Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review July 17, 2002/ 8 Menachem-Av 5762


I don't mean to sound anti-Semitic but ; Doesn't etiquette dictate that a good host make his guests feel comfortable?


By Wendy Belzberg

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: I am not Jewish and I hope that this question will not sound anti-Semitic. I have had a number of Jewish friends and it seems to me that so many of them have siblings who don't speak to each other, or are on difficult terms with their parents or children. My significant other happens to be Jewish and is not on speaking terms with either of his brothers or his daughter. While I know these things happen, do you think such family rifts happen more often among Jews?

A: Let me begin with the same caveat: I hope nothing in my response will sound anti-Christian. In my experience, WASPs and Catholics, to name names, can hail from cultures that are more reserved. Displays of emotion and frank conversations about matters of real import can be discouraged. (A good friend of mine happens to be a WASP. Her mother was having a an extra-marital affair for twenty years that the entire family knew of but never spoke about.) Judaism is and is known to be an exegetic tradition -- one that pulls things apart, debates interpretations, splits hairs, and -- well, argues. Perhaps what is true of the Talmudic study at the heart of the religion is reflected in the family dynamic.

Different cultures, different individual dynamics, different coping mechanisms. It all boils down to one thing, as the comedienne Paula Poundstone so aptly put it: "I'm in therapy, because I come from a family."

Q: My sister and I were invited to our cousin's engagement party. When we learned that we were seated with people we did not care for, we politely asked our cousin to change our seats. He refused. We called, offered our congratulations, and said we would be unable to attend. Now he is angry and badmouthing our family. We have done so much for my cousin in the past and we felt he should accommodate our request. Doesn't etiquette dictate that a good host make his guests feel comfortable?

A: I don't know what Emily Post would say, but I say this is your cousin's party, not yours. The last thing he should have to worry about is seating arrangements. The demands of his parents and of his prospective in-laws are likely more than enough to juggle without having to worry about you and yours. Moreover, table assignments would take months if he were to concern himself overly with the demands of each and every guest. Not to mention that this is only the engagement party. What would you have him do when it comes to the actual wedding?

Doing for others should be an act of generosity and kindness; keeping count of your good deeds defeats the purpose. If you feel your cousin owes you for past favors, assign a monetary value to all you have done and give him the chance to settle the debt. Perhaps then you can celebrate your cousin's simcha without feeling you are entitled to a payoff.



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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg