ask helen: Find your strength during Passover

Dear Helen:

Every year my sister tries to upstage me at Passover. We have a family tradition of alternating first and second nights. When she goes first she puts on such an ostentatious display that my seder feels small and average. She says she cooks everything herself, but I’m convinced she’s used a deli. When she goes second she makes a point of outdoing whatever I have done. It sounds petty, but if I make one dessert she makes two; if I make two, she serves three. My brother is single and never has to host. I know he loves us both, but he knows how competitive she is and always compliments her profusely. It shouldn’t bother me, but it does.

Second Fiddle

Dear Second Fiddle:

Annoying relatives are one of life’s challenges. Silly or not, it’s clearly gotten to you. A lifetime of sisterhood should have taught you that you’re unlikely to change her personality. You could create a lot of tension in the family by trying, but why? Instead, get into the true spirit of Pesach and try to modulate the game. It won’t be as satisfying in the short run, but in the longer one, you’ll be happier. Plus your family will be more in tune with what the holiday is really about. Bonus: if you master this lesson with your sister, other people will have a harder time getting under your skin.

Passover is about liberation from Mitzrayim. For the moment, consider your personal Mitzrayim to be a vulnerable ego and your sister’s vanity. Since you’re not going to beat her at her own game, move the goalpost. Instead of buying into perpetual “one-upswomanship,” strive for simplicity, piety and a hamish sense of family and warmth. Compliment her for what she does well. Smile. Dig deep for sincerity. Match it with your simplest best. Sparkle where it counts, from within, and liberate yourself from this annual plague.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she’s studied and spoken on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and subscribe to the blog at

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