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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. Can you address etiquette regarding our son’s bar mitzvah?

We have had a few guests mention on their RSVP that they won’t be able to attend the service but will attend the party celebration. I gather it is because their child plays sports on Saturday mornings.

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We have invited our friends and family to witness, support, and celebrate our son’s accomplishment in being called to the Torah and the honor of leading the service — a tradition celebrated for hundreds of years that has required years of preparation and study.

This is a milestone event where the religious ceremony is the most important part. Is it wrong to feel that if they can come to the party, they should skip their soccer practice/game for this special occasion? In fact, if time is limited, I’d rather they come to the service and skip the party. What are your thoughts?

A. I shared your query with Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, of Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, Calif., who urges you to approach this challenge with a different spirit.

“Step away from . . . why people are missing the service. Don’t draw conclusions. The origin of the meal — the ‘seudah mitzvah’ — is even more ancient than the current bar mitzvah ceremony. The meal is a sacred event in and of itself, especially if it includes the motzi (blessing for the meal), and kiddush.

“Guests do not have to ‘earn’ the meal by attending the service, and I hope you’re not planning it as a reward. It undermines the message when the meal celebration becomes juvenile . . . or frivolous. The meal is intended as a communal gathering for everyone. . . .

“Your response to people who cannot attend both celebrations should be, ‘Sorry you can’t make the first mitzvah, but we are so happy you can make it to the second.’ ”

Q. My son and his wife have two adorable children. I live with a partner who smokes, but not when others are present. My son’s wife has decided that the children should not visit me because of smoke.

Because my partner has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, we have a very dust-free home with no carpeting. I offered to wash down the walls and do a thorough cleaning just before a visit. We also have a large outdoor area where the children could play without even entering my home.

It hurts me so much. My son and I talk a lot, and I occasionally go to their house to see the kids. I give many gifts, including money, whenever they ask (or even if they do not ask).

I have asked my daughter-in-law to balance the value of a grandparent against the danger of the smoke. She just says no.

My little daydream is for my grandchildren to know me as a person, not simply as a gift-giver. My mother spent time with her grandchildren — talking, reading to them, and cooking with them. I want the same.

A. This illustrates the addictive power of tobacco — where someone with COPD would continue to smoke, even when it has health and emotional consequences for all of you.

If you want to be more of a presence to these children, it will have to be in their home. You do not have to be a fountain of gift-giving. You simply need to let these kids know you as you are. Spend time with them (instead of money on them). Given the limits the parents have placed on the relationship, it will have to be on their terms. You’ll have to do your best to accept this.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
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