Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2002/ 4 Adar 5762

Sisterhood on the line; Time to cross Ts on ex?

By Wendy Belzberg -- Two years ago I attended my grandmother's unveiling in Florida. My sister and brother-in-law arrived late, delaying the start of the memorial service. My brother-in-law was dressed in sandals, shorts, a torn tee shirt and no yarmulke. I took my sister aside and asked, "How could your husband come to grandma's unveiling dressed like this?" My sister's response was "Who are you to say anything about my husband?"

The following day my mother informed me that my sister would not speak to me again until I apologized for having criticized her husband. Since that time I have sent my sister and her husband cards on all of the Jewish holidays, a fax and two emails. My mothers say I must phone to apologize. I feel that I have done nothing wrong.

A: Too bad your mother is more invested in her role as a middleman than as a peace broker. (The Yiddish word coch-leffel comes to mind.) Stop conferring with her and decide for yourself what you want to do. To call or not to call, that is the question.

Two years is a long time for an isolated incident to fester. I suspect that your sister was harboring resentment or ill-will long before you remarked on your brother-in-law's poor choice in graveside attire.

Faxes and emails never have been-and never will be--an effective way to resolve emotional conflict. If it makes you feel better to hear it from me, I don't think you did anything wrong, either. But you wouldn't have written to me if you were happy with the status quo. The argument between you and your sister ceased to be about right and wrong two years ago. To make peace with her you will have to swallow your pride-and your principle. A rational response to your sister's irrational stand will get you nowhere. Start dialing now. You and your sister may never again be friends, but at least you'll be speaking.

Q: My brother's divorce will be final in a few months. Things are getting nasty between him and my soon to be ex-sister-in-law. My family is civil to her, but things have become awkward. My problem is this: over the past year my soon to be ex-sister-in-law and my husband's sister have become good friends. My husband's sister now invites the soon-to be ex to the family functions on his side. This is very uncomfortable for us. I've already spoken to both women about this but to no avail. Am I being overly sensitive?

A: This is a matter for you and your husband. Why lead the charge alone and be viewed as the bitter, controlling sister/daughter-in-law. Your husband should protect your feelings-even if he does not agree with them-and speak to his sister about limiting her invitations where both you and your ex-sister-in law will be present. At least for the time being. Surely your loyalty to your brother takes precedence over a yearlong friendship.

For the record, I consider your sister-in-law's overtures to your ex-sister-in-law hostile behavior at worst, and odd behavior at best. If banning your ex-sister-in-law turns out to be impossible, excuse yourself politely from situations that you think may prove uncomfortable. Maybe some other members of the family will learn from you example.

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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg