Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, Miriam follows up with readers who have asked her for advice over the years.
As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), we often go back and account for the past year, reviewing our actions and deciding what kinds of decisions and changes we may want to make in the coming year. As I’ve started that process, I’ve found myself wondering what’s happened to many of the people who have asked me questions over the past several years. While certainly I’ll never hear from everyone or know how most of the dilemmas turn out, I was able to find out about the aftermath from a few readers.
I hope you enjoy these updates. If you’ve asked a question and want to provide an update (anonymously, of course), contact me through the Jewish Exponent, and I’d be happy to share your story as well. In the meantime, I hope these follow-ups provide some opportunity for reflection on the choices you’ve made and advice you have (or haven’t) taken.
1. Mommy Madness
This question asked about how to avoid getting involved in needless arguments with other moms about parenting. I heard back from this question asker via email, and it sounds like my approach was effective. I feel super accomplished that I helped quash some “Mommy Wars.”
She says, “I took your advice to heart on this one. The first thing you said that made sense was to disengage from those conversations online. I actually think I unfollowed some “mommy groups” on Facebook as a result of that advice. Then for in-person interactions, the phrase you suggested, “We made the choice that was best for our family,” has become a bit of a mantra of mine, and I’ve extended it to, “Every family makes the choices that are best for them.” It really works. I was also amazed that you channeled me perfectly by pointing out two exceptions, vaccinations and circumcisions, and beautifully explaining why it’s OK to have strong opinions on those things. Lastly when you said, “Naming the situation as ‘mommy wars,’ does seem like it would make people defensive,” well maybe that seems obvious, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I was making the problem worse by doing that — so I stopped!”
2. Coffee Caper Witness
In this question, a man witnessed what he thought was a petty crime at a coffee shop and wasn’t sure whether or not his involvement would help anything. The asker shared that after reading my advice, he went back to the coffee shop and told the employee that the guy had stolen the coffee. The barista was very appreciative and said he felt relieved to know he hadn’t imagined it. The reader continued, “The next time I went in, he asked for my name and told me not to pay for my bagel and coffee. He said, ‘I got you today. That was awesome.’” Turns out honesty feels good and can also have unexpected rewards.
3. Merry New Year
In this column, I advised an American Jewish woman married to a Russian Jewish man about how to handle Russian New Year’s celebrations that look a lot like Christmas. She says, “I admit at first, I was taken aback by your advice — I had been so sure you would be on my side. Your advice about treating the situation like an interfaith couple might was very helpful, particularly the terminology of calling us an “intercultural” couple. I am so grateful for how aligned my husband and I are Jewishly that I sometimes forget we got to that place via totally different roads. So when New Year’s came around, I politely asked that no photos of my kids would be taken around the ‘New Year’s Tree,’ and other than that, fully participated in the celebration.” Sounds like a great compromise.
4. Not Your Bubbie’s Social Club
This question concerned how to make Hadassah more appealing to a younger generation. When I was first asked, I was worried that any response I gave would come across as dismissive. However, the person who asked the question reported back that her Hadassah chapter did begin to think more creatively about getting people of different ages involved and also emphasized membership less and participation more. They held a couple of successful fashion shows, and even if young adults weren’t on stage, they attended to support their older relatives.
From my side as a writer, I came to regret the title I gave to this post. Besides being overused, the construction, “Not Your Bubbie’s …” shows a lack of respect for the older generation and for the sense of traditionalism that drives much of my connection to Judaism as well as my connection to my family, and indeed, even my Bubbie. There are real generational divides that can and should be bridged, discussed and dealt with effectively for all parts of the community, and for my part, I should have used a more respectful title to illustrate that.
5. Bris Debate
This question, about whether or not to circumcise one’s Jewish sons, is probably my most-shared column to date. As per the “mommy wars” question above, I share it in mommy’s groups whenever the question of circumcision comes up (which it does, all the time, sometimes more respectfully than others). It’s also personal, since this link is actually a repost from when my own son was born. The original poster responded with this: “Well, I have two circumcised sons now, so there’s that.”
Whether it’s about family, services, or Bubbie’s apple cake recipe, I hope everyone gets good advice this holiday season and has many meaningful opportunities to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Shanah tovah, happy new year and be well,