Ask Wendy

Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review / July 21, 2000 / 18 Tamuz, 5760

When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it

By Wendy Belzberg -- My husband and I are Zionists and encouraged our 16-year-old son to spend a month on a Kibbutz. While he was in Israel he met a group of yeshiva students, began studying about Judaism and now wants to keep a kosher home.

We don't eat pork, and we agreed not to bring shellfish or non-kosher meat into the house. But he wants us to buy all new dishes-2 sets-all new pots and pans and even replace our dishwasher. I'm inclined to tell him to live with our compromise for a year until he goes off to college when he can keep his own kitchen. What do you think?

--Am I still my kid's mom?

You are the ones who sent him off to Israel to discover his roots. Your son just dug a little deeper than you planned or hoped.

Your son did not join a cult, he discovered Judaism. I am sympathetic to the expense, the inconvenience, the perceived zealotry and the Sunday nights without Chinese food. But respecting your son's religious beliefs is more important than forcing him to respect your house rules and compromise.

Your son's transformation does not mean you can't eat treif off a separate set of dishes as long as you are vigilant about keeping them separate. Once he goes off to college you can go back to the way things were.

(For the record, you don't have to get a whole new dishwasher. You only have to replace the racks.)

* * *

Do you think it would be immoral of my husband and me to ask our relatives to get a hotel room for future visits?


Sounds like the last visit didn't go so well. Not only is your idea not immoral, it may be a matter of self-preservation. Shalom bayis (peace at home) and houseguests--particularly when they are relatives--seldom fit in the same sentence. Did they rearrange the furniture while you were at work, offer unsolicited marital or career advice over breakfast, or spend the entire visit dredging up family memories and long-gone relatives?

Did you and your mate find yourselves reverting to childhood behaviors and loyalties, were you infantilized, did you uncover repressed memories that were better left repressed?

Perhaps none of the above ever happened and I'm just projecting my own memories of past family visits on to you. Sharing space with your own mate can sometimes be a challenge, but it is not optional; sharing space with your extended family is optional so, if it doesn't work, don't do it.

* * *

Why does so much of Jewish social culture center on marriage? It seems that every Jew I know in my hometown of Chicago has a preoccupation with getting married. Every Jewish event, no matter who the sponsor (JUF, Haddasah, Vanguard, etc) seems to focus on "finding true love." Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce (I don't know the Jewish divorce rate): marriage is clearly not all it is cracked up to be. I find my friends' and the community's preoccupation with marriage so disturbing that I am seriously considering no longer hanging around my fellow Jews.


Adam and Eve and their Torah progeny led the charge in dating, mating and procreating long before the first Jew immigrated to America and Chicago became the windy city. I'm afraid you give your community too much credit.

The desire to marry is not religion-specific and the Jewish community does not have a monopoly on singles events. The only thing your community may be guilty of is trying to reduce the intermarriage rate in this country and for that, let them be praised not vilified.

Stepping between the lines of your question, let me add that your problem seems not to be with your fellow Jews, but with marriage. If you believe marriage is not all it's cracked up to be, don't get married. But don't condemn, or worse, desert your friends for making a different choice.

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© 2000, Wendy Belzberg