Shabbat peace

Sometimes, sitting down to a family meal is complicated.

Left to right: Danit Shemesh, Tzippi Shaked and Pamela Peled (photo credit: Courtesy)
Left to right: Danit Shemesh, Tzippi Shaked and Pamela Peled
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With so many percolating complexities in Israel, three women got together over strong cups of coffee to try to reach out and understand “the other.” Pam Peled is secular, Tzippi Shaked modern Orthodox and Danit Shemesh haredi, and the result was the book Three Ladies, Three Lattes – a caffeinated look at compelling issues. Now, the authors have opened their discussion to the public.
All questions and comments welcome.
Dear Latte Ladies, I enjoyed your thought-provoking book; here’s my question. I’m a secular mother of three. My son and his family are secular; one daughter married a haredi man, the other daughter has become modern Orthodox.
Now, my kids won’t eat Shabbat dinner together. My haredi son-in-law is uncomfortable around women in revealing clothes, my son’s family can’t stand religious hoopla, and my in-themiddle daughter doesn’t want to upset anyone.
My husband died recently, and I would so love to continue our Friday nights.
What should I do? No Shabbat Peace Tzippi: How stressful for you! What mother doesn’t want her children at her Shabbat table? But kudos to you for being a Jewish all-star mom! This is the crux of Israel’s conundrum: How to make room for one another at the table. Before you pull out your hair (and run off to buy a sheitel), let’s start with the religious siblings. They need to spend the whole Shabbat with you (unless you live within walking distance). Ensure their Shabbat is kosher and comfortable: Buy take-out food with an appropriate hechsher (rabbinical certification), and get a plata (Shabbat hot plate) to warm the meals.
Your secular kids will surely enjoy a lovely kosher dinner, and not cooking frees you up to create an attractive ambiance at the table. Assign tasks so everyone feels invested – they can bring flowers or dessert (purchased, to ensure there is no hechsher uncertainty), or prepare a fun, inspirational dvar Torah on the parsha.
Tell the family: Our tribe has expanded to include different approaches to Judaism. Our family motto is that you don’t have to believe in God to believe in making everyone comfortable. We can make compromises without compromising individual beliefs.
Family comes first, and family time is worth minor inconveniences.
The secular could dress more conservatively, but can’t be pressured to participate in religious rituals. The religious are compromising simply by coming to a secular home, but of course are also honoring their parents. Everyone contributes, and everyone gains precious together-time.
There is no easy recipe for instant Shabbat peace, but we can break halla together. (If all else fails, throw in a dash of Jewish guilt.) Danit: Wow, you’re ambitious, hoping everyone will feel comfortable! As a mother of nine, plus some spouses, I would be delusional to expect such a beautiful vision. Don’t forget family dynamics: How I react to a remark by my husband, or how a daughter- in-law views “foreign” customs.
The happenings round the Shabbat table are many and charged; we all read situations differently. Your secular son’s wife can see the enforcement of modesty as dogmatic and non-accepting, or as a plea for clean togetherness, without distractions. The haredi husband may want the family to be just that – family – catching up instead of engaging in power struggles (or his own struggle to keep his eyes on his soup).
We all make statements with how we dress, what we talk about and refuse to talk about. This weaves an impossibly involved family web. Yet, impossible as it is, it’s also our beginning point. Your children need you. They’re not doing you a favor by coming home; you are their gas station.
And it’s your home, not theirs; your hashkafa (religious outlook) rules.
You decide who you will accommodate, and how.
The haredim will accept that; they learn to honor their parents.
Don’t worry if they ask a rabbi how to be your guests; they are newly ultra-Orthodox and need delineated instructions to feel comfortable.
Whatever your children choose, they will always be your children and siblings to each other. At the Shabbat table, try changing all exclamation marks into question marks. You know your own views; theirs are new and fascinating.
Ask to understand, not to argue. Turn the table into a platform of communication – and Shabbat will do the rest. It’s a beautiful day with much togetherness.
Pam: Normally, I might flippantly answer, “Thank you, dear God, for not making my family religious.”
But today, something gave me pause.
I was discussing homework assignments with my student teachers for Pearl Buck’s The Enemy (about the Japanese and Americans in World War II), and one young woman suggested asking pupils if they’d help a stranger who fell off his bike. “Then I’d ask how they’d feel if the rider was Arab or haredi,” she said. “Would they still offer assistance?” In the context of preparing 16-year-olds to consider wartime enemies, this totally floored me. Arabs and haredim in Israel: the enemy? So today, I can’t dismiss your question, confused Shabbat mom. Here are my thoughts: Gather your brood in the living room over a kosher cup of coffee, and tell them to bloody well get their act together.
Announce that family is family is family, and it’s all that counts.
Step out of the argument; let them find a modus vivendi to honor you and come together with smiles on their faces on Friday nights, and make it work.
Cry if you have to. Threaten to live by yourself on their inheritance in Hawaii if they don’t want family time. Tell them if they can’t get on, God help the country as a whole… they just have to find a way.
To quote Danit: “Your hashkafa rules” (did you even know you had such a thing?). Cook chicken soup in a brand-new pot and say dinner’s at 7:30 p.m. sharp. Cry a little more, and hug them hard.
Then, for safety’s sake, say a little prayer to God to make them listen.
Comments and questions: