My family keeps a kosher kitchen, but we eat vegetarian at non-kosher establishments. My family of origin is not Jewish. Upon the birth of our third child, my brother and sister-in-law gave us a bottle of non-kosher champagne. My mother immediately asked, “Is it kosher?” My brother and sister-in-law became really embarrassed and started apologizing profusely. My husband tried to reassure them, saying that it would go to good use (BYOBs), that we appreciated their gift and that the kosher status didn’t matter. We (privately) were upset with my mother, as there was no reason for her question except to embarrass my brother and sister-in-law and/or to show that she remembered that we keep kosher.
About 12 hours later, my brother and sister-in-law gave our newborn a cash gift. We’re sure this is because they feel bad about the champagne, and we can tell they are still embarrassed. Aside from writing a thank-you note, what can we do to make my brother and sister-in-law feel better, and is there anything we can say to my mother to communicate that her question was inappropriate?
A Bumbling Bubbly
Mazel tov on your new baby. I’m so sorry that this completely unnecessary drama is adding any stress to what must be an already overwhelming time of transition for your expanding family. You have already been gracious and accommodating to everyone involved, which is more than can rightfully be expected of anyone who has have a newborn.
Since you’ve done nothing wrong, you could largely let your brother’s embarrassment blow over and let the awkwardness between your mom and your brother work itself out without your involvement.
However, you seem inclined to feel responsible and want to help since the discomfort came from your religious observance. I would find a private time to say to your brother and sister-in-law, “I’m so sorry Mom said anything to you about the champagne. Please know that it wasn’t an issue for us at all. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and generosity with both of your gifts, and we’re so glad our kids have you in their lives.”
At another, different, private time, say to your mom, “I know you were trying to look out for us by asking whether or not the champagne was kosher. Please let us be the ones to manage the kosher status of food entering our home. We hate for people to feel embarrassed on our behalf, especially when my brother was giving us a thoughtful and celebratory gift.”
While in-person conversations are often preferable, you don’t really want to hear your mother’s excuses, and you don’t need to hear any more apologies from your brother, so if email seems more manageable, than by all means, send an email. That way, you don’t have to deal with a response and you give the other person some distance to deal with his/her feelings. Also, you get a pass on all things because you are probably intensely sleep-deprived and have already spent too much time on everyone’s feelings around this.
Sometime in the future, you might also consider an additional group email to your mom, brother, sister-in-law and anyone else in your immediate family who may be impacted by this interaction.
Say something like, “I know sometimes our practice of keeping kosher in the house but eating vegetarian out of the house can be confusing. I just wanted to make sure you know you have an open invitation to ask me any questions you have about keeping kosher. Please also know that I will never be upset if you forget or make a mistake, and there are no stupid questions!”
Given that you have your hands full with three kids and that the offending question didn’t come from you in the first place, I encourage you to do as little micromanaging of other people’s feelings as possible. A thank-you note is always an appropriate gesture, and this will blow over quickly. In the meantime, cuddle that baby and pour yourself a well-deserved glass of champagne.