The Humanist Dilemma: Is It Offensive to Return an Offensive Gift?

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Thanks, but No Thanks for Menorah: My mother-in-law is a right-wing evangelical Christian who voted for Donald Trump and thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old. She is also, frankly, not very insightful.

She just gave my family a menorah. We belong to a Jewish Humanist congregation, which pretty much sums up my beliefs—proud of my Jewish heritage but agnostic. My atheist husband (her son) belongs, too. She buys into the “love Israel” Kool-Aid that evangelicals are drinking these days.

The menorah she gave us is from one of those horrible messianic organizations that’s in the business of converting Jews. They want to bring Jews to Israel because that’s a prerequisite for the return of Jesus.

I would like to calmly and politely return this to her and tell her that I am opposed to the principles of this organization. I certainly don’t want this “messianorah” in my home. My husband initially said to drop the matter, but he’s warming up to the idea of a polite email.

Your thoughts? I suppose I could be passive-aggressive and send her something from an organization she hates (like a lovely wall hanging from Planned Parenthood), but in addition to this being mean, I doubt she would understand the point.

—It’s the Gift and the Thought


Dear Thought,

I know what you mean about the fundamentalists who just love Israel and Jews. I was mystified by a genuinely lovely family of born-again Christians who seemed to be enamored by my family and Jews in general, and then I learned about all this end-of-days stuff. Meanwhile, they invited us to spend a week with them in an RV visiting the Ark Park (oy vey!), and they send us cards on Jewish holidays with New Testament verses inserted.

I also share your passive-aggressive impulses, as when relatives kept sending our young children “gifts” of donations to their own synagogue in Florida. So I returned the favor by dedicating a contribution for daffodils in Central Park in their honor.

I think it’s fine to return the offending “messianorah” (I love that—did you coin it yourself?) either in person or by mail with a brief but clear explanation of why you don’t want a symbol of a distasteful organization in your home. An email explanation would also suffice without returning the menorah, unless your mother-in-law says she would like to get it back. But then let it go, whether she takes your wishes to heart or persists. Any future unwanted gifts can simply be given away or trashed. Hopefully she won’t send you a crucifix next.