Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2001/ 20 Kislev 5762

'I celebrate Chanukah you insensitive anti-Semite!'; idealism v. responsibility; stolen gifts

By Wendy Belzberg -- When people casually wish me a Merry Christmas I smile and say, "I'm Jewish, but I appreciate the good wishes. Happy holidays to you." I have come up with this rather verbose formulation as a compromise between not letting wrong assumptions pass and responding in kind to a friendly greeting.

This year my three year old son will probably get questions like, "Have you been a good boy for Santa?" and "What do you want from Santa?" etc. Any idea what I might say, or suggest he say, if and when someone asks him a clueless question?

A: It is possible to carry political correctness too far. What offends you more: that there are other religions in the world or that yours is not the dominant one? It may be insensitive not to ask which holiday your family celebrates, but calling it clueless is a stretch.

We live in a culture where sleigh bells ring and Santa sings to a point of sickening saturation-and you don't have to be Jewish to feel this. I can understand being protective-or overly protective-of your son during the holiday season. But if you do your job as a parent, you needn't worry that your child will be confused about his heritage. Arm your son with ammunition for when he is hit with an anti Semitic slur, not an innocent inquiry. Until then, a simple "I'm Jewish and we celebrate Chanukah," will do just fine. Save your big guns for the big battles.

Q: My husband wants to go on a solidarity mission to Israel. We have three children under the age of ten. I want to support Israel but I don't want to sacrifice my family's security to do so. Ever since I told my husband he can't go, he has barely spoken to me.

A: Your children may still be young enough for you to get away with such tactics, but no grown person likes to be told what he or she is allowed to do. Wives have never won points for putting their husbands under house arrest.

I can't say how I would have answered this question a month ago. But, unless you plan on going the distance and forbidding your husband to fly at all-or go to his office for that matter--your line in the Israeli sand suddenly seems arbitrary. Your entire family's interests are at stake here. There can be only one right answer to your question: a resolution that satisfies both yours and your husband's needs. I suspect many husbands and wives are having conversations about wills and insurance policies that were unimaginable just weeks ago. Have that conversation as well before arriving at your decision. If you do choose to continue to dictate to your husband what he can and cannot do, I suggest you prepare yourself for one of the following eventualities: divorce, or a life where your husband is just as free to force you to live by his rules.

My friend runs her boss's office: she opens the mail, reads the e-mail and fields the phone calls. She has the authority to decide what items to discard and what to bring to her busy boss's attention. Two years ago, her boss received a gift that she showed no interest in and never used. The item would make the perfect Chanukah present for the boyfriend of my cash-strapped friend. My friend says she has tried to raise the subject but that her boss is too busy to pay attention. No one uses the item and no one will miss it. Is it OK for her to take it?

A: Why not email this query directly to your friend's boss? Then, when she opens her boss's email, your friend can decide if the ethical implications of the question warrant her bringing the email to her busy boss's attention.

I am glad you didn't burden me with the nature of the item. Whether it is the Hope Diamond or an electric stapler, the answer remains the same: taking an item from one's boss without permission is wrong. If your friend chooses to do so, I strongly suggest she include the following note with the present: Happy Chanukah, I hope you enjoy this gift. I stole it for you.

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07/19/01: Bad mannered, uncouth ethnics; lookin' for love
07/05/01: Faithless Rabbi; my wife won't let me retire; I'm in relationship limbo
06/21/01: New customs for assimilated Jews?; the business of friendship; aunty is a bad role model
06/13/01: Our friends have become political traitors; Is it love?
06/06/01: Teaching kids about the Creator, when parents aren't observant; 'wonderful woman' 'fesses up about her broken engagement; How do I find a matchmaker for my 'beautiful daughter?'
05/31/01: Couple he fixed-up is in a nasty breakup; overwrought over ring
05/16/01: The gift was counterfeit; settling for the daughter; the lush and the ostrich
05/02/01: 'Jew questions' and falsifying faith; magic marker mayhem; I want kids
04/25/01: Anti-Semites everywhere?; shilling for gifts; my kid is the 'weakest link'
04/05/01: Celebrating when Passover is inconvenient; What's wrong with the name 'Melvyn,'?; Difference dilemma: Husbands and wives and Passover observance levels
03/19/01: 7-4=insensitivity?; baby showers and tempting fate; Splitsville before or after marriage?
03/12/01: Passover party-pooper; slapped by a moral dilemma
02/14/01: Human 'mutts,' getting over it, same-sex kesubas
02/08/01: Bar/bat mitzvah blues, homework he-l, from potty to potty-mouth
01/24/01: Naughty neighbor, unprofessional colleague is dead, I'm a Jew, now what?
01/15/01: Rabbis who won't; when the rules of the 'game' change; ungracious grannies
01/08/01: My kid hates Hebrew school; Stay single or abandon heritage?
01/02/01: A Jewish Grinch? Baby bigots and when grandparents call it quits
12/18/00: Babes in Chanukah Land; my husband the kvetch; bad hair marriage?
12/04/00: My niece is a no-goodnik, when lifecycle events become dangerous, Orthodox v. Reform education
11/28/00: My ex is ruining my kids' souls; the mouth that won't stop
11/21/00: Battling brothers; how to keep a nanny
11/08/00: OY VEY! my son wants to become Orthodox; kiddies should avoid family therapy
11/08/00: Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law
10/24/00: Let him enlist?, 'My son the actor'? Eating with the 'help'
10/10/00:Tipsy teens, protective spouses, kosher common-sense
10/03/00: I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer
09/25/00: I can't take Rosh Hashanah! Something for nothing? My husband needs a dinner mate
09/18/00: 'My kids' Jewish education stinks', boyfriend bandit, and single mother not by choice
09/11/00: Bris brouhaha breaks my heart, LET ME SLEEP! --- and Why can't I hold a job?
09/05/00: Righteous anger, 'dissed' daughter --- and how not to make a match
08/21/00: When one spouse becomes more religious than the other; "But the cleaning lady is part of the family!"; Why He invented 9-month gestation periods
08/21/00: 'Fessing up to granny about abandoning one's people, non-kosher sis-in-law, and 'my niece is marrying a loser'
08/14/00: Marrying 'in' for questionable motivations; Should a do-gooder be reimbursed?
08/07/00: Communing with the clouds, betrothal, and banishing bosses
07/28/00: Small-city guys, self-centered siblings
07/21/00: When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it
07/14/00: Divorcing brother-in-law, uncampy kids, and a dot.comer who makes it big time
07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2001, Wendy Belzberg