Little girl choosing dresses in white bedroom. Child watching mirror reflection holding pink dress choosing outfit. Girls nursery. Shopping clothing for kids. Dressing room interior for children.
Little girl choosing dresses in white bedroom. Child watching mirror reflection holding pink dress choosing outfit. Girls nursery. Shopping clothing for kids. Dressing room interior for children.

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Dear Debra,

Whenever a friend’s daughter visits, she asks if she can try on our daughter’s clothes. This isn’t playing with our dress-up clothes, but actually going into our daughter’s closet and chest of drawers and taking things out to put on. It’s bizarre, yes? 

I have told her no and engaged the girls in other activities, but she asks again and again. Not only do I think this is inappropriate play, but it makes a mess of my daughter’s room. Do you think there is something wrong with this child? The girls are 5 and it’s not like my daughter’s clothes are any better or fancier than her friend’s.

— Dress-Up Dilemma

Dear Dress-Up,

I don’t know if there is something emotionally wrong with the child although I admit it is a rather strange preoccupation. I would continue to handle it the way you are, keeping them involved in other activities and keeping an eagle eye out that they don’t slip away into your daughter’s room to play costume. If you are consistent with your response that she cannot play in your daughter’s clothes closet, hopefully she will get the message.

Talk to the mom for her take on it. For instance, when she comes to get her child, you might say, “Friend, Kiddo really likes to play dress up which is great; we have tons of stuff. But I have to draw the line at my daughter’s actual clothes. It gets way out of hand and I only have so much refolding time. So, if she mentions it, could you reinforce my message that our costume basket is for play and the other clothes are off limits?”

Dear Debra,

A former colleague sent me a note that he has started an arts program for teen girls and young women. He wants me to donate and help promote it. In the past, I’d mentioned to two different women that he and I had worked together. Their responses were instantaneous and nearly identical in telling me he had forced himself on them, trying to kiss them in elevators and other semi-public places.

Our business relationship was conducted entirely by phone, so I was never with him alone or with others. I don’t want to accuse someone on hearsay, but I am quite uneasy about the whole situation. The concept of an arts program for women is laudable; but given what these women said, I don’t want to help this man have access to young women in any way. Other than not participating, is there anything I can actually do?

—Mistrusting Motives

Dear Mistrusting,

Demur by first thanking your former colleague for the opportunity and then follow up by saying you’re not able to help at this time. You are right that you cannot accuse someone on hearsay, even if that hearsay is chillingly similar. The best you can hope for is that any young women who participate in the program have been well coached by their parents and other loving adults in speaking up and loudly if they feel threatened in any way by anyone, no matter what gifts and/or scholarships he offers.

Dear Debra,

I am in a quandary. I have a new friend. We are on the same wavelength in so many ways. She is not Jewish and is from Europe (although she’s lived in this country for years). Her husband is Jewish, but they are not connected to the community in any way.

When I told her about a plan of alternative coursework I was pursuing, she said something like, “Wow, good for you. That costs a lot and being Jewish, well, you must really have wanted to do that. You know, it’s so hard for Jews to spend money.”

I was stunned and utterly tongue tied. I had to leave very soon after and was just in shock that she could be so insensitive. Her husband, who was with us and whom she included in her “assessment” of Jewish spending, said nothing.

She and I are due to get together soon, and I don’t know what to do. How could such a nice person be so anti-Semitic? What if she says something like this again? What if I introduce her to my friends, many of whom are Jewish, and she repeats this?

— Deeply Hurt

Dear Hurt,

I totally understand the feeling of being blindsided by someone with whom you feel so simpatico. She broke a foundational trust on your part. If your heart is still hammering at the memory of this exchange, try to take a breath and be open to the possibility that she had no idea of the impact of her words. I know, hard to imagine in this day and age, but humor me for a moment.

We are still in the period known as the Counting of the Omer, the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. Many Jews use this time for reflection and spiritual self-improvement. Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer presents 49 steps to personal refinement according to the Jewish tradition.

I received your letter on the day of the Omer that Rabbi Jacobson presents the idea of “lovingkindness in discipline.” He sets forth the idea of loving someone enough to “want them to be their best.” He writes, “Tolerance of people should never be confused with tolerance of their behavior … Love for people includes wanting them to be the best they can be and therefore helping them be aware of anything less than perfect behavior.”

You care for your new friend. She has exhibited a behavior that is not only unacceptable and hurtful to you, but also reflects very poorly upon her in a way that clouds (and prompts you to doubt) her true kind and loving nature. You owe it to her to gently let her know how deeply her comment hurt you and how inappropriate it was. Though stereotypes are built around a kernel of truth, you would be doing her a kindness to let her know that such stereotypes have a long and unpleasant odor of bigotry. Repeating them is simply not done by well-intentioned people.

If she is as sensitive as you have experienced, you can be reasonably confident that she will apologize and feel truly remiss. People say stupid thoughtless things all the time. I am not excusing her comment in any way. But if you choose to continue the friendship, try and see her comment in the “stupid-thoughtless” category and not as an anti-Semitic attack.

Dear Debra,

My son has just become engaged and informed us that his fiancée, whom we adore, wants a very small wedding. No friends, no “outer tier” relatives on either side. My son has told me I cannot even invite my siblings and their spouses because her parents are not inviting their siblings. Finances have nothing to do with their choice. Her family isn’t close to their extended families, but my siblings have been a loving and ongoing presence in my son’s life. My son is deferring to his fiancée. My siblings would be terribly hurt to be excluded. The thought of my friends not being with me on such an important and joyous day is devastating. I think my son and his fiancée are taking this small wedding idea too far. How can I get them to change their minds about this?


Dear MOG,

Every wedding comes with some point of contention; this is yours. The best news is that you adore your future daughter-in-law, a blessing that bodes well for the future of all involved.

Hopefully you and your husband can sit down with the couple and come to a middle ground.

Not having your friends there might diminish your joy, but not extinguish it. This is your concession. Your son should step up and articulate to his fiancée the important role his aunts and uncles have played in his life. This will be future daughter-in-law’s concession.

I think the bridal industry does everyone a disservice by gliding over the reality that a marriage is not just about uniting a couple, but in the best of situations brings together two families who will love and support both the bride and the groom throughout their lives together.

No matter who attends, take comfort that your son has found his bashert and that you and your husband will soon be fulfilling one of the mitzvot incumbent upon you and your husband as parents — bringing your son to the chuppah in marriage. Now go and find a gorgeous dress to wear.

DEBRA DARVICK, Debra Darvick is the author, most recently, of  We Are Jewish Faces. Dear Debra
Debra Darvick

Debra Darvick is the author, most recently, of  We Are Jewish Faces.


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