Dear Mrs. Bluth,
This is a horrible and frightening time of year for me, one which I dread thinking about all year long. I can’t think of how it could get any worse, judging by last year’s fiasco, but if it does, my family, as we once knew it, will be torn apart beyond repair.
We are six sisters and three brothers, all married to date, with thirty-two children between us. Baruch Hashem, our childhood home was very large: ten bedrooms, six bathrooms and ample space for all of us. When were growing up, we were the envy of all our friends.
The reason for the size of our house related to a neighbor of ours, a Holocaust survivor for whom my mother would shop and cook. My mother always said she was cooking for an army anyway, adding food for one more was not a big deal. Well, one snowy day in December, our neighbor, Mrs. Goldstein, passed away.
As we were the closest thing she had to family, my father, who was already saying kaddish for one of his brothers, agreed to say kaddish for her as well. A few weeks after the levaya, my parents received a letter from her attorney informing them that she left all her worldly possessions, including an amazing amount of money and her house, to our family.
As her house was directly next to ours, the first thing my parents did was combine the two houses into one. The second thing they did was tell us that in order for us to each have our own room, we had to promise that we would come home for one Yom Tov every year, no matter who we married, where we lived or how many children we had. We discussed it and decided on Sukkos. We laughed at the prospect of always being stuck together, at least for eight days, once a year. My parents had us sign a paper agreeing to this, and it was never spoken of again.
Years passed, we all grew up and married and before each chuppah, along with a pair of pearl earrings for her daughters and cufflinks for her sons, my mother gave us a copy of the signed agreement we had made so very long ago.
My parents various machatanim never minded as the couples could be with them on any other Yom Tov, and it became tradition. Each Sukkos we all came home with our families – and looked forward to doing so.
Children started arriving and the huge house began to fill up and get crowded, not to mention the noise level, but still, even with the minor arguments that sprang up between the young cousins, and even some of the adults, it was still manageable. The basement was converted into more bedrooms, as was the double garage, and dormers were added.
But as the family grew, so did the arguments and the fighting. Biting words, hurtful comments, angry come-backs and sadly, even some physical pay-back, became more and more the norm. My mother’s heart broke, I know, as she witnessed the situation getting worse each year, at seeing us become divided and cruel to one another, not speaking, taking sides and even influencing our children to avoid contact with certain cousins. But she always reminded us that we had made a pact and promised to keep the family together for at least eight days, even if the rest of the year we had no contact.
Our father passed away six years ago and our mother died last year. This year, we will gather in an empty cavern of a house that holds a multitude of memories for all of us, but some of us will be hostile, divided and prepared for war. This year, there will be no one to rein us in, to remind us that we are one family and the purpose for why we are together. I dread the thought of what will happen when arguments break out and there is no mother there to smooth things over.
But all of us will come. We gave our word.
The question is will we survive it? Can we survive it?
Can you help us?
So much beauty and sadness in one letter! How amazing that your parents could have had the foresight to ensure that their family would stay together. How selfless and giving they were, so much so that Hakadosh Boruch Hu enabled them to sustain that beautiful dream of achdus amongst their children and grandchildren for so many years, as a result of their chesed to another person.
There is so much you and your siblings can emulate here in your reactions to each other. Your parents exemplified the middos of achdus, v’ahavta le’rayacha, and ahavas Yisroel. If only all of you could learn from them.
Your parents, may their neshamos have an aliyah, foresaw could happen to their children because it is the story of Klal Yisroel. Just as our Heavenly Father made provisions for His children throughout out our existence, so did your parents, by ensuring that you and your children would always come together, love each other and be one cohesive family. “Hinay ma’tov u’ma’naaim, sheves achim gam yachad,” was their hope and dream and how much pain they must be experiencing at the lack of cohesiveness they see.
Since you were the one to reach out, my thought is that you should become the designated peace maker. Yes, it will be an arduous and frightening undertaking, but to honor the memory of your blessed parents, you need to try. You have nothing to lose and, with Hashem’s help, much to gain. You stand to bring your fractured family together in the home where peace and love once permeated.
I suggest that you arrange a meeting with those of your family who live near you and conference-call the ones who don’t. Make sure their spouses are part of this meeting. Begin the conversation by reminding everyone of the time your parents made the original suggestion of you each having your own room and the conditions upon which it hinged.
I think this loving memory will serve as an ice-breaker and hopefully, as you continue talking, you can clear the air and reach amicable resolutions to the issues diving you. This will, hopefully, ensure a beautiful Yom Tov spent together.
In case you all don’t know this, those contracts you signed those many years ago as little kids, are really not legally binding. However, it is an emotionally-binding document that should serve as a reminder that walls and doors, miles and distance, years and life, should not impede on the connection and love that unites a family. Your parents wanted you all to remember that life is short, family is everything and love and respect for one another is what Hashem wants from His children.
I want to wish you hatzlocha in this endeavor and to thank you for sharing the situation with us. Please let us know how it works out.
To one and all, a Shanah Tovah U’mesuka, one that is filled with brocha, good health and simcha!