Stay home with menorah, or go to in-laws with tree?


I have a wonderful husband who happens to not be Jewish. We agreed early in our marriage that we would raise our children Jewish by sending them to Hebrew school, having them become bar and bat mitzvah, and observing Jewish holidays. My husband’s parents, somewhat observant Catholics, have never been thrilled with this arrangement, but they have been tolerant and prefer our method of bringing up our children to that of their daughter and her husband, who have rejected religion all together.

In deference to my in-laws, and because my husband enjoys it, we have celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas with our children at their home. However, this year we are running into a bit of a problem. Dec. 24 is the first night of Hanukkah. When my husband told his mother we intended to bring our menorah to their home and light the candles that evening, she and my father-in-law threw a bit of a fit. They said they did not want to light the menorah on Christmas Eve and that we could stay home if we preferred celebrating Hanukkah over Christmas. My husband believes we should attend Christmas and resume our Hanukkah observance when we return home on Dec. 26.

However, I believe our children, as Jews, should not be made to subvert their observance to someone else’s and should be taught that part of being a Jew is making hard choices, including excusing oneself from certain mainstream celebrations. What’s your opinion? — Alex

Dear Alex: With the number of queries the Mensch gets about family disagreements around major holidays, one would think there is a dearth of harmony therein. What ever happened to “peace on earth, good will toward men (and women)?”

Your example is inspiring, Alex. You have made a choice with your husband about raising your children and have, to this point, navigated with him and his family a mutually satisfactory path through an interfaith marriage. Mazel tov. Additionally, your reasons for wanting your children to keep Hanukkah on Christmas Eve are somewhat evocative of the sacrifice made by Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax on Yom Kippur 1965. Have your kids look that one up if they don’t know the story.

Your decision on how best to face this Christmas debacle rests in weighing the strength of your commitment to Judaism against your commitment to your family and shalom bayit. If you are committed to living a fully Jewish life, within the letter of the law, you probably should stay home on Dec. 24 and light the Hanukkah candles. However, that you married a non-Jew and share a Christmas tradition with your in-laws indicates you are somewhat flexible in how you incorporate your Judaism into our diverse and complicated world. Good for you. Indeed, it would behoove your in-laws to be a little more flexible. Their refusal to consider lighting Hanukkah candles at their home with their Jewish grandchildren is the obstacle here.

In your telling, your husband’s parents have their own commitment to religious observance and have been on the whole accepting, if reluctantly, of yours. Indeed, you say they prefer their grandchildren observe Judaism over no religion at all. In an attempt at reaching a compromise, which generally is the best solution, start there.

Perhaps you and your husband can initiate a conversation with his parents in which you express gratitude for their role in your lives and those of your children. Let them know how much Christmas at their home has meant to you all. Express appreciation for their acceptance of the path you have chosen for their grandchildren. Acknowledge that perhaps it hasn’t been so easy for them.

You can also let them know that your commitment to this path dictates that you light candles with your family on the first night of Hanukkah. Since your family includes them, you would prefer to do it together with them. Hopefully, they will drop their opposition to a joint celebration, and maybe this confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas will be an opportunity for you and them, and especially the children, to appreciate the joy you have together.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at advicemensch@gmail.com.