Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mom Speaks

Just received: (my thoughts once I have a second to have some, but 1. it's a weird coincidence that she just confirmed some things I wrote about in my post yesterday 2. I see my dad's hand all over this letter)

Dear Abandoning Eden,

I’ve been wanting to write to you since you gave us the news about your intended marriage, but I didn’t know what to write. It’s always been hard for me to express myself on paper, so you will forgive me if this e-mail rambles a bit. I can only write how I view things, so please don’t take this note as a way of criticizing you. It’s not meant as that, just as a way for me to tell you what is in my heart.

Since A abruptly broke your engagement, I feel that you have been looking around for a way to replace some company in your life. You hear of your peers pairing off and that leaves you as odd person out. I know this feeling well as I was almost the last girl in my peer group to find someone and get married. You may have thought that I didn’t mind being alone but there were times I was very lonely. It’s very hard to be dating and no one seems to be the one for you. Plus there was the pressure from my parents to get married already. I finally told my father that if it was as easy as going to the supermarket and picking a can off the shelf marked "husband", I would have been married already. After I said that, my parents didn’t pressure me as much, but I knew they were still anxious for me to settle down already. Even when I told them that I had chosen your Abba, when they heard his parents were not observant, they were very upset. At one point Abba and I almost broke our engagement because our two sets of parents couldn’t get along. Abba’s parents even threatened not to come to our wedding because I think they didn’t like the fact that my parents weren’t Holocaust survivors. They had a hard time socializing with anyone who wasn’t "people like us. In the end, they wouldn’t let us invite any of their friends because they were embarrassed that there wouldn’t be mixed dancing. All this sounds ridiculous now, but this was among people who were all Jewish. In the end, we were able to reconcile everything, and even though I had a hard time feeling close to Abba’s parents (because even though I forgive, I cannot forget) they came to see me as someone who was their son was very lucky to marry. On February 24th we will be celebrating our 29th anniversary, so I guess the marriage took.

I see your situation as very different. Had you chosen to marry a non-observant Jew, I would have reconciled myself to that. (I wouldn’t have been thrilled but I could have lived with it.) With your choice, you have chosen to basically divorce yourself from the rest of your family. I understand that you feel that B is the one for you. What I see, is a man who has made no attempt to contact your family and to understand what this union really means. In time you may come to resent him. If you have children, they will be totally estranged from the rest of your relatives, and I hope you choose to tell the truth about why they don’t know your side of the family, without prejudice.

I have not told anyone of your plans, and am leaving it to you to call your grandparents, aunts. uncles and cousins and telling them yourself. If you are so happy with your choice, I figure that you would want to spread the news yourself. It breaks my heart that I am not able to celebrate your upcoming marriage and that, if you choose to go through with it, it basically means the end of our relationship. I once told you that every action has consequences, some good and some not. It’s not a punishment on my part that I am not having anything to do with you or your choice, it’s that I cannot be true to my own beliefs and accept what you are doing. If you expect me to respect your choice then you will have to respect mine.



  1. Ouch. This was painful to read. Hope you are okay and you can find some peace with the finality of this letter.

  2. Oddly enough, right now I do feel ok. Of course it's only been like 20 minutes. I am having sudden cigarette cravings....

  3. It's interesting. It starts so mild that I would have thought this would be an attempt to make up: You chose him, my parents were not happy about my choice either, but eventually they accepted him...

    In the middle, it sounds like a bit of self-pity and perhaps a quite subjective interpretation of the story (perhaps your father's parents have a wholly different story to tell).

    So it came as an absolute surprise that she takes out the leash in the end of the letter: B does not want to see us (I thought they did not want to meet him?????). If you go on marrying him, we are divorced.

    Looks quite inconsistent, as a whole. Looks as though her own thoughts had carried her away on a certain path, and suddenly she remembers that this was not at all what she wanted to say...

  4. It's interesting to me how strongly she still feels the hurt of your father's parents threatening to not come to her wedding and yet...
    Here she is, saying that she cannot come to yours.
    This is the part I cannot understand. She KNOWS how much this will hurt you.
    It would be going against her own beliefs, she says.
    What kind of a religion could possibly make a mother choose "beliefs" over love of her child?
    I'm sorry. This is a very hurtful letter and I think it is a form of abuse.
    I am sorry you are in this spot. I say go towards the love. Wherever the love is, there will be light.

  5. Shoshi- yeah, I tried to set up a meeting between B and my parents about 5-6 times before I gave up, but I have also several times given an open invitation ("if you ever want to meet B i will set something up" etc)

  6. I think I'd reply back something to the effect of: "B has been more than willing to meet you. In fact, we've tried to set that up many times. You are the ones who have refused contact with him. But I agree, that is something that our children will have to be told when the time comes."

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  8. Heartbreaking. And she's fundamentally wrong about two things:

    First she claims that you "chose to divorce yourself from the rest of the family." Not true. It is she who is divorcing you from the family not you. You've tried to reach out and she's rejected your overtures. Don't let her pin this on you.

    Second, she tries to make it seem that disowning is a proportionate response to your marrying outside of her faith. It's not. You are marrying someone that you love and who loves you who happens not share the religious faith of your mother.

    She has demonstrated that she cares about Judaism more than she does her own daughter.

    P.S. You should sent joyous wedding announcements to every relative in your family and reach out to all of them and let them know that you would be happy to have an ongoing relationship with anyone who is willing to stay in contact.

  9. How come your Mom sent a mail about the history of her own wedding exactely on the day you published a post about the similar theme?

    Pure coincidence, or does she follow your blog?

    If the latter might be true, I propose we treat her respectfully.

  10. the juxtaposition of this post/email with the 4-hour-long class i had today on how to make Orthodox Jewish communities more inclusive is just horrific.

    sorry this is what's happening.

  11. isnt it possible that she isnt choosing her "religious beliefs" over her "love for her daughter", but rather, that she is honestly and sincerely worried and concerned about your choices? her religious beliefs shape her thoughts, her emotions, they color every decision, every reaction, every feeling she has. our beliefs create our reality. in her reality you ARE doing something seriously hazardous to your wellbeing, what kind of mother who loves her daughter would stand by and watch that?
    the level of religion your parents are at isnt about external rituals, its about intrinsic beliefs. you dont have to agree with her beliefs, same as she doesnt have to agree with yours, but why not respect eachother's rights to have your own beliefs (and the consequences of those beliefs).

    everyone on your blog is appalled that your parents wont respect your atheistic views and lifestyle, but are you or they respecting your parents religious views and lifestyle? you can despise a religion that encourages this kind of behavior, but you can also respect someone's right to their own beliefs, even if they contradict yours.
    i wonder, how would your parents react if you answered them this way: "i appreciate your honesty, i respect your decisions, and im not angry. i understand these are your religious views and its not my place to judge. i've made my own decisions and i hope you can learn to respect them too. when you are ready for a relationship with me and my family, please dont hesitate to contact me."

  12. I don't know if you ever read my comment from several posts ago. But for a quick recap: I grew up Jewish (conservative, but dating a Jewish boy was the MOST important thing) and I am now engaged to someone who is not Jewish. My parents aren't happy. My dad is not speaking to me, not because he's angry, but worse: because he is just too upset and depressed to talk to me (he is not handling it well at all and its kind of scary. Its been 3 weeks since I spilled the news and I have only talked to him for 5 minutes).

    That was a slower recap than I meant-- sorry.

    Anyway, I must ask how you are handling this, because I'm having trouble with it. It seems to me that our parents are on a similar page (not exactly because your parents are very orthodox and mine are not at all). To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised at all if I got a similar letter from my dad. And yes, cigarettes cravings are high...I need one now.

  13. Very sad letter

    >Here she is, saying that she cannot come to yours.
    This is the part I cannot understand. She KNOWS how much this will hurt you.

    Whats not to understand. She understands there is hurt and pain, but at the same time, that there are consequences to certain decisions. Bascially, AE's choice of leaving, and her choice to hold on to her own beliefs.

  14. shelley- I haven't had a good relationship with my parents for years and years now, almost 10 years since I first told them I wasn't religious. At this point they have done and said so many nasty things to me that my mom disowning me doesn't bother me so much, because the only interactions I ever have with her are toxic and just leave me miserable.

    I'm sorry that you are going through something similar, and it sounds like it is harder for you because you more recently had a close relatinoship with your parents. I can say that writing about it has helped me figure out and deal with everything that is happening to me, so maybe starting a blog will help you too.

  15. i want to add one more thing.. i think your parents are absolutely completely and unequivocally wrong if they really follow through with this - but that's because i believe family is invaluable.. it also happens to be the reason why my comments tend to encourage you to find a way to make peace with them.

  16. Someone clued your mother into your blog. There is no question. She is almost "responding" to yesterday's blog post.

    I know you're angry at her, and this doesn't change anything, but the emotional litmus strip in me hears a lot of repressed heartbreak in her voice. Is your mother normally a pretty stoic person?

  17. @mOOkie

    from the mail, I have the impression that this mother does not really understand her daughter.

    While I am really touched to see that she takes up the issue of the broken engagement and how it may have affected AE, I think she misses the point.

    She reminisces about her own youth, where she was left "one of the last to marry out of her peer group" and projects these feelings on her daughter. AE has a completely different perspective and could not care less how many of her classmates are already married by now.

    This shows how difficult communication is in this situation.

  18. A very tough letter to read.

    But as someone else said... "don't let them pin this on you". Absolutley! It is their choice to "divorce" you, and their choice alone.

    My feeling is that this is a last ditch attempt to try and stop the wedding. In a years time, when you have been happily married for ages and all this seems like distant history, I don't see your parents being able to continue without contact.

    Right now, there is something to be gained by threatenting divorce -- they may influence your behaviour. Once you are married, and they see everything is working out fine -- what do they have to gain by continuing?

    Also I agree with whoever said send out the biggest, brightest, happiest wedding announcements imaginable to all your family. Some of your family have surprised you already with their warmth and good wishes. There may be lots more where that came from. And at least you will know who is for you and who is against you, rather than having to second guess.

    All the best to the both of you!

  19. I'd probably say to her "All righty then" and leave it at that.

  20. Many people have beliefs. Many people have red lines which cannot be crossed, even for the sake of "family". For some it might be politics. For some it might be another cause that is critical to how they live their life. For some it might be some one particular aspect of life, for which some actions are simply "wrong" and cannot be tolerated.

    Please could some of the contributors here understand that AE's parents are not evil, nor mad, because they have a different perspective on right and wrong. For them, marrying out of their people, breaking the chain that links generations over 3000 years, is wrong. That is, it cannot be tolerated. And even "family" cannot make it right, or tolerable.

    How about a bit more respect for others' beliefs? How about a bit more of an attempt to see things from their point of view, and to understand why they see that AE is taking a final and unbridgeable step away from all that they hold to be important?

  21. I have a question regarding the whole "breaking a 3000 link of generations" ideal that runs through ethnocentric Jews. Given that 85% of Jews worldwide are Ashkenazi, I assume most of these individuals are Ash. And obviously, like AE's parents, most of the opposition is based on marrying outside one's ethnicity.

    So then, do these Ash Jews feel similarly betrayed when their children marry a Sephardic? Just from physical characteristics and associated history, I think it's pretty obvious Seph and Ash constitute two distinct ethnicities both of whom just happen to practice Judaism.

    Is there similar pain associated with marrying a Sephardic? Would it be akin to marrying a non-Jew? I don't see how the two situations aren't analogous, given that the opposition is based primarily on ethnicity and tribalism.

  22. > How about a bit more respect for others' beliefs?

    Why should someone elses beliefs automatically demand my respect?

    Jehovas witnesses believe that their children should be allowed to die rather than given a simple blood transfusion.

    I have no respect for that belief, nor do I have any respect for the belief that you should disown a child because they don't share your views on marriage.

  23. One comment about this "3,000 year old link of generations". I am an ethnic Jew, but I mostly identify as a humanist. Mine is the first generation of my family on either side who did not actively practice Judaism.

    And yet my children are the love of my mother's life which underlines that the most important "link of generations" is not the one you have with people who lived 3,000 years ago, it's with the people you live with here and now.

    By rejecting you and your children, your mother is losing something very precious.

  24. All I have to say is that I feel your pain.

    But just remember that spouses may come and go, but family is forever.

  25. webgirl- I think it's just a coincidence, since I'm pretty sure my mother wouldn't send a letter like this without thinking it over for a few days, and at least getting my dad to edit it, and I wrote that post the day before receiving this.

    MZG- I think my situation proves that no, family is not forever.

  26. Ivy, it's not the same thing at all. intermarriage according to orthodox jews is not about ethnicity, its about religion.

    (and yes there are some parents who have issues with their kids marrying other ethnicities or races even if they are jewish, but that's not the orthodox torah view, that's just their own personal issue.)

  27. AE, as a child of a TOXIC (note caps) mother, I feel comfortable saying that you will be better off without the negative interaction and inevitable fallout.

    In reality, if you had stayed frum to please her, in spite of your own beliefs, she would never have been happy with you and would still find ways and reasons to put you down.

    My story is way too long to post here, but I'm trying to do at close to 40yoa what I should have done 20 yrs ago.

    Don't drink the Kool Aid!

  28. Oh yeah, and like Ms. Moon said, go towards the love :-)

  29. >And obviously, like AE's parents, most of the opposition is based on marrying outside one's ethnicity.

    Most of the opposition to marrying sephardics comes from the hardcore charedim. It doesn't come from a feeling of them not being Jews, but simply of a feeling (I think) of elitism.

    But this is not the majority. I mean, even in my predominant Ashkenazi community there is so much intermarriages between everyone. Look at Israel. The tribalism is not about ethicity really. Its about simply being Jewish

  30. HH_ that's nice for you, but in my parents case I think they would have reacted similarly if I had decided to marry a black Jewish person. They are just bigoted people.

  31. >HH_ that's nice for you, but in my parents case I think they would have reacted similarly if I had decided to marry a black Jewish person. They are just bigoted people.

    I am sure there are a lot. But the tribalism that exists amongst Jews is about Judaism, and not what part of the diaspora they are from. I'm not denying that it exists, but I don't think its as dominant. I think the "black Jew" is harder here than lets say in Israel.

    But, would your parents mind if you married an Iraqi Jew?

  32. Come on AE. You're trying to prove your parents' motivation by identifying their judgement in this case with how you surmise they would react in a non-existent hypothetical case.

    You may have other reasons for knowing that your parents' view is based on bigotry rather a respect for Jewish history, but this logic doesn't prove it at all.

  33. It's weird. While reading it I could hardly tell if she was shunning you for marrying outside your race or outside your religion. There were only a few key words that made it clear. But the truth is there's not much difference; the argument is identical.


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