Skip To Content

Confronting In-Law’s Mean Streak

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 [email protected].

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.