Bringing Home the Babka

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Bringing Home the Babka

As the joke goes, the only difference between a Jewish mother and a Rottweiler is that the Rottweiler eventually lets go.

Just two weeks into my last serious relationship, I met my ex-boyfriend Benji’s mother. Opting for something a bit more creative than flowers to bring to Shabbat dinner at her home, I scoured the city for the very best babka. As soon as his mother opened the door and handed me a basket to promptly replace my shoes with Japanese slippers, she reached over and took the babka from me, dangling it in the air as if it were a dead mouse.

“My little puppy Benjamin Samuel-Ezekiel didn’t tell you that I’m vegan?” she said.

By coincidence, the cinnamon walnut loaf I had picked out was both pareve and egg-free! Alas, I was soon told that gluten and sugar were far too problematic, and my babka was promptly banished from the table. Halfway through the raw vegetable appetizer, amidst a heated debate on hydraulic fracturing, I was suddenly asked when I was last tested for HIV. It was the only question I was asked all evening. I couldn’t wait to grab my babka and get my tuches out of there.

At this time of year, many of us may be spending the Jewish high holidays with our own families, the families of our friends (shout out to my girl Jen, who is always there for me when I’m homeless for the holidays), or possibly the families of our partners. For those of us in the latter category, it can be quite a nerve-wracking, yet exciting time.

Jewish mothers can be tough (and trust me, fathers ain’t no walk in the park either – just meet mine!), and they are often a significant presence in their children’s lives. Hopefully, your partner’s parent doesn’t hold his hand – both figuratively and literally, as I would soon experience with Benji – and you not only coexist, but also come to love each other as family.

Don’t forget your partner’s parents mean well. In the end, if their child is happy, they’re happy. Make it clear that you care for your other half and have no intention to compete with or replace the relationship they have. Respect the fact his parents are likely a huge reason he is the amazing person he is today. Yes, your partner may have developed his mother’s anal sock-folding technique, but she also likely taught him to open the Uber door for you, bring you matzoh ball soup when you’re sick, or rub your aching IT band after a tough workout. Soooo good.

I’ve met five families of men I’ve seriously dated, and I’ve learned that, no matter how different these families are, a few helpful tips always apply:

1) Bring a gift. (Ok, so my babka was #epicfail, but food, flowers, or wine are typically foolproof. Better yet, something creative and thoughtful goes a long way. When I met my man’s mama last spring, I brought a special “Mom” edition beanie baby, knowing her collection rivals that of my own. (Yes, I have HUNDREDS, including the rare, “1st generation” Chilly the polar bear, stored in my parents’ attic.) When I met my boy’s bro, I brought a copy of the book he had published and asked him to sign it. I won over my ex’s dad, who shared my own papa’s passion for model trains, with a little Lionel sign for his layout. It’s the thought that counts – keep in mind that none of these things cost over $20.

2) Never underestimate the power of a card. Yes, a simple, cheesy Hallmark card with a thoughtful, hand-written message from YOU. The key here is to go old school and MAIL it, as a thank you, immediately after meeting them. A simple message like this is guaranteed to make any tough parent tear up: “Thank you so much for including me in your Break Fast – the brisket was the best I’ve ever had! Your daughter is so special to me, and her sweet, thoughtful nature is truly a testament to who you are as parents. It was so great meeting you!”

3) Watch what you wear. I did NOT let my man wear this shirt he designed (see right, for sale for $20 each!) when he was with my fam. Also, I happen to have a belly ring and, located not too far from it, a small, very regrettable tattoo. I once wore a shirt that was a bit too short, and when I reached up, my ex’s mother caught sight of BOTH at the same time and nearly fainted. First impressions do matter.

Before meeting the parents, be honest with your partner and ask if there’s anything you should know ahead of time (which includes – but is not exclusive of – extreme dietary habits). Ever since my first serious boyfriend greeted my very traditional Southern father with a chest bump and a, “Yo, Bobby!”, I know to always warn any of my dates to call my dad “Mr. Davis”, “Sir”, both, or nothing at all.

While my dad never did forgive Chest Bumper, I did grow to have a very understanding, mutually respectful relationship with Vegan Viola. (And Beanie Baby Betty and I totally jive.) Be open and excited about learning about the very family that made your partner the incredible person that you love. And if it doesn’t go as well as you hoped, it’ll be ok. My first boyfriend’s mother wore completely opaque sunglasses and wouldn’t uncross her arms or touch a bite of food when we first met, grunting only yes or no responses. (Ok, so I was her baby boy’s R.A., almost four years his senior… but gimme a chance!)

So, for those of you meeting the parents this high holiday season, or at some point in the near future: good luck, enjoy it, and don’t worry… just make sure you double-check that no one has a nut allergy before you bring home that babka!


In the spirit of the upcoming Break Fast, I’ve included a special family recipe below: my Nana Roza’s “Meshugeneh Mandelbrot”! G’mar tov, everyone, and have an easy fast.

1 Comment

  1. Melody Bachman says:

    I loved your article! Great advice for all! Erin, you have found your calling!
    I also remember going over to your Nana’s house and seeing ALL of the breads and cookies laying out to cool and ready to package up for her precious grandchildren! (they were deilcious!) Such sweet memories. Thanks for sharing her recipe.
    I love your family and miss your Nana living next to us. She is a special woman and so proud of all of her children and grandchildren!

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