An E-Mail To My Brother-In-Law

Good afternoon. I wanted to touch base with you and apologize first for not being able to do this over the phone since our schedules usually make it hard to find time.

I realize that you have decided not to have bagels and lox at the brunch for your parent’s anniversary, yet this now puts me in a difficult position. On one hand, I try to keep kosher to the best of my ability, yet on the other hand, I strive to build bridges of understanding and tolerance to others who may not do what ~wife’s name~ and I do. As you can see, if I choose the option of eating strictly kosher it may be detrimental to my relationships with others who do not. And, if I eat whatever non-kosher food that is served than I feel as if I have compromised my beliefs. It is truly a lose/lose situation on my part. Either way, I go home without a good feeling.

Last Sunday, I suggested ~name of kosher establishment ~ bagels, lox, and cream cheese because I thought it would be something we could enjoy and also because I thought it to be a win/win situation for everyone. Since you opted for a lighter option that is also better for your father’s health, perhaps ~wife’s name~ could bring something, and that way you can still serve whatever you would like. I am completely cognizant of that fact that it is not my place to weigh-in on menu selection in your home. I am not attempting even in the slightest to dictate what others eat, only what I choose to eat. What I eat or refrain from eating is not commentary on anyone else’s life despite the fact that is repeatedly seen as such. Not once have I ever told a family member, or anyone else for that matter, that what they are doing is “wrong”.

I hope this e-mail will give you insight into my thought process. If you could see inside my heart you would see that I wrote these words without a trace of divisiveness. I ask that you give us the ability to help us participate and celebrate along with you. I think that misunderstandings that we have had in the past stem simply from a lack of honest dialogue. Both ~wife’s name~ and I strive to correct this and want to break down barriers of misunderstanding that may exist.

35 comments on “An E-Mail To My Brother-In-Law

  1. Thanks YM!! I have a very long drive coming up soon, so now I have some more material to listen to, [along with some Shmuz shirs] to help keep me alert. (with the kiddies, it’s better to do long drives at night, less crying and stopping every hour)

  2. Ed… you said-
    “Be assured, no one, absolutely no one who would have encountered the individual responsible for my being frum would have been “scared off.”

    Well that settles it. Now that you’ve repeated your opinion as indisputable fact I am breathing much easier.

    While the above and earlier sarcasm may be dismissible (Whew… thanks for going so easy on me. I feared I might hear my comments criticized in language that would make Grover blush) I’d still very much like to hear your answers to some of the questions I posed in #22, which, IMO, were stated respectfully and without an ounce of sarcasm attitude or snark.

  3. Re: OU Lecture on keeping kosher in the workforce

    I attended the lecture when they came down here a few months ago. It would be great if they recorded it and provide it on a DVD. The two rabbis who presented it could have gone into stand up comedy. Through humorous situations of a guy trying to keep kosher in the office (and out, during business related functions), they managed to give a lot of information as to what works, what is overkill, and what is not good enough.

  4. Bob Miller – whoever you are – you’re great – I like your entries. I did not know that the exclamation in my prior entry was what you said it was – and henceforth, it’ll be excised from my vocabulary (who knew what Grover from Sesame Street was really calling out for?!).

    Chaim G – your sarcasm is dismissible. Be assured, no one, absolutely no one who would have encountered the individual responsible for my being frum would have been “scared off.” The individual is one of the sincerest and kindest people I’ve ever met. And, he was honest, unlike the aforementioned repugnant rap kiruv video.

  5. By the way, the OU conducted a lecture recently about how to handle eating in non-kosher establishments for business purposes, and in the office environment. They really should put that info on to their website so it can’t be misinterpreted.

    (Not a comment on ASJ’s email).

    Like Charnie, I attended an OU lecture on kashrut in the workplace as well as another similiar lecture. While nothing was particularly earthshattering to me, I thought the realistic way that the OU presented the issues was fantastic. It dealt with reality! And, the reality is that things are not always perfect and we sometimes have to work with that reality.

    I really recommend taking a course that looks at the non-idealistic side of kashrut. Just knowing more about the underpinnings of kashrut can make a person more comfortable with the halacha (not the social standards that go with it) and can give a person the information needed to know when to ask a shaila.

    Sadly enough, I know situations where people (often people in precarious financial positions) wasted food or threw away dishes that were kosher because they didn’t even know to ask a question. And, they were not just BT’s.

    Definitely education about psak halacha in kashrut should be a high priority. And, more often than not, I believe that such education can only bring more shalom between BT’s and their families.

  6. There is a good book on these issues called ” 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” it is by Azriela Jaffe. It addresses issues exactly like this. My Mom, who is not religious, appreciated the thoughts and reasoning put forth by it. Maybe it could help some. I think it is important to realize that even though the decisions are yours they are sometimes (mis)interpreted as a judgement on how others are living their lives.

  7. These are the discussions that I enjoy the most in this blog. Maybe the administrators are a little nervous about someone inadvertently stepping over the line of Derech Eretz, but we do seem to be fairly well self-policed, don’t we.

    However, the above paragraph might sum up why, ASJ, I wouldn’t have approached this subject in an email. I know that I wrote the above tongue-in-cheek. Someone else, not knowing my, at times, bizarre sense of humor, might read it in another tone. Ditto, maybe your BIL might interpret your very sincere letter to be self-righteous, ie, “I’m better then you because I’m frum”, although I believe that everyone here realized that’s not at all what you’re intending. Your intent was simply, “I want there to be sholom, let’s work this out”. So, that said, I think you should now pick up the phone (or have your wife do it) and make sure this couple understand what your reason for writing it was.

    Next, if you can’t come to an acceptable solution with the family, eat something else first or bring the bagel and lox along – with enough to put out for everyone else along with whatever else they’re serving, have a drink, and enjoy. Your display of Derech Eretz will go much further that way then in trying to “lecture” somebody.

    If you ever have reason to address this again, don’t, convey the idea that maybe, maybe, you’ll eat non-kosher to accomodate them.

    By the way, the OU conducted a lecture recently about how to handle eating in non-kosher establishments for business purposes, and in the office environment. They really should put that info on to their website so it can’t be misinterpreted.

    And Ed (#4) that video is really cute, and it was intended to appeal to the not-yet-frum. Kiruv can take many forms.

  8. Oh man, I pretty much got off swearing for good (having kids in the “Memorex” stage of life, i.e. repeating everything you say wrong, at the wrong time, will do that in a hurry). Now I’ll have to cut out on “sheesh”… Come to think of it, I guess that would apply to “oh geeze” too? Guess I need to work on more “Oy Veys.” Any other terms I can acceptably use to express frustration when wacking my thumb with a hammer?

    Back to the subject matter, my family is used to providing kosher food when we visit, as my wife and kids keep strictly kosher, so it shouldn’t be too hard for them to grasp that I’ve gone kosher too… I hope.

  9. Ed-You wrote:

    “When I became frum some 22 years ago, it wasn’t due to some milquetoast apologist for frumkeit – far from it. And I respected that individual for being himself; he presented frumkeit in a dynamic, positive and yes, uncompromising way, such that even if I had opted not to be frum, the individual would have still garnered my respect.”

    Mazel Tov! You win the feel/think Frum award.

    In the recent Modern vs. Charedi thread I read the following:

    “There’s nothing wrong with feeling that your own derech (path) is right…for you! There is something wrong and fundamentally small minded in concluding that, therefore it is right for everyone.”

    We all feel this way from time to time. Do you agree with the basic premise or not? Is your way/path/madreiga/experience the one and only way? You criticize large Kiruv Organizations with the implication that they are milquetoast apologists or sell-outs. Isn’t there more than one way to be mekarev? Does the said organization have any new or old born/raised secular but now ehrlicher yidden that are a credit to its methods and approaches? Don’t we ask HaShem “Hasheevainu aylaekha v’nashuva” i.e. that He, Yisborach, make the “first move”? Don’t we have a mitzva to imitate His ways of Chesed? Do you think every secular Jew who observed your mekarev 22 years ago (or today) would have responded exactly as you did? Is it in the realm of possibility that they may have been repelled and/or scared off?

    You also wrote:

    ““if I eat whatever non-kosher food. .. ” are you not implying to this brother-in-law that such is even an option? I really want to say to you, how dare you characterize this as a “lose/lose situation!”

    Sure it’s an option. Ever heard of free-will? Maybe we should sentence ASJ to amputate all his digits and compose a latter day U’Nesaneh Tokef for this grave Chilul HaShem that he caused that, no doubt, had his family reconsidering the theological possibilities of a trinity.

  10. Bob: I agree with #1. I am known to constantly say, “E-mail is the lowest form of communication.”

    That aside, I am much better communicating my ideas in writing than verbally. Despite the numerous drawbacks of e-mail, and the lack of time before this brunch to speak to him on the phone, I felt that this was the best option that would allow me to fully present my perspective and would allow the recipient time to stop and consider my words before getting overly emotional about the issue.

  11. Re: Comment #4
    ““My wife and I would have loved to have shared in this event. But since you have opted to celebrate in a non-kosher restaurant, we will be unable to attend.” Do you think the world would have fallen apart?”

    At times, to not-yet-religious relatives, not attending a family function is a big deal, regardless of our (the BT) reasons. Dealing with family that hasn’t chosen our lifestyle is often tricky and to them it’s as if the ‘world has fallen apart’. Much like when my children drop an ice cream cone or a toy breaks. To them it’s a big deal. Even when one asks a rav and his told to attend certain events and not eat, it’s, at times, not good enough for some family members.

  12. I totally agree with Bob Miller’s comment.

    Now that it’s clear that this is at the brother-in-law’s house, the issue is even EASIER – just bring your own stuff, or just eat beforehand! My goodness, such a long, hand-wringing blog over such a simple issue! As if your familial relationships will be irreparably harmed because you and your wife had to bring your own kosher bagels. Sheesh!

  13. ASJ asked, “How would it change people’s comments if they knew that this brunch was being hosted at my brother-in-law’s house?”

    Sorry, I missed that.

    OK, so now it boils down to:

    1. Is email the best way or the only way?

    2. Is this email way too long and involved?

    I’d say: 1. no 2. yes

    My earlier idea still looks good:
    Why not simply say (for example), “My wife and I would love to come, but let’s first work out some kosher food arrangement for the two of us”.

    The big stick—what you’d do (not come, not eat, whatever) if they didn’t comply—is not something to belabor at this early stage.

  14. ASJ: If the non observant relatives realize that the choice to keep kosher is serious – they don’t bother the relative how keeps kosher to come to their parites etc. But if they don’t understand – this has to be made clear to avoid confusions (in a soft way of course). But if they continue even after everything is explained it can mean two things. Either they are in denial that intention is serious, or they are doing it specially to provoce (I hope this is not a case at all).

    Therefore the only way to solve it – is an iron resolution from your side, which will show that you aren’t joking at all. Otherwise if you’ll pretend as if you are giving it – this will continue without end.

  15. How would it change people’s comments if they knew that this brunch was being hosted at my brother-in-law’s house?

    Perhaps I was not clear when I wrote that indeed it would be:

    “Since you opted for a lighter option that is also better for your father’s health, perhaps ~wife’s name~ could bring something, and that way you can still serve whatever you would like. I am completely cognizant of that fact that it is not my place to weigh-in on menu selection in your home.”

  16. I hate to belabor the point but….

    he did offer to have his wife bring something for themselves:

    “perhaps ~wife’s name~ could bring something, and that way you can still serve whatever you would like”

    Maybe, I am being too picayune about it but I think that we are all giving our own two cents based upon our own respective personalities and family relationships.

  17. I also prefer writing when dealing with these kind of sensitive issues. Good luck, having been through these things in the past, I can only say that true respect and care can move mountains. My father always says “Love breaks through all barriers”.

  18. David Linn said,

    “I think the email stated that he had already tried to arrange for kosher food”

    Yes, but he tried to arrange it at a place of his own choosing, and for the entire party. While that was shot down, a more modest proposal meeting his and his wife’s personal needs, such as I I suggested, might still fly.

  19. Bob,

    I think the email stated that he had already tried to arrange for kosher food:

    “Last Sunday, I suggested ~name of kosher establishment ~ bagels, lox, and cream cheese because I thought it would be something we could enjoy and also because I thought it to be a win/win situation for everyone.”

    I also think that the business world is sometimes more tloerable of special diets, incl. kosher, than a non-observant family member.

  20. Re: Michoel’s entry – Ok, maybe I was a bit harsh. And my comment was not really so directed specifically to ASJ. Irreligious Jews are the way they are w/o apologies. Religious Jews should be no less.

  21. Ed,
    “You blog entry is indicative of a someone bereft of such feelings, as though you are almost unsure of wanting to be frum in the first instance.” Ed, I mean ED!!!!! Please don’t say that!. ASJ is from the great yichidim of the blogosphere. It would be difficult to find someone with greater feeling for Yiddihskeit.

  22. Up to this point, the writer and the relatives were talking to each other. If the writer is now afraid tempers will flare, he should also consider that the use of email, especially a long one like this, can make tempers flare too.

    Why not simply say (for example), “My wife and I would love to come, but let’s first work out some kosher food arrangement for the two of us”. You can bring up possible ways to do this.

    This is both polite and direct, and avoids all the needless detail that is in the email.

    If such an arrangement can be made for a business lunch, conference dinner, etc.—and it can!—it can work at a family dinner, too. With a little guidance, restaurants can often line up and properly prepare and serve kosher airline meals with plasticware, etc.

  23. Bob,

    While I agree that face to face discussion is often the goal, I believe that writing is sometimes better to break the ice since it allows for uniterrupted thought, allows one to keep emotions in check and will often have a greater amount of forethought.

  24. Great letter-However, as a prelude to an email in what is both a family issue that will have to be negotiated and navigated by both sides, I would suggest leaving a brief phone message. Is your wife good at communicating on these issues? She may also be better at diplomacy than you on this and related issues.

  25. What did you mean by this statement: “As you can see, if I choose the option of eating strictly kosher it may be detrimental to my relationships with others who do not. And, if I eat whatever non-kosher food that is served than I feel as if I have compromised my beliefs. It is truly a lose/lose situation on my part.”

    Your personal decision to eat kosher is DETRIMENTAL to your relationships? Maybe in your own mind. I’ll bet you absolutely no one else cares about what you eat. (BTW – If the place is non-kosher, and everyone else eats non-kosher, is it possible for YOU to bring your own bagels, if this is a shalom bayis issue? Did you even think of posing such a question to a Rov?). And by saying “if I eat whatever non-kosher food. .. ” are you not implying to this brother-in-law that such is even an option? I really want to say to you, how dare you characterize this as a “lose/lose situation!

    R. Yechezel Levenstein wrote a wonderful sicha about the need to “feel” frum – not just think it. You blog entry is indicative of a someone bereft of such feelings, as though you are almost unsure of wanting to be frum in the first instance. When I became frum some 22 years ago, it wasn’t due to some milquetoast apologist for frumkeit – far from it. And I respected that individual for being himself; he presented frumkeit in a dynamic, positive and yes, uncompromising way, such that even if I had opted not to be frum, the individual would have still garnered my respect.

    This, my friend, is a BIG problem with some baalei teshuva, and even more so with some baalei teshuva institutions, who feel the need to overly bend what they truly believe, to “appear normal.” Just the other day, I got an email of the most despicable video from a large kiruv institution, showing a young frum man – with African-American features, no less! – singing some inane rap song about Rosh Hashanah, amidst some equally mindless young men bowing their heads up and down to the beat. Is this what we really must become vis-a-vis our irrelgious brethren? I don’t believe it, and I personally don’t accept it.

    Ultimately – imagine if you would have simply responded to your brother-in-law (and cc’ed his parents?) by saying, “My wife and I would have loved to have shared in this event. But since you have opted to celebrate in a non-kosher restaurant, we will be unable to attend.” Do you think the world would have fallen apart? I mean, who here is REALLY being detrimental to the relationship? It ain’t the kosher ones.

  26. Great letter, ASJ. You were respectful and honest at the same time.
    This topic is probably one that we all will comment on. My parents and relatives have, in the past, made events that were impossible for me to attend mostly due to events taking place before Shabbos was over. It’s hard when all we want to do is show our not-yet-frum relatives the same respect that we, in turn, want.

  27. This is a thoughtful letter and I hope it is/was effective in increasing peace in your family. It sounds like a difficult situation, one with which I am all too familiar. One thing that I would suggest (to your and to others involved in such negotiations) is to acknowledge your relative’s position and feelings first, and only then to explain your own. That way he may feel less defensive and more receptive to your message.

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