Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Gentile Friend Never Acknowledges Jewish Holidays”

I’m Jewish. I was raised Orthodox. I was the president of my shul for four years, a reform congregation. Judaism is a BIG part of my identity. Jewish holidays, traditions, and rituals are important to me. I have a friend whom I’ve known for 22 years who is Catholic. She attends bible study, chapel, and mass, all weekly. Her religion is important to her. She has NEVER wished me happy Rosh Hashanah, happy Yom Kippur, happy Hanukkah, happy Passover. I haven’t said anything to her because I don’t want to damage our friendship. We live next door to each other. It would be awkward if things went sideways.

My brother, who was my only sibling, and his wife raised their children Presbyterian. He’s now deceased and my sister-in-law, nephew, and nieces are all scattered. We all live many miles apart in different states. I have a limited but loving relationship with them. Once in a blue moon I might receive a Chanukah card. Holidays are bittersweet. What are your thoughts? — Bittersweet

You need to figure out what aspects are most important to you about the holidays you celebrate and then take a more active role in fostering those aspects. Since you mention friends and family, I will assume that sharing the holidays with people you love is among the most important aspects. You say your friend of 22 years, whom you live next door to, doesn’t express holiday greetings to you. It may be that she doesn’t understand their significance or even know when the Jewish holidays are. If the holidays are important to you and it’s important that your friend understand that, why don’t you invite her to share some of your holiday traditions? Have you ever invited her over for a Passover seder, for example, or a Hanukkah dinner? Hanukkah would be simple because it isn’t the most religious of the holidays and can be observed with a simple prayer, lighting of the menorah, and eating some traditional dishes – like latkes and jelly donuts—-and who doesn’t like fried potatoes and jelly-filled sweets? If you want your friend(s) to know the importance of holidays to you, teach them a little bit about them and share some of the traditions.

If your friend still fails to acknowledge the holidays even after you try to include her in some of your celebrating, let it go. I suspect the bigger issue here isn’t that your friend doesn’t wish you a “Happy Passover!”; it’s that you feel lonely. Regardless of religion, the holidays one celebrates can exacerbate feelings of loneliness. Are you a current member of a synagogue? If not, join one. If you already belong to one, look for ways you can take a more active role in the community. My family belongs to a synagogue where there is no shortage of ways to gather in fellowship with other members. There are opportunities for singles to mingle, there are shabbat dinners at the synagogue, picnics, even opportunities to host shabbat dinners with other members that you’re randomly matched with (we did this once and hosted two families we’d never met before). If there are any opportunities like that at your synagogue, sign up! Instead of looking to non-Jews – your Presbyterian SIL and her kids, your Catholic friend — to fill the hole you feel during Jewish holidays, look to the Jews! They get it (the significance of the holidays, that is), so half the work is already done. The other half of the work is about them getting to know you (and vice versa).

I have a hard decision to make: not knowing if I should stay with my boyfriend of two and a half years or move back to my hometown, which is about two hours away, to be closer to family. I initially moved away to go to college. But after graduating, I got a great job and had a family. I went through a long and tumultuous divorce, which involved a restraining order. I have a beautiful daughter from that marriage. My ex had monitored visitations with her that he continually canceled so the courts have eliminated his visitation rights, which I believe is for the best. When my marriage was ending, I had no doubt in my mind that after my divorce was finalized, I would be moving back home. My family, who has been wanting and waiting for me to move back, were so happy. My brother and his wife have three kids, around the same age as my daughter, and we are all very close, but it’s difficult not having them around to be in our day-to-day lives. We feel like we are missing out on each other’s kids growing up.

When my current boyfriend and I were starting to date, he reassured me that he can do what he does anywhere (he’s in construction). So we continued to date exclusively, with me thinking that he would be willing to move with me if things progressed. Now, years later, he is saying he didn’t mean he would necessarily move to my hometown, but that he would be willing to move in the future somewhere else with me. He has kids that are adults (he’s much older than I am) and one that is almost an adult. He wants to wait until his youngest is 18 to even think about moving anywhere. While I respect his decision, because he is being a good dad and wants to be there for his kids, I feel like I was misguided by the things he said. And now I’m attached and my daughter thinks of him as a dad.

When I sold my house about six months ago, we moved in together. Things between us are up and down, and, unfortunately, we argue quite often and more so since I moved in. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster of highs and lows with him and needing to make a decision if I should just end things and move. But then I have so much anxiety about making the wrong decision because I do love him. Please help with my indecisiveness! — Missing My Hometown

 
There are some things I don’t understand about your letter and the decisions you’ve made. For example, if you were certain you’d be moving back to your hometown after your divorce was finalized, why didn’t you? You don’t explain what happened. Was it meeting your boyfriend that changed things? Were you not able to find a job? What? And then:
Why would you just accept your boyfriend’s statement that he could do his job anywhere without discussing what, exactly, that meant for him? Especially after a long and tumultuous divorce – after which your daughter was essentially abandoned by her father—-why would you then move in with a man without having a very clear idea of whether your goals and plans aligned? If you were committed to moving back to your hometown, why on earth would you not make sure your boyfriend was 100% up for that, too? He had at least one kid under the age of 18; did it not occur to you that he might not want to move away from that child? Did you not think to ask him about that, to make sure he was willing to do that?

It sounds like you made some assumptions based on what YOU wanted and not based on any discussion with your boyfriend. You moved in with him with your daughter and now she thinks of him as a dad and you two are fighting all the time and can’t agree about moving. It was a really, really big mistake to move your daughter in with him without having these things figured out in advance.

I’m concerned, given your history of making assumptions based on what you want (vs. reality), that you might also be envisioning certain things about moving to your hometown that may not materialize. For example, how involved in your life do you think your brother and his wife and their three kids will be and vice versa? How involved in each other’s lives are you now? You live only two hours apart from each other; if you aren’t making concerted efforts to see each other now, you may be surprised to find that that might not change much when you live in the same town. They have a life there already – full of kids’ activities, family friends, and events and occasions they’ve likely been celebrating a certain way for years. They may not make space for you in their life in the way you are envisioning – it may not be the kind of space you are expecting. You will still need to make a life for yourself and your daughter that is separate from them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t move – there are so many benefits to living close to family, especially with cousins who are close in age to your daughter – but I want you to really think about what life might be like once you move based on what you know it is like now. And, of course, don’t move without a job and a home lined up!

As for your boyfriend, if you’re fighting all the time after only six months of living together and you feel like he wasn’t honest about the potential of his moving, it’s probably best to end things and move on. These are very real, legitimate concerns that speak to how you communicate and how well your needs are met. Alternatively, you could keep the relationship for the time-being and try doing the long-distance thing once you move. You might find the distance to be really good for your relationship, relieving pressure to set up a home together and making decisions about your future together. But you’d have to commit to making a life for yourself and your daughter in your home town, independent of your boyfriend — one that he can visit regularly but that is not dependent on him to function.

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

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    CanadaGoose October 15, 2019, 11:18 am

    LW1 – Adding to what Wendy said about non-Jewish people not knowing when Jewish holidays are: this is me. I have no clue, other than a general sense of Hannukah (that the timing changes makes it hard to keep track of, kind of like Easter. I never know when that is either). That in no way means I don’t care or would not wish my Jewish friends well if I were better informed. We also don’t know the difference between the holidays unless someone explains it to us. Do invite your friend over to celebrate with you. One of my fondest childhood memories is my friend inviting me to join her family for Passover. And, she’d always wanted to decorate a tree, so she came over and did that with me. It was terrific. Now, my favourite holiday card I get is a Hannukah card from her, with a lovely photo of her family on it. It makes me feel included and I love that. I really enjoyed her Bat Mitzvah and was thrilled to be invited to her kids’ decades later. I am sure your friend isn’t slighting you. (I’ve done similar things with Sikh friends and it’s so wonderful when others include you in their celebrations.)

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  • CurlyQue

    CurlyQue October 15, 2019, 12:58 pm

    LW1: If you want your friend to be aware of the holiday and wish you well another suggestion may be either telling her you’re excited for such and such holiday that’s coming up and/or posting it on social media as a round about way of knowing she’s informed.

    Mostly though i agree with Wendy that this isn’t about your friend and more about wanting a connection and feeling lonely. If part of it is also about wanting your nieces/nephews to be aware of their culture you could also send them Happy _____ cards/gifts etc.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph October 15, 2019, 1:17 pm

    LW1, Jew here. It just seems very normal to me. Jews are a small minority in every country in the world (except Israel). Most calendars don’t mention them, most school districts don’t take off for them.
    You notice christian holidays because they are on the calendars, in the media, etc. But you can’t expect people to notice Jewish holidays the same way because they fly under the radar.

    If you want your family to send you holiday cards, you could take the initiative to send cards to them. And if you want your friend to acknowledge your holidays, you have to let her know. Invite her over, as Wendy says, but also bring it up in conversation. And maybe introduce her to isitajewishholidaytoday.com which some of my non-Jewish friends delight in checking every day and wishing me a “Happy [obscure holiday I wasn’t even tracking]”

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    • juliecatharine

      Juliecatharine October 16, 2019, 9:33 am

      Question, I’m never totally sure of the etiquette (because honestly I’m not sure of the significance of each holiday) but is ‘happy xyz’ appropriate for all of the Jewish holidays? You Kippur for example, as a day of atonement, doesn’t strike me as a particularly happy holiday. Or is ‘happy xyz’ close enough in spirit that it doesn’t matter too much? Thanks for your perspective!!

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      • avatar

        Juliecatharine October 16, 2019, 9:34 am

        * Yom Kippur

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph October 16, 2019, 1:24 pm

        Yeah, happy falls a little short of the proper sentiment on Yom Kippur (as well as several other fast days that most people aren’t even aware of) but I personally would be happy enough to be recognized at all as to not be bothered by it.

        The traditional yiddish greeting for Yom Kippur is “Gut Yontif” which translates functionally to “Good Holy Day” (maybe along the same “good” usage as Good Friday which like… whats so good about it?). The traditional english wish is “have an easy fast” which would be weird coming from a gentile and is problematic even when coming from Jews (in non-orthodox circles) because not everyone does fast and many people who don’t have a lot of guilt associated with that. (It’s considered bad form to ask someone if they are fasting because they might feel guilty if they aren’t and feel compelled to lie)

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        SpaceySteph October 16, 2019, 1:28 pm

        Oh and the traditional hebrew greeting is “Gmar Chatima Tovah” which is translated to “may you be sealed for good.” But that would also be quite odd coming from a gentile since it implies belief in a concept that they don’t.

        So basically, I’m back to “Happy” is good enough and thanks for looking at the Jewish calendar. Or “Happy New Year” can probably carry you through both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur since they’re only a week apart. Surely some people are still saying “Happy New Year” on Jan 9th, right?

        Sorry this was so long… I have lots of thoughts about this, apparently.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom October 15, 2019, 1:49 pm

    LW2 You’re already not getting along. I don’t see any point in prolonging this relationship. You shouldn’t ask for or expect him to leave a son behind to live with you. The type of guy who would be willing to do that isn’t worth your time. Your own ex abandoned your daughter. You shouldn’t expect anyone else to do the same. If he would do that it would just prove that he was unreliable, if his kids can’t count on him who can, and that you don’t do a good job of picking men.

    Your boyfriend was probably talking hypothetically, that he could move anywhere and work. That’s probably true. It doesn’t mean that he would be willing to move anywhere before his son is out of high school. He might have assumed that it was obvious that he wouldn’t leave his son behind just like you assumed it meant he would move when you could go. Neither of you included when that move might happen.

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  • avatar

    George Fayne October 15, 2019, 2:01 pm

    Reading LW1’s letter I realized I also have really no idea about any of the relevant holidays for my staff and neighbours etc who are religious. (I’m an atheist, so I know about Christian holidays that are pretty widely observed but nothing really about other religion’s holy days).

    Anyway if I looked around and if you’re using Google Calendar, you can subscribe to calendars for Christian, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish holidays.

    Not sure I’ll start going around wishing everyone a happy prophet’s birthday or whatnot as that would be pretty out of character for me! But I think it’s useful to keep on my radar, and I thought some other readers might also be interested.

    https://support.google.com/calendar/answer/6084659?hl=en&ref_topic=6272662

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph October 16, 2019, 1:34 pm

      I think this is lovely. I’ll admit that it peeves me when people are completely clueless that its an important Jewish holiday, such as scheduling major things on those days. Of course my schedule is one of many and perhaps that day would have been the best one anyways, but maybe other things were generally equal and if they had seen it on the calendar, they might have picked an empty square instead.

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  • avatar

    Essie October 15, 2019, 2:21 pm

    LW1, I think Wendy’s suggestion to include her in your traditions is a lovely idea. I can only speak for myself, but as a non-Jew, I’d have to google for a calendar of Jewish holidays to even know when they are.

    The other thing that might make me hesitate is not understanding the meaning of the holidays. I know some are celebratory and some are more solemn and reflective, and I might worry about saying the wrong thing.

    All that said, though, if I had a close friend who was devout in their Jewish faith, I’d ask them about their holidays and how they celebrate, because I would want to acknowledge their important days, and acknowledge them properly.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros October 15, 2019, 3:59 pm

      Yeah. For example, I don’t think people actually say Happy Yom Kippur. I don’t know that it’s offensive to do so, but I think it doesn’t make a lot of sense — expressing joy at a solemn holiday.

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      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy October 15, 2019, 4:10 pm

        They don’t. I was surprised to see that in the LW’s letter, actually. You can wish people an “easy fast” or “G’mar Tov” among other greetings, but no one who knows would ever say “Happy Yom Kippur.”

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    • Guy Friday

      Guy Friday October 15, 2019, 4:40 pm

      I echo this. And one other thing to consider, LW: I don’t know how old you are, so I don’t know if the 22 years your friend has known you includes time you spent practicing in the Orthodox sect or not. But much like the “Happy Yom Kippur” gave me pause, so too does what I think is a dramatic underselling of the change from Orthodox to Reform. I’m not judging you for doing it; faith is a very personal thing, and you have to do what feels comfortable for you. But let’s not make it sound like that’s just a minor thing; that’s an enormous change in the approach you take to your faith, and if the fact that you’re kind of including it as a throwaway line here is indicative of how you approach it in general your friend may be getting an inadvertent signal from you that you’re less religious / more indifferent to your faith, which may be contributing to the lack of acknowledgement as well.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse October 15, 2019, 2:40 pm

    I definitely can understand the desire to be acknowledged on these holidays. I’m not Jewish, but I have friends who are and I guess over the decades (feeling particularly old writing that!) I’ve grown accustomed to acknowledging the holidays. It is also on my iPhone calendar app, so not to hard to remember.

    Did anyone see Paul Rudd’s Between Two Ferns interview? I love his perfect Jew joke. Also, Paul Rudd.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros October 15, 2019, 3:56 pm

    I think different people have different expectations for holiday greetings. I don’t really go out of my way to mention holidays to anyone. I’m an atheist who was raised Christian. I celebrate Christmas sort of because a lot of people around me do. But unless I see someone on Christmas, I don’t say anything about it. I don’t really acknowledge Easter. I don’t really give non-religious holiday greetings. I said Happy Hanukkah to my boss once and she was like, “Hanukkah isn’t a big deal,” so I didn’t say that again.

    I think this is like anything else where everyone has different expectations. If you think your friends and family are good otherwise, then this may just be mismatched expectations. If you feel like this is part of a long list of ways they don’t show you that they care, then you may need to address the bigger issue.

    I personally do believe it’s good for people to learn about non-majority religions, but the fact is, many people who are otherwise kind and loving simply do not.

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  • avatar

    Ruby Thursday October 15, 2019, 5:47 pm

    I think it is presumptuous to assume that your friend should know when Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kipper are because she actively practices Catholicism. I’m a confirmed Catholic. I could not tell you the calendar dates for half the Holy Days or Obligation because they change every year. The Catholic Church does not celebrate Jewish holidays. If you want to share your religious traditions with her, ask if she’s interested.

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  • avatar

    CET October 16, 2019, 8:39 am

    LW1 I think you should mostly celebrate with your temple friends since they are the ones that are interested. You can tell your friend it would mean a lot to you if she wished you a happy Rosh Hashanah or Hannukah, but don’t expect her to remember. My Jewish friend once invited us over to celebrate some holiday with her where she made some delicious food like noodle kugel. It was great! Have you tried inviting her over and doing this?
    LW2 Definitely move back to your home town. Why did you guys move in together? Why did you tell him when you started dating that you were moving back on x date. Tell him you have to move back and you would love for him to join you but you are going to set a date to move because being near family is very important to you. He may or may not come and you make your peace with that. If he decides not to come you still move and settle in and make a new life with your kids and hopefully meet a new boyfriend at some point.

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