February 27, 2020

Stop Spending the Jewish Holidays with Your Family

Photo by Chinnapong/Getty Images

Family is central to the foundation of Jewish life, and no one should expect that every family member is perfect or that each interaction with them should bring you complete #Instagram worthy joy. As a Jewish mom on YouTube, I get asked a lot about how to celebrate Jewish holidays and how to make them enjoyable for our children. One question I got asked that really stuck with me is what to do if your extended family is creating a Jewish holiday experience that isn’t great for you? If year after year you’re sitting at the same Passover table participating in a Seder you loathe, or breaking round challah on Rosh Hashanah with relatives who are toxic, should your Jewish guilt keep you there?

Judaism is about maximizing the importance of the mishpachah and there’s really little room for minimizing the pull and influence of family in Jewish life. In the Jewish family, you can’t just throw those who don’t bring you joy out (sorry Marie Kondo!). However, if you are spending every Jewish holiday in the home of a relative (or friend) who doesn’t celebrate the way you would like to, it might be time to reevaluate things. Especially when you consider that for your young children this may be some of the first or only Jewish experiences they have, you have an obligation to make them positive.

We tend to fall into observance patterns, we always go to the same great Aunt’s house for one holiday and a grandmother’s for the other. They tend to host in the same way for the same people year after year. Most of the time this is a beautiful mitzvah and minhag. Having somewhere to go and people to share Jewish life with is vital. 

If however these traditions are becoming stale or in any way toxic, for example if someone isn’t accepting of your partner or your lifestyle, or maybe they just don’t ever sing the prayers and this is the most moving and spiritual part of the experience for you – then it is your turn to host, and to create an experience in your home that serves your needs. If you know your kids would love putting on a play during the Seder to tell the Passover story, make sure you give them the chance to. If you love the silly songs of Hanukkah then throw a party and sing them loudly and proudly. Jewish life is too precious to be passive about.

I would be remiss not to mention that if someone is kind enough to invite you into their home to share in the simchah of a Jewish experience you should extend gratitude, kindness and a similar invitation back to them if you’re not going to attend. However, it’s also ok to ask them to come to your house instead. Tell them that you’ve always been wanting to have them over (maybe you have a new home or a new kid, or a new serving platter that you’ve been wanting to use?) there’s a way to do it with love. 

There’s a Jewish value called ‘hachnasat orachim’, from the story of Abraham in the Torah we’re told that it is a mitzvah to welcome people into our homes. However, if you’re being welcomed into other homes year after year and it’s either emotionally toxic or just not fulfilling a spiritual or religious or joyous ideal then try something else out, at least one time. Create the day you want. There’s always room for another Hanukkah party and maybe this is really why there are two Seders!


Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLifechannel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled ‘Expecting Jewish!’ to be released Winter 2019. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeoand has an MBA from Georgetown University.

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