Friday, 22 March 2013

Last Year's Seders Behind the Scenes

Though I didn't blog about this part, last year's seders were pretty contentious at our house. It was just the four of us both nights. Mr. CL lead the first seder, and I did the second one. Mr. CL wanted absolutely nothing to do with a Humanistic seder in the house. He felt the Humanistic seder  is a mockery of a tradition he holds very dear. The hostility got to such a degree, that I couldn't get through my Haggadah's Maggid, and left the table in tears/abandoned the entire effort.

Rationally, I know that this is such stupidity to argue over, but I was very hurt. I have and do participate in A LOT of religious observance from his side of the family in the years we've been together. I felt that it shouldn't be too much to ask for him to humor me this one time that I requested a form of observance that reflected my views.  His response made me feel like my Judaism - and by extension I - don't count.

In any case, when I blogged about my seder, one of the commentors,  Atheodox Jew,  read between the lines. His comments really struck a chord:

"[At] the end of the day, what children will take away from the Seder, probably more than anything else, is the memory of the family dynamics. Did they feel left out or included? Is the family culture one of putting others down, or interacting kindly, respectfully? Are the parents stressed out and bickering, or harmonious and enjoying themselves? 

So in addition to all the focus on the content of the Seder, what teachings and rituals we like and which one's we don't, of equal (if not greater) importance is the interpersonal component. That imprint runs very, very deep!"

We very much failed on all the counts listed above. We tried to include the kids (we started the seders early,  lead significantly abridged versions, he taught them the songs beforehand, I included interactive activities). Nevertheless, the politics between us undeniably overshadowed that. The family culture - both of us to blame - has unfortunately disintegrated. Among other things, I resent religion being imposed on me - particularly on Passover when that religion seeps into our home. He resents my resentment. Not sure how to fix this. I'll start by trying to stop resenting.

I don't want to revisit last year's seder experience, so I'm not going to push the Humanism this year.  I'm making a concerted effort to prioritize harmony over ceremony. Mr. CL will lead the seder as he did the first night. The second night we'll go to his sister's. She's awesome, her food is always great, our kids play well together, and we'll have a good time. I will be supportive - or at least non-complaining - of his koshering our kitchen for the week. It's just a week!!


  1. "both of us to blame"
    I disagree.

    "so I'm not going to push the Humanism this year."
    You weren't pushing, you were pushed.

    Your views are as valid as his are
    I suggest couples therapy. It worked wonders for us. Good luck.

  2. My heart goes out to you, it must be hard to be in a situation like this, one spouse religious, and the other non-believing/skeptical (it must be really confusing and a struggle since in his case, his religion is tied into his cultural identity).

    It makes me think of what life would have been like had I married while I was still a Christian fundamentalist, and it makes me glad that I left when I did.....

  3. It's so sad when an adult lets a child have his way after a temper tantrum...

    It's sad when a victim is afraid to stand up to their bully...

  4. I wouldn't worry too, too much. Contentiousness at a seder seems like a tradition too. To me, it wouldn't be a seder if my father weren't griping about the rabbinic decrees about kitniyot and the second day of yom tov. And now I'm not a believer (any longer), I add my fair share of dissent. The teams have changed a little, but the arguments go on. And yes, in front of the kids, of course. There are worse forms of child abuse to inflict than a little arguing over religion.

    Make the finger puppets, sing the songs, and have the arguments, but politely. I myself resolve to try not to get too stressed out when the subjects of "chosenness" and "Jewish destiny" come to the fore.

  5. If it makes you feel any better, in my family when I was kid there was usually one good seder and one where the majority of people ended up upset. It’s late, stressful, and often boring. That might have as much to do with your experience as anything particular to your family.

  6. Hi. Just read your post. First off, what a sad scene of you leaving your Seder in tears - so sorry to hear that! I can understand your resentment. Second night out sounds like a good idea this time around. But in the long term you'll have to find ways to be able express yourself intellectually/spiritually in your own home. Otherwise you'll really feel resentful and stifled.

    One idea that occurs to me comes from your own post a couple of weeks ago about combining traditional prayer with a humanistic overlay. So for instance, what if you held a traditional Seder, but interspersed some of your own commentary? Come to think of it, isn't that precisely what we're supposed to do at the Seder? I'd only add based on what you've said that it would probably be a good idea to speak about it beforehand with your husband, so he knows what to expect, and he also knows that you expect him to be respectful.

    Because even if it's hard to ask someone uncomfortable with nontraditional Judaism to be comfortable (unfortunately there's an inflexibility built into the whole premise), it's entirely appropriate to ask someone to be respectful - especially when that someone is your spouse.

    Wishing you happy and meaningful Seders,

  7. Ditto to AJ.

    Also, I think you need a bit of a frank talk with him, because your feelings are running a lot deeper than just the choice of Haggadah.

    Do you feel disrespected in general by him, or just on this one issue?

    Does he know that you feel that you are always giving in and accommodating him on this issue, and that you resent it? [Some guys can be a bit clueless and have no idea that you have these feelings. He needs to fully hear your feelings (use "I feel" instead of "you always").]

    I'm not sure how the two of you wil resolve this (although the idea of an overlay of comment sounds good), but it starts by making sure that everyone feels ok with making their feelings known, and that everyone feels respected. Communication and mutual respect ARE big issues, and they deserve some attention. Once those big things are addressed, it will make it easier to deal with the smaller practical stuff.

  8. Thanks you all for the comments and support.

    AH - I do think couples therapy would be a good thing. We're too close to the picture, and I think an outside perspective is always helpful. (Topic for another post, probably) but, Mr. CL pretty much completely dismisses psychology as a field - he gets that from his parents. They'll allow for the possibility that the Exodus happened, but not that Cognitive Behavior Therapy can make a difference . . . Anyway, will keep plugging away!

    Anon & Sheldon - I'm glad for you that you got out in time! My husband becomes religious 3 times a year - Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah. So for all but about 10 days of the year he's a secular guy, who hates discussing religion/philosophy, so we rarely go there. In a way, I feel like I'm the more "religious" one, given how much time I spend reading/speaking/blogging about religion and atheism! The holidays he does celebrate have all caused friction to some degree in the past, but nothing like how miserable last Passover was.

    tesyaa & G*3: Thanks! Yes, that does make me feel better!

    AJ: > would probably be a good idea to speak about it beforehand with your husband, so he knows what to expect, and he also knows that you expect him to be respectful.

    Agreed, and I like the idea of a combined single seder - for numerous reasons . . . most of all that it seems overall to be a more collaborative effort. This is a conversation that needs to happen. Not before this year's seder, but definitely going forward.

    Thanks JRK . . all good questions. No, I definitely do not feel disrespected in general .. . but definitely we need to attend to certain communication/mutual respect issues.

  9. teyaa, G*3, Aj and JRK(and Anon if your celebrating - I assume AH and Sheldon are not!)- Chag Sameach to you guys!! Wishing you joyous,thought provoking, delicious and meaningful seders as well. Thank you all for reading and leaving your thoughts here.


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