Looking for Suggestions to Breakdown Communication Barriers

Below is an email exchange with my sister. She is two years older than me and has called me “Ugs” since I was 5 years old and she thought I was cute. Lashon sagi nahor, I guess. I have always been very close with her but we don’t see each other often since she still lives in the NY area and I have relocated to Baltimore.

It bothers both of us that we are not able to share in each others lives more. The situation is complicated by the fact that my nephews have severe food allergies. For the last few years she has hosted various Thanksgiving dinners, and birthday parties that we have declined to attend. I wanted to convey (more) clearly to her why we decline. In the past she has said something like “What’s the problem? When my kids go to a birthday party, they know that they cannot eat whatever they want because it might have peanuts etc. So why can’t you just do the same thing with your kids? We’ll bring in some kosher food for you and some other food for everyone else.” Obviously, there are halachic ways to cook kosher in a non-kosher home.

I’d appreciate some feedback as to the emotional / communication element at work.


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Subject: RE: stuff

1) We have a similar guide already, thanks

2) Sis, we teach our kids that God wants all Jews to be Torah observant. We also teach them that even though the rest of our family is not Torah observant, they are very wonderful people and do lots of other things that Hashem is proud of even though they don’t keep shabbos and kosher. We also tell them that their aunts and uncles love them and do a lot of nice things for them. That being said, until they are significantly older, I cannot bring them to any family function were non-kosher food is being served. I feel that watching people that they are told to love and value eating non-kosher has a negative impact on them, even though they know intellectually that the rest of the family eats non-kosher food. I cannot, on one hand tell them that it is very important to eat kosher and then completely desensitize them to that message by having them watch non-kosher food be eaten while they are casually enjoying a game or story with their cousins. I realize that this makes things difficult since you are very limited in what food you can bring into your house. I don’t expect you to do what you can’t do, but we cannot come unless only kosher food is served.

-Ugs

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Subject: stuff

1) I have a copy of the 2006 Ou guide to kosher for Passover. Do you want it?

2) Dad is turning 75 this year. I was thinking of making a brunch party on May 28 (Sunday morning). Would you guys come?

-sis

74 comments on “Looking for Suggestions to Breakdown Communication Barriers

  1. Hello Avraham Moshe,
    The truth is that the answer that would work for me might not work for others. I got some really good feed back from the posters on the blog, but ultimately, only I know what my relationship with my sister is about. But, in absence of knowing the specifics of the particulat case, I would say, “Politely hold your ground.” If they are already tolerant of your wearing a hat and keeping shabbos, why assume that one more thing will break the camels back? If there would have been both kosher and non-kosher food there, I would have been stressed worrying that someone was going to accidently serve my kids non-kosher when I stepped out a minute to go the the bathroom. This way, I was relaxed, my wife and I could focus on building a reltionship with family. It went well and there was no negative fallout.

    Michoel

  2. B”H

    Michoel –

    Now that you’ve [successfully] been through such an experience – how would you answer your own question about such an event and family dynamics?

  3. Hello mother,
    It is great that you learned that kind of derech eretz. The get-together that inspired this discussion happened this past Sunday. My sister brought in bagels and a Carvel cake from with a reliable hashgacha (maybe they are all relible, not sure.) I am personally makpid on chalav Yisroel but we allow our kids to eat chalav stam outside the house. Eveyone was happy, especially my parents.

  4. We (FFB) always had a very close relationship with an older relative, despite her not being observant. Whenever we visited her, she’d have a cake from a kosher bakery, under our congregation’s supervision, sliced in advance in the store, served on paper plates.
    Every now & then she would buy us some chocolate, kosher but not cholov yisroel. Even when small we knew how to happily say “thank you” and that later, without hurting her feelings, the chocolate would be exchanged for something we were able to eat. (Much later, she started to buy us only parve chocolates. But my parents didnt press the point earlier.)

  5. An amazing thing happened. During Pesach, my sister kept kosher l’Pesach to the best of her knowledge. She did not eat or allow her family to eat anything that she knows is chametz. Her in-laws were visiting with them over Pesach. They are very assimilated Jews to such a degree that until my sister brought her new husband that a seder I made, he had never been to a seder. Anyway, half way through chol hamoed my wife’s father-in-law helped himself to a bowl of Cheerios. My sister’s sons were completely shocked. The next converstaion I had with my sister she mentioned the incident and commented possitively on how she now understood my desire to not desensitize my children.

  6. “Holy chutzpah” was one of Reb Shlomo’s phrases, and I think what he meant by it is more like Rebbe Nachman’s “azus b’kedusha” than Rav Hutners “gaivah b’kedusha.”

  7. I found this in a a piece on Parashat Tazria at the Breslov.org site:

    “Most believe that the humble person should act like a spineless doormat, always yielding and never taking a stand, demonstrating his total submission to all of humanity by walking with his head bent down. Rabbi Nachman says that true humility is responding appropriately, as each situation demands. There are situations which require that we should be as yielding as a reed and yet there other situations that demand just the opposite, when we must take the initiative in aggressive and firm action. Our sages call this azut d’kedusha, holy boldness, which is absolutely necessary for both prayer and Torah study.”

    A Google search revealed that Rav Dessler also discussed this concept, in connection with the Chashmonaim.

  8. SephardiLady:

    We may just be in agreement on this but the words are getting in the way.

    I don’t think it is “appropriate” to follow up actions with understanding. I think it is imperative lest we reduce our level of kavod habrios to mere rote actions performed when someone does something for us.

    Also, while I agree that some schools are falling short in this regard, it is not all and, IMO,it is certainly not true of this particular school.

    I also don’t think that the fact that a school presents such a program (and the school did not produce the program, they implemented it so clearly others are as well) isn’t indicative of the problem (though I agree the problem exists). There are plenty of similar such programs, for tefillah for example, which, IMO, don’t indicate a problem but rather the school’s understanding of the importance of the issue and of teaching it to their students.

  9. Hello Bob,
    Thanks for those stories. BTW, the term “gaava d’kedusha” was coined by Rav Hutner, as Jacob Haller mentioned above, so I am just repeating his lashon. I have also hear “azus d’kedusha”. I don’t think they are completely interchangable. Azus d’kedusha seems to be used to denote confidence and bravery to do mitzvos that might seem intimidating, ex. going into the former Soviet Union and building a yeshivah. Gaavah d’kedusha seems to be used to convey a way of carrying oneself. One should have good posture, walk confidently, and dress like a mentch as opposed to the “ich bin gornisht” approach.

  10. Michoel, regarding your post of March 30 at 19:46,

    “Gaava d’kedusha” may not be the best terminology to express your idea. In the Breslover literature, for example, there is much on “azus d’kedusha.”

    Your remark about kids’ singing volume brought to mind something that happened on Staten Island in the early, pre-Verrazano Bridge, 1960’s. We had one Orthodox shul in town, Agudas Achim Anshe Chesed on Jersey Street, and some people there thought it was time to start an NCSY chapter on Staten Island (this turned out to be a little premature). So they held an event I went to, which featured R’ Shlomo Carlebach performing from the bimah. He was great, but we in the audience were ultra-shy. He tried to get us to sing along, with little success. Luckily for his singing career, he did not let us discourage him!

    Flashing forward to the mid-1990’s, I was working on a job in New Hampshire and often spent Shabbos at the Orthodox shul in Lowell, MA. The Rav, Rabbi Chaim Goldberger (now in Minnesota) was answering questions on Jewish topics via the shul’s web site. Someone from a Satmar summer camp in the Catskills contacted the Rabbi in this way and their conversations led to a Shabbat visit to Lowell by a group from the Satmar camp. Their singing in harmony at the Shabbos meals and in shul was awesome! This is not something you learn overnight, so this must have been a major part of their lives.

  11. At a recent Pirchei event, my son came back smiling saying “We heard a great story! Schvartze Wolf!”

    I have to admit that after hearing that initial word I recoiled and winced until the second word clarified it and that there were no additional trappings.

  12. David-Teaching concepts of kavod ha’briyot and tzelem elokim, if not accompanied by actions, is meaningless IMO. Plenty of schools talk a good talk, but don’t walk a good walk when it comes to these concepts. The evidence: how they treat others around them.

    Certain subject matter can be taught out of a textbook. But, other subject matter is taught best in the context of life. I would apply the gemorrah’s concept of actions penetrating the heart to derech eretz, etc. What you might call “superficial” I believe becomes natural and real over the years.

    When we make our children say please, thank you, and excuse me when they are little, it is superficial and it is done for their own benefit (e.g. they want that cracker and the only way to get it is say please and thank you). But, when they get older, these “superficial” actions penetrate their heart and become natural and real.

    Just like you can’t teach please and thank you out of a textbook, but must teach by example, the same holds true with basic decency and derech eretz.

    It is appropriate to follow up please and thank you with textbook ettiquite lessons and it is appropriate to follow up lessons in basic decency and derech eretz with textbook lessons about kavod ha’briyot and tzelem elokim. But, putting the cart before the horse is completely meaningless.

  13. Kressel,
    You made me crack up!

    ayala,
    I have seen that with my son. He becomes more noticeably proud of his Yiddishkeit when around non-frum relatives. It’s a good point.

    David,
    I don’t see why “teaching” is necessarily a deeper way of conveying a message then example. Each different child is impacted by different things, no? I would think that there is a risk in overstressing teaching if their example is not strong enough. “Tatty says one thing and does something else.” Better emor m’at v’aseh harbeh.

    I want to re-emphasise that my children have never heard the shv word or the n word from my wife or myself. And we do teach, by word and example, kavod for all people.

  14. As others have said, it’s hard for kids not to notice that Jews generally and religious Jews specifically are different, and this is not something that will escape any kid who starts learning chumash/rashi. It’s far easier and more common for them to lose sight of the need to treat all human beings with respect, and this is the lesson that seems to need stressing. This is particularly true when dealing with nonJews, many of whom are might be observing 7 mitzvos bnei noach and to whom the Tanya may well not apply, or not apply straightforwardly.

    “Your asking good. But I see it as a geder for k’dusha. One is not supposed to cintilate their yetzer. When one already had a desire for something, they should tell themselves, ee efshi and not that I don’t want it. But there is no mitzvah, particularly with young children, to create urges for forbidden things. IMO.”

    Well you were saying your daughter is disturbed by gentiles etc and you don’t want to desensitize her, a different problem.

    IME one of the best ways to inculcate gaiva d’kedusha is precisely what you would like to avoid – giving kids an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to mitzvos. Your kids are relatively young and raised in a frum home – I think they will understand that they are doing something special that the other kids aren’t doing, and be proud. An older, rebellious kid might be tempted, but I doubt that would be a factor with younger kids unless they are being deprived of some treat.

    I grew up frum, fwiw, and have clear memories of being trusted to go to some event at which others ate treif. I understood that keeping mitzvos was special and was proud and happy to do so! My sisterinlaw recently had some situation where her kids had to stay with a nonjewish neighbor for a short while (a really short while!) and was upset and worried they might be given treif and eat it. I was very upset by her reaction – what message is that to send to young kids? I know her children well, and they absolutely could be trusted, and more than that, would benefit from the message that their parents know and trust that they will explain that they don’t eat nonkosher. Being fearful that they will eat treif or afraid they will grow used to thinking that
    it’s OK to eat treif is not gaiva d’kedusha; it’s fear that the kids don’t have gaiva dekedusha to withstand an occasional encounter or small nisayon! One teaches self-pride with trust and pride in one’s kids commitment, not with fear of others. IMSHO :-)

  15. “On top of the fact that I believe that you cannot teach these things, but that you must demonstrate these things, it is a sad commentary on our community that we even need classes.
    If we would just treat those around us (e.g. the grocery store clerk, the person who helps us to the car with our groceries, the banker, etc) with basic decency and respect: greeting them with a friendly smile, and thanking them for their help, we wouldn’t be in the rut we are in today.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Treating people kindly, smiling and saying thank you are all admirable things and, at least to me, common derech eretz that should be taught to children (mostly by example). However, if we leave it at that, we will be teaching our children nothing more than superficial manners. Teaching children that all people were created by Hashem, that they all have unique and important roles will instill a much deeper level of respect than outward manners.

  16. >>My daughters’ school, a few years back, had an ongoing (monthlong?) program on kavod habrios. One of the segments discussed the importance of respecting non-Jews and people of other ethnicities.

    On top of the fact that I believe that you cannot teach these things, but that you must demonstrate these things, it is a sad commentary on our community that we even need classes.

    If we would just treat those around us (e.g. the grocery store clerk, the person who helps us to the car with our groceries, the banker, etc) with basic decency and respect: greeting them with a friendly smile, and thanking them for their help, we wouldn’t be in the rut we are in today.

    And, schools really need to put into place and enforce policy that give respect to all teachers (not just limudei kodesh teachers).

    If we just did some basic things, we wouldn’t have to invest so much time to teach things that could be learned through action. And, like I said before, you can’t really teach what you don’t do anyways.

  17. SL and Jacob,
    I hear in your two very intelligent posts that you both understand that there is more than one way to look at this. I hear that Jacob is a bit more sympathetic to my approach and that SL sees it a little more clearly the other way. For the record, I learned in Chaim Berlin under the present Rosh Yeshiva shlita. The concept of gaava d’kedusha is still very much felt there and it had a subtle but profound affect on me. I think American Yeshivish Orthodox Jews are lacking in gaava d’kedusha (which is a great maalah of the chasidim). In my my shul they make a mesibah for all the cheder age boys on each yom tov. I have been there watching a few times. The man that runs it tries valiantly to get the boys involved in spirited singing. “I can’t hear you! Who can sing the loudest?!!” and that type thing. Invariably, almost all the boys sit there self-conciously, not really being receptive to his overtures. I once spent a Shabbos in Monroe with a Satmar friend. As part of their Shabbos “pirchei” type activity, all the boys go to the beis hamedrash and sing zemiros with the pirchei leaders. Those little boys where blowing the roof off the place with their lebedig, unashamed singing. I see that as very positive. A frum Jew, in our decadent society, needs to be proud and confident. SL mentioned that it is ok to err on the side of teaching derech eretz for non-Jews because the messages they will get later on may contradict that lesson. I feel, at this point, that we should err on the side of making them very confident, and even superior, in their Jewishness.

  18. My daughters’ school, a few years back, had an ongoing (monthlong?) program on kavod habrios. One of the segments discussed the importance of respecting non-Jews and people of other ethnicities.

  19. Michoel, I’m glad that you are open to discussing ideas. It takes a brave person to make oneself vulnerable to criticism.

    There is nothing wrong with explaining to your children that as Jews they have special mitzvot, special responsibilities, and a special relationship with Hashem.

    But, inculcating that should not come by denigrating others. Unfortunately, I have sat through one too many talks where a Rav openly and unabashedly denigrates minorities because they are have a different skin color. I’ve also sat through conversations with people where I have pointed out that this “trash talking” does nothing to for kiruv rechokim or kirum kiruvim and that denigrating others to bring themselves up is ultimately counterproductive, only to have them justify the talk.

    The non-Jewish parent and the non-frum parent is fighting a battle against messages of moral relativism received in schools by some teachers, where the good and just of Western culture is denigrated because of acts of injustice or perceived acts of injustice.

    We are NOT fighting this battle. Our schools do not teach moral relativism where all acts and all cultures are equal. We should be fighting a different battle, one against the denigration of non-Jews. Try being a non-Jew, or even a frum Jew, teaching in Yeshiva, where bad behavior is accepted, either directly or indirectly, and the behavior is carrying over to all people and hurting the education of the students. Try being a black Jew in a class where the Rav uses denigrating language against people of your color.

    Even if we don’t spoon feed our children blatent racism, they will probably hear it from someone else that they are supposed to respect.

    I think it is fine to “err” on the side of stressing the humanity of all people, since there will be plenty of opportunities for this chinuch to be counteracted in the future.

  20. This personal anecdote is hopefully within the scope of this subject.

    After my sister returned from a trip to Yerushalayim, she brought us some requisite tourist trap paraphenalia. Pictoral laminated placemats.

    While showing them to my 5 year old son he spent a couple of seconds studying the photos of the camels, flowers etc until he asked “What’s that building?”

    Of course, it had to be……the gold domed edifice perched at the top of Har HaBayis (Temple Mount). I don’t know how much time elapsed while desperately thinking of all possible answers and their hashkafic implications and how that this clever child (quickly reminding myself that he’s only 5) who loves his yeshiva could paint me into a corner from anything disingenuous, but I found myself saying……

    “It’s a place used by non-Jews to daven to Hashem”. His face indicated a level of satisfaction with the answer. But too soon to rest.
    “Do they daven in Hebrew?” Another curveball.

    Repeating the same scenario as above, I came up with “Hashem understands every language but it’s best to daven in Hebrew”.

    Some observers might wonder why should one get stressed out by questions of this nature, but I’m not one to underestimate that children can ask very loaded questions and they can instantly discern nuances, especially parental ones. Furthermore, with chinuch l’bonim, the stakes are pretty darn high.

    Other observers from different corners might have their own 2cents as well regarding potential problems with this scenario. From the right we might hear “It’s NOT Hashem they’re davening to”. From the left it could be “Your teaching elitist ethnocentrism”.

    The whole point of the above is that learning how to educate is way too complicated to be condensed into pithy aphorisms and each situation presents unique challenges.

    However, HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, the late Rosh HaYeshiva of Chaim Berlin took a cue from the Alter of Slobodka in inculcacating into his talmidim the idea of “Gaiva D’Kedusha”. Gaiva is very, very, very roughly translated into haughtiness or arrogance. While the Rambam maintains that the only extremism one should occuply himself in is extreme humility, apparently there is a place in Torah philosophy for carefully easured “arrogance”.

    In some ways, the world hasn’t changed from the time of the Alter of Slobodka. Living as B’nei Torah can often put one on the defensive and to keep level, it just doesn’t cut it by thinking and teaching that our ways should be seen as “not better, just different”. If out of a sense of fairness and egalitarianism we feel compelled to believe this, then the task of teaching our children to live a lifestyle of constant challenges, going against the flow, and of mesirus nefesh will be fraught with irreconcilable contradictions.

    This is likely already way too verbose for a blog post so in a feeble attempt to sum it up with an example: the 1st ammendment may have its values, but from even just a hashkafic (aside from halachic) viewpoint, the laws against lashon hara and rechilus are far SUPERIOR.

  21. Ayala,
    Your asking good. But I see it as a geder for k’dusha. One is not supposed to cintilate their yetzer. When one already had a desire for something, they should tell themselves, ee efshi and not that I don’t want it. But there is no mitzvah, particularly with young children, to create urges for forbidden things. IMO.

  22. “OTOH,
    I know people that are very makpid to avoid having their children even smell treif food. Kids are different and parents are different.”

    The idea that one should preserve kids from smelling or seeing treif food strikes me as a direct repudiation of “lo yomar odom ee efshi b’vsar chazir etc.” and therefore bad chinuch.

  23. SL,
    She did have a bad experience with a little black girl at a playground at a young age. But even before that, she was always asking, “are they Jewish?” when she met someone that was not externally Jewish looking. I want to stress: we do not use bad language about gentiles and I allow my son to play with a little black boy who has very good middos and does not use bad language. We do stress that Jews are inherently different, which I believe to be basic Torah hashkafa.

    Michalle,
    I think there are many valid viewpoints about a variety of topics that would turn a lot of people off to Judaism. But I do not believe the problem is with Judaism, chas v’shalom. If we told your average modern woman that the Torah sanctions multiple wifes, would that not turn them off? You certainly agree that yain nesech is assur b’zman hazeh, correct? And I’m sure that you would follow that halacha even though your non-mevushal wine might be touched by a very fine gentile who you are freindly with. So how do you justify that?
    What we are speaking about here is not racism, I don’t think. We have had Black Gerim in our house and she understands that they are fully Jewish even if it took her a little while to get used to the concept.

    Anyway, please don’t run anywhere! These are important, complex issues and they deserve deep consideration.

    Michoel

  24. Similarly, obviously you know more about your own daughter and her needs than I do, and it’s a ridiculous position to be quasi-lecturing someone over the internet about their way of dealing with their child, who I’ve never met, but at the same time, it can not be over-emphasized how disturbing the idea is that somehow Judaism and the Torah make it okay to be racist/prejudiced. The idea that a concept such as that is an integral part of the religion makes me, and I would imagine, many other Jewish people, want to turn around and run as far and as fast from the religion as I can possibly get. If Moshiach himself offered the religion on such terms, I could not imagine accepting it.

  25. Ilanit:
    I have a couple of thoughts for you, again based on personal experience. While the gay relative may seem like the most difficult to deal with in terms of younger children, with older children/teens the opposite may be true. I have much more to worry from my “straight” non-frum relatives who want to draw my kids into their circles, than from the gay relative whose lifestyle my kids instinctively reject.
    On the other hand, it may be necessary to distance ourselves in order to avoid poor influences from close family members. The only consolation I can think of is that this painful mesiras nefesh for the sake of Torah will hopefully strengthen your commitment to yiddishkeit.

  26. We can agree to disagree, but I have a hard time believing that the distaste is “inherent.” Usually these strong feelings develop from somewhere. Your daughter sounds like a doll, but I’d want to find out where the distaste is coming from.

  27. Am I missing something? I’m having a hard time imagining that seeing non-observant family eat treif once or twice a year will have any lasting negative impact on children from a Torah observant home. Those family members live several hours away. While young children are impressionable, they are much more likely to be influenced by what they see around them every day.

    I think the daughter’s “inherent distaste for gentiles” is unfortunate. Hashem gave the other nations a different path from ours. I’m not sure why seeing people live in accordance with Hashem’s will would be distasteful.

  28. But are your freieh relatives necessarily “role models?” You love them, but your lives follow your rabbis. I understand there are many things that cause kids to go off the derech, but it doesn’t seem to me that a non-kosher gathering would be anyone’s ikar temptation.

  29. Yael,
    My father is very easy going. He would understand. They come down to us pretty often. My mother, however, is very upset on an ongoing basis that her grandchildren don’t know each other.

  30. Michalle,
    First of all, we do teach her to respect gentiles and point out to here the many wonderful gentiles she already knows; the nurse at our pediatrician who is so nice, the PT that, with great dedication, comes to our house to work with her baby brother, the plumber who lets her follow him around when he is trying to save my ceiling from rotting…
    And, as I mentioned above, one of my son’s main playmates is a non-Jewish African American boy. We have no problem with that and our daughter knows it.

    To address the larger issue: It is good that gentile parents would correct their children distate for Jews. Their world philosophy (in most cases) expects that of them. Our philosophy is determined by the Torah. There are many sources in the Torah that stress the greatness of humanity and the dignity with which we are to treat everyone. There are also many sources that stress the superiority of the Jewish people and the (by comparison) lower status of the non-Jewish nations, someitmes even with harsh language.

    Each person has to find the correct balance. THERE IS NOT ONE CORRECT APPROACH. And if one wants their children to be “as good as the best” in one reagrd, they have to be willing to have them not be as good as the best in another reagrd. Also, each child is different has their own sensitivities that need to be taken into account.

    Michalle
    Can we please agree to disagree?

    Thank you

  31. An important factor which has not yet been addressed….
    how would your father feel if his son and grandchildren missed his 75th birthday?

  32. If a gentile child had “an inherent distaste for Jews” would that be one possible correct way out of many? Would you hope that their parent would take action? Let me assure you that many gentile parents WOULD take action. They would be horrified. They would talk to their child and try to explain to them why that was not an okay way to feel about other human beings with whom we must share this planet, who may be different than us, but surely not to be judged as a group, but by their own actions and speech. Why should gentiles expect any less of us? And if some gentile parents wouldn’t care, do we want to be as bad as the worst, or as good as the best?

  33. Mr. Seif,

    Perhaps I did misunderstand your point but what can possibly be wrong with suggesting that he speak to his Rav about his predicament? I don’t believe the comment downplayed the effect of this blog at all. All the commenter did was point out that in addition to the many ideas that have been offered, there may still be value to speaking to a Rav/mentor/Rebbetzin with whom one can more freely describe the particulars of his/her situation. As good as the idea here have been [and they’ve been very enlightening] there is still room for Michoel to speak to a rav whom he respects and who has experience in dealing with these issues and trying to nail down a more definitive sort of plan.
    What exactly did you find objectionable with that? Why do you feel that it’s not consistent with the objective of this board?

  34. Michalle,
    I please forgive me for causing you discomfort. My daughter, bli ayin hara, is a holy neshama. We do not talk down about gentiles in our house. She is 4 1/2 years old and has great sensitivity. I have heard great people use much stronger language so there is clearly more than one way to look at this issue and I’m sure you realize that your way is not the only correct one.

    Kressel,
    Thanks for your comments. My children see their grandparents a lot. They come to us often. The weakened relationship with my sister is largely a function of neither one of us wanting to shlep, with young children, from NY to Baltimore. When there is a formal gathering of some some sort, I feel like I have to justify either going or not going.

    Chana,
    You are right and it is those things also that I am concerned about.

    Ilanit,
    Hatzlacha Raba. That is a hard one.

    For the record, my primary rebbe during my yeshiva days was a very frum person from a very good family. He had one brother of 14 children that was not doing so well with his yiddishkeit, but still keeping shabbos. This brother would come to visit my rebbe with his wife. They would sit on the couch with there arms around each other and generally behaved totally unlike the standards of his family. My rebbe (who I consider a great and insightful person) was completely NOT worried about his kids watching it. He said “I just tell them, Baruch Hashem we’re not like that”. Could be that for him, open public affection is like dealing with worse things for us.

  35. In addition to Chana’s excellent points, I think Michoel’s original question also involves the fact that grandparents and aunts and uncles are “role models” for our kids in ways that other Jews simply aren’t, and so, ironically, until they grow to be of age of true understanding and acceptance, there will be a risk of little Sarale coming home and saying (or worse, thinking privately) “Well, zaide does XY or Z, it can’t be so bad.”

    In our experience, it also simply made our kids feel uncomfortable to see their relatives doing aveirahs, even though we prepared them ahead of time. They were much happier when relatives agreed to “do it our way” when we were around, even though they know they are not observant.

  36. About one issue that Chana just pointed out – and not to necessarily digress from the original post – my husband happens to have 2 gay brothers. We don’t have children yet, but when we do (iyh), what do we do? I am not comfortable with just cutting off ties with his brothers. Where does one draw a line, and how can family relationships be maintained? I suppose these are eternal questions that will always be asked…

  37. Just 2 thoughts to add, based on personal experience with this issue. One is that there is more than kosher food at stake when socializing with non-frum family. There are often many other non-kosher scenarios that children absorb including non-tznius dress and behavior, relationships that are halachically unacceptable (intermarriage, gay, etc.), discussions about inappropriate recreational activities to name a few.
    The second point is that each kid is different in terms of their vulnerability and needs. Some kids may be very interested in the alternate lifestyle of the non-frum relatives, and some may feel very fulfilled in yiddishkeit and be less affected during these visits. I think we need to assess where our own kids are at and then decide what is best. One bit of advice about asking your Rav on this issue: be as detailed as possible about your concern so the Rav can understand the issue.

  38. You know, your post has really got me thinking. I make a point of visiting my parents and sister whenever I have the chance. Yeah, Bubby wears pants, Zaidy doesn’t wear a yarmulke, and my kids have long peyos, but we all love each other.

    It seems to me that the people to communicate with are your kids. I’ve repeated Jewish American history for my kids on a number of occasions. They know about the seven-day work week that existed here, and that their Bubby and Zaidy didn’t get to a good yeshiva like they do, and they accept.

    Admittedly, only my oldest really “gets it.” But my younger ones love their Bubby and Zaidy just the same and I’m confident it will always be that way. Perhaps it’s more difficult when dealing with cousins that are the same age as your children because they really are peers, but for me, this method is working out just fine.

  39. It seems to me that it would be a real shame if you missed your father’s birthday party. I’m sure you can work something out.

  40. The phrase “has an inherent distaste for gentiles” used in a positive sense makes my head want to explode.

  41. Avigdor M’Bawlmawr suggested yo speak to your rav about this. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to write. I’m all for asking shaylos. But this blog is in a unique position to prepare Baalei Teshuva to ask such question. Hearing the various sides of an issue discussed and debated, and then asking, makes for a much more meaningful question – and answer.

    I know Rabbi Horowitz is working on an article on the topic of asking questions. I wonder if he isn’t peeking into this thread right now.

    If you’re reading this Rabbi Horowitz, any pearls of wisdom to add?

  42. I would agree with the above posters. The most important thing that needs to be considered between you and your sister is your love for each other – family ties. If both of you agree on that point (and you said yourself that you are very close, which is wonderful), then it should follow that both of you should be able to come up with solutions that will allow you to maintain and even develop your relationship with each other. Instead of saying “this won’t work” or “that can’t be done”, say to each other, “well, I have this and this obstacle/problem, but I CAN do this and that, so how can we fix the problem between us and overcome it?” If you keep your focus on what is the real issue – how to maintain your family relationships – then the solutions may come more easily. There is a solution to every problem (at least I believe that) and absolutes (something like, “I will NEVER do X”) almost never work. Good luck and let us know what happens!

  43. Avigdor,
    BTW, it is not only “seeing people” that concerns me. It is playing Legos with your cousin while he is fressing on a sandwich of treif turkey. Hey, I am my sisters younger brother and eating kosher is not exactly an issur dioraisa according to their world view, so let her accomodate me a little.

    Your point about anger is well taken. Sometimes when I feel like getting angry about something, I try to tell myself, “you made such a big deal about a frumkeit and now you want to be over all sorts of issurim by getting angry?!

  44. Avigdor,
    “Michoel, have you talked to a Rav about this?”

    That is the smartest thing I’ve heard all day. I haven’t asked this question head on, but I’ve asked similar questions. Yes, I will bli neder discuss this issue directly with my Rav.

    People from Baltimore sure are smart.

  45. You can’t compare different levels or standards of kashrus to not keeping kosher at all.
    If someone keeps kosher but buys a hechshor I don’t, I’ll still eat in their house. But if someone eats/cooks treif then everything they cook is treif, and their testimony as to food being kosher is suspect.
    I had a friend who kept pas yisroel (I don’t) and when he came for a meal I simply made sure that all bread/cakes etc were pas yisroel and he trusted me on it. It is a lot harder to tell a non-frum Jew, “oh btw, don’t give me anything treif.”
    Yes, kids know that there is such a thing as treif food, but I think it depends on the age of the child as well as the individual child’s maturity level before as to when you want them to be exposed to OTHER JEWS eating treif.

  46. Michoel, have you talked to a Rav about this? I mean in particular, the question of going to an event where your children will see Jews eat trief? I guess the m’chalak I try to make is between home and the outside. On the hierarchy of Torah values it seems the lesson of ahavas Yisrael is way above _seeing_ people non-kosher. Certainly seeing anger, not that my kids have _ever_ seen me angry, is a lot worse, IMHO. But these are only my opinions; again, ask a Rav.

  47. SL,
    Maybe you’re right. Especially about causing their kids to ask.

    OTOH,
    I know people that are very makpid to avoid having their children even smell treif food. Kids are different and parents are different.

  48. If you live in a frum, but diverse community, where people keep different standards of kashrut like chalav yisrael, kemach yashan, Beit Yosef, etc, kids learn to ask questions and make decisions.

    If you take your children to the regular grocery store, they learn to look for kosher products and even learn to look for “reliable” heksherim.

    I can’t imagine that children in most frum communities don’t understand that there is kosher and non-kosher food and even acceptable and non-acceptable completely kosher food.

    I can’t see a problem if Cousin A eats his non-kosher food, while Cousin B eats his glatt kosher food, and they follow up their eating with playing. Your kids understand why they keep kosher and if anything comes out of the meeting, it will be your sister’s children asking their mother why they don’t keep kosher (since kids tend to accept rules much easier than adults).

  49. Thanks for your thoughts Gershon. The lack of a realtionship with cousins and aunts and uncles is painful for me.

    My oldest is 6 1/2. He is capable of a great deal of nuance and understanding of complex situations. “they are not religious, they never learned, I am frum, Baruch Hashem. If they do something wrong, it doesn’t make it less wrong, but I can love them anyway.” My son plays ball all the time with a black neighbor and they have a great sprock. I see it as very positive. My wife and I joke that he has certain goat-like qualities.
    My daughter is not that way at all. She is extremely eidel, has an inherent distaste for gentiles, non-Toradig music, any kind of harsh language. Two totally different children. I don’t want to chep with the purity of her idealism.

  50. How about talking to a kosher caterer in advance about how this can be done to truly meet your nieces and nephew’s allergy needs? It seems like once that’s worked out, and paper plates, cups, utensils and tablecloths are bought, it’s a no-brainer.

    As for worrying about what your kids will see, you’re going to get a lot of different answers here. Of course it depends on you, your sister, your kids, who’s coming, how often you do this….

    Having brought up our kids far away from family, (I’m from NY, my wife is from South Africa. We lived in Israel for 7 years and Chicago the last 15 years.) I can tell you that there is something my kids will never have that my wife and I did have – cousins.
    It’s what to think about.

    OTOH, I can also tell you of how some of the infrequent encounters with some of the family have created emotional turmoil for at least one of my kids.

    Very hard question to answer for later on, but certainly when your kids are young, I don’t think it’s as big a deal.

  51. There’s no reason to make your non-frum friends and relatives into sinners in their eyes. If anything you’ll have to work in the opposite direction and help them understand the concept of Tinok Shenishba and they’ll “get it”.

    This is similar to what we do; the only way I could come up with to explain why I keep Torah & mitzvos and my brother does not is to explain that we did not grow up with the opportunity to learn Torah (lesson #1 – they should appreciate all that tuition money and homework :) ), but that I got lucky, and learned along the way. And that learning includes *really* understanding (in the sense of ‘no one knows enough to be a apikorus these days’), which is hard to do.

    So they know that we eat only certain things in his (kosher to the best of HIS knowledge, but not glatt at all) house, and have dinner in local kosher restaurants.

    And they know Grandpa only wears a yarmulka in shul, and we only eat Mommy-supervised or pre-packaged things in that house.

    And we don’t eat cheese in the kosher relatives’ house without verifying chalav yisroel, because they buy both.

    We’ve gone to my brother’s in-laws for Thanksgiving to see my brother & his wife, with them volunteering to get us catered kosher stuff; they know not to open or warm anything.

    And with this stuff, I don’t think ‘knowing’ is very different from seeing. Do you really thing your family’s standards will never differ from others in your frum community? I have had to tell my kids we don’t eat X at a classmate’s home. They get it (lower elementary ages). As well as tolerance of PEOPLE, it teaches them that there are different ways of doing things – and it isn’t for us to judge.

    Focus instead on the importance of family, and your love of Torah and how lucky your family is to keep mitzvos, and they’ll be fine. How old are these kids anyway? Are you announcing ‘not kosher’? Just tell them ‘this is our food, we don’t eat that’. Unless they are avid label-checkers (I’ve seen some smarty-pants 6 YO’s . . .), they shouldn’t notice that it isn’t non-kosher unless there’s milk & meat. Maybe your sister can avoid that for everyone? HAve some faith – kids are resilient, and it’s a good lesson.

  52. David,
    She is very into cooking but that is lesser issue. She is super nervous about sesame seeds from kosher bagel / pizza places sticking to something. Your idea might be workable. I’ll ask her.

  53. Hello Steve,
    Resturants are out, do to my nephews’ severe allergies. Money is not an issue and they would actually think it silly for me to offer to reimburse them. They know I can barely cover my tutions (B”H I have tuitions), and that they live in a mini-mansion in Westchester.

    Showing up breifly and not eating is a possiblity and actually would hae less of desensitizing effect, possibly. Better then one kid eating kosher while playing with another kid eating treif.

  54. Michoel,

    Does she particulary love to cook or something? If she is planning a brunch and lives in Westchester, there are plenty of kosher dairy caterers that could supply a wonderful brunch that is just as good quality as treif. They’d only lose out on bacon. Would she be open to something like this if you helped subsidize it?

  55. Any possibility of having this function in a neutral venue-such as a kosher restaurant?Any possibility of your sister bringing in kosher food and you reimbursing her? How about just showing up and not eating?

  56. Menachem,
    I am tending to disagree with you but I am open to learning more about your approach. And I have seen both approaches used effectively and ineffectively.

  57. I don’t think you need to worry about teaching your kids what’s acceptable or not for other Jews. You teach what the Torah says they should do they’ll figure the rest out. There’s no reason to make your non-frum friends and relatives into sinners in their eyes. If anything you’ll have to work in the opposite direction and help them understand the concept of Tinok Shenishba and they’ll “get it”. They’ll be able to love their aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. and accept their “shortcommings”.

    The danger with your approach is more evident in some of the discussions we’ve had here where we deal with gray areas, which far outnumber the black and white.

  58. “Of as frum people they’ll need to know that some things are acceptable and others are not, for them.” Menachem, certainly you agree that children should be taught that eating treif is unacceptable for any Jew, right?

    You are saying good about dropping in. The thing is, it is a huge shlep for us from Baltimore to Westchester County, with young children. Maybe it is worth it, even if we only spend a 1/2 hour there.

  59. “Also, teaching them intolerance to things that are, in fact, intolerable is good. No?”

    No. I don’t think intolerance is appropriate. You want to teach them diferentiation. Of as frum people they’ll need to know that some things are acceptable and others are not, for them.

    As for the concern about the food at the dinner. It sounds like your sister could handle it right. But David has a good point. So in that case you still go and don’t eat. Or at least you “drop by” before or after the actual dinner.

    My mother’s family had a huge multi-generational Thanksgiving dinner that existed for at least 50 years. It was often held in a treif resteraunt. Before we had kids, my wife and I would just go, have a drink, and enjoy being with the family. After we had kids we did more of a drop in kind of thing. It was always appreciated and it maintained the kesher.

    As for your sister feeling the envent revolves around you. Just keep it low key, try to be as low maintainance as possible. You can offer to make your own arrangement, bring your own food, etc.

  60. By “making the entire event revolve around your needs” does she mean having kosher food at all, or you desire that the entire affair be kosher?

  61. David –

    They could probably get around that and still go if they brought their own kosher food. Preferably a favorite of the kids so that they don’t feel so conscious of their exclusiveness.

  62. I have had that experience with other relatives. With my sister, she has her head on straight and is attentive to details so I am sure she could pull it off. Also, my parents now keep a degree of kashrus and they could help out.

    It is just that she doesn’t feel that that I am justified in making and entire event revolve around my needs. She is an extremely nice person and we are very close, but that seems to be her view.

  63. I’ve found from past experience, that it is better to not go at all then to go and find that the “kosher food” supplied either isn’t really kosher but kosher style, or it was kosher but then was treifed in the relatives kitchen. Then you end up not eating after they went out of their way for you and then they harbor ill-feelings towards you and make nasty comments about the food “not being kosher enough for you.” Only go if you feel you are close enough to your sister that you can explain pro-actively all the details of kashrus and every potential thing that could go wrong with the kosher food.

  64. Could be your right. Not sure.

    “By not bringing them you send the oppposite message.” At this point, my kids are young an unaware of the invitations. In any case, any boundary that a parent puts up, there is a risk of the child learning intolerance, yet all parents put up some boundaries. It has to be done in the right way.

    Also, teaching them intolerance to things that are, in fact, intolerable is good. No?

  65. “I feel that watching people that they are told to love and value eating non-kosher has a negative impact on them, even though they know intellectually that the rest of the family eats non-kosher food.”

    Nope. Having raised 3 kids to near adulthood in a similar environment I can tell you that you have nothing to worry about bringing them to a Thanksgiving dinner. If your sister provides kosher food for you all the better. Unless you’re raising your kids in New Square they already know they’re different and they konw the rest of your family is different.

    Kids are very smart. They’re not going to run to McDonalds just because you brought them to a Thanksgiving dinner that had treif food.

    Most importantly, you need to teach them that you can love people, especially Jewish relatives of theirs, even though they are not at the same level of observance. By bringing them you’ll teach them tolerance. By not bringing them you send the oppposite message.

    And of course there’s the positive effect that you and your family can have on your sister and her family. Thankgiving, birthdays, mother’s day, are davka the times you should be going out of your way to spend with your non-frum family.

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