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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Dear Rachel,

Every now and then life throws us a curveball and we are forced to make hard decisions. I don’t know how well I can present my dilemma without stating all the facts, but I will try because I really need your advice and it would be impossible for me to go into all the background history relevant to this situation. Regardless, I’ll try to make myself as clear as I can.

We are a close-knit family and I am one of several sisters. We’ve always been devoted to one another and frequently guest in each other’s homes for simchas, holidays, or just for a Shabbos — our parents, whom we are all close to, included.

All of us are baruch Hashem married with growing families. So far so good, you’re thinking, and I agree. We have much to be grateful for. But things are not always as rosy as they may seem. One of us sisters has, since early childhood, been a demanding one. I don’t mean in a bratty or spoiled way; she has suffered from emotional disorders over the years that have invariably commanded undue attention at various stages in our lives.

As it happens, one sister has found herself with the brunt of the load. Chalk it up to “broader shoulders” or a soft touch persona, or both — the fact is that I have always made myself available to offer assistance in any and every way I could, despite the inconvenience or burden to my immediate family. I must add that this sister is fortunate to be blessed with a loving, understanding and uncomplaining spouse.

Rachel, I couldn’t possibly begin to describe the harrowing days and nights I’ve spent caring for this sister when she’s had her episodes (which I’d rather not elaborate on for confidential reasons). To have her get back on her feet and function in a normal capacity is all the thanks I’ve ever needed. My being there for her has always been a matter of genuine concern and dedication to one of our own in desperate need (which, I should say, included making certain she received the appropriate professional care).

I regret to say that it’s now been half a year since this sister and I have communicated, ever since she, her husband and their children spent the entire Pesach holiday in our home at our invitation. Suffice it to say that she came, stayed and exited as though she’d visited a hotel with all the amenities: room service, maid service and baby-sitting service. By the time Yom Tov came to a close, I was on the verge of mental and physical collapse.

To clarify, my sister was not ill or incapacitated in any way during this time. That she didn’t lift a finger or offer to help out is one thing. But Rachel, she didn’t even make a pretense of caring for her own children, one still a baby. Here I was, trying to juggle multiple tasks at once while cradling her baby in one arm and my own handful of children underfoot. (For the record, we are of modest means so it’s not like we enjoy the luxury of steady household help.)

But even this I’d have looked past — after all, inviting guests over doesn’t guarantee that they will lend a hand. It’s a chance you willingly take as hostess, and you try to cope with grace. The breaking point came on Motzei Yom Tov when my sister emerged from her “hotel suite” toting her wheelie luggage, her family in tow, and walked out of our house without so much as goodbye, let alone a “thanks for having us over.”

Don’t get this wrong; I have absolutely no regrets about the times I’d gone out of my way for my sister when she was in urgent need. It’s just that I feel there has to be some healthy boundaries in our relationship, and, truthfully, I am hurting way too much at being treated like a doormat. I’d have accepted an apology had she come to realize that she was in the wrong, but it never came. And forget the “have others speak to her” advice. Everyone in our family has tried, to no avail.

Incidentally, it just so happens that she and her family have recently moved out of state to a new community. Rachel, right now I need to know how to deal with the heaviness on my heart that’s becoming more acute as we get close to Yom Kippur, a time for healing rifts, not deepening them.

Feel justified, but still….

Dear Justified,

You’ve often stretched yourself thin for the benefit of your sister’s wellbeing and your kindness was surely appreciated, even if the extent of your devotion may not have been fully grasped. Just a thought: Can her disorders be a contributing factor in her admittedly odd behavior?

Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest for the trees, but the solution to your quandary actually lies in the last paragraph of your letter. Your sister’s move to another state provides you with the perfect icebreaker; you can send her a New Year card containing a generic greeting for a good, sweet year and an added personal note wishing the family mazel in their new home.

In this way you will have done the right thing without sacrificing your self-respect. Furthermore, the ball will now be in her court. Whether she picks it up or chooses not to, you will know in your heart that you have done all you can and then some.

To all our readers: During these ten days of repentance, it is appropriate for each of us to search our hearts for any slights we may have committed, unintended or other, and to make amends accordingly. In this vein, I beg forgiveness from any reader who may have taken any of my remarks out of context or was offended by them.

Wishing all of Klal Yisrael a G’Mar Chasima Tova!

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to  rachel@jewishpress.com  or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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