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Grandson being raised at a shul we don’t like — should we speak up?

My wife and I attend a Conservative shul in the Bay Area and brought our kids up with fairly traditional Jewish rituals and values. We keep kosher at home and strive to keep Shabbos. Our grown daughter, who lives in another city with her husband and children, joined a very progressive Reform synagogue and plans to have our grandson’s bar mitzvah there. We attended a service at this synagogue and were very uncomfortable. They have amplified music, a rabbi who does not wear a kippah, non-kosher food and a lot of contemporary revisionist language in the siddur we find rather ridiculous and off-point. While we realize our daughter and her husband will make their own choices, this one is particularly bothersome. We very much want our grandson to have a more traditional perspective on Jewish life and we’re also worried about how certain relatives will react when they attend the bar mitzvah. Should we voice our objections to our daughter and son-in-law and attempt to change their minds? — Gabe

Dear Gabe: Mazel tov on raising a daughter who is raising her family in synagogue life. That her synagogue is not one with which you are fond or comfortable is a difficulty Mensch understands. Those who take joy and sustenance from their observance of Jewish life are often perplexed at others whose version differs.

First off, you need not worry about how your relatives, or anyone else, will react to a bar mitzvah in your daughter’s synagogue. Those who accept an invitation to share in a simcha should be nothing but gracious and supportive. If your grandson’s bar mitzvah is held in this synagogue, you can give your more traditional mishpucha a heads-up on what to expect (and perhaps a recommendation to eat a heavy kosher breakfast before attending), but that is all. And you should be very careful about voicing objections to your daughter and son-in-law. As you say, this is their decision and they have their reasons.

The more important aspect of your dilemma is your desire for your grandson to have a more traditional perspective on Jewish life and this is possibly an area where you can have some influence. Does your grandson come to you for extended visits? If so, bring him with you to your shul when he does, and not just for Shabbos but for discussion groups, minyan and other events. When you are in town to visit your daughter’s family, find a Conservative or Orthodox shul to attend there and invite your grandson, though be careful not to do so as a form of challenge or contradiction. Rather, explain to your daughter that you would be honored to have your grandson accompany you every now and then to a shul of your choosing in order to spend some quality time together and expand his horizons. Hopefully, she won’t object. If she does, you will have to respect her wishes and simply keep trying to lead by example. When your grandson is in college and beyond, you will continue, God willing, to have opportunities to share with him your joy in Jewish tradition.

My granddaughter is coming to California with her boyfriend to visit my husband and I during a college break. We have one guest bedroom and a pullout couch in the living room. When we informed our granddaughter that we expect her beau to sleep on the couch during their visit, she protested and informed us her mother (my former daughter-in-law) allows them to share a room together when they are in her home. I think it is irresponsible that her mother allows this and my husband and I agree that we object to our granddaughter sleeping with her boyfriend in our house (or anywhere, really). However, we really do want her to visit and feel welcome in our home. Should we bite our tongues and acquiesce? — Stephanie

Dear Stephanie: You and your husband should have no hesitancy holding firm. You are generously opening your home to your granddaughter and her boyfriend and setting a good example in expecting certain restraint. Tell her you are looking forward to her visit but, after some thought, expect she adhere to your preferred sleeping arrangements. If you like, you can apologize for being old-fashioned, but you need not.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at [email protected].