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Difficult Passover Guests

Difficult Passover Guests


Dear Rachel,

This year, for the first time, we are hosting the family Passover Seder. We were very excited to finally be able to have everyone in our home, until we found out that distant cousins, who we find very offensive, plan on coming. It never occurred to us that they would come, as they never have before, and I certainly don’t want them to attend. They are rude, insensitive and somehow manage to overtake any conversation. I want the Seder to be the center of attention, not them. I was thinking of letting them know that we simply have no room, but of course it is not true. Do I really need to have people come who will ruin the whole night? Please help!


Dear J.M.,

Believe it or not, we all have those cousins or others in our lives that we have a hard time dealing with, yet we all need to learn how to! Although it might not feel this way, it is actually to your advantage that they are coming to your home, as you are in a position to set the tone in your own house more than you would be anywhere else. And as much as you would like to uninvite them, it is simply not appropriate on many levels.

Try to remember that this is not a social gathering or a party—this is a Passover Seder For starters, try to remember that this is not a social gathering or a party. This is a Passover Seder, and it is a time for family and friends to come together to commemorate and retell our history as slaves and our miraculous exodus from Egypt. It is a time to remember that we have always had enemies looking to destroy us, but when we had faith and stuck together as a people, we have been able to persevere and overcome even the most desperate of situations. With that in mind, no matter how annoying your cousins may be, they are family. They are not your enemy. And this is a wonderful opportunity to put things into perspective.

Furthermore, Passover is about getting out of our restricted and constricted situations, whether emotional, physical or spiritual. This is why the word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means “constraints.” This is the holiday that celebrates our ability to break out of slavery and to enter freedom. If this is the situation in which you have found yourself, there is a reason and a lesson to be learned. Perhaps your cousins have changed. Perhaps, if you try to treat them differently, they will respond differently in kind. Perhaps the reason they talk too much or are too direct is coming from lack of security rather than ego. They will be coming to your home. They will be your guests, and hopefully they will act appropriately. But you are the host, and it is up to you to make them feel welcome and to make them feel comfortable. Hopefully the more you do that, the less their behavior will be anything other than pleasant.

From a practical point of view, there is a lot going on at a Seder. Between reading the haggadah and eating the meal, it most likely will not be a situation where someone can just talk nonstop. If you are concerned they still may try, set up your Seder in a way where everyone will need to participate by going around the table and sharing in the reading and the discussion. The more other people are invited to talk, the less silence there will be for anyone else to fill up on their own.

And lastly, and probably most importantly, be honest with yourself as to why your cousins bother you so much. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, teaches that when something bothers us in another, it is most often because we are really seeing ourselves through them. Perhaps what is going on is more your issue than theirs, and if so, now is the time to work through that. Even if not, the more you can feel a sense of sympathy—or, ideally, empathy—for their outbursts, the more you can treat them with understanding and compassion rather than resentment.

I wish you tremendous success in dealing with this situation, and a lot of patience and strength in hosting your entire family! In the merit of that alone, things should go smoothly and peacefully with your cousins.

Have a wonderful Passover.


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Dev April 1, 2015

Dreading Passover My 'friend' hosts a huge seder every year. That is a given. I was invited last year and learned that for the last twenty years she had loads of other friends in addition to family. I always help. I bring homemade dishes and desserts. I am gracious and talk with the other guests. Everyone got along. I am not invited. She knows I am alone and knows this is a hard holiday for me. I cannot consider this person a true friend here on out. I am a small eater. I believe in the holiday. I am single. We had a break in friendship years back over this painful issue. No 'fight' or incident occurred. I have no family in my area. I do not want to go to a stranger's home. I had surgery this week and cooked for Passover before going to the hospital! Still not invited! Really?! Did I mention that this person needs credit publically for volunteer work all the time?! Reply

Anonymous west lebanon, usa April 5, 2012

difficult Passover guests My family consists of many relegions and we are a large family! On numerous occasions I have found these same difficulties as Rachel. Your response said it all, here is not only an opportunity to practice those values we have been taught but to also look to ourselves for answers. I have also found it an opportunity to bring knowledge of another way and another culture that may not be undertood and offer a hand to those people of tolerance and love. What wonderful insight you have given her for what can be so trying a situation . Reply

Anonymous Nesodden, Norway March 21, 2012

Did you see Ushpizin? I recommend the film "Ushpizin!" Allthough another festival (sukkot), guests, can be a challenge :). Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl April 20, 2011

to control to try and control people is to deny them thier freedom of the animal soul which through study and prayer leads to the G-dly soul. to claim that you do not have this animal soul is a false statement because you have either conquered yours or are hiding it from fear of embarrasment and ridicule from others. the jewish guilt has been set upon you but make no mistake...we are all animals walking the earth in search of the one true G-d and you are no different than your distant cousins in this respect just more refined through guidence and civilizations guidelines and limitations put on you. Reply

Kathy Cleveland. , OH April 4, 2011

to the person in Wilmslow, England..... you are welcome at our table anytime .... I'm positive there are others in your area who have a place at their Seder for you. I will be thinking of you and hoping you can call a local rabbi who will find a host family for you. Please don't be shy about this ...... It's not too late for you! Reply

hudel oak park, mi March 29, 2011

Difficult Guests Something to think about: This is the first time you have had a seder in your home AND these cousins who do not come to the family seders have decided to come this year. Could that be because it is at your house?

Having been in the situation myself, I kept trying to tie what was being said by the guest who wold not stop talking to the Pesach story (not very easy and not always possible), but when we had children I decided that I could not expect them to pay attention to the seder, if an adult guest would not. That being said, she (the guest) stopped coming to our seders. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 1, 2011

Rude Guests People are not always aware they're behaving badly, and you have the right to complain.

I don't allow rude people into my home! Reply

Hinda Schryber jerusalem, israel March 29, 2010

look at thier souls I answer this from many perspectives- from many places. from being a young single girl that had nowhere to go, from being a student that relied on people inviting me, from being newly wed with no religious family, to being a mother, wife who for over 30 years has had her own seder table and always actively invited those who would otherwise be on their own.
This issue all depends on how you view people who are " difficult".

In my experience people are difficult for a reason, and we often dont know what that reason is, in fact some people are just impossible...And the more impossible they are the more i am endeared to them.

Nobody wants to be alone, or lonely. Nobody wants to have to rely on being invited.
I think more than anything it is that very situation that people hate most.
SO those of us who have families, who have a seder table, let us close our eyes and ears, and let us open our hearts, let us see their souls- you might see something completely different... Reply

John Junior Brooklyn, New York March 28, 2010

Worse than that How about families that speak Loshon Hora (gossip) at the Seder table, and that is much worse, then what you have. Reply

hava NY, NY May 21, 2009

Yes I have to agree that as a newcomer just exploring my wonderful Jewish tradition I had no idea talking too much was offensive and would be seen as uncooperative. I have probably inadvertently offended at the homes of the many kind families who invited me to Seder and wonderful Sabbath lunches when I was just trying to fulfill my part of the "WASP" unwritten contract- to be an entertaining guest and thus , in a sense sing for your supper. Perhaps You could explain to the cousins the difference in the Jewish tradition ( I wish someone had explained it to me) .

Very often I find religious people are so kind and forgiving and generous spirited to overlook breaches of etiquette and make the bal teshuvah feel comfortable that you keep making the same mistake over and over- like carrying a purse on the Sabbath. It is nice when someone gently teaches you what that means and why it isn't done and I for one am simply relievedto fit in a little better rather than wonder. Reply

Anonymous Wilmslow, England via April 4, 2009

If only! I do sometimes wonder if I am one of those "cousins". Unfortunately, I have been on my own for many years now and have no close family. Very occasionally, a friend might invite me for Seder but usually the festival just passes me by.

This is something that I accept and I just "get on with life". On occasions, I used to choose to work on the Seder nights and I always felt a pang of nostalgia as I passed Jewish homes on the way home.

You have no idea how nice it is to be invited somewhere. The fact that I have even staged a mock Seder for the local Seventh Day Adventists actually adds a certain irony to the situation. Reply

Anonymous Eugene, OR March 30, 2009

helpful answer It seems as if almost everyone has difficult situations similar to this, especially at family gatherings like Pesach. I found the answer to be a great mixture of kindness, understanding and practical advice. The first comment is also helpful. Thanks to both of you. Reply

Jerry Allentown, PA March 29, 2009

If Only! Strange as it might sound, I can only wish I had such a bunch! But alas, being the only one in my family that is Jewish, I have family I can (and do) invite, and when there is rudeness, I put it off as their not understanding the full meaning of the Seder, and so it becomes a challenge to make the seder interesting enough to "get through" so they do understand. Not always an easy thing. Rachel is right, accept, overlook, smile, and involve others in keeping the brunt of the conversation out of the dominance of a few. Hopefully, as I attend 1st Night with some friends, I will not become as one of those cousins. Sometimes we each take our turn as the "cousin" unawares. Reply

Anonymous Bronx, NY March 29, 2009

Amazing It is incredible what people will put up with in the name of family. Remember that your sanity is most important first and foremost. It is your home after all and it is your choice what you choose to deal with in your sanctuary. Reply

Anonymous March 29, 2009

Passover My dearest Ester,

Thank you for reminding us that Passover is not a "social" event. Every other year I host a Passover Seder for my non-religious Jewish friends but this year, they are wanting to invite non-Jews and make it as uncomfortable as possible (remove things from the service, non-kosher food for Passover and such).

Right before I read your article I was talking to my boyfriend and we were scrabbling on the “right” words to use to cancel the Seder. Your article helps me not to feel bad about canceling it. Thanks! Reply

Anonymous March 29, 2009

I agree with Rachel on this one, I too have those cousins and my family has always insisted on including them in any family event. You know they are always one of the first to say "yes, we'll come and thank you". Everyone in our family finds these cousins annoying so we all do our best to rotate who is caught in conversation and make sure that the host and hostess of the event are covered from having to be their sole entertainment. Smile, be gracious, accept their help if offered and start rehearsing "yes, but lets return to the Haggadah". Reply