Religion Q&A: Did I Stiff the Bat Mitzvah Girl?

Plus: Cash gifts for Hindus, seder presents, and Catholic conversion rites.

BY: Laura Sheahen

 
Have a question about another religion's ceremonies and traditions? Write to columnists@staff.beliefnet.com and include "religious etiquette" in the subject line.

My husband and I were unable to attend my first cousin's daughter's Bat Mitzvah. We rarely see them, nor do we talk/communicate on a regular basis. My parents are closer to them and see them more regularly. Anyway, we sent a check for $50. My parents gave a check for $200. My parents say we didn't give enough. On the other hand, my husband's nephew is getting Bar Mitzvah'd soon, and we will be attending. My feeling is that I think we should give more money to him because we see them often, they live near us, and we are closer in relationship. Did I give enough to my cousin's daughter, and how much should we give my husband's nephew?

Unless you suspect that the two kids will sneakily compare notes about their relatives' generosity--which seems unlikely, based on your mail--there's really not a problem here. Your reasons are fair and admissable in the Beliefnet Court of Religion Etiquette.

And there's absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty. The amount of your gift is entirely up to you. Give your husband's nephew whatever you feel is appropriate. If they ask, tell your parents that you're happy for both young people, but feel closer to the nephew and therefore wanted to do a little more for him. Resist the urge to send a followup check to the girl in New York. Then sleep the sleep of the just.

Last weekend, I visited a Hindu temple that is conducting a fundraising campaign. I was struck by the fact that the fund-raising levels (you know: patron, donor, sponsor, etc.) as well as all of the pujas had prices that were even amounts plus $1--for example, $101 or $251. There was a clear and obvious avoidance of even amounts. What is behind this?

It's just tradition: Hindus consider odd-numbered amounts lucky. Similar odd/even number customs are found in other countries, sometimes irrespective of religion. In the U.S., roses traditionally come by the dozen (not in bunches of ten or nine). If you handed a dozen roses to a Russian, however, they'd do a doubletake--in Russia, even numbers of flowers are only given at funerals.

I am Christian and have been invited to a seder. What is proper etiquette to bring to the hostess? Flowers, wine, something I could prepare?

There are many foods traditionally associated with Passover, some of which, like haroset, are found on the seder plate. If possible, ask the hostess what you can bring; you may get a feel for how strict the Passover observance will be. Unless your hostess requests something homemade, go with a pre-packaged item. Many Jews (though by no means all) will only eat foods that are marked specifically "Kosher for Passover" during the holiday. During the eight days of Passover, observant Jews do not eat anything that has "chametz," or leavening, in it. Some Jews also refrain from eating anything that is made using kitchenware that isn't specifically kosher for Passover.

Traditional desserts you could bring include Passover cakes, Mandel Bread cookies, or macaroons, available at many grocery stores. Brand names that make many kosher for Passover products include Manischewitz, Rokeach, and Gefen. Some fruit or raw vegetables, or some extra kosher for Passover wine, could be a welcome addition to a seder.

If you can't reach the hostess and are worried about food issues, stick with flowers. It's hard to go wrong with a nice bouquet.

I was baptized Catholic, but raised Lutheran. I did not attend church on a regular basis, but would like to convert back to being a Catholic. I have not been confirmed nor had Holy Communion. Can you guide me on what steps I need to take?

Your baptism will still be considered valid in the Catholic Church. However, in order to be fully received into the Catholic Church--and receive Communion and Confirmation--adults need to go through a learning and discernment process the Catholic Church calls "RCIA": The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Younger people attend RCIC (The Rite of Christian Initiation for Children).

You might want to call a Catholic church near you and ask if you can speak to someone there about returning to Catholicism. Most churches have RCIA outreach people who will be happy to talk over your feelings and questions at length, over the phone or in person. If you decide you do want to continue the process, you will most likely be encouraged to take RCIA classes. Many RCIA programs begin in September, and classes are held weekly at times convenient for working adults. Often, the classes last 9 months, though many people may choose to explore the Church more gradually and go at their own pace. Since there are many similarities between the Catholic and Lutheran faiths, you might find that you are familiar with some of the topics raised during RCIA.

This

website

from a church in Texas may answer some of your questions about beginning the process. Best of luck in your spiritual journey.

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