My Non-Observant Sister’s Wedding


My sister got married on Sunday, and I have written down some thoughts I have, the day after. I wondered if I could post them to beyondbt, as I could use some chizuk from others who have experienced similar things.

7th November 2011

Last night they finally got married. And it’s a major anticlimax for me. My sister met her boyfriend 5 years ago, when I met my husband. In that time, I have got married and had two children and she has continued dating him. They got engaged on New Years Day this year and moved in together a couple of months after and yesterday they stood under the chuppah and are now husband and wife.

I had been so thrilled for my big sister. She is 3 years older than me (31) and it was about time too. Now her relationship which has been so worrying to all the family is a kosher one and all is done and dusted.

They tried so hard to include us, the caterer was kosher, we had a hotel room paid for in the swanky five star hotel for us all, and a babysitter paid for the whole day so that we would be able to enjoy the wedding and that our children would be able to participate when they could and be looked after when they were too tired or noisy. I had an outfit made to measure which was as tznius as could be, as well as really gorgeous. But the whole event just underlined to me just how not frum they are, and how different our lives are.

The dancing was the hardest. We are a musical family and it was just so hard to not be able to join in the dancing. It wasn’t that I wanted to be dancing to “Living on A Prayer”, but I wanted that I would be able to be fully taking part in my sister’s wedding. My sister, who I love so much, who I am so so happy that she is finally in a committed relationship, that she is a wife, I wanted to be able to celebrate with her by dancing around the room, like I do at my friends’ weddings and even strangers!

But I had to stand on the other side of the hall, trying to bite back the tears. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to be emotional at your sister’s wedding, so I didn’t have to explain them. But it was so so hard to feel part of the celebration.

They kindly hadn’t filled me in on any of the details of the night as they knew I wouldn’t be able to attend and that I’d prefer not to know things which will upset me. But one thing I did know was that she, her friends, my mum and her mother in law had all learnt a dance routine which they performed to the rest of the guests. I wanted to see it, but then it was so painful to not be one of them doing it. I should have been able to perform a shtick with my sister, but instead I couldn’t, because they are just not frum. It really really hurt and I nearly ran out of the hall to not collapse into tears. We really are a very musical family and singing and dancing are such a way that we express ourselves. Not being part of the dancing was far more difficult than I had imagined.

Yes, she looked beautiful, yes the shul was magnificent, and the hall for wedding looked spectacular with the attention to detail incredible. The wedding favours, flowers made out of ribbon with sugared almonds enclosed looked enchanting. The real flower arrangements classy and refined. But that’s it. It was all the superficial details of beauty without the depth of a frum wedding. The best man’s speech was cringeworthy, all the silly things the groom had done growing up. I couldn’t bear it. When Michael gave his speech, I had the briefest of mentions, something along the lines of, “and thank you Jacqueline, my beautiful new sister in law”, which as well as being in contrast to the great shpiel about her other three bridemaids who are friends was bizarre for me to have anyone other than my father or husband tell me that I look beautiful. It was such a formulaic thing to say, rather than being applicable to me. No mention was made of my son (who was a page boy) or daughter (little bridesmaid). I’m sure that was just an oversight, but when I was already feeling sidelined, it didn’t help.

It all just made me feel like any old guest at the wedding rather than the sister of the bride.

The bedeken was beautiful though, and I mean that honestly. It was just the immediate family and I was called in for that, although they asked that my children weren’t there (which made sense, they’d never have stayed still or quiet and it was a tiny room). Both fathers blessed their children and his Dad even spoke to him about the meaning of the words, who Efraim and Menashe were and how that is applicable to him. The Rabbi at the chuppah spoke really nicely about the unity of the two families, and our families are families which really do work on keeping in touch with distant relatives. The chazzan happened to be an old neighbour of ours who sang beautifully. It was really special.

But then the party was just so so not.

When we’re in our frum bubble, it is so easy to forget what it is like to not be frum, and here it all was in all it’s glory.

I suppose that because they are so respectful of us when on our turf, I don’t realise what they do when they are in their own environs.

I had one cousin telling me all about the octopus and other interesting foods he’d eaten on a recent holiday to the far east, and how that’s really his sort of thing because he really likes prawns etc. He wasn’t trying to make a point, he was just sharing details of what he’d been up to.

Then there are my non Jewish cousins flitting about from various intermarried parts of the family.

And my little 4 year old chareidi son, in his kuppel and tzitzis, totally overtired, and during the meal, dancing to the background music. Thank G-d he isn’t any older yet, because it would have been far more problematic. He won’t remember what the lady singing looked like (I won’t go into it), or what the music was. He is just a musical boy and he wanted to dance.

At the end of the wedding, everyone kept coming over and telling me how lovely, beautiful and delightful my children were, which was nice, but I do wonder what he will tell the Rebbe tomorrow in school about what happened at Auntie Elizabeth’s wedding.

I just wish that they were all frum and that we could be fully part of each other’s lives. I want to say, I try my hardest, but maybe I don’t. I do try hard to maintain the contact with the non frum parts of my family, to remain parts of each other’s lives, but this event just made me realise how very different our lives are, and how it isn’t really possible to be fully part of each other’s lives even if we wanted to.


24 comments on “My Non-Observant Sister’s Wedding

  1. Bottom line here, in my humble opinion, she married a Jew!!! That, in and of itself is a miracle of miracles, and no matter how hard the details of the celebration were for you, you never have to choke on the words, “my sister married a ______” B”H!! Onward and upwards…..continue to be a shining example of what a beautiful Jewish home can be…….you never know which of your shiny mitzvos will illuminate their hearts and souls and their brand new bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel…….mazel tov!!!

  2. To Sheila Factor #20 and Joyce #21:

    WADR, it’s the other way around. The author and her sister were brought up non-observant, and later on the author took it upon herself to live a religious lifestyle.

    You say, “I wish they hadn’t stolen my son.” Who are “they”? Do you believe that your son was brainwashed in some manner, or is he consciously choosing a lifestyle that you do not approve of?

    Is having a hareidi son an issue? Is he lacking in respect for you? Are both of you, Sheila and Joyce, trying to cope with an adult child who has suddenly chosen to become religiously observant?

    Please note that this blog is run by and for baalei-teshuva, people who choose a higher level of Jewish observance. So the commenters (like myself) are going to be biased in favor of the hareidi viewpoint on this issue. Mainly, we would be cheering on your son(s) in their efforts to be more religious, and trying to convince their reluctant moms to understand what is happening in their children’s lives.

  3. Interesting reply. Who stole your son? Is he BT and you are not? We may be experiencing the same issue.

  4. How did you and your sister become so different – were you brought up hareidi. Your sister is quite right to want to escape from it – I wish they hadn’t stolen my son – how different my life would have been. I suggest you chuck it in and hug your sister – you can still keep kosher – no-one’s stopping you!

  5. Tell your sister about Swaziland, where a public health initiative is trying to get all Swazi men to voluntarily choose male circumcision. Swaziland is a beautiful, democratic nation with the highest rate of heterosexual HIV transmission in all of Africa. Swazis are afraid that they will all die of AIDS within the next two decades if something is not done to stop heterosexual HIV transmission. Male circumcision is an important part of this initiative, along with free condoms and straight talk about safe sex.

    If the religious aspect does not influence her, the public health aspect may do so.

  6. This really hits home.

    My sister married a non-Jew a few yrs ago and I attended, along with my nine-year-old son. I felt that the rift my non-attendance would cause in the family would be far worse than having to explain the differences and complications to him. Also, I try to model “honor your parents” instead of just expecting it from him.

    Anyway, I was fine with the whole thing. They brought in kosher food for us. There was very little dancing. It was all fine.

    Then my sister had a baby.

    BIG problem.

    No bris. I nearly fell over the first time I met the baby and ended up changing his diaper while baby-sitting for the evening.

  7. I guess I can be grateful, too, in light of these reports, that I only have one sibling and, well, for something I might not think to be grateful for — that my extended family is very small.

  8. **sigh**

    Jacqeline, I feel your pain.

    A little kosher is so much harder than totally treif.

    You clearly made the point that you were grateful for whatever your family could participate in. But the fact remains that this was not a frum Jewish wedding. Sorry to say, it gets more difficult as your/their kids grow up. Check out this post from Azriela Jaffe:

    We have 2 family weddings coming up:

    My nephew is marrying a gentile (but, she’s gonna convert!) woman on Shabbat during Sfira in Vegas. That’s easy, nobody expects us to come b/c it’s on Shabbat. And, we didn’t go to the last mixed faith wedding in my brother’s family. I’m odd man out; the rest of the family is just happy he’s getting married.

    My niece, however, is marrying her long term live in boyfriend. BH, he is Jewish–a nice boy from a nice family. The wedding is out of town on a Sunday, so there’s a 3 hour drive involved. The food will be kosher to some extent, but without any type of supervision. There’s a family Shabbat dinner planned the Friday night before the wedding. There is no shmirat Shabbat at all so that’s out for us. I’m thrilled they are finally getting married, but the logistics & all that’s involved is complicated. The bridal party will all be in strapless gowns, there’s mixed dancing, lots of pritzus etc. The conversations & language is not what I want my kids hearing. BH, I have older kids. They understand differences, tolerance, boundaries, etc., but what about my 11 year old daughter? I really don’t want her exposed to any of this, but I have no choice but to bring her for many reasons I will not go into. I’m just glad my 16 yr old BY girl will be at camp. There are many other factors that complicate this i.e., accomodations, medical equipment, etc.

    I try not to think about it too much b/c I am really dreading this wedding. My husband & son in law will be spending a lot of time in the lobby with the baby. I wish I had that excuse.

  9. Although constructive, non-accusatory discussion of how we can create and maintain positive relationships with non-frum relatives is a wonderful idea, I feel that what is required here is simply a listening ear.

    Jacqueline, I hear you. This really hurts. She is your sister–of course you wanted to be able to dance at her wedding and to participate wholeheartedly as you can with your friends. The gulf at a time like this is so painful.

    My own sister married a non-Jew. Hashem was kind enough to provide me with a gracious excuse for not going (I was about to give birth and could not travel), but I still cry over the fact that I could not be with her on her wedding day (even though she married a non-Jew!). Didn’t we dream about this together as little girls?

    It is justified to grieve for not being able to fully participate in your sister’s wedding, even when the groom is a Jewish man (which is indeed something to be thankful for–you never know what might happen down the road!). This pain can perhaps spur us to remember Hashem’s pain, kivyochol, at seeing His children so far away from His mitzvos. There is much imperfection in this world, and much to daven for. Perhaps this pain can be an impetus to our doing a special mitzva or adding something to our tefilla in the merit of our love for our sisters (and other relatives) and our pain at the estrangement of so many in Klal Yisroel from our beloved mesorah–and in this way perhaps the pain will be turned to a constructive purpose.

    I also try to remember that Hashem could easily have sent me to be born in a close-knit FFB family (as a fellow BT friend recently said to me, “this is a matana we were not granted”), yet He didn’t, so there is some special avoda here for me, and my family status must be necessary to my tafkid. This of course is true for all of us.

    May we soon see the day when all of Klal Yisroel are united in avodas Hashem, in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash bimheira v’yamenu.

    Sharing in your tears,

  10. Ron, that’s a great side point. I can’t tell you how many times I have fretted about minor religious differences between my sisters-in-law and myself. I forget what a blessing it is that all my husband’s siblings are Torah-observant, and how much I long for my sister to discover Torah as well.

  11. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of your wishes for your sister – I don’t see how your attitude will help move things in a positive direction.

    As others have pointed out, there are many reasons for optimism – primarily the fact that she married a Jew, and the family is genuinely happy to see – and accommodate – you and your family (a reaction which my parents and many other BTs have NOT encountered).

    Paradoxically, the way to greater influence begins with acceptance of your sister’s choices.

    If I were one of your non-frum relatives, I would come away from this article feeling rebuffed. I would wonder if ANY efforts on my part would ever be enough for you. I would wonder if you really reciprocated my respect for your choices.

  12. Thank you, Jacqueline, for posting your thoughts. I hope putting them “on paper” (and seeing the mostly-thoughtful comments) is helpful to you.

    My most-recent experience similar to yours was the recent wedding of my first cousin, the older of two sons of the brother sheyichyeh of my father a’h’. My aunt is a wonderful person, but her “Conservative Judaism” Yiddishkeit is entirely different from mine, and her husband and family basically followed in her footsteps. I love her and my cousins and wish them all the best, but they have their d’rachim and Weltanschauung (and probably see mine as “extreme”), and while I would love to be m’qareiv them, I just don’t see it happenin’. Like some of the commenters here, I’m just happy my cousin married a Jewish lady, and I can only hope that they have children and that at least some of those children take the path of Avraham Avinu and seek a Torah-true way of living & seeing the world.

  13. It sounds like the author tries to recognize and focus on the positive in this event and mostly succeeds — but just wanted to vent to an audience who would get it. Very understandable!

    Your sister may be feeling many of the same regrets that you do about your not sharing in her Simcha as fully as either of you would want. Each of you is lucky to have a sister who makes family relationships a priority. I wish you success in continuing to live by these values.

  14. The less contact I have with my traif relatives, the better off I am.

    I have nothing in common with them and I cannot help them at all; being with them can do nothing but drag me down.

    However, I can help sincere baalei teshuvah by inviting them to join my web site for divrei Torah just click on my name and you will go there.

  15. For those interested, see my prior post here re my niece’s Bas Mitzvah. IMO, there are occasions such as a family simcha, and the post did describe a Chupah and accomodations for kosher food, where one has to accentuate the positive factors, such as a Jewish man and woman getting married, and realizing that although there are many negatives with respect to how they presently live their lives, that there is always a possibility of their becoming observant in the future, and that in such a setting, your attendance and adhering to Halacha is a major Kiddush HaShem in its own right.

  16. Jacqueline, I could empathize with you one thousand percent. I still remember when my non-frum older sister and her longtime Jewish boyfriend got married 32 years ago. I also ached at not being allowed to take part fully in the simcha, there being mixed dancing. I also wondered why the reading of the kesubah (which is a meaningful part of any chasunah) gets replaced in a non-frum celebration by somebody’s stupid silly speech.

    Regretfully, my non-frum brother-in-law’s hostility has only increased over the years. My sister and her husband refuse to come to any of our family events (so far, three bar mitzvahs, six weddings, and now starting with the grandchild events).

    I sincerely hope that your older sister is more connected and caring than mine is, and that the gap between your religious observances does not interfere with your family ties as sadly, it does in mine.

  17. “I just wish that they were all frum and that we could be fully part of each other’s lives. ”

    This is a positive feeling, but it can potentially have negative consequences, so I’ll add a different perspective: learn to accept that in all likelihood your broader family won’t adopt your beliefs and lifestyle. Once you have accepted this, still holding onto the positive feeling, you can relate to your broader family as individuals in a way that causes you much less angst and is less likely to result in strife.

  18. Unfortunately, I think the gap between frum parts of the family and the non-frumers always gets bigger and bigger with time… Despite all your openmindness, you wont allow the non-frummers to influence your children when they get olders… It becomes a fight, a fight you really dont want to loose, even at the price of disconnecting oneself from the family…

  19. There are at least three reasons to want your family to become more observant:
    1) it’s better for you and your family
    2) it’s better for the world
    3) it’s better for them

    All are true but I think the most important factor is number 3. However in the “better for them” category, we need to internalize the truth that every individual spiritual act is significant according to Jewish Hashkafa.

    This wedding was a huge spiritual success because:
    – She married a Jew
    – The food was Kosher
    – She cared about your spiritual needs

    In these times, those are huge spiritual wins for you and your sister and you should take great pleasure in it. Mazel Tov!

  20. Sooner or later, everyone’s kids learn that not all relatives march to the same drummer. Regardless, it’s important to keep constructive lines of communication open.

  21. Janet, you seem a little too focused on “just how not frum they are”. Next time, just relax and enjoy all the positives you mentioned.

    If the negativity that is evident in your letter comes through to your kids, they’ll just grow up looking down on or even despising your family. (As it is you’ll have a hard enough countering some this attitude which will come explicitly from some their teachers.) IMHO, you want to convey to your children that your relatives, no matter what “level” of observance, are people you love and they can and should love too. Evidence of your commitment doesn’t have to come at your family’s expense. And your kids will be all that much stronger for it.

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