This year is the first time my new non-Jewish daughter-in-law will be spending the high holidays with us. She and my daughter will be coming up from New York City and spending Rosh Hashanah with us. Our synagogue is a pretty open-minded and an inclusive one, so I don’t think there should be any issues there, should they both decide to come to services.
The hard part is that my daughter-in-law is not a big fan of religion because of her experience in her largely homophobic Christian hometown, and to a degree family, growing up. I know from my daughter that she isn’t too excited about coming up, but is doing it for her. I want to find a way to show how Judaism and the high holidays are special to us and can be meaningful to others without coming off as too pushy or like I am trying to get her to be Jewish, because I am not. Seesaw, how can I make the holiday seem compelling and inviting to her?
JANE LARKIN: Going into an unfamiliar religious environment can be difficult even without the negative feelings about faith that your daughter-in-law has from her past experiences. By telling her what to expect and practicing audacious hospitality you can help her feel more comfortable sharing the holiday with you.
I work with the interfaith and LGBT communities at my synagogue, and I often get asked by people coming to a Jewish service for the first time what to expect. I give an overview of the holiday or program and explain the basics of the service. Before your daughter-in-law arrives, you should do the same.
Thank her for coming. Tell her about Rosh Hashanah and its significance. Explain services: length, the balance between Hebrew and English, music, format, prayer leaders, appropriate dress, and the congregation’s attitudes towards interfaith and LGBT couples. Discuss holiday meals: formal or informal, blessings, and foods. Ask her for her favorite side dish or dessert recipe. Plan to include it in your celebration. Give her space to ask questions.
When she arrives, welcome her warmly. Reiterate that you appreciate her being with your family. Include her as much as possible in the preparations and celebration. Ask her to help in the kitchen or to read a blessing in English. Explain holiday rituals, symbols, and foods. Tell her why the holiday is important to you and how you find meaning in its observance. Share family stories and memories. Ask her about her family celebrations, religious and secular.
You already understand the importance of welcoming the stranger, so work to make the holiday a positive experience for your daughter-in-law. Educate her about Jewish life. Show her an inclusive religious community and the beauty of the Jewish New Year. Demonstrate that she is an important part of your Jewish family.
Jane Larkin wrote about parenting for InterfaithFamily, a website that supports interfaith families exploring Jewish life. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity.” She lives with her family in Dallas, TX.