Category Archives: Holidays

Officiate

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Many years ago I got a lay certification to perform weddings. The first
few I did were for my own children and then children of close family
friends, and then for peers who remarried. A career as a teacher and
an avocation as a poet make me uniquely qualified to put on a good
wedding. I’ve performed about twenty by now, and charge a very
modest fee. Many are for couples in mixed marriages, who do not
want either partner’s religion to dominate, but like the idea of a
spiritual event with elements from both, and lots of universal thoughts
and imagery. I meet with the couple several times before agreeing to
perform the ceremony and to decide what the actual words will be.

 

This weekend, just before the ceremony began, the mother of the
bride came to me and pressed a paper in my hand, saying “This is my
daughter’s favorite prayer. Please read it in the ceremony.” And then
she walked away. Let’s just say that my ceremonies do not include
“Jesus Our Lord” as a key element. There was no time to talk to the
bride, so I omitted the prayer, as we had not agreed to it. The mother,
who was ostensibly paying me, was very rude at the reception and
said meanly “That’ll cost you your fee!” I did not mention it to the
couple, but the wife sent me an apology and a check. What can I do to
avoid this in the future?

Officiate

 
Dear Officiate:

You can add two elements to your planning process. While meeting
with the future marrieds, tell them this story (modified without the
meanness) as an example of things that can “go wrong and mar your
happy day.” Say you do not want to disappoint anyone, but that you
do what you do intentionally to avoid performing religious services, in
part because you are not an officially certified representative of a
religion, and in part because it’s not who you are or what you do. She
them examples of ceremonies you have performed, and, menu-like,
allow them to help craft the ceremony in a way that pleases all of you.

 

 

Follow up with an agreement that specifies what they have agreed to
in the service, and with a list of things you commit to doing and will
not agree to do. Include in it a handout for them to share with their
close family about the tone of the service, and your collective
understanding that because various traditions will be represented,
nothing that feels exclusionary will be included in the service. Suggest
that any family member who wants to say something that might be
considered religious can do so in the toasting that will part of the
reception. My guess is that the future marrieds will insulate you from
these relatives. You might also collect your fee before the ceremony.

The Ex

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My ex and I are very good friends. He relocated to the city where I live
after having a major heart attack. We live very close and are good
friends, enjoying meals together several times a week and sharing
responsibility for our pooch, which lives primarily with me. But now he
is in a new relationship with a woman whom I know from synagogue.
There’s nothing about her that I dislike. In fact, I’ve been social with
her in groups in the past, occasionally going to a movie or the opera
together. But something about seeing them together as a couple rubs
me the wrong way. He and I had made plans for Thanksgiving and a
variety of other events. Now he wants to include her. I don’t want to
be the pissy ex, but I DON’T WANT TO!! What can or should I do?

The Ex

 
Dear Ex:

Eventually either the relationship will dissolve or you will adjust to it.
But in the short run it is natural that you’ll have feelings of anxiety and
jealousy. If your true goal is to remain in his life as both a friend and
an ally, you’re better off acting like a happy friend than a jealous ex.
That’ll feel hard, so use your own friends or your counselor to process
your feelings, not your ex. To him you should be as gracious as
possible, and as supportive of his health and happiness as your facial
expressions and vocabulary will allow. Remember his new beau is also
someone who’s there to help in case of another future health
emergency.

 
Do not, repeat not, bad mouth his new sweetie to anyone who might
repeat what you say. Focus on events where you can be with them in
a larger group. Thanksgiving dinner or other dinner parties are good
examples. Avoid being the third wheel alone with them, and be
cautious about anything that might resemble a double date, even if
you start dating someone new yourself. Concentrate on being calm
and relaxed when you are around them. It might take a drink, but be
careful about drink number two, three, or more.

Traditionalist

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last year’s Gaza war was a wrenching experience in our family. Our
youngest daughter was in Israel at the time, on a summer trip to learn
about her heritage. My family is descended from Holocaust survivors,
one of whom made is to Israel after WWII. So in addition to learning
about cultural and political history she also got to meet a great uncle
and many cousins whom none of us had ever met. We were terrified
for her the whole time, but none of our family was hurt. Ironically, she
returned not dyed white/blue and wrapped in the Israeli flag, but
convinced that the current government is responsible for creating a
situation of permanent war in the region. My wife and I think of
ourselves as pretty liberal, but some of her statements have gotten us
thinking we may not be as liberal as we thought we were. Passover
has always been a very important tradition in our family (about thirty
local relatives). Eliana has said that in addition to doing the regular
Haggadah readings, she wants to have a dialogue about politics. My
wife thinks it is highly inappropriate. I am torn. I suspect many of the
relatives would be horrified. What do you think?

Traditionalist

 
Dear Traditionalist:

I think your daughter got more out of her trip than anyone could have
expected. She is to be commended for her engagement in the messy
world of Middle Eastern politics, even at the now safe distance of
observer and commentator. I’d opt for a compromise. It may, like the
Solomonic offer to slice the baby in half, satisfy no one, but at least
you will have tried.

 
Tell your daughter that you want her to respect family traditions and
not to disrupt the Seder. Explain that not only is it a requirement for
Jews to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but it is a very
important family tradition of togetherness. Tell her that after most of
the official readings are concluded, during the meal, you as the host
will give her the floor to invite people to a second night discussion of
what she learned about Israel and Palestine. Coach her to make it
sound invitational, not confrontational, or no one will appear. Tell her
to invite any of the various generations to come to a listening session,
where each person will be able to share their complex feelings of grief,
fear, confusion, anger, and yes even strident militancy. Explain that
the point of the listening session is for everyone to feel heard, not to
convert people to a particular way of thinking. Explain that only when
all people, kids to adults, learn to have constructive dialogue around
difficult subjects, will the world improve.

 

 

Need Earplugs

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please help resolve a family dispute. My husband and I decided to
have just one child because we fear what is happening to our planet.
He is a kind, gentle guy who didn’t start dating until college. His first
relationship lasted far too long and we feared he would succumb to
fears of being alone, but after they broke up he met and wooed a
wonderful young woman and this summer they got engaged. We see
much too little of them because they both got jobs a plane flight away.
So collectively we decided to celebrate their successful passing
probation and engagement with a weeklong Chanukah trip to the
coast, where we could really get to know one another over long walks
and meals. My mother and sister, with whom we normally spend the
holiday are “insulted” that they were not asked to join us. Is there a
polite way to say “Not this time” that will stop their kvetching?

Need Earplugs

 
Dear Earplugs:

Once people have decided they have been hurt, “insulted,” or wronged
in some way, rationality sadly does not nearly enough to walk back
their hurt feelings. If they are reinforcing the wound with telling one
another how awful you are, and trying to get you to listen to same, it
will take time, patience, and not always answering your phone when
they call to let them blow off steam. Eventually, like toddlers wearing
themselves out before a nap, they will settle down, but I fear you will
be wasting your energy and breath trying to make that happen much
faster than it will take.

 
Tell them that this was a wonderful and necessary experience for the
four of you. Admit that yes it while it might have been better for them
had they come along, it would not have been what you, your husband,
your son, and fiancé most needed. Try to plan a long family weekend
with them, perhaps at Passover, and encourage your son/fiancé to
send them a lovely loving note. Then change the subject when they
bring it up. They’ll stop when you stop listening.

Mom and Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was raised Jewish-ish by a single mother who was more of a new-age
hippie Buddhist pantheist than a practicing Jew. Surprisingly I married
a man who is far more devout than I am and have grown to love
keeping a kosher house and all the rituals of the seasons. This year for
Chanukah my mother sent our three children three books, for them to
share with one another and with us. Two were spiritual books about
astrophysics, which didn’t bother my husband at all, as he works in the
sciences, and often quotes Einstein to prove that God and science are
not incompatible. But the third book was a collection of Buddhist
bedtime stories. I recognize that my mother (who is good-hearted
even if she doesn’t totally understand my life choices) does not mean
to offend, but my husband sees is as undermining their faith. They are
11, 8, and 5, so still very much malleable in their learning. What
should I do with this book?

Mom and Wife

 
Dear Mom and Wife:

What a wonderful gift of a learning opportunity your mother gave your
family! The world is filled with people who are devout members of
religions other than Judaism. For your children to be raised in a bubble
without knowing that, or understanding that other religions offer their
adherents many of the same values, rituals, comforts, and emotional
sustenance as Judaism would be a horrible disservice to them. Surely
even your husband has to negotiate multiculturalism in his workplace,
and has learned to treat others with the same respect he wishes to
receive.

 
I would use the stories as teaching moments for the family, with or
without your husband’s participation. Among my favorite memories
from childhood is talking and sharing with my mother while we cleaned
up after dinner. Perhaps have the older two rotate reading the stories
a few nights a week. Then talk about what they are about in terms of
values such as compassion and generosity. Then compare those values
to Jewish teachings such as goodness and tzedakah. Focus on what is
best in each religion and what unites us as people instead of what
divides us. If Jews and Buddhists cannot do this there is not much
hope for the planet. And thank your mother for her thoughtful gift,
telling her it’s a teachable moment for everyone including your hubby.

Not A Grinch

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m part of a circle of friends who’ve traded holiday gifts for decades.
Eventually we stopped giving them to all the children too, but it would
feel very strange, even socially uncomfortable, to skip Hanukah gifts
for the core friends. This summer I gently suggested donating our gift
money as tzedakah instead; I could see the “Grinch” tag aimed my
way. These are people who need not one thing. They’re all downsizing:
from purging their closets of work clothes after to retiring to moving
into a condo. Even at the risk of social stigma, I feel torn between
sending an email saying, In your honor I have made a Hanukah
donation to [our synagogue or some non-profit] and buying some silly
token gift to demonstrate that we should have outgrown this ritual.
You want a vote?

Not A Grinch

 
Dear Not A Grinch:

There are so many people who are in true need that spending any
money at all on useless consumerism feels more wasteful than silly. If
I ran your world, I’d stick with your tzedakah plan for half of your
budget and organize a group excursion (as in “the gift of a collective
experience”) with the other half.

 
Start with an email that says roughly, I know we’re all downsizing, so I
have decided not to gift “things” this Hanukah. But I love you all and
want to honor the depth and duration of our friendship. In our
collective names I have made a donation to [insert name of Jewish
organization that serves the needy, say Jewish Federation]. I’m also
proposing that we pool our resources and start a new annual holiday
tradition of an excursion to somewhere wonderful, for example,
theater tickets or a day trip to somewhere fun. Let’s find new ways to
make the world and our psyches better. There may be some grumbling
about Grinch-iness, but your true friends won’t tell you about it.

Hostessing Already

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m the house where people land. When my son was in high school,
mine was the TV room that was filled with sprawling teenagers. In
college all his buddies made for my home like a magnet during
holidays. I pick up strays the way other people pick up pets. One of
my personal friends used to come for Thanksgiving, Passover, Rosh
Hashonah, etc. Then she slowly began not to attend, one event at a
time. I kept inviting her until two years ago when we started being
less social, though we still go to a movie once a month. Last week
when we got together she intimated she had nowhere to go for
Thanksgiving. It may be my last holiday with my mother, who is dying.
Am I obligated to invite her?

Hostessing Already

 
Dear Hostessing:

You’re not obligated to invite her but it would be a kind thing to do.
Unless the table is already filled with relatives and well-wishers coming
to be with your mother, you should be able to squeeze in another chair
and place setting. Holidays are both a time for sharing friendship and
gratitude and a tine to forgive old slights and hurts. That’s not just the
High Holidays.

If you do not want this person to attend and aren’t willing to stretch
your holiday cheer, I question why you are social with her at all.
Unless there’s active bad feeling between her and your mother and
other guests, give her the chance to accept or decline an invitation. If
you want to make her squirm a little, you can tell her it’s somewhat of
a family gathering because of your mother’ health, but that you don’t
want her to be alone. If she does come, make sure to say you have
missed having her attend your special gatherings and that you hope
she continues to attend. Ask her bring a special bottle of wine and
perhaps a pie.

Fresser

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s potluck etiquette these days? So many people are on restrictive
diets (no gluten, low salt, no sugar, no meat, lots of meat, etc etc etc)
that I have no idea what to bring. Last night I attended a gathering
where there were six veggie plates with yoghurt dip and piles of
gluten-free crackers on one end of the table, and three different kinds
of meatballs on the other. The closest thing to pass for dessert was a
bowl of tangerines. It’s the holidays, for goodness sakes. What
happened to egg nog, honey cake, even some marzipan and dried
fruit?!?! If the hostess gives me a list of “don’t bring this” or “do bring”
foods, I know what to do, even if I dislike it. Am I violating some
serious code of social conduct for bringing traditional favorite foods? I
don’t mean to be a holiday Grinch, but some of us still like lots of
sugar and fat, at least on the holidays.

Fresser

 
Dear Fresser:

Obeying requests is a polite way of responding to an invitation. Some
hostesses go out of their way to plan for the unique choices of their
guests, and some figure that those folks are on their own to bring
something that they can eat. A lot depends on the critical mass of the
gathering. In a small group, it can matter a lot more if everything is
carbs and sugar. In a large gathering there should end up being
something for everyone if people bring what they like and hope others
will also.

 
Great advice from food specialists is to eat a little before you go to a
party so you are not dependent on the sensitivities of others. That’s
especially true for those on restrictive diets. But for the omnivores,
think about balancing personal pleasure with group health. It’s just
one meal after all. That said, what’s Hanukah without at least one
latke????

Not Cheap But Not Feeling All Too Obligated Either

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s etiquette for people you feel obligated to give a gift to, but
neither particularly like, nor want to spend a lot of money on? Most of
them make more than we do, and I am comfortable. I also hate waste.

Not Cheap But Not Feeling All Too Obligated Either

 
Dear Not Cheap:

A lot depends on the timing, so you may need to hold this idea until
earlier in December next year, but it works from now to eternity. Pick
a charity you care about. There’s a zillion needy and deserving non-
profits, all of which could/would make better use of whatever you
would contribute. Pick one or two, and tailor the note below
accordingly. Send to each and any on your “no gift” list, preferably in a
nice card.

Dear [Recipient]: As you know we live in a world of abundance than
many on the planet do not share at the level of material comfort we
enjoy. I thought about getting you any manner of beautiful clothing,
household décor, exotic condiment, or rare vintage. Instead I decided
to donate in your name to [organization]. They feed the hungry,
create shelter for the homeless, provide protection to refugees, etc
etc. I know you have a big heart and a generous soul, and will support
this choice that I am making on your behalf. If, for some reason, you
do not, please tell me, and let’s forever release one another from the
obligation of reciprocal gifting. Best wishes for the New Year. I hope it
is filled with all the blessings you deserve.

Searching

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my family has the same meal for Passover, and uses the
same Haggadah. We agreed we’d like to up the ante on our spirituality
this year. Do you have any suggestions for something we can do,
preferably together, to go deeper into the meaning of the season?

Searching

 
Dear Searching:

Every year in spring mystical Jews do a practice called The Counting of
the Omer, which if you Google will net you a variety of prompts for
daily meditations. The process lasts the seven weeks between
Passover and Shavuous, and is said to prepare us for receiving the
divine word at Sinai. The holidays are the book ends of 49 days of
daily heart searching based on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. You can
Google that too or go to my other website, kabbalahglass.com/about/.
The spheres on the Tree of Life are said to be aspects of divinity and
self. The structure is a set of stacked triangles that operate in triads: a
characteristic, it’s opposite, and a balance point. The top three (or four
depending on your mystical lineage) are pretty much out of our range.
But the bottom seven make a handy paradigm for looking at
everything from the order of the cosmos to a problem you’re wrestling
with. I’m condensing two thousand years of mysticism here, so bear
with me.

 
The first triangle is about unconditional love, discernment, and
compassion. In relationship terms, I love you madly forever take
whatever you want, Eeek you have no boundaries I need time and
space for me, and Let’s work on something that’s good for us both.
The official names for these are chesed, gevurah, and tipheret. The
second triangle is about your life force, what energizes you, how and
where do you aim it, what’s possible? In creative terms, It’s your mad
idea of a project Eureka!, your proofread final last draft/completed
exams/signed documents/etc., and the possibilities that come from
becoming an author/doctor/CPA/homeowner/whatever you’ve been
wanting to manifest. They’re called netzach, hod, and yesod. The last
is malkuth, the kingdom of here and now.

 
Week 1, which starts sundown on April 15, is a whole week meditating
on chesed. How you love. How you’re giving, open, and loving. The
next six week after are committed to each of the next traits. The
fullest version of the process looks at each aspect of each trait, which
is why it’s easiest to find a site to send you prompts for daily
meditations. You can do them individually in a journal and discuss as a
family each night at dinner. Once you understand the paradigm you
can apply it to many life issues.

Hostess with the Mostest

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Chanukah coinciding with Thanksgiving is causing me all sorts of
headaches. The obvious challenge of all the gift shopping is
complicated immeasurably by family traditions. We are four girls who
alternate whose home will host Thanksgiving. We all live in the same
city as my parents and there are a total of fifteen of us, all generations
included. The rule has been that the hostess sets the menu and doles
out one dish to each other sister to prepare. My mother makes the
pies as befits the eldest woman in the family. I love Chanukah but to
me Thanksgiving ranks second only to Passover as the ultimate family
holiday. I’d never think about tossing out the Haggadah for a book of
Easter stories, so why should I be expected to change my traditional
meal plan for some weird combination of events. Even to have wasted
an hour of my life arguing against “latke crusted turkey cutlets”
instead of a beautiful roasted bird given my crazy busy life is an
insulting waste of intelligence and time. Usually we get along pretty
well, but this has us stymied. Help, please, and fast!!

Hostess with the Mostest

 
Dear Hostess:

I’m enough of a traditionalist to want my holiday foods as I expect
them. Latkes for Chanukah and a stuffed turkey for T-day. Certainly a
Thanksgiving bird with all the trimmings is not too much to ask,
especially if you’d have to wait another four years to be in control of
the menu. So the first choice is this one: Do you care enough to fight
them all and win or do you want to offer to switch with next sister up
and rotate hostessing out of turn just this once. If yes, then let her
have the menu headache, and show up with what she assigns you and
keep quiet about the annoyance.

 
If not, and you want the party at your home, do the following. Send a
full menu to the whole family. Include all your Thanksgiving favorite
items as you would even if Chanukah were in January. But assign the
most troublesome sister to make latkes instead of mashed potatoes.
Assign a vegetable and a salad to the other two. Let them know that if
they can make them fit both holidays, great. If not, go traditional for
Thanksgiving. Light the candles while the whole family is assembled,
and be sure to give thanks for family when you give gratitude before
the meal.

Yikes!!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Am I the only one running around like a chicken with my head cut off?
This is crazy!! It should be illegal to have two major family holidays at
the same time!! To complicate this, we are a mixed marriage; half the
family is Jewish and the other half not. The not half is mine, and while
they are not very observant Christians, they are very WASP identified.
For example, that they have been pronouncing my husband’s name
Epstein, as Ep-steen, with an emphasis on the steen for ten years,
despite repeated corrections. I know they won’t want to be lighting
candles and singing Chanukah songs over their turkey. I’m trying to
raise my boys with a knowledge of Judaism and expect they will be Bar
Mitzvah-ed. Also I am beyond late on Chanukah cards and cannot
imagine getting anything out to far-away relatives as well as coping
with the locals. Other than freezing the clock and handing me a week
of free days, so you have any super-powered suggestions?

Yikes!!!

 
Dear Yikes:

Two problems, two solutions. For the locals, ask the hostess,
presumably not you, if they would like to learn a little about Chanukah
or not. If they say yes, bring a menorah and candles, and have one of
the boys explain the story of the miracle of lights. (You can help him
get it right.) Adults won’t (or shouldn’t) be rude to a pre-teen. You can
also bring a bag of coins and teach them the dreydl game. Gambling is
a great leveler. If they decline the chance to be ecumenical, celebrate
at home after you leave them.

 
As for the far-aways, they’re probably scrambling as much and as fast
as you are. If you have an email list or FaceBook way of
communicating simply with everyone, use electrons instead of stamps.
Say that with the confluence of celebrations you’re crazy busy and
have not had time to write the kind of personal notes you prefer to
send. Say that even if they do not receive a card before the eight days
have ended, that you will be sure to communicate as soon as the local
busy-ness has subsided. Wish everyone a day of blessings and
gratitude with their local loved ones, and special thoughts from your
family. If you have some cute current pictures of your children to post,
all the better. Perhaps a child with drumstick in one hand and menorah
in the other!

Need It Tender

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have problems as a guest. I’m a widower who enjoys eating a home-
cooked meal with friends. I enjoy the companionship as well as the
cooking – if I can eat the cooking. I don&'t ever eat poultry. My friends
and family know that, and are generally willing to plan the menu
around me. When they invite me to dinner, especially for the holidays,
they usually make brisket. This is good, even fine, when they know
how to cook it. But many make it so tough that I cannot chew it, even
with my dentures. So there’s the problem of not being able to swallow,
and not wanting to spit it out. What can I say to my eager hostesses,
because I think they really do want to invite me?

Need It Tender

 
Dear Need It Tender:

The best time to communicate is when you get the invitation. Talk to
each hostess as you are called. Assume, btw, that they may speak
with one another. But that’s okay because you’re going to be giving
the same message to each of them. In those convos, your goal is to
communicate appreciation for their hospitality and for their continued
sensitivity to your food needs.

 
Explain that, as you are aging you have, in addition to food
sensitivities like chicken, increasing problems with chewing. You can
say that even your dentist despairs about getting you comfortable. Say
how much you enjoy dining with them and hope this new information
won’t make them less interested in sharing food and companionship
with you. Say you have experimented with brisket recipes and have
found one that always turns out tender as a baby’s bottom (not that
you’d eat a baby!). (Note: I can send you a friend’s mother’s recipe if
you want, that I have to admit is more fall-apart delicious even than
my own mother’s.) Offer to share the recipe with them, and then say
gently, Please when I come, just give me a tiny taste of the meat. If I
cannot chew it, I don’t want to embarrass either of us. At worst, you’ll
have all the fun parts of being social, and a lot of vegetarian meals
made of a collection of side dishes and dessert.

But Not Against Tradition

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year we go to my sister’s for Passover. There’s lots of good
reasons: My husband and I live in a small condo; she has a big house
in the burbs. I am not a good cook; she is a great one. The parking in
my neighborhood is lousy; she has a driveway that can handle
everyone. Our kids are scattered; hers come home for the holiday. I
could go on but you get the idea. We do things this way “because this
is how we’ve always done them,” at least since our mother died. In
olden days we went to her place (until she went into a home). In case
it isn’t obvious, most of the recipes are hers, though even my sister
admits that no one makes them as good as she did. I’d like to have
some greater say in what goes on in the future than I have had in the
past. Do you have any ideas about how to get even a little closer to
equity?

But Not Against Tradition

 
Dear Not Against Tradition:

Many families have Seder traditions they keep every year. They can
involve place, food, haggadah, even down to table settings and people
placement. The youngest generally stays the youngest, but other than
that at least some things should be up for grabs. Your letter suggests
you have been bearing the second sister role patiently for a long time.
If you start in with your sister right before the event, she’ll feel
ambushed. But now’s as good a time as any to begin the conversation
Tell her you understand why she hosts, but don’t want her to bear all
the burden ask if she would consider a co-hosting event in her home,
so that you can have the joy of planning together. That at least begins
the conversation.

 
Propose some new traditions, whether that’s new menu
items or different recipes to prepare them. How about a
couple kinds of charoset, Sephardic and Ashkenazi. There’s
lots of great recipes on the web. Consider using a different
haggadah, which you could offer to supply There are many
beautiful new ones you can find by googling. They reflect not
only Judaism’s ancient values, but recast some of the
season’s greatest themes into contemporary terms or
through the eyes of ancient teachers. You may not want to
change your matzo ball recipe. But you might find that folks
are more open than you think. One can only hope.

Gifted

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m getting ready to retire and trying to budget. Before the holidays I
talked to all the folks in my extended family, many of whom are trying
to do the same – some from necessity and others from choice –about
not doing gifts in the traditional way. We talked about various options,
like limiting them to under $10, or re-gifting things we weren’t using,
recycling things we loved and knew others needed, donating to
charity, or anything other than spending hundred of dollars on
unwanted and unneeded more things.

 

It worked great.
Then, last week at synagogue, one of my newer friends, with whom I have
never exchanged anything, handed me a jewelry box. When I demurred she
insisted that I open it and inside was a pair of earring that have
nothing to do with my folksy style. I thanked her and put them on at
her insistence. But I am uncomfortable both with the gift and any
perceived sense of obligation.

Gifted

 
Dear Gifted:

You have a range of choices from full honesty and disclosure to polite
avoidance. Only you can decide what’s going to get you close to where
you want in this friendship, and whether this person gets different
rules than the folks you’ve known and loved for years. There seems
something askew to gift out of obligation rather than love. But you’ll
decide at least in part based on your knowledge of the friend. If she’s
the formal type and doesn’t see you wearing the earrings regularly in
public her feelings are going to be hurt no matter what. Ditto if you do
not gift her something, if not for the holidays then for, say, her
birthday.

 

But if you are genuinely trying to get off the merry-go- round
of gift buying and giving, you’re going to have to risk her disapproval.
My suggestion is to bring them with you, box and all, when you next
meet. Say you were very tempted to break your resolution for her,
since you are new friends. But that after much thought you have
decided to tell her what you should have said when she gave you the
gift: from now on you are not gifting blah blah blah. You can
acknowledge that her values are different than yours. And be sure to
praise the earrings. But say you would not feel comfortable keeping
them and that she should give them to someone who will be able to
enjoy them. You’ll know how the friendship is going by whether she
moves closer or further from you after the convo.