make-up, her lineless complexion appears like the face of a woman of leisure, rather than the busy mother of 13 children.

I have come to Henny's modest apartment in Jerusalem's Maalot Dafna neighborhood to solve the mysteries that intrigue me about this open, ingenuous woman: How can the mother of so many children always appear relaxed and cheerful? How can she shop for, cook for, serve, and clean up from 60-100 guests every Shabbat night and every Shabbat afternoon, 51 weeks a year, without burning out? How, contrary to all the childrearing literature, can she devote so much time and attention to helping strangers and still raise children who turn out to be sweet, modest, kind, and -- why not just say it? -- angelic? What supernatural ingredient does she put into her food so that scores of people, upon eating one of her Shabbat meals, are forever changed? And -- this is the question I really want to answer -- how can a woman who never goes out to dinner maintain such a high level of joy?

A friend added another question to my list: With so many strangers passing through the Machlis apartment constantly, don't they have a problem with theft? As soon as I enter their living room, I perceive the answer. There is nothing to steal. The family owns no computer, no television, no objets-d'art, just lots and lots of holy books, which line every available wall. Hardly a temptation to thieves.

Rushing to make my appointment with Henny, I have forgotten my tape recorder. Henny offers me the use of theirs, and asks her four-year-old son Eliyahu to go downstairs to one of the basement bedrooms and bring it up. Henny and I sit on one of the two slip-covered red couches -- the only furniture in the living room except for two dining tables.

Minutes later Eliyahu stumbles into the living room and throws the tape recorder onto the rug. I emit a gasp, and manage -- after all, he's not my child -- to suppress a storm of expletives: "What are you doing! You'll break it!" Henny, unruffled as if she had a supply of new tape recorders in the back room or the money to buy them (she has neither), says softly to her son: "You have to treat machines more gently. Otherwise, they can break."

Sara Rigler: I would have blasted my kid for doing that!

Henny Machlis: Of course, we all lose it sometimes, and we all have our struggles. In our home, we try not to yell or hit. Rabbi Hirsh wrote that if you have a choice between being rigid and educating your children in all the values and behaviors that you cherish, or being loving and educating them without anger and not getting everything you want, it's preferable to educate without anger. I always had a dream that I would have a peaceful home. Then it was just a matter of attaining it, with God's help and tefilla [prayer].

SR: And a lot of effort and self-control, I imagine. How do you have time to raise your children well when you're devoting so much attention to other people?

HM: The success that we have in bringing up our children is up to God. It has to do with Divine providence and lots of prayer. We definitely have to put in our maximum --psychologically, physically, emotionally -- but our success depends on Divine blessing.

Although we devote most of our Shabbat to guests, there is plenty of opportunity for private, quality time between Saturday night and Friday afternoon. Every day during the week we try to have either lunch or dinner with the children. Also, we schedule the Friday night meal late, to give people time to walk in from different parts of Jerusalem. So immediately after evening prayers, we have a dinner alone with the children, before the guests arrive. Then the children have a chance to give their divrei Torah [words of Torah] and sing their songs.

I have been a full-time mother since the birth of my sixth child. When a mother is around and available to her children on a constant basis, then she's there for crucial educational lessons to be given over and many, many heart-to-heart talks about things that are troubling her children. The Satmar Rebbe commented on the verse: "All day he gives and lends, and his children will be blessed." [Psalm 37:26] He said that you would think that someone who is busy helping other people won't have enough time for his children, but there's a special Divine blessing that protects them.

One can also postulate that much of a child's inability to deal with himself and the world comes from egocentricity. When a child learns to care, think, love, and give to the other, he or she actually matures quicker and builds his or her character to be a more efficient, responsible, and effective human being in society.

This is also an argument for having more children, because the more siblings there are, the more types of personalities children learn to deal with, and the more social skills they develop in terms of tolerance, patience, sensitivity, and love.

SR: By letting homeless, mentally ill, and drunken people stay in your house, aren't you endangering your children's safety?

HM: Unquestionably, our children's welfare is our primary concern. Every dedicated parent must use discretion. In the more than two decades we have been doing this, we have not, thank God, had a single bad incident. Of course, if there is someone who is emotionally or psychologically disturbed to the point that it could threaten the children, we relegate them to sleeping in our van, or deal with them in some other way.

SR: Can you tell us about your background?

HM: I was born and raised in Brooklyn. My parents were also American-born. My father, Murray Lustig, of blessed memory, was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshiva University. I studied pre-med at Brooklyn College. My dream was to get married and have 20 children and teach the whole world about Judaism, and to learn about genetics on the side! When I realized that I couldn't do everything, I switched my major to dietetics. I got a B.S. in education plus a Hebrew teaching degree from Yeshiva University.

SR: When you were growing up, who was the greatest influence on your life?

HM: My parents were very hospitable, very warm, good, and loving. I always viewed my mother's chesed [deeds of kindness] and compassion -- the way she treated the cleaning lady, the fix-it man, the carpenter, with such kindness and respect. I was one of five children. My mother (Edith Lustig) never sat at the table; she was always up serving us. As you get older, you realize how much of what you are is from your parents.

My father was so generous and kind. One time, the daughter of my parents' friends got hurt. She was 16 years old, and was riding her bike, and somehow hit a tree. She went into a coma. As soon as my father heard about it, he rushed to the hospital. He went over to his friend, handed him a blank, signed check, and said, "Don't spare any medical expense to help your daughter." We heard about this story only years later, after my father passed away, when his friend told us.

Two of my rabbis in school, Rabbi Teichtel and Rabbi Reuven Fink, also had a major impact on my worldview.

SR: How long does it take you to shop for and cook these massive Shabbat meals you serve?

HM: I spend one morning a week ordering food by telephone. Then I start cooking either on Thursday night or early Friday morning. With three of my daughters helping me, it takes us about eight hours to cook. This past week, six or seven of our children were helping. Everyone was peeling vegetables and was actively involved in the excitement of Shabbat preparations.

SR: That doesn't seem like very much time to prepare gefilte fish, chicken soup, chicken, four kinds of kugel, several different salads, and four kinds of cake enough for 200 people.

HM: I've become much more organized over the years. Now we have a system. But it's very intense. We work very high speed. Kind-hearted young women sometimes join us in the cooking.

SR: How many hours does it take you to clean up?

HM: It used to take till Tuesday, but three years ago my husband hired a worker who washes up all the pots, pans, serving utensils, and trays, and puts away the chairs and tables. Now it's all done by late Saturday night.

SR: How often a year do you take a break?

HM: We used to take off a few weeks a year, and we would inform the people in advance. A couple of years ago, my married daughter had a baby boy on a Shabbat, so the bris was the following Shabbat, in a different city. Whoever called during the week, we told them not to come, but there was no way to announce it to our "regulars." Just in case, we arranged for a rabbi to be here to conduct the meal and I cooked a little, and we left challah, salads, drinks, and provisions. I thought maybe 20 people would come. Well, 80 people showed up that Shabbat night, and 65 people the next day for lunch.

So now, if we want to go away for Shabbat, we inform people that Rabbi Machlis won't be here to give divrei Torah, but that there will be someone else to run the meal. And I cook the food anyway. Fifty-one weeks a year.

Only on Pesach we don't have guests, and we go away, because of the special Biblical mitzvah to teach your children on Seder night. So we concentrate exclusively on the children and attempt to celebrate the holiday in a private family setting.

SR: Do you ever feel a need for a break more often than that?

HM: Not really. This is our raison d'etre. This is holiness. This is happiness. In my former years, maybe I would have wanted more time off, but as time goes on, and I get into a system, and I get more dedicated to the idea, I think God has withdrawn some of the pitfalls, and it runs more smoothly.

They say that in Jerusalem of old, when people would eat, they would hang a tablecloth outside their door. If anyone would see the tablecloth, they would know they could come in and eat. So I'm hoping for the day when everyone will hang out a tablecloth so that people can just come in. If all people would just open their doors, it would really be a brilliantly shining Jerusalem.

SR: Do you ever feel like having some time alone without your husband and children?

HM: In recent years, I have felt that way. I go to the Kotel [the Western Wall], or I'm alone with God in my room and read, or say tehillim [psalms].

I think one of the most important things in life is to pray for success. We have no independent success. It's all God's blessing. I enjoy brisk walks, and try to use the time for creative introspection and meditation.

SR: What makes you so happy?

HM: To be living in the holy city of Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world. It makes me happy to be married to a wonderful person, who is wise and learned. It makes me happy to have my beautiful children, and to see them growing up to be holy, healthy, happy, giving, loving, sensitive human beings. It makes me happy to be very connected to God and to be able to share that connection with all humanity. Shabbat makes me very happy. I love Shabbat. And I love to share the joy and the thrill of the holiness of Shabbat.

SR: I have to say that I think something metaphysical is going on here. Many Jews who are committed secularists or who are even practicing a different religion have been turned on to traditional Judaism after just one Shabbat meal in your house. What's your secret?

HM: I read a long time ago that the wife of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, before she cooked, would pray that the people who eat her food would imbibe yirat shemayim [awe of God] and do teshuva [repentance]. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that when you cook, the energy that you cook with goes into the food. So if you cook with a lot of anger, you can give people food poisoning. But if you cook with joy, you can give them good health.

So, we pray before and while we cook: "May the food have the taste of Gan Eden [paradise]." We say tehillim while we're cooking. And we pray that the people who eat this food should love Shabbat and love God, love Torah and be in touch with themselves and that the food should be for the honor of God and for the honor of the holy Shabbat.

SR: What would you say to women who hate to cook and do domestic work?

HM: All giving is a little bit of imitating God. Giving builds one's character, and makes one more God-like. I think one should view domestic responsibilities as a means to grow as an individual, to become more giving and loving and sharing, to get out of oneself and into the other, and to become more God-like. Of course, there's nothing wrong with hiring help for domestic duties, as long as one knows that it's important to overcome a certain level of this discomfort in order to be as giving as can be.

SR: What would you say to women who are conflicted between career and staying home with their children?

HM: I used to go out to teach Jewish subjects to adults. Even now I sometimes go out to lecture. For a few years, I ran a series of lectures in the neighborhood, where I taught Jewish philosophy to women. I really think that everyone should be an emissary of God and teach whatever they know. Every woman is blessed with her particular qualities and interests. Everyone should be encouraged to maximize her singular form of expression. But it's very important that every woman should know that there is no one else in the whole world who can be a mother to her children except for her, nor a wife to her husband except for her. Women's priority should always be first and foremost to give to their families. This is their most unique and important contribution to the world, that no one else can do. No one else can give over my particular psychological, emotional, spiritual self to my children, except for me. I encourage women to use all their potentials and talents and education to give to society as much as they possibly can, but always remember that their first priority is their home, to build a Jewish home. Let's not forget that all spirituality in the world comes from the Jewish woman. It is her strength and her values that will build her children and the world around her, and will pave the way for the ultimate redemption.

6:33 AM  
Blogger m said...

One final note for now ~

Thank you for the contributions! :-) When I put this blog up last week, I had no idea what to expect. Thank God - and thanks to quite a few of you! - the donations are beginning to come in and I'm happy to report that it looks like putting this up was a good idea after all.

*And a seasonal note...remember that in the US all donations are tax deductible! ~ Tizku L'Mitzvot

6:43 AM  
Blogger Eddie said...

For Tickets call: 718-258-0241
DRAWING--February 8, 2005


First I would like to say that Rabbi Machlis is the most incredible, warmest & nicest Rabbi I have ever met. If you ever are in Jerusalem, I hope that you will be lucky enough to attend his place for a Shabbat-Friday night dinner and/or Shabbat-Saturday day lunch or Yom Tov (Jewish Holiday) evening or lunch meal.

The way that the Rabbi so kindly deals with every person in attendance never ceases to amaze me & despite hosting 150 people in a room meant for far less, I have never seen the Rabbi lose his patience. In fact, the more he is tried, the more his goodness shines. I hope that you are privileged to attend his home for a special event you will most surely remember for your lifetime & I hope that if you are able, that you participate in this charity raffle to help the Rabbi continue his amazing efforts.


A Guest of the Most Amazing Rabbi I Have Ever Met...


Dear Friends,

Shalom from Jerusalem! We send you our sincerest blessings from the Holy City & we trust that this letter finds you on the highest levels of good health & happiness.

Please allow us to introduce (or re-introduce) the Chesed L'orchim Project. For the past 25 years, Chesed L'orchim has been providing Shabbat & Holiday hospitality to anyone who wishes to attend. The number of participants per Shabbat is approximately 200. Guests include backpackers, visiting families, the homeless, the destitute, the lonely, tourists & new immigrants. In addition, overseas students, university students, students from ba'alei tshuvah programs, from teshuvah, & from seminaries are weekly guests of the Chesed L'orchim Project. For many of the participants, this is their 1st Shabbat experience.

For others, it is their 1st taste of a positive religious encounter. Even participants who have a long time connection & commitment to Torah observance have found new levels of meaningful dimensions of inspiration & appreciation for the true light of Shabbat, for the depth & joy of chesed & for the ultimate vision of Jewish unity, especially in Eretz Yisrael.

The caring & sharing of Chesed L'orchim does not end on Shabbat. The door is open all week for provisions for the multifaceted needs of the many seeking assistance. The budget of these projects is in excess of $120,000 annually.

Meals are served in an ordinary sized living room and dining room in the Ma'alot Dafnah neighborhood of Yerushalayim. All furniture is removed in order to maximize space. Despite the deliberate warm & loving efforts of Chesed L'orchim to welcome & cater to each individual, unfortunately, there have been times when guests have left due to the crammed conditions. If, B'ezrat Hashem (G-d Willing) Chesed L'orchim ever actualizes its dream of expansion, it will have to raise an additional $225,000 in order to purchase the adjoining apartment.

In order to cover the deficit of previous years as well as help defray the ongoing operational costs ( and perhaps even the beginning steps of expansion?), we turn to our dear friends with a heartfelt request

As an added incentive, we have set up a raffle for this very purpose. Enclosed, please find a raffle book with 7 tickets.

!!!!!!GRAND PRIZE $10,000 CASH!!!!!

1 Ticket=$100
3 Tickets=$250
7 Tickets=$500

The drawing will take place Izrat Hashem (G-d Willing) in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, February 8, 2005---eve of Rosh Chodesh Adar I, 5765. Only stubs received with payment by January 27, 2005 will be included in the raffle. Please send back the stub of your raffle ticket(s) together with a tax-deductible donation payable to American Friends of Chesed L'orchim in the Envelope.

We thank you in advance for your kindness. May you be blessed with the Divine blessings of good health & happiness, and may all gateways of blessings be opened to you & your family forever.

We are readily aware of the fact that only one individual will win the $10,000 cash prize.

"Raffles are drawn, but the entirety of its decision is ultimately from G-d" (Proverbs). In the merit of your benevolence, even if you are not the one winning the $10,000, may you experience 10,000 to the 10,000 power levels of heavenly blessings forever.

With Sincerest Gratitude

Chesed L'orchim


1:28 PM  

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