How to Negotiate Jewish Difference

Tips to Help Your Family Get Along

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8. Know Your Place

It is important to share control among family members of different backgrounds, but always let the key players have the final say. For example, no relative should assert sole control over all the funeral and mourning arrangements when the mourners themselves are mixed in their level of observance. Though one can't often plan ahead in these situations, flexibility is crucial. One can schedule various shiva minyanim (prayer services in a house of mourning) for each mourner's religious community. If mourners want to sit shiva for only three days, rather than the customary seven, no one else should dictate to them otherwise. Similarly, a bride and groom and their parents should be allowed to make arrangements for a wedding without other relatives insisting on particular rituals or customs.

9. Affirm Shared Jewish Values and Observances

A family may no longer attend the same synagogue or be able to eat off each others' dishes, but there will inevitably be other Jewish values and observances that they still share. Maybe everyone still uses Bubbe's tzimmes recipe for Rosh Hashanah, gives tzedakah to similar social causes, and puts a mezuzah on their doorpost. Share stories from the family's past and talk about their connections to the present.
For more observant family members, it is important to verbally recognize the whole family's deeply rooted Jewish values and the mitzvot all family members observe, even if they do so in their own, unconventional ways. For less observant family members, try to express appreciation for the way your relatives' intricate understanding of ritual obligation is an honest attempt to create persons who behave righteously. In the end, Judaism should continue to keep a whole family bonded together and dedicated to the future.

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Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin is an educator living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) in 2001.