Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Shalom Bayis Explosion Waiting To Happen at Mom's House.

Sorry to keep firing these blogs at you, I hope the content has maintained its intense nature. [To my mom’s husband: If you ever stumble onto this site or onto this post, please don’t take it personally. I am trying to figure out what to do because you have put my mom in a very sensitive position and I am trying to keep the shalom bayis (peace of home) between you guys. What I write here as unfortunate as it is, is the truth. This is how I feel. This does not reflect on how I feel about you, or the admiration I have for your perseverance and your character. You have always disagreed with my religious views, and this is just a reflection of our disagreement. Please forgive me if I have hurt your feelings.]

I would like some clarification on the best way to handle a situation that has come up. As you know, my mom’s husband is allegedly religious. Let’s pretend his food is kosher, and let’s pretend that his home will be kosher for Pesach. He is what people call a misnaged; he picks the parts of religion that he agrees with, and discards the rest as nonsense. He loves articles in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune by secular authors who write these dry, heartless articles about Judaism. He hates Lubavichers and Chabad with every fiber of his being, and whenever he has something good to say, there is always a snide comment right around the corner. He doesn’t fail to repeatedly object to me being Lubavich as if I have been swept into some cult that controls my every thought. To him Lubavich is the big franchise.

The issue is this. I am almost thirty years old. I have never gone to his house for a high holiday except for Sukkos, and I don’t plan on adding to my holiday visits. I don’t enjoy going there – whenever I visit, I feel like a captive. I am forced to talk about the secular topics he wants to discuss. Most of the time I am plainly bored out of my mind by the un-intellectual, un-jewish conversations. There was a time that I would inject yiddishkeit into the experience, but I found that this was counterproductive because of the cynicism I received from him towards religion as a response. There was also a time where I would work with him in his goal to make my brother religious, but at every step he countered me in my being religious and he caused more harm than good because he taught my brother that one does not have to follow the mitzvahs (commandments) to be a religious Jew. With every fiber of my being, I disagree with him on this point. For this reason, I no longer participate in his productions. This is as much as I can say without treading all over the prohibition against Loshon Hara (evil tongue).

If you asked me whether I have any question whether I want to go or not, the answer is clearly no. There is no doubt that I would rather be on the other side of the world than to be in his home for Passover, or any other holiday. The only problem is that my mother is involved, and I love her dearly. From the day that they decided not to go away for Passover (then it was okay that I not attend their seders), my mom’s husband has been giving her grief and causing shalom bayis problems. Last year, he did not speak to her for over a week because he was angry that I didn’t participate in one of his holiday events.

The one problem is that he has made the ultimatum that if I do not come to his seder and fulfill my family obligation, he will not to allow me to come to his house ever again and he will not come to my house when I am married and when I have a family. While this doesn’t cause me much grief, it bothers me because my mom who I believe will want more than anything to spend time as a grandmother and as a part of my family will be forbidden by her husband to see me or associate with my family. This will cause more problems for her than I can imagine, and while I would like to say that I would be the cause, I am not – but I could prevent this from happening by attending his seder. My logic however tells me that he is fishing for reasons to cause trouble and if it is not this that sets him aflame, it will be something else down the line. He has always been looking for a fight.

So this is my dilemma. My current answer is unemotionally not to attend. I simply already have plans, and I am not interested in inconveniencing everybody because he has his need to pull together a family (not even his family) at gunpoint. The two words I can describe him is that he is an emotional terrorist and he is a love vampire. Other than the fact that he is a loving man who has made my mother very happy and loved, when it comes to religion, this is how I see him. Any advice you have is welcome. I wish you all a peaceful, kosher, and freiliche (happy) Pesach (Passover).


Victoria said...

why don't you just suck it up and go to your mom's house for one seder and go to the one of your choosing the next night? Is it different in the lubavitch world? Do you not have a seder on the first AND second nights?

Zoe Strickman said...

I have nothing against sucking it up and going. The issue is a moral one - does one give in to a bully when you know that in future years and for future holidays the same argument will be made. If you give in this time, next time it will be Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, etc. The problem here is not my dislike of his company; the issue is one of appeasement -- whether to give into his threats knowing that he will only demand more in the future.

Thinking about it, the real answer is that my mother shouldn't have brought up these threats on his behalf, and she should not have shifted the problem to me. I love my mom very much, but she should have handled him herself. I am not his child, and even if I were, I am no longer a child. Threats, guilt, coercion and punishment will only push me away. We owe nothing to each other except to be polite and cordial because he is my mom's husband and I am my mom's son. I did not choose him, and our only relationship is two men who are related to the same woman. I am not even raising the respect issue or any of the other issues that would stop me from going in the first place.

Victoria said...

If there is one thing I've learned from having two jewish grandmothers, it's that the guilt trips don't stop no matter how old you are...

Daphnewood said...

This particular blog entry was enlightening. I am not Jewish but I see patterns here that can be reflected in all religions. I was tormented by certain friends and family members when I married my husband because he was Catholic. He also was scolded and shunned because he was marrying a non-Catholic. I am a Christian but within Christianity I see branches admonishing other branches for having it all wrong. Some even claim that certain branches are not true Christians. I know this also happens in Islam and now after reading your blog I see it happens in Judaism. As for worrying that your mother will never get to visit or see her grandchildren, I do not think that will happen. Time heals all wounds. And even if it doesn't "heal" the time will be enough for her husband to get over whatever bug crawled up his butt.

Zoe Strickman said...

I appreciate your comment. What topic can be more charged for humanity then the proper interpretation of G-d and the universe? Any way you look at it, whenever the topic of religion comes up, somebody is always going to be positing a view that will inevidably threaten another's view of his own existence and will threaten the validity of his lifestyle based on a superhuman rationale that cannot be argued against because there is no dude behind the curtain or some human figurehead that runs the whole thing. Religion -- any religion -- has different factions with different interpretations as to how to act or what G-d told whom to do or not do and when to do it or when to abstain from it and which "it" will cause salvation and which "it" will cause eternal damnation.

Within Judaism, everybody believes in the same laws, or at least everyone has the same story about what is going on. The problem is that there are people who break away from the mainstream and form their own opinions as to what they think G-d wants from them by adding in their own feelings into the laws and thereby creating new "laws" which really are invalid; the breaking off of the various sects [if it was not done due to geographic dispersion and differences in interpretations based on the jewish common law in a certain jurisdiction] are generally based on the group's opinion of to what extent Torah and the commandments apply to them or not and to what extent the practicing members should incorporate the commandments into their daily practice. Where the slight differences in practice and customs are based on the geographic separation of various jurisdictions, all opinions are held to be proper even if they need to be worked out internally; where the difference in practice is based on an individual making his own decisions as to what is right and what is wrong, what to follow and what to discard, this is where the fragmentation of the religion happens, resulting in a separation of groups, i.e. conservative, reform, orthodox, chassidic, etc. I hope this continued to be a helpful response.