Ask Rivkie: Tension at the Seder Table

Written by Super User on . Posted in Advice Columns

Dear Rivkie,

We are having a seder with my extended family and I am really dreading it. Although my machatunim (in-laws) say that they want everyone to be comfortable and people should feel free to do what they want, every year they roll their eyes and make comments about the family tradition when I try to eat the right amount of maror (bitter herb), for example, based on what I have been taught by my own parents, teachers, and rabbis.


It is hurtful and makes me feel terrible. I do not mean to insult my husband’s family, but I also want to do what I think is right.

Do you have any advice to help me to navigate this year?


Peevish Pessie (at Pesach)


Dear Pessie,

Whenever I complain about family members (which is, of course, rare), one of my eldest, most trusted advisors tells me, “Put a smile on your face, and then just give it the old Gallic shrug.” When she first told me this, I thought, “Well, that doesn’t allow the person I am irritated with to see my displeasure.” And now, as I have practiced this advice for many years, I realize that voila! That’s exactly what the Gallic shrug is supposed to do.

The Gallic shrug, for those of you who don’t know, is a French gesture. Here are the steps: stick out your lower lip, raise your shoulders, and put your hands up palms out. While you do this, think: “There is nothing to be done” (in a French accent). This helps you change your mental state and gives you a concrete action that allows you to physically feel a change in attitude, while not giving off super hostile vibes to the fam.

Now, obviously, this is easier said than done. But the idea is that you need to focus on your seder experience. For you, eating exactly a kezayis (required amount) of maror is super important (as well it should be!), and is not something to be mocked. But for your in-laws, it makes them uncomfortable. Maybe they feel that you are trying to be super frummie by taking the shiurim (measurements) so seriously. Or maybe they don’t know the halachos (Jewish laws) so well, and are embarrassed to ask after all these years.

Overall, I would offer another piece of advice, which I actually got from my mother-in-law, which she famously gave me when one of my children was on my last nerve: “It’s his problem.” To sum up, Pessie, do the Gallic shrug, think, “There is nothing to be done” in a French accent, and remember, “It’s their problem.” Also, I would try to situate yourself at the table in such a way that those who are prone to face-making are as far from your line of sight as possible.

Pesach is stressful for everyone, whether you are hosting seder, travelling to be with family in their homes, or even going to a hotel. Because we all observe things differently, and there is so much room for stress-inducing chumros (stringencies), there are bound to be awkward situations and culture clashes. Think of it as a comedy rather than a tragedy. A French farce, if you will. And practice the shrug. It really helps.

All the best,