My Little Sister’s Wedding

Genesis 37:1-40:23

By Daniel M. Jaffe

Published December 23, 2005, issue of December 23, 2005.
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Why am I standing here at my little sister’s wedding, and glaring? Unlike you, Joseph’s brothers (and sister!) would have understood me. Go read Vayeshev, my favorite childhood Torah portion.

I’m glaring because you stopped letting me crawl into bed with you after she was born, there not being enough room between you for two. I’m glaring because you sewed clusters of multicolored balloons onto my old, drab pink pj’s and gave the new-and-improved versions to her. Because all the relatives stuffing themselves with kugels and rugelach said her baby-naming celebration was fancy shmancy, so different from my bagel-and-cream-cheese party four years earlier, and “Aren’t you lucky to have an angelic baby sister with tiny button nose and wispy blond hair so much more goyish than your ordinary Jewish nose and brown curls?” Goyish as higher standard of beauty.

I’m glaring because when I was 8, you scolded me for blowing out the Sabbath candles even before asking which of us had done it. (Meanwhile, she giggled in the corner while peeling wax from her fingertips.) Because, when I was 10, you scolded me for tearing off a hunk of freshly baked challah even before asking which of us had done it. (Yes, it was me, but that’s not the point.)

Because by the time of her bat mitzvah, you had better jobs and bought her a cream-colored blouse with ruffles and pearl buttons down the front and a navy blue skirt with hem pleats and a shiny narrow belt, all to show off her new cute figure, whereas my bat mitzvah outfit had been a plain formless black dress to mask my pudgy middle. Because you could afford for her those newfangled transparent braces that didn’t look like the concentration camp barbed wire you forced me to wear for years. Because your genes gave her less teen acne than they gave me. Because boys noticed, and you noticed, and relatives noticed, everyone lingering longer with hello kisses against her smooth cheeks than against my scabby ones. Because I noticed.

Because work kept you too busy to attend my high school debate club events, but miraculously allowed you time to attend her swim meets. Because she didn’t care in high school that her grades were poor. Because you whispered to me that you made bigger fusses over her meager academic achievements than you’d ever made over my honor-roll ones, because she was not as bright and needed encouragement. Because I pretended to believe you.

Because, when at junior college, she lied, telling you she lit candles every Sabbath, attended Hillel services on holidays, dated only Jewish boys and never went back to their dorm rooms. Because you believed her. Because I refused to lie about the one time a boy took me to his room in college — yes, believe it or not, a boy wanted me, a Jewish boy who, like me, attended classes on Yom Kippur in principled protest against conformity to the dictates of organized religion. Because I refused to lie also about this lapse in observance and told you, challenged you, and you shook your heads and walked away instead of telling me you disagreed but still respected me. Because you stopped wishing me a “Shana Tova” after that, switched to “Happy New Year” while wishing my sister a newly concocted “Shana Tova-Gut Yontif,” as if emphasizing your favoritism in two mamaloshn languages. How foolish of me to have given you the excuse you’d always been searching for.

Because you gave her larger monthly “help” checks after college graduation than you ever gave me, since “she’s more social than you and needs to spend more on clothes for her many dates.” And “to each according to her needs,” you added with a recidivist Marxist-Bundist chuckle, which revealed that you knew how ridiculous your reasoning was, yet spouted it anyway as if proper surface excuses could actually excuse anything.

Because I can’t untangle my Cinderella resentments at her from my angers at you and even at myself. Because, because, because. So I turn my head aside as she says, “I do,” even though I’m here, right here, her maiden of honor beneath the tallit chupah, standing up for her, doing the decent thing and honoring my sister in outer presence but not inside, standing opposite you on the bimah, exacting Judah-like sibling vengeance the only way I know how — by withholding from her and from you signs of the love that bubble up inside me, despite myself.

Daniel M. Jaffe, compiler-editor of “With Signs and Wonders: An International Anthology of Jewish Fabulist Fiction” (Invisible Cities Press, 2001), lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.

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