Negotiating A Rosh HaShanah Dinner Coalition


Last Thursday, amid the deadlock that emerged from September’s flurry of evites, I re-embarked on the daunting task of cobbling together a one-night coalition. I have already backed off most of my initial demands: At this point, I will sit at the table with pretty much anyone, just as long as I don’t have to cook the fish.

Over my years in New York, I have formed my own surrogate family — a group of like-minded Israeli-Americans, bonded around our common sense of exile (which fades over time but never quite leaves) and our unspoken commitment to fill in for each other’s missing families, particularly during the holidays. Our alliance has survived much over the years, from the inevitable dispersion of friends back to Israel or Silicon Valley to the addition of English-speaking spouses and kids. But times change. Alliances shift.

“I know you want to spend the holiday with your Israeli friends,” said my American-born husband, when I asked him, a month ago, about our holiday plans. “And I’m fine with that. But my mother…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence. “Of course. Family first,” I answered.

“We’ve been celebrating Rosh HaShanah together for years now. We are family,” replied Noa, my Israeli-American friend, when I inquired about the possibility of forming a broad holiday coalition. “And we can probably handle your brother-in-law’s family, too. But as for your mother-in-law…” She didn’t have to finish the sentence.

Four years ago, before my in-laws moved from California to New York to be closer to their grandchildren, they rented out Noa’s place for a visit, and returned it with the toilet backed up and her favorite coffee mug broken. My husband may be a mild-mannered American, but his parents are Israeli émigrés — old-school, tougher-than-the-desert Sabras, the kind that railroad youngsters like Noa and me with a look — and the ensuing exchanges were not pretty. “Of course, I get it,” I told Noa.

It looked like the Israeli-American faction was off the table, and we were headed instead for a narrow but reliable coalition with my husband’s core family. Which was fine, since they’re milder even than my own mild-mannered husband; plus, Carol, my sister in-law (a former Protestant), and her children would have felt out of place among 20 or so loud and habitually inappropriate Israeli-Americans. But when I asked them for our holiday plans, my American brother-in-law said, “We will get back to you about that,” and never did.

“What’s his problem?” I asked my husband.

“Maybe … my mother?”

“Of course,” I grumbled. Carol does not get along with her either.

“So maybe…?”

“I will not sit at the table with just your parents!”

With not enough seats to form even the narrowest coalition, the responsibility for forming a holiday dinner bounced from my spouse back to me. But Rosh HaShanah was just five days away now, and Noa, my key ally, had already cut a deal to be hosted by a different family. “I’m sure I can get you invited as well,” she suggested. I took her offer back to my husband, but that was further from the honey dish than he wanted to be.

“But we don’t even know them!” he kvetched. “Maybe we just skip celebrating Rosh HaShanah this year?”

Not an option. It was back to the drawing board.

On Thursday night, our last-ditch texting yielded a begrudging preliminary agreement with my brother-in-law: Yes, we will celebrate Rosh HaShanah together, as a family, mother-in-law and all. But who will host? “We will get back to you about that,” he texted on Friday morning. I haven’t heard back from him yet. For the first time in my life, I feel a kinship with Bibi.