Dear Rachel,

I am Jewish but was not really raised with any religious observance. Some years we would go to temple for Yom Kippur but aside from that, we really did nothing. Last year my sister went to Israel for a year abroad in college. The person who has returned is someone I don't even recognize. She calls herself a "baal tshuva" and now wants to go learn in yeshiva after she graduates from college. I am really scared that I have lost my big sister to Judaism and am not sure if she will accept me into her life since I am not religious. I respect what she is doing and she is not pushing anything on me, but I don't see myself ever sharing her new lifestyle. If she is a religious Jew, will she be able to stay close with me?



Dear Scared,

As you grow and evolve, your relationship also evolvesIt is very hard when someone we know and love changes and we are not sure where we fit in with their new lifestyle. A common form of this is when a close friend or relative gets married, and now they have shifted from a single friend to spend time with, to a married woman who has a relationship and life that doesn't involve you in the same way. In your situation, your sister has recently discovered more about her Judaism and is now interested in living a Torah observant life. I can personally relate to this as I went through a very similar situation, though in my case I was in your sister's shoes. So the following advice is based on what worked for me and my family and some of the lessons I learned along the way.

For starters, please know that not only should she stay close with you, but the love that you have for one another should only increase and strengthen as you deal with this new stage in your relationship.

Growing up together, the two of you have no doubt each seen the other go through many changes. Some of the biggest ones- marriage, parenthood, career shifts, etc are still ahead. As you grow and evolve, your relationship also evolves. I know that right now it seems as though your sister is going through changes which are very far from where you expected the map of your lives and your relationship to go, but keep in mind- you are still sisters. However awkward it may seem at times, you will adjust to this change as well. So long as you are both respectful of each other, chances are all of this will only make your relationship stronger.

Yet, some things will be different and the adjustment may be hard. And not everything will seem equal. For example, you will be able to go with her to dinner at a kosher restaurant, but she will not be able to go with you to dinner at a non kosher restaurant. If you choose to go with her on a Friday night to a Shabbat meal, she will not be able to then go out to a club with you the next Friday. This can be difficult. It can be seen as you are the only one being flexible and she is not. Understand that this is not because of a change in her love or respect for you or a lack of desire on her part to be flexible. If you look for ways to include her in your life which won't conflict with the 'rules' she has taken on, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much you can still share.

Hopefully, as you go along the two of you will gain a new appreciation for the beliefs and values and even tastes which you do still have in common- perhaps a shared passion for meaningful volunteer work, an appreciation for nature, or a love of Jewish history......

Simultaneously, both of you will have to give each other the space you needs. While she needs you to respect the different choices she is making now, she needs to respect your choices as well. You are on your own journey in this world, and that needs to be accepted. No one should be pushing anyone onto a spiritual path. Whether or not you choose to start observing Jewish commandments is up to you and may or may not happen. But you certainly shouldn't feel coerced or pressured by anyone else.

Now her respecting your choices might be easier said than done. Often, when something is new to someone and they are excited about it, they feel the need to talk about it constantly and push others in the same direction. This can be overwhelming and uncomfortable to others, but with time, as she becomes more settled with her choices, it will hopefully calm down. If you feel that she is pushing you, speak openly to her about it. Remind her that while you are respecting her choices and decisions, you expect the same from her.

Judaism and Torah are intended to bring us closer together, not tear us apartI'd like to point out that you may have many questions and concerns as you watch her new lifestyle, and I imagine that she will be able to answer many things, but certainly not all. Please remember that she is still learning about Judaism herself. And she did not learn from someone who had just begun the learning process, but most likely from rabbis and teachers who have spent the majority of their lives learning and developing in these areas.

I am explaining this, so that if you do have issues she can't address, do yourself a favor and find someone with the knowledge who can. Putting her on trial and making her defend every aspect of Jewish law or custom can be overwhelming to her and destructive to your relationship. She will need her time and space to adjust to the changes she has made and to gain the knowledge and confidence in her choices. Like any major change in life, it is a process, not an overnight shift, even if it may seem that way now. While she might externally be walking the walk and dressing the dress, it will definitely take time for her to really understand and live internally a lifestyle according to Torah.

My last suggestion to you would be to go with her (or alone) and speak with one of her rabbis or teachers. It is important that you explain your concerns and ask your questions. Judaism and Torah are intended to bring us closer together, not tear us apart. I hope that you and your sister will only strengthen your relationship because of her choices and that you will both grow and develop in your individual ways.