Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving with B's family

Thanksgiving at my parents house took place without two of their three children; me and my brother spent the holidays with our respective non-jewish significant other's families. At what point do my parents realize they have decimated our family by holding such a firm line on religion? Or do they never realize that? Me and my brother have resolved that if I end up getting this job near my parents we'll do our own Thanksgivings.

My parents also did not try to contact me in any way on or near Thanskgiving, they didn't invite me to thanksgiving dinner (although if I had invited myself I doubt they would say no), and they had no idea that I was even in Illinois.

Meanwhile, I met all of B's family out in Joliet, Illinois (where his cousins live). Including his cousin who is a race car driver, his other cousin who used to go on phish tour (yay for new hippie relatives!), and a whole slew of other people. We sat at the 'kids' table, although B, at 25, was the second youngest kid (the youngest was his sister who is 22). After dinner we 'kids' went to go play wii in the basement and me and B played some awesome rounds of tennis, and some less awesome rounds of some tank game. Everyone came together at some point to watch Forrest Gump in the living room. Later at the hotel me and B hung out with 2 of his cousins and walked around, talking about life.

There was no yelling, there was no talk of politics or religion (except when B and I were explaining to some cousins why my parents aren't coming to our wedding), there was no snarky comments thrown across the table, or under someone's breath, and there was no one looking miserable or uncomfortable or awkward. People wanted to hear about my crazy parents, and people wanted to talk about the wedding, and about my job prospects. I didn't have to pretend like B didn't exist, or that we didn't live together, or that we arn't getting married. I didn't have to limit myself to only talking about school. People were nice to each other, and they seemed happy to see each other, and seemed like they were close with each other as well.

In short, it was awesome. And the exact opposite of my 'normal' Thanksgiving experiences with my parents and grandparents and cousins.

'Normal' family gatherings at my parents house involve several arguments (usually about religion and/or politics, and usually between my charedi cousins and my MO cousins), several outwardly racist and/or sexist statements, my grandmother interrogating me about my level of religiosity and telling me that "education is all nice and good, but marrying a good Jewish boy should be your first priority", and otherwise trying to convince me to be more religious, my grandmother staring in my face and inspecting my ears to see if I have new piercings, and telling me to get rid of the old ones (I have 3 earrings in each ear), or (one year when I had an eyebrow ring briefly) telling me how no one would ever marry me if I had an eyebrow ring, and my mom making snarky comments about the way I'm dressed, or the way I live my life, or how much I weigh, or how my not-modest-enough-for-her clothes make me look fat (which is how my mom tries to get me to stop wearing them). And wearing what is basically a costume, and having to pretend that I'm in any way religious, because otherwise my parents would be mortified. More recently, those gatherings have involved snarky comments from my mom about how I can't bring home leftovers because I might give them to "that person you're living with".

But I've seen the other side, and how life can be if everyone acts like adults, and tries to have a fun family gathering instead of using it to air all of ones grievances. And a family where people are genuinely happy to see each other, and everyone catches up with each other, and isn't judgmental about everything. I have seen it, and it is wonderful. And I can't imagine ever choosing to go to my parents house for Thanksgiving instead of B's family. Even if they would have me.


  1. Congratulations on experiencing normality. Enjoy! It sounds like your family get-togethers had a mildy poisonous atmosphere even before you strayed from how they thought you should live your life religiosly. It sounds like you didn't reject religion as much as you rejected the tension and unpleasantness of life with your family.

  2. well the vast majority of poison in my family came after I stopped being religious (although that's been nearly half my life now, and my entire adult life, so who knows how it would have been different if I had stayed a good jewish girl).

    But having a tense and unpleasant family definitely made this whole thing easier; not only do I get to live my life the way I want to live it, but I've been set free from having to spend time with them. :)

  3. I was shocked too when I started seeing how non-judgmental non-Orthodox families could be. It's nice, isn't it?

  4. Sounds like you had a great time.

    Kind of sounds like my Thanksgiving dinner except everyone at my house was Jewish. We always have it at our house with my in-laws and friends but not my family. I think the only difference is that we discuss politics but no one yells or makes snarky comments and I do not think it has anything to do with the amount of alcohol that is consumed. LOL

    BTW, we (my spouse and I) are observant but do not consider ourselves Orthodox. We come from very different backgrounds and everyone at the table has a different level of observance.

    AE, I think it comes down to religous maturity and plain old menchlachkite (common decency and respect)!

  5. I think it mostly comes down to respect; B's family respects each other's decisions to live their life in the manner they see fit, and treats each other like adults. My family does not respect my decision to live my life in a different way than theirs.

    All the fights and snarkiness in my family has always stemmed from people trying to force other people to live their lives differently. Including fights having nothing to do with me- every year there's a huge fight between my MO (more to the left then my parents) cousins, and my charedi cousins about how my charedi cousins are raising their children and visa versa). Every year my grandmother says some snarky thing to my brother- 2 years ago as she was leaving she was like, "IMPROVE!!!" to him as her goodbye. Wtf is that?

  6. Wow, yay for normality!
    After you decide not to be religious, things go way downhill with the family. I sympathize. Simple family get-togethers become opportunities for them to be mekarev you. Or me. It sucks. :(
    I'm glad you had a good Thanksgiving, with a family-like family. That's how it should be.

  7. I'm glad you had a really nice Thanksgiving. Nothing like respect.

  8. That's really awesome, AE! Im very happy that you experienced a loving, accepting family event and imagine how wonderful it will be to officially become part of that family. After having experienced something like that, how can you not feel sorry for your own family? If they only knew:)

  9. I'm lucky. I'm the leftmost politically & religiously in my family, but for the most part there's respect. But I am still observant & married to a Jew. I wonder what would transpire if I weren't observant and my wife were non-Jewish.

  10. I'm so happy that B's family welcomed you into the family. You need a family. I'm glad you found one.

  11. It sounds like your family has a multigenerational problem that has stopped with you and your brother.

    The two of you should not expect any change from your parents. I am sorry to say that you are going to have to leave them behind in your journey of life. Enjoy your freedom.

  12. You know, you compare things that are not really comparable.

    In b's family, you are new, you are a guest, so you did not have the occasion to discover the "Downside". With guests, everyone beheaves nicely. I am sure, if I were invited for Pessach by your family, I would find the very nice.

    But in your family, you play a different role, and they do not give you the same respects as B's family does with the guests...

  13. so you're telling me 25 people who only see each other once a year managed to completely change their behavior because I was there?

  14. No, I don't say that 25 people change their behaviour because you were there.

    I suppose that each of these 25 people have something that they do not like about their family, and I suppose that in 20 years time, there will be things that you will not like about B's family.

    You compare "new" with "old" and this is not comparable...

    And you had "guest" status, and in genral guests are treated with more respect than family members.

    Believe me, I had the same experience the other way round. So I am absolutely not saying that B's family is bad or anything. I am saying that at the beginning, in general, one is charmed by everything the "new" family has and that the "old" one did not, and with time, as the picture of the "new" family becomes more complete, you will also discover things that you like better in your "old" family... (Your mother's cooking, for example???)

    you (not you personnally) are charmed by the "harmonious" atmosphere in a family that is not your own, and it takes some time to discover the drawbacks. So it is not really legitimate to compare your family and B's, because
    1) You know a lot more about your own fam

  15. hmmm, that may be true, although B says that it's always like that, and he loves going home for thanksgiving (and he doesn't usually love going home at any other time).

    I'm sure there will be little things that irritate me about them eventually..although maybe not, since everyone is so spread out across the country and they only meet once a year, I might not ever know them well enough to start hating on them.

    But just the being able to be myself, and not having to hide my whole life, that in and of itself made it so much more of a positive experience.

  16. Kind of makes you sorry for them, living such sad lives :( How unhappy they must be.

  17. "Every year my grandmother says some snarky thing to my brother- 2 years ago as she was leaving she was like, "IMPROVE!!!" to him as her goodbye"

    Heh. She should have come by my house when I was growing up. She would have fit right in.

    (I'd ask what your brother thinks about that, but I don't want to get him in trouble.)

    Ichabod Chrain

  18. Of course it is very hard when a personal decision you make leads to arguments that in the end become so dominating that they destroy the whole relationship.
    But this one aspect - you don't want judaism, your parents want to force it down your throat - is not identical to the whole relationship, even though it might look like this now, even though it might destroy it.

    The relationship you have with B's family is new. For the moment, no one in B's family is trying to force anything down your throat.

    But if you want to compare things that are comparable, you would have to wait till a similar situation (of incompatible standpoints) arises (let's hope, this will never be the case) and than you could compare whether B's family did better than your parents. Till now, you can not tell.

    And you know how I came to know it? Partially through you. I thought that judaism was so much better than non-judaism, till I heard the reports of people who grew up in it and who were not satisfied.

    So: thank you for your blog.

  19. well but a similar situation HAS arisen; B's entire family is very religious catholic, and he's marrying someone who grew up jewish. And it wasn't a secret to anyone there that I was jewish either. And yet everyone was very accepting and welcoming of me.

  20. AE- I am sure B's family is lovely and I have no doubt that they are very accepting of you and are happy for both of you.

    I hope this continues once you have kids. Catholics get funny when it gets to a point as to how you plan to raise your children.

  21. Been lurking on this blog for ages...

    I rang my mother up the other day (she lives abroad, and never calls me - the phone works both ways Mom). She promptly told me how upset she was that my wife was still not Jewish. Sorry, what exactly do you expect me to do about that right now? For background, we have been married some years, gradually becoming frummer, moved to a suitable community and had a first appointment with the Bet Din. I nearly didn't proceed to the reason for the call - that my wife is pregnant. She promptly asked me

    a) if it was deliberate?! What I said "Absolutely". What I meant "WTF has that to do with you"

    b) if I realised that the child would not be Jewish. Really?! I had no idea that Judaism was transmitted through the mother. Oh wait, I think you mentioned it once or twice as I was growing up....

    I did get a mazal tov (I refrained from pointing out to her that's she's not supposed to say that!). In contrast my dad (they are divorced - he is orthodox, but with a rather low opinion of Rabbis, especially Batei Din) and siblings were lovely. The in-laws are, of course, over the moon.

    I think my mom will probably explode when we make it known that we decided a few months ago that we were doing the conversion to fit in, not because we believed it, and unless something changes radically (we start believing again) we are not continuing.

  22. my dad suggested that B could convert to Judiasm to make everyone happier.

    We thought about it briefly, but decided against it. Never mind that it would devastate his mother to do that, we also would only be doing it to fit in- since obviously we don't believe in it. And then were does it end? And do we really want to fit in with this crowd? And how come going through a bulllshit conversion (which is what it would be in our case) makes everything ok?

  23. No, this is not a similar situation, because there is not such a strong taboo of intermarriage. Today, no catholic mother could aford to forbid her son to marry a jewish girl.

    A similar situation would arise if you had very strong emotional and material ties with B's family, (as you were dependent on your parents when you started leaving religion) and there was a complete incompatibility of standpoints between you (not B) and them.

    At the moment, a situation like this cannot arise, since you are not dependent on B's family in the same way as you depended on your family. You would have to wait some years, have children with him, etc... and than look what happens in case of strong discrepancies.

  24. From his standpoint, your dad should not tell b to convert, since you do not seem to have any intention of leading a religious-orthodox life. And from the religious-orthodox standpoint, no conversion should be done if the convert-to-be does not want to be orthodox.

    This said: it could be that B has some interest in judaism according to what he said in his blog.

    I know someone who is religious-orthodox and married to a non-jew. She never pushed him to convert, because it has to be his decision. And this although it makes her a lot of problems (social, etc) and it would not cost him much to live an orthodox life (which he already does, more or less).

  25. "Guest status" or not - B's family invited you there.
    Your family pretends the man you're going to marry doesn't exist.
    It's easy to see which family owns the moral high ground.

  26. I enjoyed the post and I'm happy you get along well with the future in-laws. It's too bad that Thanksgiving is so charged at your parents' house. But hey, at least now you don't have to go back!

    I had a nice Thanksgiving with a bunch of local friends. It's a nice holiday in that it's completely secular so there's no reason religion should even come up.

  27. From his standpoint, your dad should not tell b to convert, since you do not seem to have any intention of leading a religious-orthodox life. And from the religious-orthodox standpoint, no conversion should be done if the convert-to-be does not want to be orthodox.

    Shoshi, you are not a rabbi and it's not so simple. I suggest you pick up a book called "Choosing to Be Jewish" by Marc Angel.

  28. @Dad2B,
    I think my mom will probably explode when we make it known that we decided a few months ago that we were doing the conversion to fit in, not because we believed it, and unless something changes radically (we start believing again) we are not continuing.

    Interesting story! Keep commenting. Or maybe blog about it.

  29. @candy man:

    You are right. I am not a Rabbi.

    But personally, I find it immoral in general to ask from anyone to convert who does not want to do so on his own free will.

    What I find particularly repulsive are jewish men who start relationships with non-jewish women and either will not marry them ("because I could not tell my parents") or want them to convert "just to prentend" before marriage. In some cases, the converted spouses want to take judaism seriously and are hindered by their jewish mates.

    This is why I find AE's decision much more honest (as long as B does not all of a sudden reveal her that he always longed to be an orthodox jew).

    Furthermore, non-serious conversations can cause a lot of trouble for subsequent generations.

    This is my opinion as far as the parent's standpoint is concerned. If the spouse-to be expresses the wish to convert (but not to be orthodox?) this would be a wholly different story. But even in this case I think it's better to show strength and not to convert...

  30. Shoshi, reasons for conversion can be complex and that's OK. In the talmud, there is a case of a convert who came because she'd fallen in love with a student of one of the rabbis. She was converted.

    Of course, no one should be coerced into conversion. Judaism should sparkle enough on its own. I am not disagreeing with AE and B's decision in the least (esp. if he's not circumcised - nothing's worth that!)

  31. AE:

    Usually I'm completely on your side as I abhor religion and Jewish tribalism. Yet in this case, I have to cautiously disagree with your assessment of the two Thanksgivings.

    The one thing I respect about your parents is their honesty. They say what they feel and they're not afraid to be politically incorrect. I understand this volatile situation might be troubling for you, but at least they don't allow their feelings to bubble under the surface. They're open and transparent and despite their inane opinions, I admire them in that aspect.

  32. but my parents aren't open and honest about their feelings...they refuse to talk about B, about how i'm not religious, etc, and instead approach it in a passive aggressive instead of my mom saying "i think your skirt is too short and i would prefer you didn't wear skirts that short when you visit" she says things like "that sKirt makes you look like you have a giant butt, have you been gaining weight?." Instead of acknowledging that I'm not religious, they ask me every holiday what I'm doing for the holiday, or if I talk to them on a friday, what I'm doing for shabbas. Instead of trying to talk about me marrying someone they don't approve of, they just never visit me and refuse to let me bring leftovers homes the last time i visited.

    It's never honest, the only thing honest that's ever said is snarky bullshit muttered under people's breaths.


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