Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“What’s More Important: Rosh Hashanah or My Son’s Birthday?”

Unknown

I am a Catholic married to a Jewish woman. My oldest son is from a previous marriage and his birthday is today, Rosh Hashanah.

I want to celebrate his eighth birthday with a dinner with my family, yet my wife is hung up on her holiday.

What’s more important? His birthday or Rosh Hashanah? Mind you, there are three days’ worth of celebration for Rosh Hashannah and only one day to celebrate my son’s birthday.

In addition to my son, we have two additional children together.

I’m open to your comments. — Catholic Husband, Jewish Wife

If you’re married and already have two children together, I’m surprised you haven’t yet reached agreement on how to handle a situation like this. Have you even agreed on how to raise your kids in regards to religion? Obviously, this is a topic you need to address if you haven’t already. If one religion is the predominant one in the family, then as a family, you should observe that religion’s holidays. If you have decided to observe holidays independently, you should at the very least be respecting the other spouse’s traditions and culture in regard to his or her religion. That means supporting your wife when she goes to temple to observe Rosh Hashannah, one of the holiest times of the year for Jews.

I’m married to a Jewish man (I’m not Jewish) and my birthday has fallen on Rosh Hashannah (and both his and our son’s has fallen on Passover and Yom Kippur, respectively), and I can say that there’s not a universal way of doing things (even within our family, we’ve made different decisions on different years when there are birthday conflicts). When there’s a conflict — a birthday or other important event that falls on a Jewish holiday — we decide as a couple what to do. One year, early in our marriage (I think we were still newlyweds), my birthday fell on the first night of Rosh Hashannah, when Drew ordinarily would have taken his father, who was around 90 at the time, to temple. I told him it would be nice if he could have dinner if that was possible. He arranged for his brother to take his dad to temple that night and he went to temple the next day. It wasn’t a matter of one event being more important than the other. It was a matter of communicating and finding a possible compromise, which, happily, there was.

The problem you have here isn’t the conflict of dates/occasions; it’s that you didn’t figure this out and make a joint decision weeks ago. You could have easily had a birthday celebration over the weekend, which sounds more fun than a Monday night family get-together anyway. You could also celebrate tonight without your wife. Sure, birthdays fall on one specific day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible about what day(s) you celebrate them. How often do people have birthday parties on their actual birthdays anyway? It’s a little more difficult to be flexible when it comes to celebrating/observing religious holidays — though not impossible — since you’re often at the mercy of scheduled services at places of worship.

Anyway, it’s not fair to turn this into a competition of what’s more important -— Rosh Hashannah or your son’s birthday, or your values vs. your wife’s values. They’re both important. And both can be celebrated if you actually communicate, compromise, respect each other, and plan in advance.

PS. I just asked Drew, who’s dressed in a suit and heading to temple, what he thought about all this and he said: “No contest, the kid’s birthday is more important!” (He’s not especially religious, for what it’s worth). Then I read to him what I wrote above and he said, “Yeah, you’re right,” proving once again that my husband is a very smart man.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

33 comments… add one
  • avatar

    MoeP September 14, 2015, 9:04 am

    Thank you for your compassionate response. As a Jewish person, every year I am asked to change and alter my schedule, even very important events, for Christian holidays. No one asks me to compromise. They just assume I will plan around these holidays even if an occasion falls on these days.

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  • Raccoon eyes

    Raccoon eyes September 14, 2015, 9:23 am

    WWS
    *
    Ooof, LW, how did this not come up before today? Methinks your wife shut down the convo and you are now getting pushback from your son and your other family members for putting off his birthday for your wife’s religious holiday, so you want some outside validation that you are “right.” I find it strange that your wife is making this an issue. I mean, yeesh, when you are a kid, the Most Important Day of the Entire Year is your birthday, right? Even if any scheduled party isnt specifically on that day, that is still YOUR DAY. At least it was when I was growing up.
    *
    Learn how to communicate (with your wife) better. Like, yesterday.

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    • avatar

      lee3 September 14, 2015, 6:24 pm

      that is still YOUR DAY.

      I wonder if this is a generational thing, feeling one’s birthday is the Most Important Day of the Year. I used to have new-to-the-workplace staff who were absolutely shocked that they didn’t get their birthday as an automatic holiday off work. Did the individual birthday become more important to celebrate as religious holidays became less important to many people?

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  • lynn

    Lynn September 14, 2015, 9:28 am

    He’s a kid. Celebrate his birthday and take him out to dinner. Your wife can either join you, or not. She still has other days to celebrate. Next year or whenever, y’all can figure out another plan. This is coming from a semi-religious individual.

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    • avatar

      LT September 14, 2015, 11:05 am

      Agreed- Obviously, you should have figured this out earlier, dude.

      However, since we’re here, if you’re not Jewish, and the kid’s not Jewish, then I’m sure he’s OK with his step-mom not going to dinner for one year. Let both of them have what they want, and don’t force togetherness if there are conflicting events. Unless the wife is insisting that he attend Rosh Hashanah? It doesn’t sound like she is. The son might even like father-son time MORE than spending it with the whole group.

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  • avatar

    ktfran September 14, 2015, 10:00 am

    My first thought was “why didn’t you celebrate his birthday over the weekend instead?” You could have easily had a large family get together yesterday and then tonight, LW, you could have easily taken your son to dinner or to an activity of his choosing. Father/son bonding time probably would have been a blast!

    So, in summary, I agree with Wendy. You and your wife failed to communicate and compromise.

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  • Diablo

    Diablo September 14, 2015, 10:07 am

    Dear Wendy,
    Is it OK for me to disrespect my wife’s faith by staging some kind of last minute ultimatum power play? Don’t worry, I can totally justify it by appearing to take fatherly moral high ground on account of my son’s birthday. But if my wife refuses, she’s putting her religion ahead of her stepson, right? (I mean as a broad principle, not just on this occasion.) Also, i’ll be able to bully her into doing a party on a Monday, cuz i’m sure not gonna bake a cake. It’s not like she has anything else important to do. Boy, religious differences, huh?

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    • avatar

      lee3 September 14, 2015, 5:52 pm

      Bingo. LW was very condescending about the wife being “hung up” on her religion. And yes, a religious event for someone who is a believer has priority over a birthday. Dad, take the kid out to dinner by yourself or you might even consider doing something a child might find entertaining and fun. I’m not religious, much less Jewish, and I was put off by Dad’s jerk comment.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna September 14, 2015, 10:17 am

    My first thought is celebrate separately. You take your son (and possibly the other kids) out for dinner and your wife celebrates Rosh Hashanah. You could in addition also make plans for a family outing on another day, so that you get time to do something together.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie September 14, 2015, 10:57 am

    Why oh why didn’t you discuss this before – because the best solution would be to invite your family to her family’s Rosh Hashannah dinner. Of all the holidays, the Rosh Hashannah dinner is pretty tame in terms of blessings and what not. Prayer over wine. Prayer over bread. Prayer for good new year. Eat eat eat. You could have easily had a birthday cake for your son. I don’t see any mention of going to temple. If there was a trip to temple, you could have still eaten dinner together, eaten cake and then separated to go do something fun while the wife’s family went to temple.

    My birthday often falls on Rosh Hashannah or Yom Kippur and my birthday was just added to the overall holiday. As in “Hey it’s Rosh Hashannah AND Leslie’s birthday! Roast Chicken followed by birthday cake!”

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom September 14, 2015, 11:36 am

      That doesn’t really sound like the way an 8-year-old would want to celebrate their birthday. It sounds nice for an adult but not for a boy.

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      • avatar

        LisforLeslie September 14, 2015, 12:41 pm

        We’re only talking about the time that overlaps with the holiday. My assumption is that he is free to do whatever he wants during the day – especially since the holiday doesn’t start until the evening. If his birthday is on a Monday then he goes to school (or if school’s closed for the holiday – time with dad) and then family dinner. Who doesn’t like a nice roast chicken and potato kugel?

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom September 14, 2015, 3:27 pm

        Lots of kids don’t care for roast chicken and especially for a birthday dinner they want something like pizza or whatever their favorite food is but probably not roast chicken.

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      • mrmidtwenties

        mrmidtwenties September 15, 2015, 7:20 am

        What kid wants to have roast chicken and potato kugel with his dad’s wife’s family for his birthday? The kid is 8, he probably wants pizza and 3 gallons of pop and a burping contest with his friends before laser tag.

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      • avatar

        freckles September 14, 2015, 12:45 pm

        Especially if he’s not Jewish.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh September 14, 2015, 11:03 am

    It definitely seems odd that you didn’t discuss this together. Do you all even respect the other’s religions? Or is it something you tolerate? Because, from your letter it doesn’t seem like you think her holiday is a real holiday. It seems like something so silly to argue over that could have been fixed with one conversation. Even say celebrating big yesterday and then maybe just doing something simple tonight? Obviously there are numerous ways you could have dealt with it, but maybe actually talk to your wife and go from there.

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  • avatar

    keyblade September 14, 2015, 11:03 am

    I feel for the letter writer. Kids at this age tend to feel their birthday’s are hugely important. Throw in possible part-time custody and divorce/ we-are-all-one-cohesive-family pressure/guilt and I’m not surprised the letter writer feels strongly about his son’s birthday. I think instead of getting hung up on the idea of letting your son down, you should think of this as an opportunity to celebrate one-on-one this year. Tell him about when he was born. Go do something unexpected and exciting. If you can duck out of work early, pick him up from school and spend the afternoon playing video games, biking, building model cars, or whatever he’s into. Let him go pick out seven different cookies/ or slices of cakes at a bakery and him sample them all. Do something he will remember.

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  • Monkeysmommy

    Monkeysmommy September 14, 2015, 11:14 am

    If your kid was an adult, or even a late teen, then I would have more leniency towards your wife. But he is 8. I think you should be with your son, and she should go to Temple and observe the day. I understand she wants you on her side, but she also needs to have a little flexibility for her stepson. That doesn’t mean she needs to give up HER holiday, just you.

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  • avatar

    Anon September 14, 2015, 11:17 am

    There’s been several times that my birthday has fallen on Thanksgiving. We didn’t do anything different with the meal except add cake/pie of my choice. And I got to open birthday presents. I’m not sure why you can’t add a cake and sing happy birthday to anything else that you do tonight.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom September 14, 2015, 11:34 am

    I’m assuming that since your wife isn’t the mother of your son that your son probably spends more time with his mom than with you but following the usual custody situation you alternate holidays. So I’m assuming that you get your son for this birthday and his mom had him last birthday and next birthday and so on. It’s easy for people to say you should have celebrated his birthday over the weekend but you could only do that if you had him over the weekend. If you have him today because it is his birthday and because it is your turn to celebrate his birthday with him you should celebrate his birthday. Do whatever you would normally do with him. At the same time your wife can observe her religious holiday. You can explain that to your son and make it a very normal thing and say how much you respect her for practicing her religion. This is your son’s special day and if you only get to celebrate it with him on his birthday every other year you should celebrate. Otherwise, he might as well spend the day with his mom.

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  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover September 14, 2015, 11:55 am

    So what if she had a kid of her own who had a birthday on Christmas? Would you give up Christmas to celebrate the kid’s birthday? Or would you figure out a way to do both?

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  • Ettakit

    Ettakit September 14, 2015, 12:37 pm

    I’m on the side of Skyblossom et al. To an 8 year old, his birthday is a holiday and since neither you nor he are Jewish, I would suggest celebrating together. You can use this time to explain religions and why his stepmother and half siblings (I’m assuming) are not able to join you.

    As a child of divorce, any time I was able to spend one on one with my dad was a fun time. Make it a special dad and son day. Your wife can attend temple and celebrate Rosh Hashanah. After the it’s all over, discuss how to approach this the next time holidays and birthdays overlap.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros September 14, 2015, 12:37 pm

    I don’t know anybody who when their birthday falls on a Monday, actually celebrates on a Monday. Why wouldn’t you have celebrated on Saturday? As was mentioned above, would you choose not to celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving because of your kid’s birthday?
    The fact that there are a million ways to compromise, but your response is to write in to an advice column and act like your wife is awful. It makes you seem like you’re just trying to be difficult. There are plenty of adults who are way too narcissistic about their birthdays. Maybe your child learning that the world doesn’t revolve around their birthday would do them some good.

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    • avatar

      keyblade September 14, 2015, 12:40 pm

      Aww. I say save the lessons on entitlement for when they are necessary. Let the boy have cake and fun!

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    • avatar

      ktfran September 14, 2015, 12:53 pm

      Actually, we might have a bigger celebration on the weekend, but something is ALWAYS done on the actual birthday. Even if it’s a special dinner of the kid’s choosing.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom September 14, 2015, 3:30 pm

      We’ve always celebrated our kids’ birthdays on their birthday. They open gifts and cards from family and we have their favorite dinner and cake and ice cream and sing Happy Birthday. The party with friends can be any day and is usually not on the birthday. Our son doesn’t include us in his celebration with his friends but we still have his birthday, at home, on his birthday.

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    • avatar

      anon September 14, 2015, 3:49 pm

      From a divorced family, it’s not as easy as “celebrate on a Saturday,” if it was his mom’s weekend. Or if the custody agreement allows him to have his son on his actual birthday every other year, than he should spend with his son celebrating his birthday.
      .
      We don’t know the custody agreement to know if celebrating over the weekend was doable.

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  • avatar

    keyblade September 14, 2015, 12:37 pm

    This is completely speculative, but I think men that fall into the hetero-normative stereotype don’t have as much training on thinking ahead on holidays and planning child-centric activities. Now that so many families are blended, I think fathers are having to find their ways of celebrating without necessarily having memories of dad-planned celebrations to draw from.

    My husband and I think completely differently when it comes to planning child birthdays. He is much more laid back and casual. I think its kind of nice that dads are so much more involved with their kids.

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  • avatar

    freckles September 14, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Also going to agree that this all should have been decided ahead of time. You should have thought farther ahead how you were going to celebrate Jr’s birthday, and noticed it fell on Rosh Hashanah, and a Monday. You could have done the big celebration over the weekend. Since you and he are not Jewish, I think you and he going out together tonight would be fine while your wife and other children celebrate and go to temple.
    .
    Btw I find it a tad concerning that you had to write into an advice column when it seems to me that there is a very simple, reasonable compromise that the two of you should have been able to come to on your own.
    .
    Also perfect response as always, Wendy.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark September 14, 2015, 2:00 pm

    Eh.
    .
    Religions!
    Bringing People!
    Together!!
    .
    This one leaves me fucking baffled. Putting one’s own need to pray to their imaginary friend over the emotional needs of a child does NOT a great step parent make.
    .
    Hell, frankly? I think it makes you a pretty lousy individual. Religion. Bah. To me it’s just something the emotionally weak cling to — their sad desperate attempt to feel more secure and important in the world (“God/Jesus/Mohammad/Bhudda/Kali loves me. Me! ME!! And I’m gonna live on forever in some magical paradise! Oh, and to get there I have to first repeatedly treat others like SHIT! So I can’t marry two fags! Or I can’t celebrate an 8 year olds fucking birthday! No, no. No! Not me I am a good and devout religious person!! Again its all about me! Me!!! ME!!!!!”
    .
    Ugh. It all gives me a headache. So much endless, tedious abject bullshit in the world over beliefs a few power hungry people fucking made up when nobody elss could fucking read… And now all this bickering and bullshit. Oh, and wars!! And really? For what?
    .
    Nothing.
    .
    But hey — lets bicker and be assholes about our stale and crumbling pie in the sky beliefs…

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    • Diablo

      Diablo September 14, 2015, 5:24 pm

      Uh, I think we are sposed to maintain a respectful attitude here Mark, and not salaciously point out the grimly low comedy of a few billion grown adults clinging desperately to the comfortingly vague mental image of some patriarchal iron age sky pixie as a pretext for starting untold wars and defacing the history of our embattled civil society. Let’s try to keep the tone up where it belongs, huh, buddy? Also, why would you want to marry TWO fags? i should think one would be more than enough. But i am clearly an innocent in these matters.

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  • avatar

    simonthegrey September 17, 2015, 9:41 pm

    Ugh. I grew up Catholic, and my birthday pretty frequently fell on Easter, which was A Big Deal for my Catholic grandparents, and so at Easter dinner we might have cupcakes but it was not celebrated that day. I think I remember a handful of birthdays celebrated ON my actual birthday during my childhood because my dad had a job that meant he traveled for weeks at a time. So my birthday might be celebrated two weeks after my birthday. Guess what? It didn’t fucking matter. I still got my hot wheels or barbie or whatever junk I was going to get, I still had a slumber party with friends, and I still knew my parents loved me. Your son is eight; and it isn’t like you’re asking to push back his marriage or college graduated date. It’s a birthday. Celebrate it the weekend after.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph September 18, 2015, 8:53 am

    My husband is Catholic and I am Jewish. This year his brother and brother’s wife had twins. They set the baptism for last Sunday, September 13th (in another state), not knowing that it was Erev Rosh Hashana.
    When we found out the date, we discussed a bunch of options for how to fit it all in. In the end we decided that I would just stay home and prep for the holiday and he would go to Colorado alone. I still don’t know if it was the right decision, I certainly don’t know if other couples would make the same one… but the point is that we discussed and decided together, and then he supported my decision when telling his family that I wasn’t going to make it.
    I am surprised you’ve been with this woman long enough to marry her and have 2 kids and this is the first clash you guys have had over religion, but I promise it won’t be the last. Framing it as a question of “what is more important” is definitely not going to serve you well in this or future arguments. They are both important, and so is communication and a united front.

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