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Advice on moving in with partners, with parents, and how to ask for help

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. In 2020, we are reviving the signature advice column, helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in this digital age. Send your questions to [email protected].

Illustration by Liana Finck

Image by Liana finck

An atheist and a Jew walk into a bar…

Dear Abbys,

My partner is an atheist and hates religion, while I am a somewhat observant Jew. We moved in together because of COVID — how do we handle Shabbat and other holidays?

Shabbat Lover in San Francisco

Dear Shabbat Lover,

You say you moved in together because of COVID? We really hope that wasn’t the only reason.

Look, shacking up is not all romance, laughter and games. One of us Abbys is in an interfaith marriage and remembers those first tentative days of unpacking candlesticks and feeling confused about how our lives could fit together. Sharing our faith can make us feel so vulnerable. It’s a lot more revealing than how your morning breath smells or that inexplicable Phil Collins record collection.

This is why we urge you to SING OUT LOUISE!. The Kiddush, the Motzi, the Bim Bim Bam version you love best. Sing it loud and sing it proud. What do you have to lose?

We come to this decree only by years of swallowing our songs. One of us Abbys once locked herself in a closet to make the Sabbath blessings for fear of facing questions from her atheist then-boyfriend. Which led to a lot of secrecy and shame — and a weird fear about lighting clothes on fire. When we did get up the guts to light those candles out in the open, it was actually a lovely, intimate experience.

Seriously, Shabbat Lover, your love of Shabbat is an important part of you that deserves a place in your home. What exactly do you feel attached to? The smell of chicken soup and flickering candles? The chance to unplug? The brachas? This is a great moment to really examine what feels like a comforting ritual and what constitutes your faith. Just because your partner doesn’t share these opinions, doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate them. Ask them about their rituals and beliefs too, have fun discussing and dissecting, and find a way to frame your practices that can resonate for you both. This is the way to make a home together.

And who knows? Maybe there’s something you two can find to observe together. Whether it’s opening a bottle of wine on Friday night or turning off your phones Saturday morning, it can be a new ritual that means something to both of you.

Most of all, give yourselves both a break. These are cramped, anxious times and you’re starting a new phase of your relationship. If nothing else, raise a glass to that.

dove flies through broken heart

Image by Liana finck

Moving in with mom?

Dear Abbys,

My mom is immunocompromised and living all alone. I hate leaving her by herself, but I also don’t know how to keep her safe if I bring her to live with me and my family two states away. What do you think I should do?

Sue, N.J.

Dear Sue,

Does your mother want to come stay with you? Or is that what you want? From your question, it’s hard to tell who thinks this might be a good idea — and that might be more important than the particulars of virus transmission.

If you’ve all been self-quarantined for well over two weeks, it should, in theory, be equally safe for your mother to come live with you as to stay by herself. But that would mean everyone in your orbit being super-strict about following the guidelines for immuno-compromised people.

As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.

Is anyone in your household an essential worker, someone still going regularly into a hospital or a grocery store, delivering packages or covering the news as a journalist? Are you or your partner regularly making pilgrimages to places that might put you at risk? Or are you just struggling with a general feeling of responsibility for her health if she comes to live under your roof?

If everyone is hunkering at home, and your actual chance of exposure is low, there are still some emotional factors to consider: Is there space for Mom to live comfortably? How much care will she require? How do the other members of your family feel about the prospect of her moving in — and maybe staying for months? What will you do if she becomes sick — with Covid, or something else?

And maybe most importantly: Will you feel more at ease with her under your roof, or will you both be more nervous?

These are questions only you (and she) can answer, and there are no right or wrong answers. It’s a gut check. When you think of her in your home, do you relax? Or seize up? That’s all you need to know.

kid in baseball cap

Image by Liana finck

Sorry not sorry

Dear Abbys,

I’m asking for donations for my now-closed-due-to-the-pandemic small business because I just started it in January and don’t qualify for any stimulus help. Should I feel guilty? I don’t. Is that wrong?


Money Grubber, N.J.

Dear Money Grubber,

First of all, we’re so sorry to hear about your business closing. We imagine this was a dream you worked hard to bring into reality, in addition to a revenue stream, and it must be very painful to lose it.

Secondly, should you feel guilty about asking for donations? Heck no! There is no right or wrong way to feel about living through a global pandemic and witnessing the economy careen into a nosedive. And it’s hard to quantify need and suffering during this time. In fact, there have been some really insightful (and tragic) reports lately about how different sectors of the U.S. economy are suffering. From doctors being fired for wearing protective gear, to dairy farmers dumping 3.7 million gallons of undrunk milk each day, we are each endangered in some way. We may claim that we’re “all in this together” but it’s clear that there are huge disparities in who is getting the assistance they need — physically and financially.

Feeling overwhelmed? Need advice? Want to mull over the ethics of getting takeout in the corona era? We gotchu. Write to [email protected].

So Money Grubber, by all means, ask for help!

But here’s the thing. Please don’t sit by your phone and keep refreshing your Venmo feed to see who loves you most. Ask, and then move on. Or better yet, move on to giving tzedakah. Tzedakah can mean putting your loose change in that tin can your kid decorated at Hebrew School. Or it can mean calling someone who’s home alone and could use a friendly voice. It might even be petitioning Congress to pass more comprehensive stimulus packages so homeless and immigrant families — and small businesses like your own — are protected during this crisis. Is there some way that your new business can be of service to others even if it’s closed? Like, if you have a surplus of food, you could donate it to hospital staff, or if your business is a car wash, maybe you can open up for a day of free washes for delivery trucks?

Bottom line: Guilt has no place in a pandemic. And you can give even as you take.


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