When Grandpa’s Seder Is a Turn-Off
The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Read the discussion and vote below for what you think is the best response to this particular quandary. You can email your own questions, which will remain anonymous, to: email@example.com
Can We Ask Papa to Chill Out with the Seder?
I am 24, a woman, and a Jew. My cousin, also a woman in her 20s, and I are both currently dating non-Jews. She is engaged to her guy and I am very serious and have talked about marriage with mine. We come from a big Jewish family and this is the first time they are coming to our big seder, at our grandparents’ house. Both of our guys have expressed some willingness to raise our children Jewish, and even possibly convert themselves. No decisions have been made, but they are really considering it.
So we were thinking of asking our grandfather, who leads the evening, to tone down the seder this year: make it a little less intense and a little more user-friendly. We’re thinking shorter, and maybe more politically correct and less traditional than he usually makes it. The thing is, we want them to like it, and not get turned off. What do you think Seesaw? Is this a reasonable request? It would be “good for the Jews,” we think. —The Granddaughters
YES! But He Might Say No
LAUREL SNYDER: YES! You are exactly right. All of your instincts are totally on the money. Do it! Just like that.
Here’s the thing — your Papa may say no. He may even say something about your non-Jewish fellas that hurts your feelings. But you have no real control over that, and the conversation (or one like it) is bound to happen sooner or later. So this sounds like a reasonable time. A fine introduction.
It sounds like you’re being very respectful of everyone, and that’s the key. On the one hand, you want to give the non-Jews an experience they can understand. But also, the better this seder goes, the more likely your family will be to see how seriously your boyfriends are taking your Judaism. Basically, you’re setting everyone up for success. If you can explain it to your Papa this way, I bet he’ll be happy to help.
When we joined a synagogue, I found myself making a choice like this. The shul I might have preferred just felt like it would be inaccessible to my husband. So I opted for another place, with more English, more intermarried families, etc. Because I didn’t want “best” to be the enemy of good.
But it sounds like you already know that.
Slow Down! It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
REBECCA LEHRER: It’s my favorite time of year! I LOVE Passover. The themes of liberation, freedom, and renewal are so profound and so universal. My non-Jewish husband and I hosted our first seder together six months after we started dating. It was and has remained a mixed up, loud, funny, political and drunk affair with beautiful food and friends.
When I was a kid, did I count down to the page the meal was served? Sure. Did I learn a tremendous amount about tradition and family? Yes. Have my family seders evolved with time? Absolutely. Should you tell your grandfather to tone down his seder for your boyfriend? No.
It sounds like ultimately what you want is for your boyfriend to love your family and traditions as much as you do! That’s a wonderful start. But remember, this is a marathon and not a sprint. It will take time for you guys to find your own way and it will take time for your family to adjust.
Like you, I come from a big Jewish family and several of my female cousins also have non-Jewish partners. It’s been a blessing to be able to navigate how to do Jewish alongside them in a way that feels meaningful and inclusive. Note: You may end up approaching things differently. Try not to judge the other for it.
Here are a few tips from someone who’s been there: Prep your boyfriend in advance. Tell him the Passover story, warn him about Uncle Brian’s inappropriate jokes and explain the family politics on Israel. Bring something to your family seder that reflects your values. Prep your Papa and your parents for whatever you brought. (“I am excited to be bringing my boyfriend to our seder. I love this tradition. I found some supplemental content that really resonated with me and I would love to share it during the seder.” Host your own, personalized seder with friends on a different night. Through it all, laugh and drink and enjoy.
Rebecca Lehrer is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Mash-Up Americans, a website and consultancy representing the hybrid culture and new face of America. The Mash-Up Americans is exploring Spanglish, kimchi + more, just not on Shabbos.
What’s Stuffy to You Might Be Compelling to Others
SCOTT PERLO: I have this theory. It’s called the Embarrassing Father Theory of Judaism. Really, it should be the Embarrassing Parent of Any Gender Theory of Judaism, but that’s not quite as piquant. It goes like this: one of your parents, generally a father who wears black socks, pulled all the way up, with his shorts, has the sublime ability to mortify you more than any other human being alive. This particular power reaches its peak at age 14 or so, but vestiges of it remain all throughout adulthood. 100% of respondents report high levels of parental embarrassment.
The thing is, other people do not see our parents as we see them. And though we children are possessed of the most love for them, others often are able to muster more kindness and admiration than we are. They see our folks with fresh eyes; virtues that have faded into the background, for us, are clear and present to them.
Judaism is like that too. Though we may find it as familiar as an old sweater, to others it can possess a surprising grace and beauty. What you see as long or embarrassing or old-fashioned may appear graceful, elegant, and thoughtful to others.
That isn’t to say that just the sound of the four questions will make your men swoon; my point is that what you see may not be what they see, and what you want to edit might be what they would preserve. Talk to your partners before you approach your Papa. Would they prefer the unvarnished version or one geared towards newcomers? Would they rather observe or participate? Explanations are a good idea for everyone, but what aspects (spiritual, historical, legal) pique their interest?
And don’t worry so much about this first one. If they really love you, they have a whole lifetime of seders to look…forward to.
Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.