Shabbat War Is Ruining My Summer Family Vacation

By The Jewish Daily Forward

June 18, 2015


This article was reprinted with permission from The Forward.

The Seesaw was a popular advice column in which a broad range of columnists addressed 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. This edition of The Seesaw features InterfaithFamily contributor Jane Larkin. This edition of The Seesaw feautures InterfaithFamily Parenting Blogger Jane Larkin. Click here to read the rest of the responses.


Seesaw illustration 

I’m an unobservant Jewish man who has been reading your column for awhile now. You often tell people to talk it out. I have been talking it out for years and I am looking for another way.

My mother is an observant Jew (she’s on the more traditional side of the Conservative movement), and she has never really gotten past the fact that I married a woman who is not Jewish and am not raising my children Jewish. We do Hannukah and Passover, but that’s about it.

Every summer we go to a lake house together and every summer we end up fighting over Shabbat. (Mind you, it’s not because my family doesn’t do Shabbat her way, because we do, and with love. Just that when we do it with her, she is reminded of how we never observe Shabbat otherwise.) So, how can we moved past the interfaith issues when, after over a decade, we’ve determined that talking it out just won’t work. What’s next?

Time to Set Some Serious Boundaries

Jane LarkinJANE LARKIN: Talking is a good starting point, but when parents continue to create dissension, it’s time to set clear boundaries. Before you go to the lake house, in a warm but firm tone, give your mother some ground rules.

Remind her that you love her and that you express this by respecting her rituals and choices when you are together. Tell her that you need her to behave in an equally respectful manner. Explain that you will participate in Shabbat, not discuss Shabbat observance.

During your stay, if she brings up your lack of Shabbat practice, in a clear but calm way, let her know that her behavior is unacceptable. Every time she makes an inappropriate remark cut short the conversation. Leave the room. Go for a walk. Eventually, she’ll get the message.

I had a related situation with my mother. I was raised in a Jewish home that never celebrated Shabbat. When my son was young, my non-Jewish husband and I started a regular Shabbat practice. Suddenly, my family was “too Jewish” for my Jewish mother.

For years, when she visited she would suggest that we go out to dinner on Friday night. For years, I responded by explaining why we enjoyed Shabbat at home. After many debates, I stopped talking and instead, set expectations.

I told her if she were at my house on Friday night, we would celebrate Shabbat. If my family were at her house, we would observe her ritual and go out for dinner. She stopped suggesting that we eat out.

It’s time to end the fighting about Shabbat. Reassure your mother that you love and appreciate her. Then be firm. Set limits. Give her ground rules. Clear guidelines will help you better relate to each other and enable your celebrations to be more harmonious.

Jane Larkin is the author of “From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity.” She writes about interfaith relationships and Jewish living for InterfaithFamily and other outlets. She is a member of the board of directors of Big Tent Judaism. Follow her on Twitter @JaneLarkin6.

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About 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.