Ask Helen: Turn gift exchange into tzedakah opportunity

How can I pull the plug on a gift exchange that I did not initiate, but have participated in for the past two years? I met a friend on a bridge cruise after my divorce. Many of the single women were hunting for a man. I wasn’t, and ended up in a random pairing with a smart Jewish woman from Tennessee. We have partnered together online in the interim, but no more travel, for various reasons on both sides. She has significantly more money than I do, but when she sent me the original Hanukkah gift I felt I had no choice but to reciprocate. Gifting has continued for Hanukkah and birthdays. Is there a polite way to end this without hurting her feelings? I think she likes shopping and gifting people as a hobby. Honestly, I don’t need anything except better knees and a few extra hours in each day.

Living the Good Life

Dear Living the Good Life:

Send her an email that goes roughly like this: Dear Partner – I so enjoy our friendship. I hope we can connect again in person sometime. This year for the holidays I have decided to forgo gift giving and gift receiving. My life is so full, and there are so many in the world in such need. Below I have listed a set of organizations that I’ve selected for their good works to make a hard world a better place for people whose lives are much more difficult than ours. Please tell me which you would like me to gift in your name, and please do the same rather than sending me anything for Hanukkah or in the future. We are so lucky. Let’s share.

Dear Helen:

I go to High Holiday services, have an annual seder, light Hanukkah candles and believe in (one) God. A friend insisted that I go with her to a lecture/meditation by a guru that she just “discovered.” If this woman had dressed and talked differently, she could have been in our bridge club. Instead she has a crew of acolytes, a series of books, CDs, DVDs and a radio show. Nothing she said was wrong or bad, but also not much different than the psychobabble I read in any magazine at the hairdresser’s. The audience of several hundred appeared rapt, even enchanted, even when all she did was parrot back what they said and murmur “Yes, yes, yes.” I was mostly bored, occasionally annoyed and generally surprised about how easy such a lucrative gig seemed, not to mention confused how it pulled in so many, including my sharp-as-a-tack attorney friend. She’s now after to me to enroll in a weekly study group, go to a retreat with her or otherwise demonstrate my support while she explores this new path. She’s offering to make this my Hanukkah gift. How can I decline without insulting her?


Dear Naysayer:

Clearly this person has had a very meaningful influence on your friend. Be kind and polite. But don’t draw out the period of ostensible consideration. Ask to borrow one book or tape to follow up the lecture. Keep it for a week and read the first five pages. Then return it. Say you tried out of respect for her judgment, but have decided to decline. Be clear that you gave it due thought, but that your friend’s teacher is just that, hers not yours. Say your spirituality is more traditional – that you’re not against the guru, just more indifferent than enthused and that you don’t want to invest more time seeking her influence.

If, and only if, pressed, say that you were a little turned off by the slick packaging and adoring rapture. But sincerely go out of your way to be gentle and indifferent rather than cutting or belittling. Then go to services a little more often and talk Jewish at your friend for a few weeks. She’ll back off. Who knows, you might like services.

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom:
Truth is burdensome, so its bearers are few.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks 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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