I take the faded velvet jewelry roll from the safe and spill out the contents on my bed. There are five items altogether, but my sole focus is on the heavy gold chain bearing a piercing green stone.

I lift it gently, but a sickening feeling begins to rise in my stomach, and I let it drop from my hand.

The pendant! The cause of a struggle that lasted for more than four decades ...

Caracas, Venezuela, 1932

Oma’s first thoughts as she left the dock in one of the few cars in Caracas was that she wanted to go home. Wagons? Horses? It was a far cry from her beloved Frankfurt; she knew from the start that she would never get to like this place.

And she never did, even though she was eternally grateful to Opa for literally forcing her to leave her homeland only a year before the German people lost their minds. And Opa not only saved her life and the lives of her four children; his unexpected success in business—he was formerly a rabbi—allowed her to live in style.

But at what price? With little in the way of Jewish education, all four of her children strayed from their roots. But the fifth, my beloved Papa, who was born in Venezuela, was sent to New York to study at Yeshivat Torah Vodaat, where he thrived.

When Papa married Ima and she covered her hair, Oma’s joy knew no bounds.

Haifa, 1977

Papa had already been living in Haifa for a few years when Oma passed away. After Opa’s passing, Oma no longer wanted to remain in Caracas with her other children, who were barely recognizable as Jews. For her sake, Papa and Ima agreed to join her in Haifa, where she enjoyed the company of several older women originally from Frankfurt, along with her doting children and grandchildren.

After she passed on at an advanced age, it was taken for granted that Papa would be the executor of her will, even though he was the youngest child. No one minded. In truth, no one cared; her children were all financially independent, and that included Papa. When her assets were divided equally into five parts, the siblings—who were prone to squabble—were gratified that they hadn’t needed to argue about money.

But the same couldn’t be said of the jewelry! Everyone knew that Oma loved jewelry, and Opa gifted her liberally with a large collection of not too valuable beads and bangles that she wore with pride.

“Let everyone come and take what they want,” wrote Oma in her will.

That part wasn’t hard; at the end of shiva, the daughter and daughters-in-law giggled over the rather gaudy pieces they considered to be hopelessly outdated. They gave it to their children for playtime to “dress up.”

There were some exceptions, however. Oma owned five “special” pieces of jewelry, and she wanted them to be distributed through a lottery between her five children.

Once again, almost no one minded—almost no one, that is, apart from Tante Sylvie, Papa’s sister, who was 18 years his senior. Will or no will, she wasn’t going to come on board.

New York, 1983

Six years after Oma’s passing, the said five pieces remained unclaimed in a safe in our apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., where we had moved in 1980. (Ima, the daughter of a wealthy South American industrialist, had never been partial to Haifa.)

Sylvie, who by this time lived in Manhattan, was not giving in. The reason—or at least the reason she gave—was that many years before, her own husband, Eduardo, had presented Oma with a birthday gift of a gold chain bearing a green stone ... the pendant!

Now that Oma was no longer alive, she assumed that it automatically belonged to her.

It was not an unreasonable assumption, thought the other siblings, who had no special affection for the pendant. Let Sylvie take it, and they’d draw lots for the other four pieces without her.

“Nothing doing,” said Papa. The will stated categorically that all five pieces had to be included in the lottery, and all five siblings had to take part.

Anxious to appease Sylvie, the sisters and sisters-in-law graciously agreed among themselves that if one of them won the pendant, they would give it to Sylvie. She’d get her pendant, come what may.

“Nothing doing!” said Sylvie. The pendant was hers by right and did not belong in the lottery.


Sylvie declared emphatically that she was not going to change her mind, and life carried on. There had never been a particularly warm relationship between the siblings, and in the years that followed, their connections became weaker, even though all five eventually lived in New York.

Was it because of Sylvie’s “defection”? Or was it because they considered Papa to be overly stringent in enforcing Oma’s will?

New Jersey, 2021

Papa had passed away without ever conducting the lottery. Not long after, Sylvie passed on, too, without ever receiving the pendant.

The other siblings went on to a better world where lotteries and pendants have no value.

Meanwhile, the five pieces sit in a faded velvet jewelry roll in a safe in my home, and I rarely give the whole matter more than a fleeting thought.

But when I do, it gnaws at my heart. I urge my husband, Eli, to take the pendant to be appraised by an expert jeweler, if only to validate the awful friction it caused.

I am excited and nervous as I await his return. In my imagination, I visualize him coming back with the news that the pendant is worth a fortune. Although this will not remove the pain, at least it will bring us some sort of closure.

Eli’s expression is inscrutable when he eventually comes through the door. Is that a half-smile on his face or a half-frown?

“Say something already!” I plead. “Let me hear the news!”

“Sit down, Esty,” he tells me.

Sit? Is it worth so much that he thinks I’m going to faint? Nah, I’m going to whoop with joy!


“So, nu?”

“$500 max, depending on the price of gold.”


“$500! Obviously, it cost a whole lot less when it was purchased.”

Oy, I really think I am going to faint after all!

If the siblings in this story had known that they were fighting over a piece of common jewelry, would they have rethought their positions? Perhaps they would have done well to bear in mind the words of King David: “For he will not take anything in his death his glory will not descend after him.” (Psalms, Chapter 49)

How often do siblings tear apart the bonds of blood and a common home over money and trivialities that seem so important at the moment, but are immaterial compared to the values of peace and love, and will not accompany them past the grave?

How often are we so intent on being right that we sacrifice that which really matters?