Thursday, April 4, 2013

Respect For Religious Differences Goes Both Ways

Dear Tazi:

Could you please print my letter ASAP? I fear a family argument will erupt if this issue is not settled ASAP!

My brother-in-law (my husband's brother) is Jewish. We are not. He converted when he got married, and no longer celebrates the Christian holidays, although he will usually stop by to say hello and wish us and the rest of the family well as we celebrate our faith. Although my husband's family disapproves of his conversion, I have always been sensitive to his beliefs and make sure to wish him well on his holidays as he wishes me well on mine.

This past month Easter and Passover fell during the same time, so I did not expect to see "Fred" and was surprised when he made an unannounced visit to my house on Easter Sunday while coffee and dessert was being served. I of course welcomed him in, and invited him to join us for coffee. I had made some beautiful cookies for dessert, and decorated them in Easter colored sprinkles - pink, purple, and yellow. Fred immediately took offense to this, telling me that I should have thought to decorate some in Passover colors, too.

Tazi, I was taken aback by Fred's request! For starters, I was not expecting him to come over; second, the cookies were for an Easter celebration, not Passover! I tried to diffuse Fred's temper by mentioning that the cookies contained baking powder - a leavening agent - so to decorate them in "Passover colors" would have been highly inappropriate. Fred responded that I could have left the baking powder out of some of the cookies, so I told him that would have made them hard as rocks and inedible. Fred then launched into a tirade about how he always thought that I accepted his religious conversion, but now my true colors were emerging.

My husband came to my defense, but in an unfortunate manner, saying some anti-Semitic things as he commented that I was the only family member to support Fred's conversion. This made the argument even more heated, so my mother-in-law tried to end the argument, but Fred then accused her of taking sides. All of this over a batch of cookies and an unexpected visit! I told Fred that I would have prepared for his visit if I knew he was coming, but he just twisted my words to sound like he was unwelcome without calling first.

Fred ended up storming out of the house and going home. I am not sure what he told his wife, but she left a rude message on my answering machine later that evening as everyone was leaving. I do want to patch things up, but need to know if I was wrong in not making appropriate accommodations for Fred. Should I have expected his visit? The family says he is just being a jerk, but I tend to think they are biased against him.

Too Tolerant?

Dear Too Tolerant?:

My unbiased opinion is that Fred is being a jerk. The fact that there are no traditional colors for Passover makes it obvious that there is a much larger issue that needs to be addressed, and Fred was looking for a way to pick a bone over it. It very wrong to take his anger at his family out on you.

Since your issue only occurred a few days ago, there is still time to talk things over before things get too awkward. I suggest you call your sister-in-law and ask to speak to her about the misunderstanding that happened on Easter. Once you explain to her what you have told me - that you in no way wished to offend Fred, and would have made appropriate treats and/or accommodations had you known he would be stopping by - the ice will have been broken and your sister-in-law should be willing to listen. [Ed. Note: Depending on Fred's level of observance, he may not even be able to enter a home that has yeast products in it during Pesach]. Since you have always been respectful and accepting of her religious beliefs I do not believe she will think that you have suddenly changed your mind, or that you have been hiding your "true colors" all these years.

Apologies are needed all around, starting with Fred and your sister-in-law apologizing to you for making you a target of their pent up anger. Your husband needs to apologize to Fred for his anti-Semitic comments - such comments are inexcusable in polite society. Your mother-in-law deserves the chance to be heard and explain that she was not choosing sides, that she was trying to keep the peace until a more appropriate time and venue for argument presented itself.

Last but not least, I personally believe that the entire family needs to seek professional counseling to deal with the important issue of acceptance! I realize that a religious conversion can be seen as an affront to those who believe differently, but respect for religious differences goes both ways. Fred has been respectful to your family by continuing to visit and wish tidings on your Christian holidays; he deserves the same respect in return.


P.S. In the future, I suggest you keep some kosher treats on hand in case Fred pays another unexpected visit! It will go a long way towards keeping the peace. --T.K.

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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