For big families, keeping it all together is a challenge — and a joy

A power outage had cut the lights since 9 a.m., but that wasn’t going to stop Miriam Ferris. It was Friday evening and the Ferris family was putting the final touches on their Shabbat.

Everything and everybody looks like silhouettes in the shadowy Berkeley house — making what they are doing hard to decipher. But it is clear that Miriam, who captains their weekly congregation, is making the salad. She takes a bottle of oil and pours it generously on the greens, then dumps a bunch of salt on top from a big box.

Such are the generous allowances that come with feeding the some two dozen people around the Ferris’s dining room table by candlelight. But having so many mouths to feed is old hat to the Ferris family. After raising 10 children, what’s a few more?

While some of Rabbi Yehuda and Miriam Ferris’s children are here, more are out of town studying in New York, Los Angeles or Israel. As the Chabad House for the Greater East Bay, the Ferris’ open their home each Shabbat to whoever wants to come. Most of the 15 extra faces are students from U.C. Berkeley.

The Ferris kids range from age 2 to 25, but even those who still live at home aren’t always together — or even living at home. Ten-year-old Menucha goes to the Hebrew Academy in San Francisco with an Israeli family that carpools from Oakland. Her older brother goes to school in San Jose, but in order to go there he usually stays overnight with his best friend in Palo Alto.

The next day, across town in Oakland, the Edelmans, who have five children, are having their weekly Shabbat lunch.

With many children come many more friends, so on this particular day, more than 12 people are sitting around the table. The Edelman children range from 6 to 14, so they still all live together and go to Oakland Hebrew Day School and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

To the Edelmans, having a big family isn’t a big deal. “We don’t really define our friends by the size of our families,” said mother Leslie Edelman. “It extends our circle of friends as well as our kids being friendly with our friends.”

Like the Ferris’, neither Leslie nor her husband Raphael’s families are from the Bay Area, so they have made their communities into their extended families. Between raising their kids and their participation at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, the Edelmans are kept extremely busy.

“Our synagogue and our school family is very supportive, all of us depend on each other,” Leslie said. “Our very close-knit community makes it possible.”

Both Leslie and her husband are from families of four children, so they always knew they wanted a large family themselves. The best part of being in a big family is that the kids always have someone to play with, Leslie said.

But it also requires some juggling. As “seven individuals with different lifestyles and activities,” she said they support each other by cheering their kids on at sports games and meets. And the kids help out, too — the older children help the younger ones with homework, and the kids all love to cook together.

“They have cross-age friends — the younger ones are friendly with the older friends and get along with kids of all ages. They don’t have they own space at all times, but they appreciate that,” Leslie said.

The family likes to eat at Raphael Bar Ristorante, a kosher Italian restaurant in Berkeley. But travel is another obstacle. When they do get away as a family, it is usually to celebrate a family simcha, but once a year in the winter the family goes skiing for a week. After a day of skiing, they hang out, make dinner and rent movies.

“It is one time all seven of us are doing something together,” Edelman said.

She adds that unlike when the kids were younger and could be scheduled by their parents, the family isn’t able to keep a rigid schedule now as everybody has their own lives. So Shabbat is important, because it’s the one time the family is guaranteed to be together.

Edelman added, “I really enjoy Friday night when the whole family is together and we’re relaxed and we just get to talk about what our whole week is like.”