Dad: Separate Sections for Parents, Kids

By Wendy Belzberg

Published May 02, 2003, issue of May 02, 2003.

My husband and I are taking our three children to Italy this summer on a family vacation. My husband travels frequently on business and has accrued thousands of frequent flyer miles. He wants to use his miles to upgrade our tickets to first-class while our children fly coach. I am shocked that he could even come up with the idea, much less have the gall to suggest it. He says that he plans to take advantage of his hard-earned miles — with or without me.

Separation anxiety

I am reminded of my dear, departed aunt who immortalized herself in our family by serving her husband steak while her children — and all other guests — got hamburger. Dinners at her house felt less like a family affair than an opportunity for my aunt to serve up second-class status.

I don’t care how many hours your husband had to work — and fly — to earn the privilege to upgrade. There is no justification for separate seating. He would be sending your children a very clear and less than flattering message about where they stood in his estimation. Such a move would immediately take the “family” out of the phrase “family vacation” and not bode well for the remainder of your time in Italy. If your husband cannot see this, why don’t you suggest he fly first-class to the destination of his choice — solo. Or maybe keep him in the air between now and the summer, by which time he will have earned points for everyone.

* * *

When I called my synagogue to schedule a date for my son’s bar mitzvah, I was told that unless he attended its after-school program he could not become a bar mitzvah in the shul. My family and I have been dues-paying members of this Conservative synagogue for over 20 years. My son studies at home with a private tutor and reads Hebrew beautifully. After one year I would match him against any boy his age who attends the synagogue Hebrew school program. I have taken the matter up with the rabbi and with the president of the synagogue board, neither of whom was prepared to amend the policy.

— Learning disabled

In times of withering synagogue attendance, yours must be one of only a few shuls that would rather lose a long-term paying family than reexamine a seemingly nonsensical house rule.

I can understand giving priority to the families whose children attend two afternoons a week of Hebrew school (at the expense of sports activities, music lessons or downtime). Their commitment should certainly be rewarded. Which might mean that other bar and bat mitzvahs who have not made the same commitment may have to share the bima rather than have it all to themselves — or accept the less desirable dates. But for a synagogue to deny one of its members a bar mitzvah seems not only wrong, but utterly at odds with its role in the community.

Have we really come to a time when we must examine the fine print before joining a shul much as we would before purchasing an item at the local department store? I find the shul policy as you have stated it objectionable, elitist and exclusionary. But it is their store, so to speak, and they can make their own rules. Your only recourse is to shop elsewhere. Don’t go quietly.

* * *

At my mother-in-law’s insistence and against my better judgment, I invited my in-laws and their extended family to my home for Passover. My family and I have a traditional Seder. My husband’s family views the holiday as an opportunity for a family get-together rather than a religious holiday. Even though I went out of my way to include them by assigning everyone a portion of the Haggada to read, my in-laws and their family talked through much of the Seder and chose not to participate. Every member of my family later called to say thank you, but I have yet to hear from even one member of my husband’s extended family, including my in-laws. I am highly offended. Should I let them know how I feel?

— Seder strife

Take comfort in knowing that had your in-laws and their family been slaves in Egypt, they would likely not have been redeemed. Not only because they behaved like the wicked child by excluding themselves from the group, but also because their manners are appalling. There is nothing to be gained in this situation by venting. The only lesson here is for you: Next year follow your better judgment.

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



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