What’s Wrong With You: Why We Drink (on Passover)

Dear Judith,

What advice do you have for dealing with a family Passover Seder that’s exactly the same every year? My father complains to his current wife that she’s just like his ex, my mother. My brother brings his latest stripper girlfriend and bashes everything religious. My sister complains about afikomen presents from years ago that my father promised her but never bought. My cousin overshares about her therapist, and my aunt and uncle want to know why I’m so quiet (and not married). Help!


Seder Dreader

Dear Dreader,

Way back however long ago it was that our modern Seder was formalized, our sages probably didn’t foresee global travel bringing families together for holidays after they decide to live apart. Nevertheless, on page three of the Haggadah the youngest child is put on the spot, Rabbinical camps are already arguing, and the smart son gets pitted against his wicked brother. Since there’s no sign anywhere else in this book that structure or pacing were considered, the only explanation for this raucous opening is that Seders were contentious even when they were held with the same people you saw all year. Yeah, yeah, they’re about discussion and debate…. then why the insistence on four cups of wine? Not to mention the sing-a-long at the end with the refrain “Enough!”–times change, mishpachas don’t.

Make the most of it,

Judithno manischewitz

Dear Judith,

Why do we drink four “cups” of wine at the Seder, while the rest of the year we drink “glasses”? To me it means we should drink more. A glass of wine is usually four ounces, but the actual measure of a cup is eight ounces. Eight times four is thirty-two. A liter of wine per person. Do you agree?



Dear Oenophile,

In the days of beepers and fax machines–not that long ago–Kosher wine meant Manischewitz. With its sour start, blackberry body, medicinal tannins, hints of leather (from the sole of a shoe) and top notes of homemade bourbon, Manischewitz makes cooking wine seem drinkable–imagine stale cough syrup with extra sugar. Fortunately, today’s Kosher-keepers have plenty of wine to choose from, including overpriced options that will impress their friends. But Passover is about remembrance–matza reminds us to appreciate bowel movements, the shank bone honors our pagan, animal-sacrificing roots, and the undignified “cups” ensures that we never forget our palates once were slaves.



broken matza

Dear Judith,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years and everything was great until a month ago, when I was invited to his parents’ house for Passover but asked him if we could stay in a hotel. I’m just not comfortable being a houseguest in the home of people I barely know. I can’t relax. I want to drink coffee in my pajamas and not necessarily wash the mug the minute I’m done, you know what I mean? But his mother took it personally, and now his whole family is gossiping that I think I’m better than them. And my boyfriend refuses to help–if we’re going to be together long-term, he says, I need to learn to deal with them myself. My way of dealing with it is going to be to cancel the trip–am I overreacting?

Wishing you a wonderful holiday,

Soon to be Single

Dear Soon,

If you’re reacting to his mother, then yes. Other people’s histrionics are best ignored; canceling would be an escalation. You’re not overreacting to your boyfriend, though: expecting you to deal with something he’s loathe to deal with himself is a top sign your relationship is doomed. (Unless you’re looking for a guy who sits on the couch drinking beer all day while you work and cook). If this is his first offense, explain to him that you prefer the familiar terrain of you own family’s mishegas when going it alone. If that doesn’t persuade him to support you, breaking up right before Passover gives you extra license to drink at the Seder as well as a fuller appreciation of its themes–win, win.

Next year with a better man,


what happens at seder stays at seder

Dear Judith,

I came out to my parents last year, and they’re warming up to my boyfriend, but they’re pressuring me to introduce him to my grandparents at the Seder as simply a friend. I get that my grandparents don’t need the heart attack, but it doesn’t seem fair to my boyfriend to ask him to pretend. I’d appreciate your thoughts before I discuss this with him.

Happy Passover,

Boy Toy

Dear Boy Toy,

If after reading the above letters you still consider the Seder a good time to introduce new drama to the pre-existing, and you enjoy being the center of attention and giving your parents unnecessary grief, go ahead. On the other hand, if you can wait another ten or so days for folks to digest their matza, what’s stopping you from having a sit-down with your grandparents then? That’s not a rhetorical question: you’ve told me what everybody wants (I can infer what your boyfriend wants) except you, Boy Toy. I don’t see Mom and Dad’s plan surviving the alcohol flow, frankly, but if it does, please continue to ponder freedom until you master it within.

Good luck,


Israeli police guarding the American Consulate from my mother's neighbor's roof

Israeli police guarding the American Consulate from my mother’s neighbor’s roof

Dear Judith,

I’m traveling internationally for Passover, and I’m beginning to freak out that I won’t have a data connection on my phone. I can check my email anywhere there’s WiFi, of course, but I’m used to having 3G in my pocket. Is it worth $19.99 per megabyte?



Dear Judith,

Are you kidding? People can wait a few hours to hear back from you if an auto-reply warns them of the delay in advance. You should be much more concerned with landing in Tel Aviv at the exact same time as Obama. The roads around the airport will be closed–have a blast!



Update: After a flight from hell–don’t get me started lest I be branded a self-hating Jew–I hardly noticed the traffic…. that day. The next day I couldn’t get out of my mother’s neighborhood; but Obama’s back in the States now, and I’m still here. Have a great holiday everyone–this column will resume on April 16th.


What do you think?

About The Author

Judith Basya

Judith Basya is Heeb's Literary Editor. She writes an advice column (and an advice blog: www.asktinymom.com) so her psychology degree doesn't go to waste. If your problem can be solved in <140 characters, she's on Twitter. If it's complicated, please email Judith @ Heebmagazine.com.

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