Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review / Dec. 4, 2000 / 7 Kislev 5761

My niece is a no-goodnik, when lifecycle events become dangerous, Orthodox v. Reform education

By Wendy Belzberg -- My brother and his family live in Israel. His twelve year-old daughter is having a bat-mitzvah in March and we of course said we would attend. Given the current political situation there, however, I no longer feel comfortable taking my wife and three children to Israel. Do we have to go and, if not, how do I break the news?

I don't envy you the task of telling your brother that you don't feel comfortable risking your children's lives for a week, when his children's lives are at risk every day of the year.

I don't know your brother or whether or not he and his wife are grudge-bearers. But if they are, and not even one representative of your family attends, I predict that the memory of the recent street-fighting might fade faster than the memory of your absence. If you don't want to take your wife and children, at least you can go (get your affairs in order before you leave).

Still, this is one of those rare occasions where my opinion doesn't matter. You are responsible for taking care of your family, and the only people who have a vote about whether you attend are you and your wife.

* * *

How is that my wife and I are both Jewish but I feel like we were born into different religions. We managed to reach a compromise about which temple to attend, but we are now arguing over the children. I want to send them to Hebrew school at a Reform temple and she wants them to go to an Orthodox Hebrew school and have their bar-mitzvahs in an Orthodox

You know the adage "less is more?" Well, in this case, more is more.

The time to teach your children Hebrew is when they are young and have a greater facility for learning new languages. Also, the better educated they are the better equipped to make an intelligent decision about what Judaism means to them. Without getting in the middle of your debate, it is easier to discard information that you already have than it is to play catch-up later. Err on the side of Orthodoxy, and let your children sort the shades of Judaism out for themselves. Retreat to your corner and rest up. There will be many more things to go to the mat over in the future.

* * *

My 19 year-old niece is not in school and does not work. She spends a lot of time at our home hanging out with my sons, ages 14 and 11, and telling them stories about her life that I consider inappropriate for boys their age. When we told her the boys couldn't have visitors on weeknights because they have homework, she started showing up earlier in the day when the boys first got home from school. We don't want to banish her because she is family and we love her, but neither do we want her values and ideas influencing our children.

Your sons are old enough to be told and to understand the facts of life: namely that you expect them to finish high school, graduate college and work for a living. There is nothing disloyal to your niece about telling your sons that their cousin's behavior does not pass muster in your home.

Meanwhile, since your niece is behaving like she's 14, you will have to remind her that she is at least 5 years older and more mature (flattery goes a long way) than her cousins and that she needs to consider more carefully the topics of conversation she covers with your sons.

Finally, I did not become an advice columnist by holding my opinions to myself. Your sibling may not have asked your opinion, but that should not stop you from offering one. You are looking out for your sons, but who is looking out for your niece?

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© 2000, Wendy Belzberg