For years, I was angry at my Aunt Arlene.

Before I was angry, I had always liked her. Growing up, whenever we met the Boston Leventhals at my grandmother's home in Philadelphia, Arlene would entertain us for hours with slideshows of her family's most recent hikes and adventures, or news of a revolutionary Political Science research project she had just begun at her university, or anecdotes about the many fascinating people she had recently befriended - punctuated, as always, with one of her infectious belly-laughs.

There was something worldlier, more sophisticated about my cousinsI had always looked up to my aunt, uncle, and cousins from Boston. Before we children would set off from my grandmother's downtown apartment for the neighborhood playground, my mother would warn me and my sisters to stick close to our cousins who "know their way around the city." She didn't say this just because our cousins were older than us and were more familiar with Philadelphia than we were. It was that there was something worldlier, more sophisticated about my cousins than us Pittsburgh Leventhals. When we played follow-the-leader, stepping one by one across the logs surrounding the playground, the Boston Leventhals always led, and my sisters and I always followed.

My cousins were also far more Jewishly knowledgeable than my sisters and me. While we attended two hours of "Cultural Studies" every Sunday morning at our Reform temple, my cousins attended a liberal Jewish day school where my uncle was a teacher for many years. At the family Passover Seder, my cousin Susie drew approving nods from my grandmother when she would comment on the grammar of Hebrew words in the Haggadah. I have rarely felt longing more keen than I felt in the shadow of my cousins' awe-inspiring Jewish wisdom.

Things started turning rocky between Aunt Arlene and me when I attended her son's wedding a few months after I completed law school.

Shortly before the wedding, I had started becoming traditionally observant. My extended family reacted to my very-unexpected "conversion" with great ambivalence. I was not sure what to expect when I would see them for the first time at my cousin's wedding.

My cousin got married on the shore of a breathtaking blue lake, as the sun set behind the couple and their hand-embroidered chupah. Jason had always been my favorite cousin, and I adored his bride, whom Jason had been dating since their senior prom. But still, no matter how much I loved the couple, I did not feel a part of the festive toast-making and dancing and merrymaking that was taking place all around me.

At that point in my life, I still knew very little about Judaism. I had learned a little about keeping kosher, and wearing skirts, and taping light switches into place on Friday afternoon. But I had learned enough to know that no matter how much I loved Jason and his bride, the fact that Jason would be the first Leventhal in history to marry a non-Jewish woman meant that what was happening underneath that hand-made chuppah, the Jewish marriage canopy, was in fact, a tragedy of monumental proportions.

At the table of drinks, I ran into my Aunt Arlene. "Mazal Tov!" I lied, "What a wonderful wedding!" I forced myself to smile. Arlene smiled back, baring her teeth. I told Arlene how much I would love to see an album of photographs she had found of my grandparents' wedding. "Why would you want to see it?" she challenged me. "Your grandmother wasn't married in an Orthodox ceremony!" She spewed the word "Orthodox" as she might have if she were saying the words "ridiculous" or "disgusting" or "unforgivable."

Soon afterwards, I moved to Israel and I lost touch with my Aunt Arlene. And that was the way I wanted it. I was angry at her. Very angry.

I spent the next two years totally immersed in studyI spent the next two years totally immersed in study of Jewish philosophy, the Bible, and the nitty-gritty details of Jewish law. And every year before Yom Kippur, our teachers would lecture us on the importance of not holding grudges, of making peace.

So every Yom Kippur I thought of Aunt Arlene, but I did nothing. I decided to stay angry.

At the end of those two years, I got engaged. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to patch things up with Aunt Arlene and to move on. I sent a fax to Arlene to tell her the good news. There was no response. I sent her a wedding invitation with a handwritten note. Arlene didn't RSVP. I waited for a present to arrive for months, and then years. But it never came. She didn't even send a card.

So I stayed angry. One Yom Kippur passed, and then another. I had one child and then another. Eight Yom Kippur's passed, then nine. I grew older, and my Aunt Arlene grew older too.

When Arlene celebrated her 60th birthday, I sent a card congratulating her. She wrote back and congratulated me on the birth of my third child a few months before. The moment I saw her return address on the envelope, eleven years worth of bad feelings disappeared like water soaked up into a sandy beach. It was almost as though I had never been angry at all.

By the time we flew to America for a family Bar Mitzvah last year, I was looking forward to seeing my Aunt Arlene. It had been thirteen years since I had last spoken with her by that table of drinks.

At the Bar Mitzvah, the moment I walked into the hall, Arlene pushed herself up with effort out of her chair. "It is so wonderful to see you!" She puckered her lips and gave me a big, noisy kiss on the cheek, followed by a big bear hug. I knew at that moment that it had been worth it to travel that whole way, just to feel myself in her arms - like the little girl I had once been in the embrace of her beloved aunt.

I told her that her grandson, the Bar Mitzvah boy, had read beautifully from the Torah. She told me, "I've never liked the services here so much. To tell you the truth, I've always preferred the Chabad synagogue," and she winked and flashed me a mischievous smile.

In the months following the Bar Mitzvah, Arlene and I emailed back and forth a few times. She had neighbors visiting Israel, could they contact me? She had a colleague who was writing a book about the Middle East peace process, could he call me to get my feedback? Maybe she and my uncle could come visit us the following Chanukah, what did I think?

I was afraid it wasn't going to work outI was due to give birth that December, so I told her that I was afraid it wasn't going to work out. They could come some other time, I thought. On the first night of Chanukah, I gave birth to a baby girl whom we named Shoshana Raizel. We named our daughter after my grandmother, who had passed away the previous summer.

A few days after the birth, I received the following email.

Congratulations on the birth of your daughter Shoshana Raizel. I am pleased and deeply moved with the recognition of my mother, of blessed memory. I am sure this honor you have bestowed upon her is something that would have brought my mother great happiness.
Love to all from Aunt Arlene

What a sweet feeling, I later told my husband. In Arlene's eyes, her wayward niece had finally done good.

I emailed Arlene back that same day, but I never heard back from her.

And, it turns out, I never will.

The week after I received that email, my older sister left me a message that I should call her back as soon as possible. And somehow, I knew right away.

When my sister told me that Arlene had died, I felt very sad. I also felt a feeling that surprised me. I felt tremendous relief.

Thank G‑d, I realized, that Aunt Arlene and I had forgiven each other in time! What a terrible tragedy to hold onto anger until it is too late to forgive and forget.

How fragile, how volatile, are our relationships with those who are closest to us. How careful we must be with our families, immediate and extended - the human beings we can hate the most fiercely, or if we would only open our hearts, love the most dearly.