Confronting In-Law’s Mean Streak

By Wendy Belzberg

Published July 11, 2003, issue of July 11, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I converted to Judaism 12 years ago when I married my husband. Still, my mother-in-law never misses an opportunity to refer to me as “the shiksa.” Enough is enough. How do I let her know that her remarks are hurtful and offensive?

— The convert’s lament

If she weren’t your mother-in-law I might suggest responding in kind with a pejorative of your own. It might not be the most mature instinct, I’ll admit, but it’s certainly a satisfying one.

Your mother-in-law leaves you no choice but to quote Exodus — Exodus 22:20 to be exact — which states, “You should love the stranger because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” If that doesn’t silence her, follow up by citing Gemara Baba Metzia 4:10. Loosely paraphrased, this Mishna states that a convert should never be reminded of his or her past behavior.

A convert to Judaism is no different than someone born to a Jewish mother and should never be reprimanded for his or her past. If your mother-in-law is not convinced, I suggest you call her down from her bima and onto the mat. If your grasp of Jewish law doesn’t do the trick, tell her that the next time she refers to you as a shiksa, she will no longer be welcome in your home. Your husband might remind her of the same. That should silence her.

* * *

My son is 12 years old and going through a difficult stage. He is sullen, angry and defiant. I routinely check his sent e-mails just to make sure there is nothing going on in his life that I should know about. When I told my friend that I was doing this, she looked at me with horror. I just want to make sure I’m there for my son if he needs me.

Private concerns

In a different era we would be talking about your son’s diary. And 10 years from now we will be discussing some kind of mechanism that records your son’s thoughts directly onto a hard drive without passing the keyboard. No matter the medium, we are still discussing the same question: Is it okay to read the private thoughts and words of one’s child?

The answer is a resounding no. Spying on your child is no way to gain his or her trust. Do you have confidence in your powers of observation and in your parenting skills and instincts? If something were wrong, don’t you think you would sense it? His behavior sounds like routine 12-year-old fare — no justification for snooping through his e-mail. You have violated his privacy and are in breach of his trust. If your son knew as much, I expect that he would delete his e-mail after sending it. If you communicate to your son that you trust him, he should reward you in kind with his confidences and trust. I fully understand the temptation to spy, but I am disturbed by your complete failure to recognize or admit that you are treading on landfill.

* * *

What is the protocol on turnaround time for thank-you notes from b’nai mitzvot? I gave gifts to two girls for their bat mitzvahs around two months ago and have not received a thank-you note from either one. What would you recommend if I never receive a thank-you note?

— Empty mailbox

It is nice to extend some slack to 12- and 13-year-olds. They may have arrived at the age of manhood and womanhood according to Jewish law, but they are still very much children in their habits and manners. And plenty of adults could be tarred with the delinquent-thank-you brush.

That said, you should have received two thank-you notes within weeks of sending off the gifts. But kids today — and the parents who raise them — appear to be less than well-versed in proper etiquette. As for what to do if a note never comes? Consider my dilemma: I recently received a bat mitzvah thank-you note that said: Thank you for the necklace. Period. Is it better to receive no note at all or to receive one so utterly devoid of substance or style that you think even worse of the bat mitzvah girl and her family? My recommendation: Leave your expectations at the door when you go out to collect the mail.

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

Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.