It’s my favorite holiday, but this year I’m anxious about the upcoming Pesach (Passover). My mom recently remarried … Her new husband is Jewish, but totally secular. He’s not interested in holidays at all. He likes brisket, and that’s about it. To placate him, my mom avoids making holiday plans, and then she’s sad when we don’t spend the festivals together—especially seder.
I’m not sure what to do. Should I invite both of them to our seder, or just her? Or, should I encourage her to make plans with friends, where he might be more comfortable (needless to say, we’re more religious)?
— Passed Over
Dear Passed Over:
Oy, that’s a toughie. I can relate with the family dynamics, believe me. And truly, who can’t relate to having someone in their family or close circle of friends with religious, social or cultural differences? This is the 21st century, darling, and we’ve left the ghetto far behind — Baruch HaShem! (thank God!) That means that most of our Jewish neighbors and loved ones celebrate slightly (or quite a bit) differently than we do—or don’t celebrate at all!
Nevertheless, after Hanukkah, Pesach is the most observed Jewish holiday in America. (For some background, check out this memorable 2007 article from Slate.) Maybe because it’s a home-centered holiday, child-focused and friendly, or maybe it’s just because it’s a pain in the tuchus/huge amount of work—and thus provides a great excuse to kvetch? So, I applaud you for being considerate, trying to accommodate the needs of others and including all of your family members in this joyous holiday of liberation.
It sounds to me like you’re not all that fond of your mother’s new husband (note that you didn’t say “stepfather”). Is he an introvert, anti-Judaism or just nervous about big family gatherings on holidays that don’t strike a personal chord? If it’s the latter, you can’t blame him there. We shouldn’t assume that all Jews LOVE the seder(s) as you and I do, and plenty do find it confusing. That can lead to embarrassment and avoidance.
Still, he should make an effort. If he signed on the dotted ketubah line to honor and support your mom, that includes her family. If Jewish holidays, observances and family traditions—not to mention mitzvot, the commandments that guide our lives as Jews—are vital to your mom and the family, let’s hope he’ll at least meet you halfway.
If your mom and her hubby haven’t already secured their seder plans, please do invite both of them to yours. Tell both of them—not just your mom—that it would mean a great deal to you to have everyone together. Ask if there’s anything you can do to make the experience more comfortable (a shorter seder, interesting and modern haggadot in English, inviting some of their Jewish or non-Jewish couple friends), and have an honest discussion before the big holiday arrives. You may have to work up to this: Perhaps you invite both, but this year he stays home. Ha’shana Haba … Next year, togetherness!
Nu, readers? Do YOU have a question? Don’t be shy… Ask Shuli! Write to me at [email protected]
Ask Shuli: Passover Dilemma
Humanistic Judaism offers a Passover Seder that is secular and has brought families with a wide variety of “religious” views together. Through the Society for Humanistic Judaism (www.shj.org) one can purchase materials for celebrating Jewish holidays that are not theistic. Also, Or Emet Minnesota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism would welcome you and your questions about us.(See http://www.oremet.org)
Our community Seder this year is on Saturday, April 3rd.