Jewish Journal


November 2, 2000

Ask Wendy


Wendy Belzberg is as comfortable swapping brisket recipes as she is discussing quantum physics. However, because of her strong Jewish background, many - but by no means all - of the questions she receives tend to have some Jewish content. Don't expect a traditional response; she can be extremely controversial and, on more than one occasion, has had to write from a safe house to hide out from irate rabbis.

Belzberg hails from the Canadian prairies, received an Ivy League education and spent the first 20 years of her career as a television and print journalist. She has experience with parents (having had two of her own and having become one herself), siblings and husbands, marriages and divorce, serious illness and robust health. She is equally adept discussing boardroom and birthday party politics and, despite her success, still doles out free advice to the many friends who seek her counsel. She never misses an opportunity to offer an opinion, whether solicited or not. Most of her sentences begin with her signature demurral: "Nobody asked my opinion, but..." She has been giving advice since before she wore braces and is finally getting paid for it (though not enough to cover her children's orthodonture bills). Giving advice is her destiny.

Do Unto Others

Dear Wendy:
I grew up in a very Jewish household, my views and opinions tend to reflect that upbringing, and most of my friends are Jewish. My best friend just got engaged to a non-Jew. I feel uncomfortable around her and her fiance I constantly feel as though I have to be on my guard and censor my thoughts before I speak them. I'm afraid that I might say something that he will find offensive.
Worried Friend

Do you routinely refer to gentiles as goyim? Do you refer to your friend's fiance as a shaygetz? Have you told your friend to beware that one day, in the heat of a nasty argument, her husband is likely to call her a dirty Jew? If you said yes to any of the above questions, or even faltered for a moment before answering, a little censorship in your case may not be such a bad thing. Generally speaking.The tie between best friends often comes undone when one marries someone the other doesn't like. If this fiance only crime, however, is that he is not Jewish, you must ask yourself if that is a good enough reason to sacrifice the friendship. That you are drawn to others with whom you share a common background is natural. But there is a difference between selection and discrimination. No one knows that better than a Jew. With your background, you are surely familiar with the saying "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." Why not do something madcap and keep an open mind?

Best of Both Worlds

Dear Wendy:
My husband and I have hit a rough patch in our marriage, and we both agree that we need help. I suggested we go see a couples' therapist. He insists we go talk to our rabbi instead. What would you recommend?

Congratulations. Not only have you discovered a brand new topic to fight about, you have avoided getting into counseling. Keep up the good work and you'll be sitting on opposite sides of a lawyer's conference table.
Couples therapy is about chemistry and qualifications, in that order. Choose someone whose style and approach you like, or it will be difficult to do the work. Accommodate each other by interviewing both the rabbi and the therapist. Rabbis are underconsulted; they have expert skills beyond their ability to manage capital campaigns. Consider the rabbi's qualifications, his ability to make a long-term commitment (are sessions bumped for funerals, brises and community emergencies?) and his past success rates. Then go into therapy with a couples' therapist. Would you go to a general practitioner if you were diagnosed with breast cancer? Therapists are specifically trained to treat couples in crisis. Your marriage is in trouble. Don't take any chances; seek help from the very best. (The queen of England didn't take chances when it came to Charles' circumcision. She hired a mohel.)

Religious POW

Dear Wendy:
My ex-wife was not Jewish but we agreed to raise our daughter as a Jew, and she was converted at birth. Now that we are divorced, my ex has informed me that she is planning on baptizing my daughter and "reconverting" her to Catholicism. Can she do this?
Concerned Father

If your daughter was converted according to Jewish law and dipped in the mikvah at birth, she is Jewish and nothing your ex-wife can do will undo that. Even if your daughter grows up to be a nun, she will be a Jewish nun (and not the first, I might add).

You are way off base, however, if your only question after hearing of your ex-wife's intentions is whether your daughter is still Jewish. Your daughter sounds like she is a prisoner of war. Religion is not the first thing that would come to my mind in a hostage situation. Your daughter needs unconditional love, support and reassurance through what is clearly a bitter divorce. Spend more time thinking about your daughter's needs and emotions and less about your own.

Wendy Belzberg is a nationally syndicated advice columnist. Write to "Ask Wendy" at askwendy@jewishjournal.com or at 954 Lexington Ave., '189, New York, NY.10021

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