What Do You Mean, You Can't Eat in My Home? A Guide to How Newly Observant Jews and their Less-Observant Relatives Can Still Get Along
By Azriela Jaffe
208 pp., $23
As someone who has become more observant than her family members, the title of this book intrigued me. Is it possible to integrate one's new way of life without hurting, offending or alienating one's nearest and dearest? My experience had generally been a positive one, albeit with a few hitches along the way. Azriela Jaffe promises to guide newly observant Jews and their relatives to family harmony - or the closest they can get to it.
Jaffe, a self-described observant daughter of less-observant parents, became Torah-observant as an adult after her spiritual journeys to ashrams proved unfulfilling. Raised as a "four-holiday-per-year Jew" in a secular Long Island home, her current lifestyle is as different as can be. She can now see the situation from both perspectives: from that of parents wondering what has happened to their child, and also from that of the daughter wanting to fulfill mitzvot without hurting her family.
Chapter by chapter, Jaffe examines the most common points of friction in these types of situations such as keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and the laws of modesty. Guiding her every pointer is the biblical commandment to honor one's parents, which must always be considered by Jews trying to fulfill other mitzvot.
As someone who has gone through these hurdles herself, Jaffe's warmth and humor permeate her pages. In each section, she outlines probable questions and difficulties that typically arise when one family member decides to become observant.
Particularly helpful are the questions-and-answers Jaffe poses, such as "Do we have to hold off starting the seder until the stars come out? It's way too late. We sometimes don't get to the meal until ten o'clock, or later! And do we have to read the whole Haggadah? It's just too much."
During the kashrut discussion, a likely question posed by less-observant parents is: "Okay, I get it [keeping kosher]. But why does my son (or daughter) have to be so obnoxious about it?"
Since she's been there before, Jaffe is able to break down her response with sensitivity to both her intended audiences: the parents and the newly observant child.
"Ultimately, just as your parents aim to 'do good,' by cooking a scrumptious meal or picking up the tab for a delicious meal at a restaurant, you also want to do good in the eyes of God.
"But sometimes, in your zeal to please God, you may act in ways that offend your family, especially if your approach is what some would term 'obnoxious.'"
Jaffe goes on to recommend that the child should try not to go about with an air of superiority, thinking he is better than everyone else because of his observance level; this will only cause resentment. And even if he secretly wishes his family would join him in keeping kosher, the best way is to lead by example and not hurt any feelings.
In each of her six sections, Jaffe writes a chapter called "On a personal note" which discusses her own trials and tribulations with her family on that particular issue. The let-down comes when the reader realizes that Jaffe has no magical answers to solving family friction.
"Even as I write these words, tears come to my eyes. In my family we have achieved a truce after twelve years. But, still, the little girl in me longs for something I have never gotten from my family, from my parents in particular: A genuine, heartfelt expression from them that my Jewish observance makes them proud - that they think that I have 'done good.'"
In the end, observant children want the same thing as all children: to be accepted and loved by their parents for what they've done in life. Any parent wishes for a similar thing: to be sincerely proud of their children. Hopefully, this book can bridge gaps of understanding lacking on both sides, and create true "shalom bayit" - family harmony.
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