I recently finished reading “What Do You Mean, You Can’t Eat in My Home?: A Guide to How Newly Obervant Jews and Their Less Observant Relatives Can Still Get Along” by Azriela Jaffe and highly recommend it. The author was raised in a Reform family, but over a period of years after her marriage, motivated by the desire to raise her children as observant Jews and motivated by her husband’s choice to become more observant, she became observant. Jaffe offers a very straightforward approach to explaining Torah and mitzvos without apologetics – in each chapter she offers questions that an observant person inevitably is called upon to answer by those less observant, and I would add, by non-Jews curious about what we do. I was hooked by page 7 where she boils down kashrus to the simple fact that “G-d said so” – for an observant Jew this is the point at which the buck stops, all the rest is commentary. I was also moved by the author’s reflections about her preconceptions and life changes and choices, but the real focus of the book is her advice and reflections on her relationship with her parents and family now that she is observant and they are not. Instead of high-sounding platitudes, Jaffe offers concrete suggestions on how to make things work if both parties want to be accommodating. For example, if your parents do not keep a kosher kitchen and want you to visit, she reminds the reader that koshering a self-cleaning oven is fairly easy, and if you bring pots or disposable pans, or even buy a set to keep at that parent’s home, you can make your visit that much smoother. Some of her answers sound a bit too pat, but she does not hide that these problems are difficult to deal with and have taken her years of work to address in her life.
While the answers are well thought-out and the advice is practical, the book I think dwells a bit too much on symptoms without striking at root causes. As I blogged once before, even within the Orthodox community there is a great difference between those who aspire to the vacation in Aruba, albeit with a glatt kosher meal, and those for whom a Torah lifestyle means eschewing the values of materialism and popular culture, even if the kosher meal is included. For those who fall into the latter camp, and it strikes me that Jaffe does, the issue is not just kashering the kitchen, but kashering the values, or at least finding a way to share some mutual interests even though other values will remain in conflict. If your house is like mine, when you sit around your Shabbos table, the “family time” of your week, you discuss divrei torah, thoughts on the parsha, events in the Jewish world – it is much more difficult to find common ground when these items that matter most are removed from the conversation. Someone recently commented on my wife’s blog regarding their attendance at a Reform wedding: “We went, in the name of not offending anyone, and of maintaining family peace. After carefully enduring the many halachic and etiquette trials of that evening, I understood why it might have been more conducive to family peace if we hadn’t attended.” I think that comment sums up the emotional clash that exists for many people and I would have liked to see more about it in the book.
I am aware of a number of books written by ba’alei tshuvah telling their story (though I think Jaffe’s take is unique). I have found only one title on Amazon by non-observant parents describing their child’s turn to observance and how they coped. Is anyone aware of other books written from this perspective?