Bowing Out of My Sister’s Wedding

Bowing Out of My Sister’s Wedding

By Rachel Stein /

Clasping the cream-colored envelope, I traced the gold-embossed letters with my finger. My heart plummeted as I read the names inside the invitation, and I wondered about the repercussions of this newest saga in my family.

Allow me to share a glimpse of our history. I wasn’t always religious or a fanatic, as I am now called. I grew up in the Reform tradition, and my parents and siblings were content with the level of our Judaism.

But something in me yearned for more; a yawning chasm couldn’t be satisfied. The weekly services with organ accompaniment and the Hebrew school education that ended once I turned 13 left me feeling empty. So I began to search, an investigation that ultimately led to my spending several years in an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel.

My family gaped at me when I returned clad in black velvet yarmulke, tzitzit and white shirt tucked inside black pants; they anxiously tried to find the son and brother they used to know.

My rabbis and teachers emphasized how important it is to live peacefully with my family. “Don’t let your newfound zeal turn them away from you,” they urged. “Show plenty of respect and love, and hopefully you’ll be able to bridge the gap.”

So I tried. I really did. I went out and bought my own small pots and a few other utensils and prepared my own food so as not to trouble my mother. I was always polite, and I prayed a lot, begging the Almighty for assistance. But they were angry.

“You mean you won’t eat this chicken stir fry and beef vegetable soup?” My mother was aghast. “I spent hours on it and went out of my way to make it for you! This used to be your favorite dinner!”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” I mumbled. “I appreciate all of your hard work.”

“Sure,” she groused, glaring at me through narrowed eyes. “Some appreciation.”

But when my sister, Lisa, announced her engagement, I knew I was in trouble.

“Now don’t cause friction,” my father warned. “This is your sister’s time, and we want her to be happy.”

A few weeks later I gulped, staring at the pile of invitations waiting to be addressed. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to the wedding.

You see, the Torah says a Jew is forbidden to marry a gentile. We respect everyone and are enjoined to sanctify G-d’s name among the nations. But we have a separate mission in this world, hand-delivered by G-d ever since we became His people on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago. That mission includes a commitment to be loyal to G-d and His commandments, one of which is not to intermarry.

“Can I go and stand on the sidelines?” I asked my rabbi.

“No, Dovid. By attending the ceremony, you will be showing tacit approval for what they are doing. I’m so sorry. I know how hard this will be for you. But you can’t attend.”

For a fleeting moment I toyed with the idea of becoming an airline steward. Then I could simply be out of town unexpectedly because of some travel glitch, and the whole unsavory issue could be avoided.

But although my heart ached, I understood this was not a time to show weakness. Love, yes. Respect, of course. Like Pinchas of old, who stepped forward to slay a fellow Jew for living with a Midianite princess, I intuited that my time had come. I had to stand up for G-d and for Judaism, even if my family wouldn’t understand.

“You’re breaking up the family!” my parents cried. “How can you do this?”

“You’re ruining my wedding!” Lisa yelled. “Why are you so selfish?”

Bowing my head, I walked out of the kitchen and left the house. Their pain resonated within me, and I picked up my pace, trying to outwalk the angst. I didn’t want to cause them such aggravation. But what could I do?

G-d said I can’t attend this wedding. And just as I must show respect and love for my family, don’t they also have to show respect for the way I follow my religion and uphold my principles?

Dear readers, what would you do in my position? Can you put yourselves in my shoes?

Please respond no later than Monday, Aug. 8, to have your response printed in the Aug. 19 column.

Shared Spirit is a column in which people share personal dilemmas. Readers are encouraged to assist by offering meaningful advice.

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