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Is It Right To Ditch Secular Relatives for the High Holidays?

This article was reprinted with permission from The Forward

The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Join the discussion by commenting on this post, sharing it on Facebook or following the Forward on Twitter. And keep the questions coming. You can email your quandaries, which will remain anonymous, to: This edition of The Seesaw features InterfaithFamily Board Member Ruth Nemzoff. Click here to read the other responses.


Would it Be So Bad if We Spent the Holidays with More Observant Jews?

My wife and I are the only practicing Jews in our generation. We’re not Orthodox, but more religious than we were raised, sometimes facing disapproval in becoming so. Our family members of the same generation, on the other hand, are exclusively cultural Jews or have turned their backs on Jewishness entirely. None has a Jewish spouse.

Around the holidays my family gets together, but there is a chasm between how reverent my wife and I are towards the holidays as religious, spiritual festivals and how our relatives feel about them as occasions to see family and eat good food. I love family and I love good food too, but to me that’s what Thanksgiving is about, with Passover and Rosh Hashanah being something more. I try not to be judgmental, but it feels strange to attend a Yom Kippur break-the-fast with people who haven’t fasted.

Is it OK to feel spiritually unfulfilled amidst a secular commemoration of a religious occasion? Is it forgivable to want to celebrate a religious holiday with people who enjoy it in the same way I do, even if it means not celebrating it with my relatives?

They Still Want to Celebrate

Ruth Nemzoff

RUTH NEMZOFF: You can feel whatever you want, however it is not always wise to act on feelings alone. Your desire to have a spiritually rewarding holiday does not preclude you from spending time with your secular family. It is wonderful that despite their few spiritual feelings your family wants to somehow mark both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If geography allows, you could invite the family to your house, as well as some observant friends. If the meal takes place at your home, you should certainly perform whatever rituals you feel adds to your religious and spiritual life. Be sure and provide explanations and transliterations so that your family members feel comfortable no matter what their religious affiliation or lack thereof. Alternatively, you could also ask the host or hostess for three minutes of time to share some thoughts or light the candles, make Kiddush and bless the apples and honey. Or, you could perform rituals privately and then enjoy your family dinner. Luckily, you can observe two days of Rosh Hashanah and spend one with your family and one with more observant Jews.

Judaism is not meant to serve as a wedge amongst family members. You are fortunate that you love your family and they want to spend time with you. If you approach your family with an open heart and mind rather than a holier-than-thou attitude, you are less likely to incur disapproval. The holidays are giving your family, regardless of how they view the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) a chance to give love to one another. There are many ways to be spiritually fulfilled and being loved by family is one way.

Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” and “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family” is a resident scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is on the Board of InterfaithFamily.

Read the rest of the responses to this question here

The Jewish Daily Forward

The Jewish Daily Forward is a legendary name in American journalism and a revered institution in American Jewish life. Launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, the Forward entered the din of New York’s immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism.