Happy and healthy 2018. It certainly has been quite a 2017! As so many of us will pause for some reflection over these next few days, you know those resolutions that last maybe 1 day, I wanted to raise an issue that has become something of a recurring theme in this year. What we hope for our family and yours is peace and understanding. In a recent New York Times article the subject of family estrangement was broached “When Families Fall Out” is by Catherine Saint Louis. The article appeared in Tuesday December 26 Times, page D-1. It reports on a series of studies on the issue of family estrangement which was defined as “one or more relatives intentionally choosing to end contact because of an on going negative relationship.”
Estrangement is no stranger to Biblical texts. And, in truth, we can take some lessons from some of the scenarios. Jacob reunites with Esau in Genesis. Their history was anything but peaceful. But after 20 years or so they meet, and after the wrestling text, what happens is that they agree that they cannot re-do the past, so they will go their separate ways, but knowing that they are still linked by their blood. Likewise the famous story we just read of Joseph and his reunion with his brothers. Despite their history, they come together out of concern for their father Jacob. Nothing is perfect, but people agree to move on maybe not in any “kumbayah” moment, but with a more matures sense of understanding. You cannot undo the past, but you can choose to redefine the future.
Every colleague has dealt with this issue. It is challenging and heartbreaking. It often takes one party to step up and make that all important first move, and there are no guarantees. But, as we get older, the need for family and friends becomes more important. How many colleagues have met with a family at a funeral only to deal with a relative who laments that “if only I had reached out”?
As the new year dawns, let me hope that if you are dealing with this estrangement issue that in some way you can find the courage to reach out and bridge the divide of enmity. Shalom Bait is a value that begins in our own house, within our own families.
Wishing you a sweet, healthy and peaceful 2018
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.