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Holocaust Cantata

Several years ago, I worked for a Jewish attorney (I’ll call him “Joel”) who, along with his parents and sister, was a Holocaust survivor who came to the U.S. from Germany when he was a small child. His extended family was virtually wiped out by the Nazis. I believe his wife’s immediate family were also Holocaust survivors.

I sing with a local community choir, and a few years back we had the privilege of performing the “Holocaust Cantata” on Holocaust Remembrance Day. A number of Holocaust survivors and liberators attended the concert, and the college where we performed had set up a special exhibition of photographs, memorabilia, etc. in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (One especially exciting moment was when one of the liberators met a survivor from the camp he had helped to liberate.)

I was very excited about this concert, and invited Joel and his wife to attend as my guests. Joel expressed elation at the invitation, and I bought the tickets and mailed them to him and his wife.

Three days before the performance, Joel called to tell me that he was sorry but he and his wife could not attend the concert because one of his clients was throwing a birthday party for his (the client’s) 85-year-old mother that day, and he opted to attend that instead. He asked me if I wished to be reimbursed for the tickets, and I told him just to mail the tickets back to me so I could turn them in with the money for the other tickets I had bought. I haven’t spoken with him since (but not because of this).

My question is this: Was I wrong to be hurt by this? I have to admit I was really crushed when he backed out, but of course I didn’t let him know this. In fact, the only person I’ve told is my husband, who disagreed with me when I said I thought what Joel did was rude. His opinion is that the client is Joel’s livelihood and that’s where his first loyalty should be. My opinion is that he accepted my invitation and that constituted a commitment, and he should have explained this to the client (who also happens to be Jewish, so I thought he would totally understand).

What say you out there in e-hell land? 0315-13

Your husband is wrong.   We owe our first loyalty to the integrity of keeping one’s word even when it results in a financial loss.   When you accept an invitation and respond that you will be delighted to attend, you have done so based on reviewing your calendar and having seen nothing conflicting, you reply that you will be attending.   Nothing short of severe illness or death should change that commitment.   You gave your word, you keep your word even if something better comes along.  Yet we live in a modern culture where people routinely wait until the last possible moment to rsvp to an invitation as they try to maximize their possible options for that particular weekend or evening.    And many people think nothing of going back on their word and bailing out of an invitation to go do something they find infinitely more interesting or enjoyable than the first invitation they accepted.

Our word should mean something.  When you say you will do X, those around you should have trust that you are a person of your word and you will do X.  There is an element of self sacrifice in keeping your word, in the context of invitations, because invariably you will attend an event which happens to coincide with a more attractive situation.   People who renege on their acceptance of an invitation are fundamentally selfish as they pursue the best invitations that most make them happy with no regard as to how their sudden change of plans affects the host and hostess.

Joel and your husband have valued a business networking opportunity over the previous commitment to attend the concert at your invitation and your expense.   Joel’s desire to increase his business connections was more important to him than the fact that he accepted your offer of paid tickets and has now rejected them.  His offer to reimburse you for the price of the tickets was nothing more than another business transaction.

Joel’s client being Jewish actually has no bearing on whether he should be understanding of Joel’s prior commitment to attend the concert.   Joel should have said to his client,”I am so sorry,  my wife and I cannot attend your party for your mother this year.   We have been invited and have tickets to hear the Holocaust Cantata at XXXXX that evening.  Please do wish your mother a ‘Happy Birthday’ for us and I look forward to seeing you sometime soon for lunch.”    Follow it up with a lovely birthday bouquet of flowers to the client’s mother and all would have been good.


{ 84 comments… add one }
  • Viola March 19, 2013, 3:47 am

    The fact that he is Jewish shouldn’t impact it, but the fact that he is a survivor might. It could be that it was too painful to revisit his loss, and found a way out of it.
    I have Holocaust survivors in my family. He could have had every intention to fulfil that obligation and then suddenly found it too much to handle. In general, when massive trauma is involved, it is nest not to pass judgement too quickly.

  • Kate March 19, 2013, 4:12 am

    I might be reaching here, but is it possible Joel invented an excuse not to attend because it might have been too confronting for himself or his family members? You mention that there was going to be photographs and memorabilia – is it possible he accepted, went home and told his wife, and she thought it would be too emotionally disturbing? Or maybe he thought about it a bit and realised it would affect him, so he backed out?
    Yes, he shouldn’t have committed if he was going to back out but there might be an underlying reason here.

  • Kay L March 19, 2013, 4:20 am

    It occurs to me though that this may be a type of event where extenuating circumstances should be considered.

    It is not simply a concert for Joel but a very emotional event as well. It is possible that after all he just didn’t really want to go for personal reasons, reasons that would be hard to explain. It may have seemed a good out for him to beg off for another event.

  • Belly March 19, 2013, 4:46 am

    Completely unrelated to this thread – Hell’s Bells seems to be broken. The link at the top of the page, and also the links from Google.
    If it has already been brought to your attention, my apologies.

    Back on topic:

    Being ditched for a ‘better offer’ really gets up my nose. It’s completely selfish and often leaves you in the lurch. Not to mention feeling second rate. You’re in the right here, what he did was rude.

  • Marie March 19, 2013, 5:29 am

    I completely agree with the Admin here. If we omit the background story of the Holocaust here, it will be: “I invited someone to an event which I paid for, but last minute he opted out in favor of a business relationship”. This is not acceptable behavior and I would think twice before inviting him again.

    There is also another option left – though I cannot read this in the story, it is a possibility. Maybe the attorney or his wife deliberately opted out when the excuse of another party came around, because they realized the event would be too painful for (one of) them. I cannot tell if this is true because I’m a third person who only knows this part of the tale, but it’s something to think about.

  • Lou March 19, 2013, 5:58 am

    I am 100% with Admin on this one – I got married last month and had similar situations with a number of our guests, from both my mother’s and MIL’s families. Two cousins RSVP’d ‘yes’ then dropped out with 5 days to go (one had decided to go to a football match instead, the other wanted to stay at home to look after his wife following a tonsillectomy), another cousin decided the night before that he didn’t feel like attending and asked his mother (my mother’s sister) to let me know (luckily she has a sense of etiquette and didn’t trouble me with this news on the day), my DH’s aunt and uncle spent the fortnight before the wedding pestering both us and my MIL with phone calls about how they would try to make it, but they weren’t quite sure, but they would definitely try to get there for dinner, but it was difficult to be certain, etc etc etc – this is after they had RSVP’d ‘yes’ 2 months earlier. There are other examples, these are just the ones that bothered me the most.

    I can identify with two factors described by Admin – the way that some people feel it’s appropriate to accept all invitations that come their way, then decide nearer the time what they feel like doing; and the ones that hold off RSVPing until as late as possible in case a better offer comes in. We were married on 2nd Feb and sent out invitations in mid-October, with a final RSVP date of mid-December – we were still chasing some family members for a response in mid-January. Ultimately, some meals went to waste and we stayed up till 3am two nights before the wedding to completely re-do the table plan. I think the most galling part was that we hadn’t been able to invite all our friends due to the size of our families, but when all the last-minute drop-outs were taken into account, we would have had space for quite a few friends that I know would have been thrilled to attend. If the family members who didn’t want to attend had just been upfront about it from the outset, we could have invited our friends instead, rather than wasting money and accumulating unnecessary stress. So with all that in mind, I’m 100% on the OP’s side – it’s not OK to back out of something at the last minute (unless you have, in fact, died or your leg is hanging off or similar), especially in the case of invitation-only or ticketed events, where the backer-out has held a spot that could have been taken by someone else.

  • Cat March 19, 2013, 6:34 am

    I agree; one should keep ones word once it is given. I am still amazed that a friend of mine accepted an invitation to do something with me and then called and backed out because she said she had decided to do housework instead.
    I could have accepted illness, unexpected company, or some other emergency, but to do housework? Her house is always immaculate; it’s not as if the Department of Health was on its way.

  • Lo March 19, 2013, 6:46 am

    I do think it was very inconsiderate of Joel to back out.

    Though I wouldn’t look too deeply into it and take too much offense. From the outside it looks like a jerk move but I can think of several reasons he might have thought the change in plans was acceptable. Maybe he felt the birthday party was more important because once you hit that age you never know how many more you’ll have and he felt a special connection to the client’s family. Maybe he and his wife decided that the day of rememberance would be too emotional– more painful than enjoyable– but didn’t know how to express that. There are so many reasons why he might have thought it was acceptable.

    I think if it was something like case of two different parties or something frivolous like that I’d be much more upset. I personally would be more inclinded to let this one slide. You are certainly well within your right to be offended by the action.

  • Dominic March 19, 2013, 6:53 am

    Step 1. Accept invitation.
    Step 2. Back out of invitation.
    Step 3. Go to e-Hell, go directly to e-Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

    There is no question here—it is rude to first accept an invitation and then back out for almost any other reason, except illness or a death. Do people do it? All the time. Sad.

  • Raven March 19, 2013, 7:13 am

    I’m with Lo – maybe they weren’t sure they could bear it. I can’t imagine, at all, what it must be like to have those kinds of memories. Maybe it would have just been too hard for them, but they didn’t want to admit it.

    On the more general “yes means no” RSVP issue, this is definitely a pet peeve of mine. We recently had a party (about 100 people) and there were about 10 people who responded with an enthusiastic yes, and then failed to show – they also failed to let us know they weren’t coming, and failed to get in touch with us after to apologise (etc). It was really disappointing. It maybe wasn’t a big deal to those people, but it was to us, so it was irritating to have that happen. Some people just don’t think about it. They figure, “Well, I’m just one person” – except that 10 people apparently had the same thought, so they weren’t just one person after all.

  • Wendy B. March 19, 2013, 7:33 am

    I also wondered if he had backed out because he was afraid it would be too much for him emotionally. But if that were the case, I personally would have preferred him being honest about it than making up an excuse, or finding one. If he said, “I was eager to go, but now I feel it might be too much for me,” the OP could then say, “Oh, I completely understand! If you like, we can meet for lunch someday and I’ll bring you a program and tell you about some of the highlights.”

    Some people are afraid to be honest like that…they don’t want people to think they are weak.

  • Lady March 19, 2013, 7:38 am

    I am so confused by Admin’s stance on this one. How is it possible that such an emphasis is placed on keeping one’s word in this post, when in the prior post about the MIL who would promise gifts that she never delivered the basic message was to just let it go? Both are examples of people not keeping their word. If anything, wouldn’t the person who changes their RSVP be less on the path to ehell because they were straightforward about their intentions (however rude they may be), than the MIL who lied about a gift she was going to give and then never addressed the fact that the gift was not delivered as promised?

  • Chicalola March 19, 2013, 8:13 am

    He may have realized this was too much to handle, and found the client’s birthday party an easy out.

  • WildIrishRose March 19, 2013, 8:14 am

    OP here. Thanks for all the responses! As for the possibility that attending the concert would be too “painful” for Joel and his wife, I doubt that–they had visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington when it first opened, and he gushed about what a wonderful, moving experience that was. I simply cannot accept the idea that this concert would have proved too much for him and his wife. I think he’s just one of those people who kowtows to his clients regardless of how it affects other people. But, like I said, I haven’t spoken with him in years, but not because of this. I just haven’t had occasion to do so.

  • Slartibartfast March 19, 2013, 8:23 am

    I disagree, actually. This wasn’t a social event they planned to attend together, it was a concert in which the poster was singing and to which she was selling tickets. Although it sounds like she was not expecting to be reimbursed in this case, she did sell tickets to other people too. In my opinion, that changes this from personal to business etiquette.

    Under that mentality, Joel did the right thing – when something else came up, he apologized for the conflict and offered to reimburse the poster for the cost of the tickets.

  • Huh March 19, 2013, 8:37 am

    You know at what part I’m stuck on in this letter – That it was his client’s mother’s birthday party. Who invites their lawyer to their mother’s birthday party???? Why would his mother want her son’s lawyer at her birthday party??? There’s business relationships and then there’s personal relationships. Unless they were all old family friends I really don’t get why the client would invite the lawyer to the party and why the lawyer would want to go.

  • Owl Face March 19, 2013, 8:44 am

    When I was about 10, I had set a playdate with my friend Melissa. About an hour before my mom was supposed to take me to my friend’s house, another friend (Jenny) called and asked if I could go to her house to swim. I told my mom I didn’t want to go to my original playdate, and instead wanted to go to Jenny’s house. I had also already told Jenny I would cancel my other plans. My mom made me call Jenny back and explain to her that I had already made other commitments. I was really upset about it at the time but I think it was a very good lesson. To this date, I don’t cancel original plans for a more appealing alternative. My mom’s intervention kept me from hurting Melissa’s feelings. Joel was completely wrong to cancel his plans to see your performance, especially since it meant so much to you.

    However, I can understand why he might cancel. Many survivors have a hard time engaging with performances, exhibits, etc. that deal with the Holocaust. If that was the case, he should have explained it to you.

  • Library Diva March 19, 2013, 8:52 am

    Even if he suddenly found it too painful to attend, he should have told OP that. He didn’t have to get all gushy and emotional, just say that he didn’t think he could cope with going but he appreciated very much the offer, and would she like to be reimbursed for the tickets?

    I hate this sort of “better offer” thing. I have an acquaintance who does it all the time. She literally told a friend of mine who was throwing a party once, that she’d be there unless some presumably cooler friend wound up having a get-together that weekend. It makes you feel devalued. If you make a commitment to go to something, you should see it through, barring extraordinary circumstances.

  • Lynnie March 19, 2013, 8:58 am

    Please try not to be hurt by this. I understand if he really felt squeezed by the business thing. We own our own business, and sometimes it just has to come before any other things if we wish to have our livelihood continue. Also I agree with the posters about how raw an event like this could be. I cry easily, and I do not wish to do things that will cause me to be an embarrassment to myself and Joel may have felt the same way.

    Also Joel did the right thing, explained he could not come, and could he reimburse you for the tickets.

    I disagree with Admin on this one.

  • Surianne March 19, 2013, 9:00 am

    I too am wondering if Joel was looking for an excuse to back out. Something feels off to me about this story…maybe just the OP’s word choices, she uses “exciting” several times, which is an odd way to describe a Holocaust memorial service, and she speaks of her own excitement as well. I’d think of it as more solemn than that. I’m not sure that I’d want a community choir appropriating my story in that way, if I were a survivor. It just doesn’t sit right to me. Of course, I have no way of knowing what a survivor would think, or what Joel himself would think, but I wouldn’t judge him too harshly on this.

  • Saucygirl March 19, 2013, 9:06 am

    I agree with posters who say that attending a holocaust event might have been to hard, and Joel realized it after the fact or was told so by his wife. My grandmother is a survivor and there is no way she could have attended an event like this. She didn’t even like to talk about it, so I can’t imagine she’d want to see pictures of it. That said, I also know numerous survivors who make a point to talk about their experiences and attend events like this, to educate the public on the horrors that happened.

    I would love to hear from the op is she knew which “type” Joel and his wife were.

  • k March 19, 2013, 9:21 am

    I guess I don’t see this as going to a “better option” – rather a business obligation. In some situations, these kind of social events are simply not voluntary. It’s unfortunate, and I’m sorry it ruined the OP’s nice gesture.

  • Jay March 19, 2013, 9:26 am

    This is a general etiquette question (“keep a previous commitment”). I’m not sure why we need all the details of what the event was and whether or not Joel’s wife’s family were Holocaust survivors..

  • Rap March 19, 2013, 9:26 am

    Is there no place for understanding in the world of etiquette? Sometimes it seems like manners are used like a club here. I can easily think of several reasons I would understand why this person backed out. The obvious is that yes, as a survivor of the Holocaust, he might have felt overwhelmed by the theme of the event and realized after accepting the invite that it might be too emotional. Second, I don’t know how everyone else lives, but in my place of work, sudden work related social events come up and I can attend them or I can find a new job. My boss does not accept “but I had something planned with my friends in my social life so the client will have to wait” – to be blunt, my personal social calendar is not an acceptable excuse unless its a funeral or a wedding so if something like this happened to me – I know the *polite* answer is to put my job in jeopardy and attend my friend’s event, but realistically, who here would risk unemployment for the sake of courtesy?

    As it is, this man backed out in a reasonable amount of time – he gave the OP reasonable notice, and he offered to compensate the OP for the tickets. We don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t expect someone to risk their livelyhood in order to honor a committment to an evening out.

  • XH March 19, 2013, 9:33 am

    I find that I really can’t agree with Admin on this. A Survivor has every right to opt out of something that may be triggering at any time and they owe it to nobody to say that’s why they’re doing so – especially in the case where there will be public acknowledgement of the fact that they are a Survivor.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith March 19, 2013, 9:35 am

    Joel should have honored his word. I also think it’s potentially awkward to socialize with your boss and here we see a case in point. Friends are friends and co-workers, colleagues, clients, managers and bosses are best left in the professional category. That can be hard to do when you spend so many hours together and have a camraderie based on collaboration. The relationship can have real interpersonal depth- but it’s not a personal relationship. In OP’s case, her boss had no real fear of a personal response when he reneged on his word- she’s his employee. In the case of people whose social networks are entirely voluntary and unconstrained by professional and business ties, withdrawal of fellowship and loss of standing in the social network would be the natural consequence of boorish behavior. Load on other more primary elements, however (boss? client? office manager?) and you are “slotted” into that dynamic in many cases. I’m guessing that OP’s boss and her husband felt that she should have intrinsically understood the reasoning behind a decision to “serve” a client at the expense of an employee. Business and social forms don’t mix well. So- it might be wisest to keep the two spheres discrete.

  • WildIrishRose March 19, 2013, 9:35 am

    Well, like I said in my follow-up comment, I don’t think Joel and/or his wife would have had an issue with this concert–he talked about his family’s experiences in Germany often, and he had visited the Holocaust Museum and talked about how great that was. Given these facts, I honestly do not believe the concert would have been troubling for them. If that were the case, I’m pretty sure he would have declined the invitation in the beginning. And if I hadn’t known about the visit to the museum, and I hadn’t heard a number of stories of his family during the time I worked for him, I would never have invited them in the first place. I’m not THAT insensitive.

    Surianne, I used the word “exciting” once, to describe the meeting of a liberator and one of the people he had helped to liberate, and “excited” once, to describe how I felt about this upcoming concert–the way I feel about EVERY concert we do, but this one had special meaning. I didn’t use any variation of the word “several” times, so I don’t see how there is something “off” about the story. And frankly, when I invited Joel, HE expressed excitement as well, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from here.

  • Cherry March 19, 2013, 9:36 am

    I am not sure why anyone should express “elation” at an event like this. It is surely one that commands a respectfulness and consideration, not elation. Something is a little off here in how OP is presenting this. I get the impression Joel was almost pressed into attending and when the opportunity arose to get out of it, that is exactly what he did. Not polite certainly, but perhaps understandable.

  • Tricia March 19, 2013, 9:48 am

    At least Joel was honest about it and didn’t make up something (I’m sick *cough cough*). On the other hand, he had quite a bit of nerve to tell the OP that he would be attending a woman’s (that sounds like an aquaintance) birthday party instead of the concert. No shame at all.

    #1. If he WAS uncomfortable with the Holocaust concert, he should have been honest about that with the OP about it. It is his responsibility to communicate.

    #2. Should he have had any hesitation because of the subject matter of the concert, he should have said to the OP that he needed to discuss with his wife and think about it.

    #3. Once he accepted, he should have kept his word – regardless of whether the Grandma is a relative of a client, a relative of his or a relative of Santa Claus. It doesn’t matter the relationship – personal or business. He gave his word. He should have kept it. Period.

    I agree that we live in a society in which it is perfectly acceptable to RSVP yes to EVERYTHING, with little to no intention of keeping one’s word, or to never RSVP and decide at the last minute which offer looks most appealing. I admit, it’s an easy thing to do with big events or with acquaintances of mine. I have tried to be more concious of it, but it’s so widely accepted and practiced. I always make an extra effort to RSVP quickly and accurately when responding to a close friend’s invitation for something. I am always surprised that some of my closest friends put my events that I invite them to under the “We’ll wait and see” category. I admit – that hurts.

    I remember one instance in which I was throwing a big event at my house (if I remember correctly, it was my Open House party – celebrating finishing my six month renovation completion. I’m a decorator and event planner – so it was quite a shindig! So much fun!). One of my best friends hadn’t RSVP’ed yes or no. I talk to her on almost a daily basis and she kept hemming and hawing around about her RSVP. I didn’t probe too much as to why (mostly to avoid getting my feelings hurt) but the gist of it appeared to be that she wanted to see what kind of mood her and her boyfriend were in that particular evening and didn’t want to commit until she was sure. The evening of the party, friends are arriving at my house, the d.j. is spinning, the bartender is pouring the drinks like crazy, the food is beautifully laid out….we’re having a blast. I get a call from my friend and I ask her if she is on her way. She then proceeds to grill me about what kind of food I am serving, because they are trying to determine if they are going to eat out or come to my party instead. I told her not to worry, go out and enjoy her evening however she chooses, but I had a house full of people and could not spend time convincing her my party was worth attending. I said a polite goodbye and left it at that.

    To this day, she has never brought that up again. We are still friends but my expectations of her have changed. A lot.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this epidemic is going away 🙁

  • Lola March 19, 2013, 10:00 am

    If Joel is a partner in the OP’s law firm, then client relationships are not just his livelihood — but the firm staff’s livelihood as well. You think anyone would really be thrilled to go to an 85-year-old’s birthday? It’s an obligation he must keep in order to maintain cash flow for his business, his employees, and himself. Joel apologized and offered to reimburse OP for the tickets. And while him being a Holocaust survivor is deemed irrelevant by eHell Dame, I would loathe to cast into eHell someone who had gone through a real one.

  • Politrix March 19, 2013, 10:07 am

    I disagree with the Admin on this as well, and I think pretty much all the above posts explain why, so I won’t repeat what’s been said… but I should add: even if it wasn’t a Holocaust Memorial concert, Joel did the right thing by expressing his regrets and offering to reimburse OP for the tickets. As far as “keeping one’s word even when it results in a financial loss,” I’m not quite sure what the Admin means. If you bought tickets to a baseball game, only to realize after the fact that you gave your word you’d be at your friend’s daughter’s birthday party, then yes, I can understand “sustaining a financial loss” by attending the party, even if you’re unable to return/resell the tickets. But possibly offending (and risking the loss of) a long-time client, simply in order to “keep one’s word” to attend your employee’s concert that may or may not evoke really bad memories and feelings of loss? (Keep in mind that if the OP worked for Joel, the loss of that client could affect the OP directly.) Probably not a good move. Now, if Joel appeared breezy and cavalier about the whole thing and just said, “oh well, them’s the breaks,” I could see being a little put-off. But to my understanding, he DID sincerely apologize, and offered to reimburse OP for the cost of the tickets, so in my etiquette book (which clearly states that we shouldn’t hold a grudge against someone for one instance of having to break a commitment because of unavoidable circumstances) I’d give Joel a pass.
    But maybe you should re-think inviting him and his wife to any more Holocaust-related events. 😉

  • Saucygirl March 19, 2013, 10:30 am

    I wrote my first comment before ops responses were shown. Now that I see her responses I agree that it isnt about the holocaust or pain of memories. It seems more just that they really weren’t friends and Joel wanted to do something with someone he had an active relationship with. Is this wrong? Maybe, but personally I understand it. I have limited social time and if I have to choose between an emotional event where I am not actually interacting with the person who invited me (who he obviously isn’t even close to given the fact that you’ve gone years without having “a reason” to talk) and a party with someone I do have an ongoing relationship with, I’m picking the party. Again, it may be wrong, but for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t sound like you all had a real relationship, and I think that does need to be factored in.

  • Anonymous March 19, 2013, 10:30 am

    1. As for “socializing with your boss,” I don’t think WildIrishRose works for Joel anymore. She said that she worked for him “several years ago,” and the concert was “a few years ago.” So, I took that to mean that she worked at Joel’s law firm, then she moved on to something else, then the concert about the Holocaust came up, and she maintained a positive relationship with Joel throughout all that.

    2. I agree with the poster upthread who said that it seems kind of weird to invite your lawyer to your mother’s birthday party, unless they had a friendship (or whatever) that predated the business relationship. I know that, on some TV shows and in some movies, there are rich people who have family lawyers in the same way that some/most people have family doctors and/or dentists, and that one person becomes “their lawyer” for whatever legal issues may come up over the course of a lifetime, but I’ve never known anyone who did that in real life, because most people don’t HAVE a lot of “legal issues” in their lives, and unlike the doctor or the dentist, you don’t have to visit the lawyer on a regular basis for check-ups.

    3. Even if Joel had no trouble attending Holocaust-related events from an emotional standpoint, just in general, a lot of middle-aged-and-older men have trouble expressing their emotions, so saying “I don’t think I can handle that concert, because it’d just bring up too many negative memories,” could be difficult–not for Joel, obviously, but in general. Also, being in a high-level professional position could compound that. One thing about being a lawyer (and I’m not one, I just know a lot of them) is that you have to put on a “poker face” a lot of the time, for a lot of reasons–so you don’t get emotionally affected by things your clients say, and so the lawyer opposite you in court doesn’t see a sign of “weakness” in you, and use that to his or her advantage……so, I’d imagine that it’s probably difficult to take that mask off outside of work. So, saying “I have to go to a birthday party” is emotionally easier.

    4. Where was the birthday party located? Would it have been possible for Joel to attend the concert, and then catch the tail end of the party (if the party was in the evening), or attend the beginning of the party, but then leave for the concert after the birthday cake or whatever? Maybe this really was one of those “tacitly mandatory” social events, and maybe Joel was subpoena’ed to attend that after he’d reserved his and his wife’s tickets to the concert, and maybe the events were at the exact same time, or maybe there was travel involved. The only one who knows about the logistics involved would be Joel, and he isn’t here.

  • Surianne March 19, 2013, 10:43 am

    Slartibartfast, that’s a very good point about the concert not being social plans. Didn’t think to mention that in my own post, and I do think that makes it quite different than backing out of plans to spend time with the OP.

  • CatToo March 19, 2013, 10:48 am

    I disagree with the admin on one point only. Joel should simply have declined the new, later invitation with “Oh, I’m so sorry, we have plans that can’t be moved that evening.” No need to go into exactly what those plans are, and too often, explaining what the plans are leaves open the “judging” as to whether they should have cancelled or not, rather than the simple understanding of “prior commitment, doesn’t really matter what it is. It already exists.”

  • Lerah99 March 19, 2013, 11:23 am

    It seems to me that Joel saw both of these events as “business” commitments.
    One, his employee was performing and had invited him.
    Two, his client had a family event and wanted Joel to be present.

    Joel pays the OP, but Joel is paid by his client.

    When confronted with conflicting business needs, he chose the one that would best suit his business.

    In addition, he contacted the op and let her know he would not attend. He also offered to reimburse her for the tickets. That offer of reimbursement is also a sign that this is business and not personal to Joel.

    OP, I am sorry that your feelings were hurt by Joel’s decision to cancel his plans to see you perform. You had an event that you felt he would have a particular interst in seeing and you were proud to be a part of it.

    I believe from Joel’s point of view this was strictly a business decision and no snub towards you was intended.

  • Shoegal March 19, 2013, 11:38 am

    Perhaps this guy had a valid personal reason for not attending and he made up the birthday of his client’s mother – whatever. But seriously, if it is true, what 85 year old woman at this stage in her life would want some relative stranger at her party? I can’t imagine that besides business reasons – why he’d want to go. Horrible excuse I have to tell you.

    In the general sense – I hate the whole RSVP business where everyone waits to commit afraid that some better opportunity will present itself.

  • remi March 19, 2013, 11:44 am

    I have a hard time believing that he would be invited to a client’s mother’s birthday party without being friends of the family, and I would be silently unimpressed if a close friend said “I’m sorry I can’t go to your mother’s 85th birthday party, but an acquaintance invited me to a community choir event, and since she asked first I can’t change my plans.” One is an intimate, friendly invitation and one is much more impersonal. Besides, even if they aren’t close friends as the invitation would imply, it’s kind of ridiculous to presume that somebody would be willing to lose a client or in some cases their jobs, just because you want them at your concert. There’s also the point that the birthday party is a social thing, whereas the choir is not. The OP would not be interacting with Joel, but would be on stage performing for the whole evening. Him cancelling was not a direct rejection of plans he made with the OP, it was him finding he could not attend an impersonal event because a personal one came up.

    Also, I would have to disagree that cancelling an RSVP is always and in itself rude. Sure, it’s annoying when somebody accidentally double-books their weekend or something else comes up, but there are lots of annoying things in life, we have to deal with that. As long as the person cancelling is polite about it (which I think Joel was, since he apologized and offered to reimburse the OP for the tickets), there’s really nothing to be offended about, and frequently the plans that come up are something that would be hard to avoid. It’s rather entitled to think that just because you spoke up first, you’ve got “dibs” on that person’s evening, no matter what is going on in their lives. Sometimes manners depend on the context, and in my opinion it’s more rude to reject an important personal event because courtesy dictates that you can never ever cancel a plan no matter what, than it is to cancel your plans to the less-important event in order to do something intimate with family or close friends.

  • spartiechic March 19, 2013, 11:52 am

    I see a lot of people making pretty big assumptions in the comments. If he were bothered by the concert, he could have come right out and said so. I’ll bet the OP would have been disappointed, but would have understood. Instead, he says he is going to his client’s mother’s birthday party. I completely agree with the admin, here. If you made one committment, to back out for another is rude. I understand that this is a work related event, but it isn’t even the client’s birthday. It’s the client’s mother’s birthday. He could have politely declined, but chose to pick the event that would have more in it for him. It’s like he’s saying, “sure, I’ll come…what’s in it for me?” I’ve had to do many things for work, but my word is my bond. If I say I’ll be there, I’m there. Is this the way he runs his law firm? I’ll take your case, unless I get a client with a bigger pocketbook. It’s just plain rude.

  • Goldie March 19, 2013, 12:00 pm

    I have both Holocaust victims and a Holocaust survivor (who passed away a few years ago) in my close family. I agree with the commenters that said it may have been too much for Joel and his wife. Maybe he originally agreed because he was trying to be polite, but then thought about it, realized that he couldn’t do it, and backed out the best way he could. (He also probably thought that citing another commitment would be more polite than just saying “I cannot do it”?)

    I’ve been to the museum in DC, as well. IMO a museum visit is not the same as a concert, where he can be noted and put on the spot as a living survivor and guest of honor. The latter is a lot more pressure on the attendee in my opinion.

    Also, based on the fact that Joel was a small child during the Holocaust, he has to be at least 75, so I’d give him a break because of his age. It’s not always easy to think straight and come up with the best solutions when you are 75 (my parents’ age).

    Personally I would have stayed loyal to my original commitment, but I’m 45 and not a Holocaust survivor. I just don’t have it in me to be angry at someone like Joel for not following etiquette all the way. He tried his best.

  • Cass March 19, 2013, 12:01 pm

    One of the things that I get very frustrated by about this tendency to RSVP yes to everything, then to cherry-pick through what you want to do is the child’s birthday party. My 8-year-old niece has had a number of birthday parties where an entire class of 20+ kids accepted the invitation, and then on the day of, either none of them turned up or one other family turned up.

    What the heck are parents doing? Other than telling their kids that honouring their word isn’t important and other children can have their feelings hurt if the parents feel like they want to do something else, I mean. I can understand the emergency, at least in that age group – you don’t know when you RSVP that your child is going to wake up sick that morning – but I can’t understand it when it’s 19-20 children that don’t show up. And there’s never, ever a phone call explaining that there has been an emergency. The parents just decide to no-show. And, clearly, think that NO ONE ELSE is going to no-show, so they won’t be missed.

  • Brenda March 19, 2013, 12:19 pm

    My parents have always owned their own businesses. I work as a legal secretary. These factors are going to affect my response to the OP and Admin.

    OP was very sweet and generous to buy the tickets and send them to Joel. She did clear it with him first, and he agreed and was interested.

    With little notice, Joel backs out because of a birthday party for the mother of a client. He does offer to reimburse OP for the tickets, but she declines.

    Here’s where my introduction comes in: Unless a lawyer works for a large firm, he is a small business. He provides a service for which he is paid by the hour. He is dependent on the goodwill he has built up with his clients. He is usually on call 24/7, depending on the type of law he practices. And if he has a client who provides a good chunk of his income, or who has influence on other clients, then if that client says, “Jump,” Joel may very well have to respond, “How high?”

    Since we don’t know the identity of the client, anything we say would be assumptive, but I would like to set up a hypothesis. Joel probably networks through his local temple, with the result being his clients are not only clients, but part of his community. This is common for small business. If he were to upset one client, it could affect his relationships with many other clients in that community. Again, this is common for many small businesses, not just Jewish ones.

    Joel might well have preferred a night out with his wife at the concert. But if the client is a friend, part of his faith community, and/or influential, Joel may have felt he had no option. The difference between most small businesses and a lawyer’s practice is that clients are often in a vulnerable state with seeing a lawyer. Their lawyer is not the person who makes sure their windows are clean, suits are pressed, or plumbing works; their lawyer is the person who helps them through preparing wills and trusts, or helping in a criminal matter, or protects them in civil complaints, or with real estate, or insurance matters, etc., so the relationship between a client and their lawyer can often involve friendship.

    Please consider the possible affects on Joel and his practice if he had refused to attend the birthday party. Again, we don’t know the circumstances, but neither does the OP.

  • MichelleP March 19, 2013, 12:37 pm

    Completely with admin. The OP had every right to be hurt.

    @Slartibartfast, this was a social occasion in every way. The OP invited him and his wife as guests, she did not sell him the tickets. Business had nothing to do with it.

    There is no excuse for Joel backing out. If he didn’t think he could handle it he shouldn’t have agreed to go. I agree with Tricia; our society seems to have no problem with not following up on plans anymore.

    Different note, same subject: I invited other children to my daughter’s birthday party last year. Two people RSVP’d, not one person showed up. My daughter was devastated. (I was the OP in Cake Yes, Party No.) I won’t ever host an event again, because no one seems to care enough to RSVP or show up.

  • MichelleP March 19, 2013, 12:46 pm

    @Rap, if your job doesn’t allow you to make plans at all, you need to find another job. No job is worth alienating friends and family. If that isn’t feasible, don’t accept invitations if you know there’s a chance you can’t go.

    I’m a single working mother and a student, and I have time to RSVP and show up for events that I’m invited to. If I know there’s a chance work will interfere, I don’t accept the invitation.

  • the-not-so-divine-miss-M March 19, 2013, 1:20 pm

    Well, I find that I disagree with the admin, for the first time ever.
    As I see it, there are two main views of viewing this.- either it is a business transaction (the poster is a performer and invites and sells tickets to the event, as stated in the original post), in which case the lawyer’s decision to bow out and offer to reimburse the tickets is a transaction completely in line with the business aspect; or, it is a personal transaction, a friendly (if not friendship) interaction, in which case, yes, there is place in e-hell for bowing out of a commitment, but then there should be room enough to note a) the possibility that such an experience could prove too much of an emotional experience (even if the lawyer attended a museum and gushed, these emotional experiences of confrontation with the holocaust are VERY draining for survivors and families, and it may be a question of “I cannot spare that emotional expense right now”), and b) that the lawyer was kind enough to think of reimbursing an expense held by a friend on account of his own necessitated choices. And while I was brought up to think that a commitment should always be honoured, I also know that in some cases of painful, emotional trauma, some less-than-stellar choices have to be made sometimes; and so I shocked the community when I didn’t visit my mother’s grave for a full year after her death, because doing so would have been my undoing. Ah, but this is bereavement you say, an entirely different kettle of fish. Not really. The holocaust was nothing but bereavement and pain and grief.

    Either way, I cannot blithely join the critical voices condoning the lawyer straight to e-hell.

  • MaRiley March 19, 2013, 1:28 pm

    Aside from the OP’s description of the circumstances, one thing that stands out to me is that this occurred several years ago and it’s still troubling to her. Keeping the slight that she felt (feels) so fresh is hurting her and perhaps by bringing it to the attention of this forum, she may be hoping for approval of her hurt.

    Whether the lawyer and his wife were able to attend the National Holocaust Museum exhibits is irrelevant to this invitation. But if they were uncomfortable about attending for emotional or any other reason is really not anyone’s business. It sounds as if he expressed gratitude for tickets and offered to reimburse her. I understand her hurt and I hope she can let it go now.

  • Lo March 19, 2013, 1:29 pm


    In response to your explanation, I wanted to clarify that obviously you know your former employer better than we do so only you are in a position to judge whether or not they might have chosen not to go due to their own personal feelings.

    I just wanted to offer that in cases where events hold major significance to the attendees, it gives you an easy out to not get your feelings hurt if you assume that there was a valid and possibly personal reason that they couldn’t come. In a breach of etiquette if a person is outright rude it’s one thing, but if a social expectation isn’t being met I always abide by the adage that if there are a couple of ways an action can be perceived then it’s always better to assume the one that causes less offense. This isn’t about rationalizing their decisions so much as it’s about protecting my feelings. Better to assume the reason must have been good for them to drop an event he seemed eager to attend.

  • The Elf March 19, 2013, 1:52 pm

    I agree with the Admin on this, for the most part. When you make a commitment, you keep it. I can think of a couple of exceptions to that beyond some sort of emergency, but even those depend on a close relationship and a casual commitment in the first place. (i.e. two best friends getting together to go shopping, one friend is exhausted from a week’s work and begs off. Perfectly okay, especially that sort of excuse making doesn’t happen very often.)

    In this case, we’re dealing with a very touchy subject: the Holocaust. Even decades after the fact, the pain to survivors can be immense. While OP has good reason to be upset about the change in plans, and that this client’s mother’s birthday is no reason to switch the plans, I’d encourage the OP to consider that maybe Joel or Joel’s wife was upset enough by the nature of the event that they looked for an excuse to back out. That may not be the reason at all, but it’s such a charged topic that it could be. It doesn’t change anything, but maybe OP would feel better about the refusal under that reasoning than the profit one.

  • Michelle C Young March 19, 2013, 2:05 pm

    Does Joel even KNOW the birthday celebrant? In my opinion, if you don’t know the person being celebrated, you have no business being there, unless you are actually partnered with one of the people who DO have business being there.

    For example, John’s grandmother is celebrating her 85th birthday. He has recently met a wonderful girl, and asked her to date him, exclusively. She agreed, and they are now a couple, so he asks her to attend Granny’s birthday party with him, so he can introduce her to Granny. His sister, Jessica, is also dating a wonderful man, but they have not agreed to make it exclusive, as they are still in the “getting to know you” stage. She informs her friend that she will be attending Granny’s party, and that she will not be available for any dates at that time.

    For any other people not actually connected to Granny, they should attend only if Granny, herself, asks for their presence. “Philip! Remember that man you introduced me to a few months back, the one you do business with? Bob? I like him. Do please invite him to the party.”

  • Michelle C Young March 19, 2013, 2:10 pm

    I do agree with the posters who brought up the possibility that Joel realized too late that this might be triggering for him or his wife. Under ordinary circumstances, he should keep his word to go. However, he should not put himself or his wife into a triggering situation, if he can avoid it.

    If that were the case, though, he ought to say it up front. “I’m sorry to cause you inconvenience, when you’ve been so kind, and put you out the money that you spent on the tickets. However, I find that the closer we get to the date of the concert, the more I find myself dreading it. I’m terribly afraid it will trigger horrible memories for me or my wife, and it would be terribly awkward if either one of us had a melt-down at your concert. I’m very sorry, but I think we’d best back out.”

    Speaking as someone who has had a melt-down from a triggering event (years ago, as a teenager), I’m ashamed I didn’t think of that, in the first place, and I agree that for such a situation, one should be understanding and forgive the change of plans.

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