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The Pain Of A Family Torn Apart (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I feel embarrassed to write to you about the conflicts that are tearing our family apart, but I have no recourse. I have tried many avenues; however none have worked and I am hoping that, if you publish my letter, the people involved will recognize themselves and perhaps get the message.

We are a family of seven children. I am the youngest, and, Baruch Hashem, all of my siblings are married with families of their own. My father passed away six years ago after a short and painful battle with cancer of the colon – something that could have been avoided had he only gone for a colonoscopy. Mind you, we tried to tell him on many occasions that he should go for this simple examination and he always assured us that one of these days he would. Finally, one day he did agree to go and called for an appointment, but when he found out what the preparations for a colonoscopy entailed, he changed his mind and cancelled the appointment.

I share all this with you, not because it’s relevant to the problem about which I am writing, but because I would like people to know how important it is to take advantage of the many preventive measures that are available to us today in health care. Cancer of the colon is one disease that can be avoided with just a little foresight and care.

My father’s death hit us hard. He was young – only 70, in good health and active in his business. My mother never made a move without him. She was totally dependent upon him, not only for financial decisions, but also in all in all family matters, my father was always the one in charge.

And now, to the immediate problem which has prompted me to write. Three years ago, two of my sisters, who were always very close, got into a nasty tiff. Should you ask me what it was all about, I honestly couldn’t tell you. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that they themselves can pinpoint the cause of the animosity that overnight erupted between them. Unfortunately, despite the irrationality of it all, the fight escalated to the point where there was no talking to them.

Both my sisters are married…both have lovely families, one with four children, the other with six; both my brothers-in-law, Baruch Hashem, are working. And while, like many others, they have had their ups and downs in our depressed economy, they have managed to keep afloat, so they have much to be grateful for. But as it so often happens in life, those who should be grateful, take Hashem’s blessings for granted.

Admittedly, one of my brothers-in-law is more successful than the other. He can afford to take his family on vacations and indulge them in other luxuries. I mention this because it has occurred to be that the acrimony that is tearing them asunder may be rooted in jealousy. The only problem with this theory is that my more affluent sister has no reason to be jealous, so why is she carrying on? What is her problem? Why all this hatred?

When I discussed this with my best friend, whom I trust, she advised me not to get involved. “Just ignore them,” she said. “Stay out of it.” But that’s easier said than done. First of all, my poor mother, who has yet to recover from my father’s death, is totally devastated from this family infighting. She doesn’t stop crying for minute. It’s terrible for me to see her pain.

As I explained, all my siblings are out of the house. I am the only one living at home, and I have to deal with this on a daily basis. The rippling effects of this family infighting have been inestimable. Every family simcha has become torturous. My sisters refuse to be seated at the same table, and if we talk to one, the other considers it a betrayal. So no matter what we do, we can’t win.

People outside of the family have become aware of the problem since they openly tell friends and relatives not to invite them if the other will be present. There’s much gossip and, to say the least, it’s very unpleasant. Now, as if this were not enough, they have injected their venom into their children, so that the next generation is also affected. Cousins, who yesterday were close, have become enemies. I have no way of describing my mother’s suffering or the damage that all this has inflicted on our entire family, so it’s easy enough for my friend to say “Ignore it,” but how can I? It’s in my face day and night.

I myself am 21 and in the shidduch parshah. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any good shidduch recommendations, and it has come back to me that people do not want to get involved with a family that is torn by so much nastiness and hatred. Believe me, Rebbetzin, I tried to speak to my sisters, not once, but on many occasions, only to have each of them accuse me of being biased toward the other and unwilling to let bygones be bygones.

My poor mother tried to talk to them as well, but she is no match for them. When they start their tirades, my mother falls apart and dissolves in tears. As it is, since my father’s death, she has been very depressed, but now, her mental state has deteriorated thousand-fold. I have spoken with my other siblings about this as well and they are very upset, but they are involved with their own families. I am the only one who lives at home with mom and sees and hears her agonizing day and night.

The yamim tovim are the hardest. Before you know it, Chanukah will be here. There was a time when our entire family would get together for a Chanukah chagigah – celebration – but since this insanity started, every yom tov has been a nightmare and I can’t bear to see what it has done to our dear mother, and for that matter, to all of us.

If only my sisters would come to their senses – we could have so much nachas…. but how can we make them see this? How can we make them understand that they are not only destroying the family, but they are also destroying themselves?

I tried to appeal to my brothers-in-law, but they are of no help. I get the feeling that they have a hidden agenda in allowing this conflict to go on. My sisters were always very close to the family, which my brothers-in-law may have resented and I think that they derive some perverse pleasure in seeing the family splintered. Since they were never particularly close to my parents, they don’t mind seeing a wall built between their wives and the rest of the family.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my letter, all of my siblings read your column. From my earliest memories, our family always read your articles – it was a part of our Shabbos. Therefore, I decided to write to you in the hope that when my sisters read this, they will recognize themselves and take action. So even if you do not wish to respond publicly and consider that our problem would be best resolved in a private meeting, I still hope you will publish my letter so that they may have a wake-up call and be open to meeting with you.

Please forgive the length of this letter, but as I was writing, it occurred to me that there surely must be other families that are suffering the same way and would benefit from seeing this letter in print and recognize the terrible destruction that is left in the wake of family conflicts.

Thank you so much

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