Should my friend's son go to his girlfriend's for two Rosh Hashanah lunches?

Claire Calman ponders a festive family dilemma


Illustration for a dinner table set for the traditional "seder" meal for the upcoming Jewish New year ( Rosh ha Shana). September 10, 2017. Photo by Mendy Hachtman/ Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ???? ??? ???? ???? ??? ???? ???? ????? ??

September 08, 2023 13:11

My old friend Hannah is down from Leeds, visiting family in London, and she pops in for coffee (and cake — need I mention that? You can pretty much assume the presence of cake in any given situation in my life). Once we have caught up on family, work, etc, we turn to the topic of the High Holy Days, as, even though Rosh Hashanah allegedly comes but once a year, it always seems to be looming just around the corner.

In my family, not renowned for our organisational prowess, we still haven’t agreed who is hosting which meal among our three related families. I think it must be our turn because my brother-in-law hosted Christmas (an honorary HHD in the extended family as my niece’s birthday falls on December 25 so the tribe must gather). And my sister-in-law-squared (my sister-in-law-in-law — my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law on the other side — I presume you’ve got the hang of this by now…) did Pesach.

I don’t mind hosting Erev Rosh Hashanah because a) it is my favourite festival and b) I will do almost anything to pre-empt having to host a Seder night (a wholly unscientific poll among friends revealed that many of the males regarded Passover as their favourite festival; oddly, the women, not so much).

Whose idea was it that you would have to cook a three-course meal at the same time as preparing everything for the Seder plate, which is pretty much a totally different meal? If I have to faff about roasting eggs and peeling horseradish and grating apples for charoset one more time while doing my best not to over-cook a salmon, I may have to chew my own head off. (My charoset: mix grated apple with ground almonds, honey, cinnamon and kosher wine. It is not strictly traditional but you may like to smear every surface, utensil and cupboard handle with honey and scatter fragments of grated apple far and wide. It’s always been my approach, anyway).

So, if I need to cook for everyone multiple times between now and then to avoid hosting Seder night, bring me my roasting tins and a bumper pack of napkins and set me to work.

Anyway, Hannah says she has a problem. Or rather, because she is Jewish, A Problem. As we know, if you’re Jewish, a problem shared is not a problem halved; it’s a problem magnified, relished, picked apart and analysed to death until it’s just sitting there, whimpering softly, in shreds. Her son Josh has been invited to his girlfriend’s parents for lunch on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“Lovely,” I say, not realising that this is merely the introduction to The Problem. “But,” counters Hannah, ‘they also want him for lunch on the second day!”

I note that she has abandoned the verb “invited” at this point, so it no longer seems quite so benign. Now it sounds as if he might be part of the main course.

“That seems a bit, erm,  greedy. Like reaching for a fourth slice of honey cake. You want it,  but it’s hard to argue that it’s necessary.”

She agrees and explains that her sister is making a family lunch on the second day so her son is probably expected to make an appearance there.

“Do you want him to come to the lunch, too?” I ask.

Hannah’s sister’s flat is quite small, so in a way it’s almost easier if Josh plus girlfriend — they now seem to be shrink-wrapped together in an unavoidable BOGOF deal — don’t go. But....

“But? I don’t want it to set a precedent. You know, if he goes to lunch with them both days this year, then they might expect it every year.’”

Not necessarily. Growing up in my own family, we didn’t do everything the same way each year when it came to get-togethers. Sometimes we’d eat and argue at my dad’s, sometimes the shouting would be at my mum’s, or at my step-mum’s mother’s (lovely food and less shouting but a lot of tight-lipped sulking), once even at my step-mum’s ex-husband’s mother’s (no shouting but mould in the marmalade). It was many things, but no one could label it predictable.

I wonder if we should devise a grading system for the different festivals to ensure complete fairness within the family, so dinner on Erev Rosh Hashanah would score the maximum of ten points, say, whereas lunch on the first day would be seven points, but lunch on the second day perhaps only five. You could throw birthdays and anniversaries into the mix. And if you were reaching the end of the Jewish year and you could see that one family had used up 55 points whereas another was only on 28, the lagging family would be in credit and could pick and choose who to have for the whole of the following year.

In the meantime, for anyone feeling hard done by in their own familial tug-of-war and wanting more relatives to fill out the table, take some of mine. Please.

September 08, 2023 13:11

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