Honey, about that trip to your mom’s every Thanksgiving


Every year, for the 13 years we’ve been married, my wife, our kids and I travel to the East Coast to celebrate Thanksgiving with my wife’s mother and her extended family, with whom we are very close. As expenses have mounted, airfares increased and our family has grown (four kids now), this annual trip has become ever more expensive and complicated logistically. This year, with travel, ground transportation and hotel accommodations, we could be facing a travel bill of $7,000. This is more than we spend annually on all other travel combined, which means our family trips, or those rare times my wife and I get away alone, are limited to car trips over long weekends. I have asked my wife if she would consider not going East this year for Thanksgiving so we possibly could use the money for something new — maybe Hawaii or Europe. However, she is very attached to this annual tradition and feels her mother would be very angry and sad if we were to bow out. I don’t want to be obligated to spend this amount of time and money every year. Can’t her family come to us? — Al

Dear Al: The Talmud has little to say about the dilemma of Thanksgiving, a holy day of sacrifice and feast for so many American Jews. Mensch feels your pain. There is not much time after a bride and groom say “I do” before they are faced with the tribulation of the annual Thanksgiving negotiation. While it’s frustratingly complicated now, just wait until the kids have their own spouses and in-laws.

As for this year, Mensch believes it’s a bit abrupt in October to announce to your extended family that you won’t be with them this Thanksgiving and to ask your wife to accept the interruption of a family ritual that is important to her. So in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in the home) and getting what you want in the longer term, you might want to consider biting the bullet and lining up at TSA in late November with your shoes in your hands like the rest of us.

However, you should also start thinking — and talking with your wife — about next year. Mensch is not hearing that you don’t like your wife’s family or cranberry sauce, so speak with her about inviting her mishpocha to you next year. Many of them may loathe the idea of Thanksgiving in California, or maybe not, but you will have begun your negotiation in the spirit of generosity. You can start at this year’s holiday preparing your mother-in-law and the rest of the family for something new and solicit their input. You can offer to travel East for Thanksgiving every other year.

There may be others in the family who will feel relief at the opportunity to do something else. However, you should also be prepared that an interruption in a rock-solid ritual may render that ritual forever changed. If you exit next year, a different party may exit the following year. So you’ll initiate a new ritual, one more in synch with your life now. And then, one of your kids will interrupt that ritual somewhere down the road. All things must pass.
My new non-Jewish boyfriend keeps asking me to introduce him to good “Jewish food,” but I’m not much of a cook and I find the restaurant offerings, especially here in the Bay Area, lacking. Any suggestions? — Reni

Dear Reni: Mensch is a little puzzled as to what all constitutes “Jewish food,” though he likewise finds the restaurant offerings in the Bay Area, in many categories, lacking. What is your idea of good Jewish food? If you’re stuck, the gift shop at the Contemporary Jewish Museum has a very interesting selection of books about the role of food in Jewish life and might offer some guides to Jewish eateries (to which you may need to travel) or ideas for recipes to try at home. But be advised, your non-Jewish boyfriend may not cotton to pickled herring, stuffed cabbage and matzah brei. Don’t let him off the hook. Go gefilte or go home.

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Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. Send your questions to advicemensch@gmail.com.