Party Poopers: Opting Out of Family Functions


By Wendy Belzberg

Published December 26, 2003, issue of December 26, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

My mother died a few months ago. Her husband of 15 years is talking about what a close family we are and how we will continue to celebrate holidays together; he is already making Passover plans. I was a grown woman when they married and never considered him my stepfather. I tolerated him for my mother’s sake while she was alive. Must I continue to do so now that she is gone?

— Uncertain ties

Your mother has only been gone a few months, and both you and her husband are presumably still raw from her loss. Without your mother there to preserve the bond, I predict that over time he will feel less urgency to be part of her family. As he drifts further away — presumably he has another family of his own — I suspect your intolerance will soften. He may also be waxing on in what he believes is an appropriately sympathetic vein for your sake. Uninviting him from your Seder is unnecessarily harsh and uncharitable. Even if you do not care for him personally, he is in mourning and should be treated with tenderness and respect. Anger is a natural reaction to death. Don’t let yours about your mother’s death contaminate a relationship that was important to her.

* * *

My relatives have hosted several hugely expensive bar and bat mitzvahs that, to my mind, are in poor taste. The parties are formal and require fancy clothes, and the music is so horribly loud that you can’t hear anyone speak. I’ve decided to attend the service but to opt out of all parties. I’ve got a good excuse. I just hope I don’t offend anyone. Comments?

— Opting out

I support your right to an opinion in every situation, but sometimes an opinion is best kept to oneself. In principle, I agree with you wholeheartedly about bar mitzvah excess. However, the old cliche about walking in someone else’s shoes comes to mind: All families celebrate in their own way. And even if you would choose to celebrate in a different fashion, a bar mitzvah is the wrong occasion for harsh judgment. There are too few simchas in this world. I would never pass up an occasion to celebrate one — especially with my family.

* * *

I have a nephew who is rude. At holiday dinners, when someone disagrees with him he calls the person “naive.” He often refers to other people’s financial status. I feel he will suffer socially for behavior he has no idea is offensive. What to say? What to do?

— Offended aunt

Does said nephew have parents, or was he cloned? Technically, it is the parents’ job to teach a child good manners; the rest of the world is there to reinforce them. Clearly, in this case, everyone has fallen down on the job. As his aunt, you have the right to call your nephew on his bad behavior. You could couch your message by saying that “others” may be offended by his remarks, but I think your message will pack a bigger punch if you let him know that you personally find his manners appalling. Take him through chapter and verse and encourage him to call when in doubt about a particular response. It is possible that his intentions are good but that he is lacking in social sense. Don’t give up on him. If you love him and find him offensive, imagine the effect he has on others.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen.
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.