Cutting Family Ties
The cards my Christian paternal grandparents sent me as a child came with small checks—and a hidden agenda
For a few days, I mulled over my response. Eventually, I wrote my grandmother a letter, in which I explained that my Jewish identity had given me the moral compass and taste for charity that she and my grandfather had never demonstrated to me. I explained that my mother and her parents had taught me unconditional love and acceptance, had bent over backward raising me while my father’s side of the family did nothing but send a tiny gift and a card twice a year.
At the close of the letter, I notified my grandmother that I was—at least temporarily—suspending our correspondence. Perhaps in the future, I wrote, I would figure out how to proceed. If that happened, I’d be back in touch.
That was 15 years ago.
As each year passed, I adopted increasingly Orthodox beliefs and practice. Soon, I became engaged. I did not inform my paternal grandparents. From time to time, I contemplated getting in touch but let it drop. As my new household expanded to include three children, I grew too busy. And my husband was uncomfortable with the notion of including my father’s parents in our lives; would they try to indoctrinate our children? I pointed out other Jewish friends who embraced non-Jewish family members but eventually set aside the issue to take care of later.
Later came too late.
The Orthodox lifestyle I’ve embraced has filled my life with goodness and joy. I would choose it all over again, and do, daily. But it has not come without a price. My children have living biological relatives whom they do not know. We know just a smidgen about the history of that side of the family (which includes a Native American great-great grandmother and ancestors who mined the Klondike). Even filling out medical forms can get complicated. For example, I know very little of my grandparents’ medical history.
I told my grandparents to wait until I was ready to get in touch with them. “That was the mistake,” a voice in my head insists. Or perhaps I shouldn’t have expected my grandparents’ greater years to equal greater wisdom and character refinement. Or was the mistake expecting them to accept the life I was choosing? Was that unreasonable?
They might not have been able to provide the unconditional love that I craved from them. But I love my non-Jewish grandparents—because they are part of me. Their blood is in my blood; their DNA in my cells. I cannot erase them or pretend they never existed. Their history is mine. And their absence creates a void in my life.
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Through reasoning, the rabbis brought all of natural creation under the rule of law