Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001 / 29 Teves 5761


Naughty neighbor, unprofessional colleague is dead, I'm a Jew, now what?


By Wendy Belzberg

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- A work colleague of mine died suddenly last week. It was common knowledge at the office that we did not get along personally or professionally. It had got to the point that we barely spoke when we passed each other in the halls. Given our complicated relationship I feel uncomfortable writing his widow a note; I'm afraid that receiving a letter from me would be adding salt to the wound.

You didn't get along, but did you wish him dead? If you did, you are right, it would be disingenuous to write his widow a condolence note. Otherwise, it would not only be rude, it would be inhumane not to do so. You needn't gush about how you will miss him --- you may even want to give a nod to the fact that things were not always harmonious between you --- but I assume you can say that you respected him as a human being even if you did not always see eye to eye. I have momentous news for you: your former colleague's widow has many other things on her mind right now other than how you are feeling and the proper etiquette of acknowledging her husband's death.

I am 44 years old and I recently found out that I was adopted. Furthermore, I believe that I was born to a Jewish family. I was not raised as a Jew but I've always felt a strong affinity for Judaism. What kind of reception can I expect from the Jewish community as an adoptee searching for my birth family? Will I be accepted more readily if I was originally born to a Jewish family, like a "lost sheep" returning to the fold?

If your birth mother was Jewish, you are a Jew and will be acknowledged as such by the Jewish community. Otherwise, you may eventually decide you want to convert. Either way, there is a place for you.

It seems to me, however, that upon discovering at the age of 44 that you have based your life on only partial truths, you may want to focus instead on finding your birth parents. The only thing that matters is how the woman who gave you up for adoption will receive you. Her decision to allow you to find and meet her is a personal choice, not one dictated by religion or Jewish law. Even if there is a very compelling reason why the secret of your birth was kept from you for so long --- and it is hard to imagine that there is --- you will also have to come to terms with the family that raised you. You have your work cutout for you. Do not confuse your search for a family with your affinity for Judaism. The Jewish community has been there for centuries and will still be there once you solve some of the other, more pressing mysteries you face.

Ever since new neighbors moved in next door a series of strange events have taken place: a few of our trees have mysteriously "fallen" down, the city planning board wrote us saying our tree house was not within setback limits and would have to be moved, and my newspaper appears only half the time. Am I being paranoid to suspect my neighbor? I'm afraid that if I confront him there will be bad blood and living side by side would become awkward, or worse.

Did you fail to obey the cardinal rule and drop off a pound cake or bottle of wine the day your neighbors moved in?

If you haven't met the neighbors yet, walk over and introduce yourself. Bring homemade chocolate chip cookies and lure him into your confidence. Beware, it is not always easy to spot a tree-hacker or tree-house snitch. Sympathetically mention the series of bizarre events and gauge his facial and verbal response. Maybe you are just being paranoid. But if your neighbor gets a strange gleam in his eye, beat a fast retreat. Bring in the local police, neighborhood watch or a private investigator. Don't take him on yourself or, next thing you know, you may wake to find your cat's head next to you in bed.


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01/15/01: Rabbis who won't; when the rules of the 'game' change; ungracious grannies
01/08/01: My kid hates Hebrew school; Stay single or abandon heritage?
01/02/01: A Jewish Grinch? Baby bigots and when grandparents call it quits
12/18/00: Babes in Chanukah Land; my husband the kvetch; bad hair marriage?
12/04/00: My niece is a no-goodnik, when lifecycle events become dangerous, Orthodox v. Reform education
11/28/00: My ex is ruining my kids' souls; the mouth that won't stop
11/21/00: Battling brothers; how to keep a nanny
11/08/00: OY VEY! my son wants to become Orthodox; kiddies should avoid family therapy
11/08/00: Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law
10/24/00: Let him enlist?, 'My son the actor'? Eating with the 'help'
10/10/00:Tipsy teens, protective spouses, kosher common-sense
10/03/00: I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer
09/25/00: I can't take Rosh Hashanah! Something for nothing? My husband needs a dinner mate
09/18/00: 'My kids' Jewish education stinks', boyfriend bandit, and single mother not by choice
09/11/00: Bris brouhaha breaks my heart, LET ME SLEEP! --- and Why can't I hold a job?
09/05/00: Righteous anger, 'dissed' daughter --- and how not to make a match
08/21/00: When one spouse becomes more religious than the other; "But the cleaning lady is part of the family!"; Why He invented 9-month gestation periods
08/21/00: 'Fessing up to granny about abandoning one's people, non-kosher sis-in-law, and 'my niece is marrying a loser'
08/14/00: Marrying 'in' for questionable motivations; Should a do-gooder be reimbursed?
08/07/00: Communing with the clouds, betrothal, and banishing bosses
07/28/00: Small-city guys, self-centered siblings
07/21/00: When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it
07/14/00: Divorcing brother-in-law, uncampy kids, and a dot.comer who makes it big time
07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'

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© 2001, Wendy Belzberg