Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review May 7, 2003 / 5 Iyar, 5763


Give a house, lose a daughter?;
death doings; open season on sis-in-law


By Wendy Belzberg


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: I am the father of 2 wonderful daughters: one recently got married and the other is a single mother with 2 children. I am in a position to secure a home equity loan at a low rate and I would like to help buy a house for my single daughter and her children. My concern is that my other daughter will feel resentful. Even though she and her husband can afford to buy their own home, she thinks it is unfair that her sister get a house "for free." She was not appeased by my reassurance that I would make it up to her in her inheritance. I want to do the right thing by both my daughters, but I can only afford to help one now.

A: This is hardly a dire dilemma. You do not owe either child a loan or a home. It is lovely that you consulted with your married daughter and that you want to avoid any sibling rivalry or misdirected resentment. But you are still the parent--no matter how old your daughters are--and as such are entitled to make the decision you think best. Your reasoning seems sound. Share your thinking with your children-don't ask for their approval. And by all means reiterate that you intend to even the score in your will. It may still feel inequitable to one-or even both-of your daughters, but whoever said life is fair?

Q: I recently went to the home of a Jewish family after the funeral of one of their immediate family members. Could you explain to me why all the mirrors in the house were covered with black cloth? Also, we were asked to wash our hands before entering the house. Can you tell me why?

A: I am always struck by the logic and wisdom of Jewish law and customs surrounding death and burial. There are 2 reasons why you are asked to wash your hands before entering a house of mourning: the first is that many visitors have just come from the cemetery and are symbolically cleansing death from their hands. The second reason is that Judaism encourages healing after a death; again, cleansing-as symbolized by the water-is a first step toward moving forward.

Covering mirrors in a house of mourning is a visual reminder that the normal flow of daily life has been interrupted. It is also meant to remind the mourner of what really matters in life- thereby reducing the importance one usually places on personal vanity.

Q: Ever since my husband and I moved to be close to his family I feel as if his sister has declared open hunting season-on me. She belittles and makes fun of me, inserts herself between my husband and myself, and involves my mother-in-law whenever she and I have a disagreement. I am depressed and increasingly keep to myself. I have never before felt this low or this lost. How do I get along with this sister in law?

A: Start by moving back from whence you came. The situation sounds unwinnable. What's more, you are outnumbered. If your husband were on your team you might stand a chance. But in the absence of any support from him, your sister-in-law, knowing that her mother is on her side, will continue to see you as fair game. At best you will feel merely abandoned by your husband; at worst you will recognize him for the disloyal coward that he is. Either way you will likely continue to retreat beyond his reach. You get high points in my book for moving. If your husband wants to earn equal credit he will help you pack and book the flights. He gets extra credit for forgetting to leave the forwarding address with his family.


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© 2002, Wendy Belzberg