Dear Emuna: Passover Angst

March 25, 2012

7 min read


Help! My family always complains about our Seder. What should I do this year?

Dear Emuna,

I’m really dreading Passover. Every year I invite my family over and they rush through the Hagaddah so they can eat. They gobble down the meal that I spent hours preparing and then they complain that the evening was too long and rush out the door. It’s very frustrating to me, my husband and my children. What should I do? How can I make it more meaningful this year?

-- Truly Enslaved

Dear Slave,

It’s wonderful that your family comes to you for the Seder every year, but there’s nothing wrong with establishing some rules. It’s perfectly acceptably to explain that you’ve worked really hard, that your kids are very excited about the Seder experience, and you have certain expectations. All guests, family included, should treat their hostess with respect. It is appropriate to teach your family members to behave in that way. They are coming into your home, into the environment you have created, to participate in your Seder and you and your husband should set the tone and behavior.

You can discuss with them ahead of time how much you are looking forward to having them over (!) and then politely but firmly lay out your expectations. However your family may treat you, you are not a little girl any longer. You are a grown woman with her own family and home and it’s your prerogative to establish a certain code of conduct.

The other possibility (and I know I’m going out on a limb here) is to just not invite them. Passover is not Thanksgiving. It is not meant to be an opportunity for the family to get together (although, under the right circumstances, that can be a nice side benefit). The goal of the holiday is to commemorate and appreciate the gift the Almighty gave us of the exodus from Egypt and the creation of the Jewish people, a nation with a relationship with God, and ultimately His Torah. You can invite your family for dinner at any time.

On Passover, you should invite those who want to immerse themselves in the Seder and celebrate this miraculous and life-changing gift with you.

It should go without saying that it’s important to be kind and giving to all your family members. But if they don’t really enjoy the Seder at your home, it’s not clear who the kindness is for or what it actually is. Passover is an amazing opportunity to acknowledge all the gifts the Almighty has given us (think: Dayenu), to focus on the true Source of kindness and to share that recognition and joy with others. That’s how you should plan your guest list.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

We like to invite guests to our home – for Shabbos, for the holidays, and even just for Sunday afternoon barbecues. My husband and I are very social and we like to entertain. We have one major frustration. No matter what time we tell certain people to arrive, they are always late, forcing everyone else to wait for them. I think it’s very inconsiderate and want to strike theses names from our guest list. My husband says I should “just chill.” What do you say?

-- Hungry and Bothered

Dear Bothered and Hungry,

I hear both sides. If you are too exacting all the time, you will wind up with no friends. We all need compassion, understanding – and a little flexibility. In Ethics of Our Fathers, we are told to “Buy yourself a friend.” One of the commentators suggests that the price we pay for “purchasing” this friend is that of putting up with their flaws. If we couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t have any friends. And no one would our friend either. It works both ways.

Particularly, if the guests are a family with young children, we need to be patient. We all know how hard it is to get everyone out the door. We need to be empathic and not critical. We need to recognize that this is likely to happen when calculating whether to invite them or not.

On the other hand, if they are late because they were busy attending to their own needs (one more load of laundry, one last phone call), then you need to reevaluate the friendship. Is this behavior indicative of a generalized selfishness? If so, why do you want this relationship to continue? Or, are they a great friend in every other way and this is their one major flaw? In the latter case, you would probably want to adjust your expectations and receive them graciously (it might not hurt to always invite them ½ hour before the desired time!).

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I am a middle-aged man living on the East Coast. I have a great wife and kids and a good groups of friends but I have been thinking a lot about my roots lately. I grew up in Los Angeles and when I moved here 30 years ago, I left many childhood friends behind. We have had very little contact over the years but they are still emotionally important to me. I recently reached out to my 6th grade best friend and he was completely uninterested in reopening our relationship. I was very hurt. We were such good friends once. Should I keep trying? Search for others instead? Let go and move on?

-- Waxing Nostalgic

Dear Living in the Past,

I’m with option number 3 – let go and move on.

If you had kept up over the years, it might be different. But there was a reason (acknowledged or not) why you didn’t. Just as an aside, this is just one of the reasons I am not so enamored of Facebook (I bet that’s where you found him!). If you’d really wanted to maintain your relationship with those high school buddies, you would have. There is a reason you didn’t bother – and it wasn’t just the lack of Facebook.

So I’m not really sure why you are hurt. Friendship requires investment – neither one of you has put anything into this relationship in over 30 years. That suggests it wasn’t really important to you. It also suggests that it’s not really a friendship.

Friendship requires shared goals. Do you even know what his are any more? Does he know yours? Does he care? (It appears not)

As we get older, we wax nostalgic over the past. We tend to idealize the relationships and experiences. But was it ever a true friendship? Did you bond over important ideas or over social experiences – sports, movies, girls?

As we age, we try to recapture the past. It can’t be done. And it’s not necessary.

If you have time to invest, invest more deeply in the ones you have now – in your marriage, your children, your parents – and the friends you have made as a mature adult. This will be more nourishing to everyone.

Middle age should come with perspective. Those relationships were perfect in that time and place – but that world is long gone and you don’t really want or need it back.

You just need to fully embrace the world you are living in now.

-- Emuna

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