Q: I am a Christmas-Easter Christian and my husband is a High Holiday-Passover Jew. Unbeknownst to us, we moved into a neighborhood that is mostly filled with Orthodox Jews. My neighbors have been wonderful to me. They watched the children as I ran up and down stairs the day the moving trucks brought our possessions. They always chat with me in the yard as we watch our toddlers. The kids are becoming friendly, and I would like to invite them for a play-date. I also would like to thank these people for being so welcoming by inviting them over for dinner. My husband says they won’t come and won’t want their children to eat in my house because they keep strictly kosher. What do you suggest?
A: Judaism is a communal religion. Since the Orthodox cannot drive on the Sabbath, and therefore must walk to synagogue, I know there is a day school or synagogue within walking distance of your home. I suggest you go there, talk to the Rabbi and ask him what you should do. Hopefully he will be willing to teach you the laws and advise you.
Alternatively, you could be direct with your neighbors and tell them how appreciative you are of their kindness. Explain to them that you would love to invite them to dinner, but you don’t know their customs. Let them know that you will not be personally insulted if they don’t feel comfortable eating in your home and that you understand that they are following their religious tenets.
Ask them what, if anything, would make them feel comfortable in your home. They might be willing to come to a get-together in your home but not eat anything. They might be willing to have a Coca-Cola or coffee from paper cups. I think they will appreciate your gesture, even if they decide not to attend. Since you are new to the neighborhood, you could inquire if there is a kosher restaurant nearby and ask them to be your guests at dinner there. That way, you can avoid putting them in the position of having to refuse your hospitality.
Breaking bread together is not the only way we develop neighborly relationships. There are many other ways you could show your gratitude, such as taking in the garbage cans or shoveling the sidewalk. You could also go for a walk together or engage in other activities together which don’t involve food, such seeing a movie together or going shopping.
As for the play-date, acknowledge you understand that your neighbor might be uncomfortable leaving her child with you, since your food is not kosher. Approach the situation much as you would with a parent of a child who has allergies, diabetes or other dietary restrictions. Ask her if she would like to provide food for the child or teach you have to have a strictly kosher corner in your house and take you shopping for the appropriate foods. You might let her know that you would like have a few kosher snacks in your house, so that in case of emergency you can watch her children and have something to give them.
I suspect, since you describe your neighbors as lovely people, that they will be willing to explain to you their customs. Even if they are unable to come to your home, they will and appreciate your curiosity and both you and your children will learn a lot about the complexities of diversity.
Ruth Nemzoff, Ed.D. is an author, speaker and resident scholar at Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center and a board member of InterfaithFamily.com.