Reform Judaism Magazine Focuses on Ways To Resolve and Reconcile Family Disputes

As part of its continuing coverage of how Reform Jews can apply Jewish teachings and tradition to cope with the difficulties of contemporary life, Reform Judaism magazine has devoted the "Focus" section of its Fall 2001 issue to five articles on resolving conflicts with family members. Drawing on the Talmud, the Torah, and other sources of Jewish wisdom, the "Focus" leads its readers down the road to forgiveness at the time of the High Holy Days.

In "A Time for Forgiveness," Rabbi Harold Schulweis explores how the High Holy Day themes of t'shuvah (repentance) and renewal can teach us to heal old wounds within families. Schulweis, the spiritual leader of Temple Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA, and author of "Finding Each Other In Judaism," a book of meditations recently published by the UAHC Press, notes that too often, mechitzot (walls) separate family members during Jewish events that offer chances for forgiveness and peace. "The human soul has no mechitzah," he writes. "When we forgive, we experience God's forgiveness; when we love, we experience God's love…the power of reconciliation is in our hands, our mouths, and our hearts."

Rabbi Jack Reimer explores the theme of familial reconciliation in "Where Was Isaac?" Noting that Abraham and Isaac never speak again after Isaac's near-sacrifice at the hand of his father, Reimer, rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Boca Raton, FL, draws upon the commentary of Rabbi Arnold Turetsky to suggest that Isaac "separated from Abraham both physically and emotionally" after the near-sacrifice, and "never got a chance to make things right" before his father died. This, in the author's view, is the real tragedy. "If you are a child who is not talking to a parent, do not wait for your father or mother to come and apologize to you. Make the first move…before it is too late," Reimer writes - and then notes that "we dare not, must not, do what Abraham did - cut off communication with our children."

The Focus continues with "Wicked to Wise," an interview in which Rabbi Jan Katzew, director of the UAHC's Department of Jewish Education, examines the life of Jacob's son Judah as a model of a person who transforms himself from family villain to family hero. In Genesis 37, Judah comes up with the idea of selling his brother, Joseph, into slavery. Yet only seven chapters later, Judah offers himself as a hostage to protect his younger brother Benjamin. "We learn from this episode that one can effect profound change in a family dynamic through self-transformation," Rabbi Katzew writes. "[Judah's] moral path was not straight. He struggled but he prevailed, having learned from his mistakes. In this sense, Judah is not just an individual; he is a paradigm for a Jew."

In "Ask The Rabbi," Rabbi Judy Shanks of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA responds to a woman who asks how she can honor her "selfish" mother, who put off coming to the hospital to assist her when she had a miscarriage. "How can I 'honor' her if I don't respect her, and wonder if I even love her?" she asks. Rabbi Shanks advises the writer to speak honestly with her mother about the hurt she caused her, and give her the opportunity to do t'shuvah, to change. "Should she finally acknowledge and ask for forgiveness for her years of selfishness, you two might begin slowly to repair your relationship," she writes.

The Focus concludes with "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," Rabbi Michael Gold's reflections on what he learned from a serious disagreement with his younger brother. "For over a year, we did not speak to each other, something I regret to this day, especially as I remember how much our estrangement hurt my parents," Rabbi Gold writes, giving details  from that difficult period in his life. "I try to use the lessons I learned…in offering counsel to my congregants," Rabbi Gold, the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac, FL writes. "Take action to reestablish contact. Pick up the phone and call. Write a note. Send a birthday card. Even if there is no response, continue to do it, even for years."