My Brother’s Big Fat Secular Wedding

Blast from the past, first posted on Nov 8, 2006.

We had asked our rabbi if we were even allowed to attend, and he told us since there is an assumption that Jewish weddings on the whole are at least kosher style that we were permitted to go but that, of course, we shouldn’t eat anything. I was relieved since I knew that telling my family, my mother in particular, that we wouldn’t be able to make it would be the start of World War Three. Besides, I had already rented the tux.

I was asked to speak and, as you might imagine, I was quite nervous. Besides trying to put feelings into words, which is especially hard for me, it was to be in front of an audience of three hundred or so secular Jews and I hoped that I would be a Kiddush Hashem. When I told another rabbi that I would be speaking he
advised me to try to convey some kind of positive Jewish message.

I spent the good part of two days trying to find the right things to say. I managed to borow a good line or two from a couple of speeches I had heard and to recycle a poignant d’var torah that I planned to give over. However, because of an incident, both tragic and sadly ironic, that occurred shortly before the big speech, much of my plan changed.

We listened to the father of the bride k’vell over his daughter and make the typical jokes about how he’d be paying for the wedding for the next twenty years. Then the bride’s sister spoke about the time she stole her sister’s sticker book and paid the price for it. The best man was very heartfelt as he congratulated the bride and groom, and then I, the brother of the groom, was summoned to speak.

I briefly acknowledged the presence of some of the more senior family members in attendance and related that it was an honor to be asked to say a few words. I swallowed hard and decided for sure, at that moment, that I was actually going to say the words I had concocted in my head, only a half-hour earlier as a result of that tragic and sadly ironic “pre-speech” incident. I continued, “I had prepared to say something very deep and meaningful about G-d and torah…” At this point I felt the collective breath of the crowd drop as they clearly had no desire to be bored by some religious guy talking about the one thing that they absolutely didn’t feel like listening to at that time. I continued “…but after one of the waiters offered me a scallop wrapped in bacon at the cocktail hour, I decided that maybe speaking about G-d and Torah wasn’t the way to go at this event.”

Would you believe me if I told you that the roar emanating from that reception hall was so loud and filled with laughter that it could wake a dead man? Well, it was.

Now I knew that the line was funny and ironic before I said it, but I guess I didn’t really comprehend its genius until I heard the crowd’s reaction. After that I could have gotten away with saying just about anything! It’s true! Chazal wasn’t kidding when they said that a person should open his speech with a joke! Good advice!

In the end, I did manage to discuss a Jewish concept, albeit very briefly, and with the response of a good deal of laughter from the crowd. I focused on the concept of breaking the glass underneath the chuppah. I related that Chazal instructed us to break a glass under the chuppah because at the time of our greatest joy we are to remember the great loss we suffered with the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem. I emphasized, however, what was implicit in the words of Chazal, that this day is the time of the couple’s greatest joy, that indeed today, their wedding day, is the happiest day of their lives and that from this day forward….it would be all down hill. I was joking of course…and did they ever laugh! Who knew I was so funny?

May we all soon merit a time when we Jews witness the rebuilding of our holy Temple in Jerusalem and a time when Jews no longer serve scallops wrapped in bacon at their simchas!

55 comments on “My Brother’s Big Fat Secular Wedding

  1. “Conservative Rabbis themselves do not feel that halacha is binding.”

    On the contrary! This is the Reform viewpoint. (Does it surprise you that an increasing amount of Reform Rabbis have been saying that halacha is reshut, and not issur?) Conservatives believe that halacha evolves as the society evolves. They believe in halacha, but their rules of meta-halacha are different.

  2. Congratulations for negotiating this tricky event with grace and good humor.

    I’m so glad to have found this website!

    I thought I was the only one to attend a “family simcha” and tiptoe around the scallops-wrapped in bacon. (I knew others had families that served treif, but this particular dish just seems….well, davka.)

    I especially like how your public mention of the event’s lack of kashrut made it clear that you were not partaking of the food, while your warm humor clearly demonstrated that you were there for the company, if not the meal.

  3. Elliott-welcome aboard! Re your post, one could and should possibly think about showing up at a heterodox house of worship for a ceremony on Shabbos, for which none other than RYBS suggested that one should stay home rather than attend RH services in such a setting. Perhaps, there is more leeway for a BT on a Saturday night or Sunday “ceremony”, but the issue of whether the same logic and rationale would apply for such an affair is an issue best left for a sheelas chacham.

  4. Areyeh Leib, your use of humor is a certain kidush Hashem. Some of our secular relatives feel that if someone becomes religious he’s locked up in some kind of brain washed cult. However, when they see we can laugh at ourselves they intuitively realize that we’re ‘still normal.’

    I actually heard parents of a baal teshuvah say, “Thank God, you can still laugh. We were really worried.”

    In fact, I always look at loss of one’s sense of humor as a very dangerous sign in a baal teshuvah, a sign he or she may be going off the deep end.

    In a related vien, Rav Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshivah of Chofetz Chaim says in regards to the in-depth learning of Gemora: “You’ve got to have a sense of humor for this business.” We have to have the ability to take a step back and see the humor of a situation, or else we’ve lost our balance.

    And being balanced is what it’s all about (see Rambam, Hilchos Deyos).

  5. Mark,
    You are a true gentleman. I admire the way you consistently try to turn things in a positive direction. It is a true rarity in the blogoshere. I mean that very sincerely.

    About the subject of anger:
    I once heard Rabbi Avigdor Miller say that Anger is a beautiful midda, as long as it used in the right way. I think what we need to avoid is blaming and making assumptions about others motivations. Could be that blogs actually provide a way to folks to vent that can be healthful. If, for example, I see “Yankel” is very angry at what he percieves as a slight to the Reform movement, I can take it personally and fight back, creating a big machlokes. Or I can say to myself, “Wow. This person is really in pain.” (I am saying this to myself.)

  6. Chana, I very much agree with you about what affect our presence can have. This came up about 3 years ago when my cousins held a family reunion in LA. As soon as I heard about it, I was online looking for a ticket (I went alone). However, even though I could have spent Shabbos in the home where this would be taking place, I chose instead to spend Shabbos at a local Chabad. A very dear friend of mine came up with, what I thought, was an ideal explanation for why I wouldn’t be in the swimming pool with them, recording a video of remembrances, etc. She suggested telling them that I didn’t want to ruin their fun because of my restrictions. And you know what, it worked perfectly because it really was true, and they also saw that I am sincere about my convictions, and won’t compromise them even for an event such as this. Instead, I joined them right after Shabbos, although the festivities were winding down, and at their picnic the next day. It ended up being great, and as usual, my presence generated the usual “confessions” from some of the non- affiliated cousins. I’d do it this way again in a heartbeat. My main objective was to be a part of a very special event in our family, and at the same time, be consistent. If I was “wishy washy” about Shabbos, for example, what message would I be sending both my family, and more importantly, Hashem.

    Interestingly, there’s an article in this morning’s Jewish World Review about how non-religious Jews are rejecting the presence of a growing Orthodox community in their midst. See

  7. Charnie/Ilanit: I think, that remaining frum and standing our ground under these circumstances are what make FFB’s (and others) admire BT’s. It’s such a delicate, fine line we walk while trying not to alienate our family.
    It’s comforting, though, to see that we are not alone; BT’s have so many similar challenges, and I admire your solutions to “face the crowd” come what may. I can’t help thinking that just the presence of a frum Jew at an otherwise non-observant event creates a stirring of Jewish neshamas and potential for kiruv even if no words are spoken.

  8. Charnie – I went to a similar bar mitzvah for a cousin in Teaneck. The party was held in the (Reform) synagogue right after services, and not only was there a DJ with dancers, and the candle lighting ceremony (and I did duck from photographers), we also had to request kosher food for us for the lunch. Again, it was another absurd situation: a bar mitzvah for a boy whose father is Catholic (mother is Jewish, she’s my cousin), and the whole thing on Shabbat. It was another mixed decision, and in the end I decided that I had to do it for my family’s sake.

    Interestingly enough, when my husband and I showed up at the synagogue (with our typical headgear) before services began, I got such a lecture from my cousin’s parents that the service will be different from what I am used to and that I shouldn’t judge, etc etc. Mind you, I am not the judging type when it comes to these things (that’s between the person and G-d) (and BTW this was after I said “hello” – so I really didn’t even say anything to instigate this!), and maintaining ties with this family was the SOLE reason why I was attending the bar mitzvah, but after the cold reception I got at the start, no one said a word to me afterwards. My family later suggested that perhaps my husband and I represented everything they did NOT want (sadly, this family sees no use for Judaism) and so, there is nothing left to talk about with me.

    It’s a tough situation, but one must stay true to one’s own convictions…

  9. I’m not sure if “lots of anger” is accurate, I’d say some. But of course it would best if we could discourse with none.

  10. Tevya, thanks for the info. I am quite aware that there were many places we could spend Shabbos in either Brookline or Newton. However, this wasn’t a consideration in this case, because I would have been in a different shul while the Bar Mitzvah was taking place, and even more so, we opted not to go because they were holding the party on Shabbos afternoon at some sort of “upscale bowling alley” that was not walking distance to either. And between you and I, what simcha would there have been in spending Shabbos watching people desicrate Shabbos in the name of a Bar Mitzvah? You know, the candle lighting ceremony stuff, photos to duck from, etc. Without a doubt, if the party were on either Motzei Shabbos or Sunday, I would have gone, and made that very clear to my cousins.

    Gosh, lots of anger coming from people on this blog lately. It’s really quite sad.

  11. I’mJewish–
    I don’t think any of the Jewish movements, whether or not they follow halacha, would consider intermarriage a tradition.

  12. Gavriel (#35)–
    Do you realize where you’re posting? This is a site for Chozrim B’Tshuva–people who DO know what it’s like to “walk away from everything you’ve ever known” to keep Torah. Also, many of us have been involved in non-orthodox communities and know conservative and reform converts. Personally, my aquaintance with several non-orthodox converts is a large part of what convinced me that halachic (ie: orthodox) conversion standards are necessary.

    As for the woman you know, becoming secular was her own choice. As adults, our decisions are our own responsibility, no matter how others choose to behave.

  13. Dear Gavriel,
    You said: “You will NEVER make the sacrifices, nor show the same commitment that it takes when you convert and walk away from everything you’ve ever known.”

    I beg to disagree. Most BT’s made incredible sacrifices, different but similiar to that of a convert. We walked away from “everything and everyone” we knew. Yes, we were “Jewish”, but for most it has been a complete 180 degree change.
    Converts also make great scarifices and we must love them howver they must be halachic converts.

  14. “However, I couldn’t get over the mother of the groom’s speech, which included: “None of us have grandparents, but I know they are thrilled with the thought that the traditions are being carried on…” I thought about the absurdity of the situation, and inside I died.”

    Maybe their traditions were indeed being carried on. They’re just not yours. That’s all. Plenty of multi-generational C/R/R in my neck of the woods.

  15. I’m sorry Gavriel, I don’t think that explaining something is arrogant. Your comment indicated that you didn’t understand why Orthodox people don’t consider Conservative conversions valid, so I explained it.

    The question of whether we would consider Ruth Jewish indicated that there was a lack of understanding on the development of halacha, so I pointed to Rabbi Kaplan’s article.

    I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed you weren’t making a political statement, but rather were asking a question.

  16. Mark-

    I know the halacha. Again the arrogance, because I am defending Conservative Rabbis you assume that you need to tell me what halacha is based on, and that I can’t possibly know the halacha.

    My point was that from what we get in the text, the people in this thread would not consider Ruth Jewish.

    >>Conservative Rabbis themselves do not feel that halacha is binding.

  17. I had one of these experiences quite recently. My non-Jewish college best friend married a Jewish guy. She did not grow up with a religion per se, but only with the requisite Christmas/Easter thing. He grew up in a Reconstructionist home. They worked very hard on having a “Jewish” wedding, with a Reconstructionist rabbi and all of the blessings (and the circles around the groom!), their ketubah, and her parents even built their chuppah. They ordered kippot. She feels Jewish to a degree and they are members of a local Reform temple.

    For a while, I struggled with my feelings about this. She is my best friend – I knew she would be terribly upset if I did not attend the wedding. At the same time, I felt that my going would give some kind of legitimacy of the thing, and I certainly do not endorse intermarriages. I was not willing to lose my friendship over this. I was at a loss of what to do, until I asked a very wise rebbetzin of mine. Her suggestion: to explain to my friend my hesitation, and to ask my friend if she would be offended if I did not attend the ceremony but was there for her at the reception afterwards (with our oh-so-yummy airplane food). In lieu of attending her ceremony, perhaps there was a task I could do to assist her, something I could do instead?

    When I talked to my friend about it, she listened patiently, and said she understood. She said that she would be extremely disappointed if I didn’t attend at all, and that she was grateful for the opportunity to think of a task for me.

    My husband and I attended the wedding. During the ceremony, we stood in the hallway. After the ceremony, we were the designated “shomrim” (yes that’s right). At that point, I was wrestling with the question of dancing. I knew there was going to be mixed “Jewish” dancing. What should I do? How can I dance to Jewish music at this wedding?

    I decided that my friend’s happiness, at that point, was paramount, and I was there for her. I danced, she danced, and although inside it was painful for me, I couldn’t ruin my friend’s day.

    However, I couldn’t get over the mother of the groom’s speech, which included: “None of us have grandparents, but I know they are thrilled with the thought that the traditions are being carried on…” I thought about the absurdity of the situation, and inside I died.

  18. Gavriel, One of the primary conditions of conversion is acceptance that halacha (keeping Shabbos, Kosher, Family Purity, etc.) is binding and following that halacha.

    Conservative Rabbis themselves do not feel that halacha is binding, and therefore those they convert are assumed to have not met that necessary condition. That is one of the reasons Conservative conversions are not accepted by those that adhere to the halacha.

    The halachic process is not primarily based on Tanach, but rather on the Gemorra, the Rishonim (early commentators), the Shulchan Aruch and the recognized halachic decisors that followed them.

    Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has a great description of the Rules of Halacha here. Highly recommended.

    So it is not arrogance or hatred which motivates us here, but rather adherence to G-d’s will as defined by the halacha.

  19. Gavriel,

    You can’t shame us into abandoning halachic standards.

    We believe in and practice HaShem’s commandments even when these are inconvenient or counterintuitive. We consider our Judaism as something other than politics and our core principles as something other than negotiating points.

  20. I know a woman who went through 3 conversions in Israel because as she switched groups each one said the previous conversion was not halakhic, not up to their standards. She is now secular.

    The arrogance displayed by some of the posters here is sickening. You will NEVER make the sacrifices, nor show the same commitment that it takes when you convert and walk away from everything you’ve ever known. Do you even know what goes on in a Conservative conversion? Or are all Conservative rabbi’s automatically disqualified? Check your Tanach. What was Ruth’s conversion like?

    Senseless hatred and arrogance born from ignorance continues to destroy the Jewish people.

  21. This is a not necessarily a “halachic” solution to the issue of being in a non-Orthodox synagogue, but what about the fact that it is davening in a non-Orthodox shul that is more the issue then just going through the door. During a wedding we are not davening, although we are answering “Amen” to several brachos. There are a lot of Orthodox people I know who were married in a particular Conservative synagogue where the kashrus is under the Vaad of Queens, apparently without a shailah (sorry, I’m having trouble with transliterations today).
    What my husband’s frum cousins do when a non-frum cousin is having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah on a weekday (such as a Sunday) is stay in the lobby of the shul during the davening, and then join the family for the Kiddush and reception. Obviously, kashrus has to be checked in each individual circumstance. We were once surprised to learn that a Reform place in Little Neck that’s very popular is also under Orthodox supervision. We would have gone to the affair anyway, but would have opted out of the meal if it had been otherwise. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s attended such an affair and only had celery sticks and soda. It’s OK; we can always eat a meal before or after going.
    My vote will always be to attend if it’s at all doable. In fact, if that had been the case with a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah this Shabbos, I’d now be up in Newton MA – but they’re doing the party on Shabbos so there would have been no point in going, but I called them and tried to be gracious about explaining how much I would have loved to have been there with them if it had been at all possible, and how sorry I am not to be able to join them. The phone call was certainly appreciated.

  22. For the sake of shalom, can a BT attend a family simcha at a non-orthodox Jewish setting, such as a Reform or Conservative temple? Or even a simcha held in a hall, where there is a nonorthodox ceremony of some type? In the situation I described involving my family’s Nine Days wedding at a conservative synagogue, that issue was not even debated by the rav/posek, the Nine Days was the issue.

    Based on experience, I think the rules are different for BTs. Many rabbis discourage BTs from taking on chumras, or do not allow it altogether. I think this is wise. Being more liberal in terms of BTs being permitted to go places for reasons of family harmony seems consistent with this idea.

  23. Miriam- your point is very well taken. Not-yet frum family are certainly flabbergasted by the notion of a BT not participating in a family event due to some kind of halachic restriction. They see religion pulling family apart, where as a BT might see religion as the only way to possibly make a family work.

    The truth is that now that I am frum I see my family much less and have much less to do with them then when I wasn’t observant and so they are right to some degree that religion has pulled us apart. But then again, we invite and they are always welcome to spend time with us, they, however consistently decline the offer.

    My family and I used to go out to eat often, now much less because I can only go to kosher restaurants. We used to spend the holidays together (Passover, Rosh Hashana), now we go elsewhere, or stay in our own community. Saturday, of course is Shabbos, so while they’re doing something else, we’re home observing Shabbos.

    That’s why we try to make ourselves available for whatever we can, like my brother’s big fat secular wedding. It’s just not always so simple. There are things that come up that require a Rav.

    Bottom line is that we all have to daven that our families one day discover the genius and truth inherent in the torah and so one day we can spend much, much more time with them.

  24. I, unfortunately, had to skip my own sister’s wedding (to a non-Jew), but although we went through some tough times until she felt that she could speak to me again, I am certainly not “down one sibling.” In fact, she and her husband and their technically-Jewish-but-being-raised-Catholic infant daughter have been guests in our house on more than one occasion since. We haven’t been to theirs for numerous reasons (they’re several states away, for one).

    But what I learned from this is that people who aren’t frum, who don’t live their lives “al pi halacha,” can’t possibly understand how a “little thing” like religion could come before FAMILY. To them, Family is religion, and religion is something reserved for church/synagogue, and “G-d will understand.” Actually living your religion every moment and letting it color your every decision is a completely foreign concept to many many people.

    Sometimes you have to be loving towards a sibling from afar. Being “right” isn’t the point, it’s being true to yourself and to your commitment to The One Who Created The Universe, who (sorry if this bothers some) ranks above Family.

  25. Mr. Ecker- what a wonderful post. I think humor is a wonderful way to bring the frum and the not-so-frum together in a constructive way, especially within families wherein, unfortunately, these things can be especially contentious and divisive. I think you have provided a very good example for us.

    Shayna (#1) is it really necessary to refer to Gentile women as vermin?

    M (#14) At the same time, a child born of a gentile, who has not converted according to Jewish law, is not Jewish. No matter how much I care for and help that child. If she choose to convert according to Jewish law, in order to join the faith, she would be welcomed lovingly. And if she does not, she is still welcomed lovingly, as a human being. It doesn’t make her a Jew, though.

    I think this is very well-expressed, and I could not agree more.

  26. Re “Also, sometimes we smile and joke on the outside, and cry on the inside”:

    Here’s another musical quote for M and Chaim G:

    “Just like Pagliacci did,
    I try to keep my sadness hid”

    —Smokey Robinson (Tears of a Clown)

  27. Elliot,
    There are quite a few questions involved. One is the issue of going into a reform or conservative shul. Yes, there are many rabbanim that allow, as my rav did.

  28. Aryeh – You gave a great speech, and as a long time BT, I’ve also found that humor is a great link between frum and nonfrum Jews, but what was the reasoning behind asking your rabbi for permission to attend your brother’s Jewish wedding? Why would you think you would not be allowed to attend?

    I once asked a rav/posek, respected in all circles, whether I could attend a somewhat distant relative’s wedding held during the Nine Days. Family on both sides wanted me to go, and my sense was that the presence of a frum Jew would be looked upon as adding much kavod to the affair. Also, if I did not go, there would be some ill feelings, probably permanent.

    I asked the Rav, and while I told him I would abide by his ruling, I silently predicted he would permit me to go, despite the music, the levity, the lack of tznius. On the phone, he kept saying, Just a minute, just a minute, as I heard him turn the pages of seforim. After a few minutes, as I was thinking about the problem too, I said, Rabbi, if there was a war on, could a Jewish couple get married during the Nine Days, before the chasson gets sent to war, and could I attend. The Rav said, Yes. I said, we’re in a spiritual war now, fighting assimilation and intermarriage, and every Jewish wedding is is a victory in that war, and a major simcha, so perhaps I can go under this reasoning. The Rav stopped what he was doing and said, Go.

  29. Yitz(#2)

    There was a lyric in White X-mas that went “Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister…but Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.” Not only is your wife a Tzadekes but so are her brothers! Most people are soney Tochaicos= haters of reproof, and get very defensive whenever they are being criticized, especially about whom they love.

    M (#6)
    “Also, sometimes we smile and joke on the outside, and cry on the inside”

    As the great Bob Zimmerman of Duluth put it
    You never turned around to see the frowns,
    on the jugglers and the clowns,
    When they all come down and did tricks for you,
    You never understood,
    that it ain’t no good,
    You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you

    I’m Jewish (#12)
    “Oh well, it’s better to be right than to be loving towards a sibling, I suppose.”

    I know that you were trying to be biting and facetious with this comment yet considered dispassionately, a strong case could be made that,in fact, it is better. Let’s draw this one to it’s logical conclusion. If you are a centrist Muslim and your brother the Jihadist is about to detonate a dirty bomb should you do what’s right and turn him over to the authorities who will imprison and possibly even torture him, or should you allow brotherly love to conquer all?

    Welcome back. Entertaining and insightful as usual. Mysterious too! Do we get a follow-up post on the “ incident, both tragic and sadly ironic, that occurred shortly before the big speech,” or have you already recounted it (i.e. the other speakers’ comments)and I’m just being too dense to see it?

  30. Wow! Aryeh, Reading your post immediately gave me the feeling of Deja Vu from my brother’s wedding this past summer. It went very similarly to your experience. I’m sure you enjoyed your “airplane” meal as well.

    To me, it is so important to be lighthearted and non-judgemental as much as possible at these occasions (while still getting your point across, or simply sharing words of Torah) . If you can influence even 1 Jew to consider taking a step towards Yiddishkeit, the reason for your being there has been made. (besides your love for your brother, of course) You became the representative for observant Judiasm for so many people and it sounds like you certainly were successful at making it a Kiddish Hashem!

  31. When I first made teshuva, my wife used to call me the halacha police. I was tense at family gatherings, and non-religious jewish events. But, as I matured in my yiddishkeit, I’ve learned that it’s all about personalities. Being friendly and non-assuming/non judgemental. If people like you, and they sense you genuinely like them, then they’ll probably accept, like, and be more curious of frumkeit. Generally speaking of course.

  32. A Newcomer,
    I can really relate to your situation. My brother is married to a very nice woman who is not a yid. There are Jews in this world that are gay, that are murderers, that are not married and never going to be able to sustain a relationship. My brother is a very dedicated and excellent father and husband. He holds down a challenging job, is not a baal gaavah etc. From the perspective we grew up with, he is a big success. Hashem should have rachmanus on all the yidden.

  33. I’m still trying to work out how I will be dealing with this issue. My brother is currently living with a non-Jewish woman, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get engaged. He knows how I feel (and my parents too, for that matter) but he’s always been the type that will do what he will do, and if you don’t accept it, it’s your problem.

    The problem with the “You are no longer family” type reaction is that I’ve seen this first hand. My dad and my uncle, his brother, had this happen between them about 15 years ago, and it’s still going strong. (not because of who he married, but other, trivial, issues.) I’ve seen how this hurt the health and happiness of the whole family. I can’t see myself doing that to my brother, and continuing this type of pain in the family for yet another generation. The other part that I have to admit, out of all his previous girlfriends (e.g. the one who got him to party and wind up with a 0.0 GPA for a sememster; the one who was divorcing her husband, then maybe changing her mind and going back to him, etc.) this one is actually good for him (in all ways besides the religion) and I don’t remember seeing him happier.

    I’m not looking for any “magic answer” since I know there isn’t one, but I understand the frustration.

  34. This post reminds me of another sad wedding-related episode that happened in our family a few years ago. My wife and I (both BTs) had just gotten engaged, and soon afterwards my future mother-in-law attended the wedding of a friend’s son who was marrying a non-Jew. During the wedding the mother of the groom came up to her, and said to my mother-in-law, “I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter got engaged to an Orthodox guy! How are you handling it?”

    How Hashem must cry when peple are upset that a child is marrying a Jewish but frum spouse but see nothing wrong with an intermarriage! Tragically, my in-laws are the only couple of all their friends who can can say all their children married Jews.

  35. Terrific post! This is probably the most universal BT problem – the one that will pop up even for those of us who’ve been frum for so long that we often don’t remember where we came from.

    A similiar thought crossed my mind yesterday when I was at a printer’s, and realized I’d have to translate the “simcha” invite for my secular relatives – they won’t know what I mean by a “seudahs mitzvah in honor of the a siyum for Meshichta….. etc”.

    I’m Jewish – sorry that somewhere along the way, you’ve had negative interactions with frum people. There’s a lot of anger in your comments. We all have to be tolerant of people, even if we feel they are doing the wrong thing. Or, as they say, “you catch more bees with honey….”

  36. This topic has come up before and I think we can all benefit from chizuk repeatedly when dealing with the multiple issues of extended family.

    I mentioned in a post a few months back, that we also “walk a fine line” when we manage our childrens’ relationships with extended family. Of course, each individual child, and each individual non-religious family member has to be treated differently. It’s hard to give a rule that covers all situations.
    We also have the male relative marrying non-Jew and bringing up children as though they are Jewish. And we have other intermarriages, gay couples, living together but not married, etc…

    My kids desperately wanted more of the extended family, especially since they had a taste of family gatherings before we became frum. In their case, they seemed too easily influenced in general, and therefore I chose to limit their exposure to the secular relatives. Eventually they arrive at an age where they have to decide for themselves, but the desire to have extended family is powerful.

    Arye Leib Ecker: Thanks for sharing your successful solution to attending and speaking at this wedding. We can’t only judge by the immediate responses in the room that day….we usually don’t know how our words reverberate in people’s thoughts and motivate them days, weeks, years later.

  37. “They are committed Jews within the context of the Conservative (and R&R for that matter) worlds. Just not your world. That’s all. And all you do is push secular Jews away from Judaism as a whole by getting all high and mighty about your way being the only right way. It’s the pure opposite of being a Kiddush Hashem.”

    I’mJewish, I hear and respect your passion. And in every context, my behavior is kind and respectful when I interact with these and other people in similar situations.

    I certainly don’t have any illusions that my particular way in life is the only right way; I have many failings, but I think supreme arrogance is not one of them.

    At the same time, a child born of a gentile, who has not converted according to Jewish law, is not Jewish. No matter how much I care for and help that child. If she choose to convert according to Jewish law, in order to join the faith, she would be welcomed lovingly. And if she does not, she is still welcomed lovingly, as a human being. It doesn’t make her a Jew, though.

  38. “They are committed Jews within the context of the Conservative (and R&R for that matter) worlds. Just not your world. That’s all. And all you do is push secular Jews away from Judaism as a whole by getting all high and mighty about your way being the only right way. It’s the pure opposite of being a Kiddush Hashem. ”

    I can’t hold back from objecting to this statement. They are non-Jews! Not in M’s world. In GOD”S world. Being all nicey nicey is not a kiddush a H’. Telling the truth is. (gently, of course.)

  39. “You’re lucky…many of us destroy family ties over these events. There was no part of my nephew’s Reform “Bar Mitzvah” for me to celebrate. The issue wasn’t going into a reform temple for a “Jewish style” event. The sad riddle goes like this: What do you do when your sibling marries a shiksa but they insist their kids are Jewish?!? Answer: Count yourself one fewer sibling.”

    How incredibly sad, and you’re the one who chose to destroy the relationship, not your sibling. Oh well, it’s better to be right than to be loving towards a sibling, I suppose.

  40. “The wife, sadly, died young. These two teens think they are Jews- comitted Jews, no less. We live in such a confused world… ”

    They are committed Jews within the context of the Conservative (and R&R for that matter) worlds. Just not your world. That’s all. And all you do is push secular Jews away from Judaism as a whole by getting all high and mighty about your way being the only right way. It’s the pure opposite of being a Kiddush Hashem.

  41. I should mention that when I told this story over to a rabbi friend of mine he laughed and then commented that even though it was funny, in the end I could have been making somewhat of a mockery of torah and mitzvos by dissmissing the severity of what was really happening there. He added that speaking at an even like that is extremely difficult and you really have to walk a fine line.

    In the end, however, so many people came over to me to tell me what a terrific speech I made. I mean all of my mothers friends came over to me and were genuinely impressed with me, a religious Jew.

    I think there is something to be said for being a frum Jew and being seen in a positive light by not-yet-frum jews.

    Thanks for the comments.

  42. Aryeh Leib,
    You are geshmack.

    It is about strings such as this that Shlomo Hamelech said that one cannot necessarily learn from another. (He didn’t actually say that. Just some early Purim Torah in honor of 17 Cheshvan, aniversary of “arubos hashamayim niftachu”, according to Rebbi Eliezer.) In any case, what works in Yitz’s wife’s family won’t necessarily work in Aryeh Leib’s family and vice versa.

  43. I think it was great (and agree with David). One of the important facets of dealing with non-frum relatives is reminding them that we’re perfectly normal, good, funny, interesting people. We’re not “crazy lunatics” as we’re often portrayed.

  44. Aryeh-Brilliant speech! Your use of humor defused what could have been a tense situation and allowed you to wish the couple a mazel tov while implicitly stating your own feelings re the food.

    I was asked to speak a wedding in my family that was part chasunah, part wedding-Halachic ceremony, some simcha dancing, 100% kosher foof, but a very non-traditional crowd. I basically mentioned the fact that the presence of my father ZL is at all family greetings and quoted an Ibn Ezra that when the Torah refers to “Ezer knegdo”, it means that the chasan and kallah are there for all of the emotional ups and downs of life.The chasan and kallah, as well as many of the relatives and friends, loved that little insight. Litle comments like yours can go a long way to having even a little or some influence on relatives who are not yet Torah observant.

  45. Bob,

    I think that sometimes what is conveyed is that being frum doesn’t rob you of your sense of humor or individuality. It may also have made Aryeh Leib more approachable and his brother may have appreciated the fact that he didn’t “hijack” his wedding and turn it into a drasha.

    Baruch Hashem, Aryeh Leib’s brother married a Jew. Let’s hope and pray that Aryeh Leib’s relationship and example have hashpa’ah on them and help to bring them closer to yiddishkeit.

  46. Shayna, the exact same thing happened in my extended family. My father always had a very close relationship with a much younger cousin- was like a baby brother to him. When that cousin insisted on marrying a gentile, he reassured everyone that she was converting- Conservative.

    Well, in that family, she was the more religious of the two. She was so sincere about “her” Judaism, and even taught in the local Conservative Hebrew School.She was the one who always went to services. She brought up her two daughters (now teens) as proud and firm Jews. They too, are so sincere in “their” Judaism. They had beautiful Bat Mitzvas, and spoke heartwarmingly and sincerely. What a tragedy.

    The wife, sadly, died young. These two teens think they are Jews- comitted Jews, no less. We live in such a confused world…

  47. What a tragedy that such events happen in the first place. We like to think that our humorous remarks break the ice, but exactly what truth is communicated? That we’ve come to terms with something that once shocked all Jews?

  48. My wife is the oldest of three, with 2 younger brothers. We were married, then left America for aliya to Israel. Her two brothers were secular – then. The middle brother was studying law at Yale, no less; while the youngest was studying medicine in Canada.
    The youngest was due to be married by a Reconstuctionist “rabbi”, and of course we were invited to the wedding. Our inclination was NOT to go, as how could we give that our “stamp of approval”? Our Rav agreed.
    The middle brother thought that his Yale-trained law tactics could convince us, but my wife was invincible. This was one factor in his doing Teshuva a short time thereafter.
    And the young couple? They came to Israel during the week of “sheva Brachos” (which they didn’t have), and visited us. We bought them his-and-hers watches as a wedding gift, and my wife had some very frank conversations with her new sister-in-law. Do I have to tell you that they, too, became religious?
    That my parents-in-law now have 15 grandchildren, all religious Jews, is due in no small part, to my Tzadekes wife!

  49. Brilliant! Your speech was a kiddush Hashem–and who knows what positive effects it had on all those guests. You’re lucky…many of us destroy family ties over these events. There was no part of my nephew’s Reform “Bar Mitzvah” for me to celebrate. The issue wasn’t going into a reform temple for a “Jewish style” event. The sad riddle goes like this: What do you do when your sibling marries a shiksa but they insist their kids are Jewish?!? Answer: Count yourself one fewer sibling.

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