A friend of mine, an FFB Ben Torah, received this letter from his estranged intermarried niece as a response, to a family wedding invitation. His sister an avowed atheist who has since passed on; isolated herself from the family well over 50 years ago and raised her children as atheists.
The letter which is pretty self explanatory basically poses the classic challenge of “How are you going to accept my (non-Jewish) spouse?”; within the framework of the background of “my mother estranged herself from yiddishkeit but I grew up this way and is there any way for us to have common ground”. This is another twist on the timeless issue of how to deal with intermarried relatives, but when neither side has changed or forfeited their original lifestyle
Any ideas for a response or an approach?
– R’ Reuven
Here is the letter:
It has been a long time since you have heard from me so I have decided to share some of my thoughts with you so you would better understand what is behind that silence. I have felt confused about how to handle a relationship with you knowing we live in different worlds though we come from the same family. There is much you do not know or understand about my world and life and the same can be said about my dim knowledge about your life. I do however appreciate your reaching out and making some efforts to see me. I was curious to meet you and anxious to learn more about my mother’s years with a family destiny has cut me off from knowing. I wanted desperately to understand my own mother better since there was so much about her past she did not talk about or share with me. But there was a serious problem with our meetings we never addressed. How come we could not meet in my home where you could meet my husband who was made to feel left out of the picture as if he did not exist? I do not wish to exclude him from any future contact I would have with my family which has caused me to distance myself from you.
Last year I received an invitation to a wedding in your family and I was very pleased at the thought of meeting the family and being invited. There was something holding me back from feeling comfortable with the invitation. There was no mention of my husband. Was he also invited, would he have been welcome?
I do not foresee the possibility of close relations between us because of the complexity of the past and the differences in our lifestyles and life choices. However, some degree of communication could be possible, even desirable, if there would be some acknowledgement of the fact that my husband is part of the family dynamic. His exclusion is unnatural and hurtful to both of us. I know my mother left this world with many things unresolved in relation to her family and her tangled past. But I also know there were many painful things she could not talk about openly that bothered her, and one of them was how to resolve or bridge the rift between the family she was born into and the family she created and raised. I have no doubts that if we could find some way of overcoming these obstacles she would have been very pleased, especially since it was something she could never find a way of accomplishing in her own lifetime.
This letter is meant as a friendly gesture, a means of conveying what is on my mind and a chance for you to think about how you wish to handle our relationship. It is important to me that any relationship we might have include both me and my husband, for that is the family I belong to. You and your wife are welcome to visit us in our home in ……. where we have been living the last few years since our retirement.
I hope your family is well and that you are in good health.