Our dream vacation turned a family simchah into a sibling drama
Malka: If you flew in for our simchah, why do we feel like an afterthought?
Chani: We’re so happy to be here, but we have families of our own.
When my daughter Perry got engaged to a born-and-bred Israeli, one of my younger ones said to me, “Ima, right we’re not moving back to America anymore?”
It’s been a family joke for the longest time. We never really planned on living here long term, it was always just one year and then another and another, and somehow, we have eight children growing up as full-fledged Israelis (well, kind of, at least) and we’re actually making a chasunah here.
It hit me when we started chasunah planning that we’d been living here for more than two decades, and this was the very first time we’d be making a simchah and actually hosting family from abroad. The first time my siblings would be flying in for my special occasion, after all these years and years of us flying back for theirs.
My parents and my parents-in-law have come over the years, various births and brissim, but our first bar mitzvah took place in the height of Covid — no guests — and though of course my siblings have visited here and there, we’ve never had a significant amount of family coming together for a simchah on our turf.
It was a real milestone moment.
It was easy to set a date for the wedding — summer vacation, of course. That’s when it would work out best for our guests from abroad to fly in, right?
And my siblings — every one of them! — let me know that they would be coming. My parents and in-laws, of course, were coming, too, and most of my siblings-in-law, aside from my husband’s sister who was due in the summer. Truth be told, I kind of expected them all to make the effort. We’d flown in for so many of their simchahs over the years — and let me tell you, the costs added up to a whole lot more than we could really afford. Now was their chance to reciprocate — and spend a dream summer vacation in Eretz Yisrael. Why on earth wouldn’t they come?
Making a wedding, though, was nothing compared to making a wedding with dozens of guests from abroad.
My parents, my in-laws, and each of our siblings with their families all needed places to stay. An apartment for four, an apartment for six, an apartment for nine. Apartments with easy stroller access for my sisters, and not too many stairs for my elderly father-in-law. And since it was the height of the summer, of course, apartments with air conditioning in all the bedrooms and preferably a mirpeset….
Each family had their list and their preferences, near the stores and near us and near a bus stop. And while summertime leaves many apartments available for short-term rent, they were simply too expensive for us. But then again, which of my friends or neighbors would be willing to give their apartment for free, especially knowing that they’d be getting the electricity bills afterward for the air conditioning blasting 24/7?
Here and there, I found people willing to give us their apartments for cost price — we’d just have to pay the electricity and water bills. I wasn’t about to ask my guests to pay for their own accommodations, so that went on our own list of chasunah expenses. Still, that was part of the price of hosting family — and I was so grateful to have all this family coming.
“So the apartment you got for us has enough beds, plus a crib for the baby, right?” my sister Yocheved asked late one evening. The calls from America started coming in just when Israelis closed their eyes for the night. “And also, we were wondering, what’s the best way to get to you from the airport? Can you arrange some sort of minivan for us? Preferably with a driver who speaks English?”
I closed my eyes briefly. Transportation, that was next. My mother’s sister, my great-aunt Russy, was flying in, too. She was landing late at night and needed a female driver to pick her up — and she doesn’t speak a single word of Ivrit.
I was up to my ears arranging rides for my parents and my in-laws, and answering a million questions from all my siblings and siblings-in-law organizing their own transportation and vacation plans.
But I tried to do it for them happily. After all, I was so grateful that they were coming. I could handle a few more items on my to-do list.
The chasunah was on a Monday, and most of our guests were flying in before Shabbos. I was excited to spend Shabbos with my family; the wedding itself would be crazy busy and then the week of sheva brachos…. I wasn’t exactly sure of my family’s plans, but I knew it would be busy. On my end, on theirs…. Shabbos would be the time to reconnect, spend time with my siblings, and give them a glimpse of our life and home and community here in Eretz Yisrael.
Well, that was what I thought… until I realized that most of them weren’t planning on spending the Shabbos Kallah nearby.
“What, there’s something going on then? I figured it was our family’s chance to spend Shabbos in Yerushalayim,” my brother Yaakov said.
“There’s nothing official going on then. But that’s why I thought it was the best time to spend Shabbos as a family,” I said.
Meir was flying in only after Shabbos, taking the bare minimum of days off work and leaving his family behind.
Yocheved and Leah were sharing an apartment in Yerushalayim for a few days. They’d be going there straight from the airport and joining us in Kiryat Sefer on Monday morning. I could tell they were excited to be near the Kosel, Geula, the stores and the action.
Dina, my youngest sister, was going with some of her siblings-in-law to a tzimmer in Tzfas for Shabbos.
They all seemed very comfortable and happy and excited with their plans. But all I could think about was when Leah made a chasunah last year, and Aryeh and I were there from the aufruf to the wedding to the sheva brachos — everything up until our flight home. And we’d flown in for all of Chani’s weddings, but we’d barely done any shopping or trips… we were focused on being a part of the simchah that we’d traveled for.
But it seemed it was too late to start asking people to change their plans, although I was disappointed they hadn’t thought of it the same way I did — the chance for us to spend Shabbos as a family.
I consoled myself that the wedding and sheva brachos themselves would be the main thing. And they were coming all this way for that; surely we’d get to enjoy their company sometime during the frenetic, exciting, busy week.
The days raced and the weeks disappeared behind them, and suddenly it was happening: Perry in her white dress and sparkling tiara, suits and gowns and updos and makeup and guests and relatives, and before I could even blink, the music was playing and I was walking down the aisle, Perry’s arm linked with mine, a haze of tears blurring my vision.
I couldn’t believe this was happening.
When the chassan’s foot came down on the glass and music erupted around us, I was surrounded by my family. My mother and sisters pressed in on me, hugging and beaming and wishing mazel tov, and for the first time in all these years living far from home, I had my family celebrating a milestone alongside me.
I just wanted to savor the moment, but that was exactly what I couldn’t do, with the pictures and the seudah and the speeches and dancing and so many guests to greet and thank, all the while tearing up every time I saw my daughter.
My neighbors were genuinely shocked at the sheer number of guests from chutz l’Aretz. But to me it felt like validation — after all those years of being the chutznik, the one making Yom Tov alone, the one without a mother or sister for emergency Shabbos meals or babysitting, now I could show the world, or at least our corner of it, that I had a family, too.
Not that I saw them much. My brothers, of course, were on the other side of the mechitzah, and while I danced with my sisters and sisters-in-law, they were sitting at their tables and I was sitting next to the kallah and my new mechuteneste, and trying to ensure that my mother and mother-in-law seemed comfortable.
But there was still a whole week ahead of us. Right?
My husband’s kollel made the first night sheva brachos. It was held in the shul where the kollel learned, with a black and gold color scheme, plastic plates and pretty napkins and lots of sparkly confetti. They’d asked me for the numbers of guests from abroad, and had invited all of my siblings and siblings-in-law. They’d stopped at kids, though, and I got that: kein ayin hara, both extended families included a lot of people.
“I don’t think I’ll make it tonight,” my sister Dina had told me apologetically, when she and her kids had landed on us at 2 p.m. for breakfast. “My kids are zonked and so am I. And where am I supposed to find them babysitting, anyway?”
“I could maybe ask a neighbor to send her daughter,” I offered.
“No, don’t bother, I need to sleep. I’m sooo jet lagged.”
Yocheved said the same, Meir was flying back already, and the others had taken their kids on some trip to a nearby park and promised to stop at the sheva brachos, “once everyone was sleeping.”
In hindsight, that shouldn’t have sounded promising.
I sat with my mother and daughters, trying not to watch the door and the two empty tables, gold plastic plates and sparkly confetti waiting patiently for guests who never showed up.
Eventually, I gave up watching.
“I feel so bad that you prepared for so many people who didn’t come,” I said to one of the kollel wives before bentshing. “I guess they were all so jet-lagged… you know how it goes.”
“Don’t worry, it’s totally fine,” she reassured me. But I still felt bad. They’d bought and prepared so much food that wasn’t used. And then I overheard one of them asking my mother what she thought of the décor, how they’d gone all out to make it fancy for the Americans (what was the fancy? The napkins? Confetti? The individual desserts?). Now I felt really bad. They’d been all prepared to host my siblings and siblings-in-law, and not a single one of them had shown up.
It wasn’t just disappointing for me.
My children were hurt, too.
“Ima, you told us that we’d play with the cousins,” my younger ones complained to me.
“I’m so bored,” grouched my 12-year-old.
I felt bad for them — sheva brachos week is no fun for the younger siblings, too little sleep and no normal schedules and mealtimes all over the place.
And I hadn’t signed the kids up for any camps this year — we simply had too much going on (read: too many expenses).
I’d reassured myself — and them — that it would be fine, they had dozens of cousins coming from America, they’d get to spend time together, to go out or play at home. I’d actually been so excited about that — when did my kids ever get to spend time with cousins? Especially in their own home?
Never, as it turned out.
It seemed like whenever my siblings weren’t sleeping, they were taking their kids on exotic outings, and even if they would’ve invited my kids to join, they were getting back too late to join sheva brachos or anything. And it wasn’t as if they were offering our kids to join, either. They were doing their own thing, water parks and beaches and shopping and whatever, and my kids were the only cousins missing out on all the fun.
I was hurt for me, but more, I was hurt for them. They were always the Israeli cousins, on the sidelines; they’d been so excited to show their cousins around, take them out, be the ones in the know for a change. And instead, their cousins were disappearing on adventures together, and our family was left in the dusty heat, dressing up for another sheva brachos where none of our overseas guests showed up.
And then came Shabbos sheva brachos.
Shabbos sheva brachos was what I’d been pinning my hopes on. We’d have some real family time, I’d catch up with my siblings, we’d finally sit down and enjoy the simchah with all our guests from abroad.
We were making the event in a hall. Technically we were hosting together with our mechutanim, but I was doing the arrangements, the party planning, the menu and décor and invites and all, and I was excited to really host my family in a more intimate setting, where I could actually pay attention to them.
It was still a crowd — I was estimating close to 100, between our family and the chassan’s siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and a few others. Till Yocheved called me, a few days before.
“Can we come over to say goodbye?” she asked. “We’re catching the bus to Yerushalayim soon.”
“Yerushalayim?” My mind blanked. “Wait, you were there last Shabbos, no? Aren’t you staying here until after Shabbos?”
Yocheved coughed. “We weren’t sure… I thought at the beginning we’d stay here for Shabbos sheva brachos, but my kids are super bored. They have nothing to do… and Chaim’s friend has an empty apartment, and we figured, we’ll go today and do some touring with the kids, and then why schlep back to Kiryat Sefer for Shabbos when we could have an apartment there? We haven’t been to Israel in years, it’s a real opportunity for us to have one more Shabbos there before we fly back on Sunday.”
A real opportunity.
And what about my simchah? The one that they came for in the first place?
“I feel bad,” Yocheved said. “I know we thought we’d be staying for Shabbos…. I’ll be honest, though, it’s not just the kids. Chaim has nothing to do here, it’s really not his style place, know what I mean? And the apartment… it was really sweet of you to find us somewhere to stay, but it’s like… I don’t know, a bit old and has a funny smell.” She giggled. “It reminds me of the machsan we lived in in shanah rishonah, two flights underground. And the kids are sleeping on these bunkbeds with pullout mattresses all touching each other… I know that Israelis live like that, but we really can’t. No one’s sleeping, and everyone’s fighting, we just need to get them somewhere with a bit more breathing space.”
She said this all so cavalierly, as if I hadn’t spent weeks trying to find her cheap-but-still-nice accommodation for her and her family. As if I weren’t the one paying the electricity and water bills for them, as if I hadn’t hunted down a travel Pack ’n Play and lent her linen and gone to set up the day before making a wedding so she could be comfortable.
And seriously, the apartment was not so bad. The tiles were old and the walls needed painting, but seriously? They couldn’t manage a few days here? This was how I lived.
After speaking to Yocheved, I figured I’d check with my other siblings, make sure my guest list was updated.
My oldest sister Chani had already told me they were leaving Kiryat Sefer. “We spent last Shabbos here, and I really want one Shabbos in Yerushalayim,” she said. I understood, but my heart still sank at the thought. I’d hardly spent time with Chani, and I’d been hoping to get to see her over this Shabbos.
Meir had already left, Leah’s parents-in-law had taken a villa with a pool somewhere up north and invited them for a few days, Chani and Yocheved were going to Yerushalayim.
That left my brother Yaakov and my youngest sister Dina, both of whom had been taking their families on full-day trips all week. They hadn’t attended any other sheva brachos, but at least for Shabbos, right?
I tried to look at the positive, appreciate the ones who were there. But I couldn’t help but compare what my siblings were doing to all the trips I’d made for their simchahs. We hadn’t dreamed of taking our kids touring and skipping parts of the family simchah. Couldn’t they see how hurtful it was to be left out at our own special time?
Friday night, I looked around the half-empty hall. My parents were there, my in-laws, Yaakov and Miri and their kids, Dina and Shloimy and theirs. One of my husband’s brothers had stayed with his family, too.
And that was all.
Thirty people, out of the 100 I’d planned for.
I’d been able to adjust the portion orders in advance, but still, the hall was big, it looked so empty, and that hurt. I’d been dreaming of this family Shabbos, the sheva brachos where I’d host my extended family, I’d bent over backward finding them apartments for the week, paying deposits and trying to put them all up, accommodating their needs and requests and requirements….
Honestly, this felt like a slap in the face. Like they hadn’t come for me, for my simchah, at all. They’d come on vacation, and they’d fit us into their schedule when it happened to work out for them.
My mother and Dina sat near me, we schmoozed a little, and yes, it was nice to spend time with them. But all I could think about was how I’d dreamed of this Shabbos being the highlight of the simchah, the climax of all my hard work. Chani, Yocheved, Leah, my brother Meir and his family… and now they’d all gone off to do their own thing, leaving me and my family with an empty hall and a sheva brachos that suddenly felt lonely and unappealing, like we were the foreign branch of the family being left out again.
I’d worked so hard to accommodate everyone. But no one was there.
If I could tell my family one thing, it would be: You flew in to join our simchah, but instead left us alone, hurt, and excluded.
Malka’s Perry was engaged!
It was her first wedding — and our first time planning a family trip to Eretz Yisrael.
Can you believe that? I’ve been married almost 30 years, and we’ve never taken a family trip to the Holy Land.
We talked about it all the time, maybe next Succos, maybe this summer. Somehow, though, it had never worked out. It was always “another time,” and “maybe next year.”
Well, now was definitely going to be the time.
“Tickets are ridiculously priced in the summer,” Baruch commented, as he looked up tickets for various dates before the wedding.
“I know, but Malka wanted everyone to come, that’s why she set the date for vacation,” I said. “And there’s no way we’re missing it. She never missed any of ours. Remember when she brought her whole family for literally 48 hours to make it to Yossi’s chasunah? And when we married off Ruchi, she stayed for the entire week of sheva brachos. We have to go. Besides, I want to!”
“Me, too, but you don’t want to know how much the trip is going to cost,” Baruch mumbled, leaning a little closer to the screen. “It’s a lot of tickets, you know.”
“It’s summer vacation,” I said, airily. “The kids aren’t going to camp, we’re doing a two-week trip to Israel instead. It’ll be fine.”
Baruch mumbled something but continued clicking different flight options. I wasn’t worried; we’ve been wanting to do Israel for years, this is our chance, and expensive flights or not, we were going to have an amazing time.
I couldn’t wait to see Malka and her family.
And to take the kids on a really special vacation they’d always remember.
“We have to stay in Yerushalayim,” Baruch said. “I want to do this properly, give the kids the full experience.”
“We’re going for the simchah, let’s remember that,” I said. “We need to work around the wedding and sheva brachos, and they’re all happening in Kiryat Sefer.”
“I know that, but there is literally n-o-t-h-i-n-g to do in Kiryat Sefer,” Baruch said. “We need to spend one Shabbos in Yerushalayim. For the kids. For us, also.”
Shabbos in Yerushalayim.
Walking to the Kosel, walking through the streets, the atmosphere, the beauty… of course he was right, of course we had to do that.
I spoke to my sisters, they were all hopping with plans and ideas. “So the Shabbos before the wedding, we’re taking an apartment in Yerushalayim together with Leah. It’s going to cost a fortune but it’s so worth it,” Yocheved told me. “Maybe you can find one nearby?”
“Maybe if none of you are there for the Shabbos Kallah, I should do it the other way around. Spend the first Shabbos in Kiryat Sefer, and then the second one in Yerushalayim?” I wondered.
“But then you’ll miss Shabbos sheva brochos,” Yocheved said.
“I know, but still, we’ll have one Shabbos with them, and Baruch says there’s nothing much for my boys to do in Kiryat Sefer all week. I think we’ll come for the first Shabbos, stay through until Tuesday or Wednesday, and then leave for a week in Yerushalayim. Need to keep the teenagers entertained.”
“That makes sense. There’s soooooo much to do in Yerushalayim. The Old City and the Kosel and Geula and like, Segways and places to eat and the Kosel tunnels and the Old City tours….” I smiled. Yocheved sounded actually giddy.
“I can’t wait,” I told Yocheved. This trip was going to be amazing.
The first few days were everything I thought they would be.
We stumbled, jet-lagged, into Malka’s apartment late Thursday evening. I hugged Malka; it was hard to believe how long it had been since we’d seen each other’s families.
“Let me take you to where you’re staying,” Malka said. She was calm and serene as ever; you wouldn’t imagine she was making a wedding the next week.
We were staying in two separate apartments — it was hard to find someone with enough space for all ten of us. My teenage boys were fine with the idea of staying in their own apartment, and we dropped them off first before going on to an apartment two buildings over, where my husband and I and five of the kids were being put up.
“Oh, wow. This is… the real deal,” I said, looking around the sparse, impossibly tidy Israeli apartment. Malka smiled slightly; she looked like she didn’t get it. I guess you get used to it.
The kids didn’t look too impressed with their sleeping quarters — two in one room, three in the other, speckled tiled floors and wardrobes with chipped wood and some missing door handles. But it was all clean and neat and Malka had really worked hard to find us somewhere to stay.
“Thanks so much. We’ll see you tomorrow,” I told her.
Shabbos was beautiful. And hot. The sun blazed down as we walked back and forth from seudos at Malka’s to the place we were staying.
“Kiryat Sefer is boiling in the summer,” Baruch told me. “Good thing we found somewhere in Yerushalayim for next week.”
The kids were excited about the upcoming trip, too. After the initial excitement wore off, they were finding sitting around Kiryat Sefer hot and boring. We took them to the Kosel on Sunday, but it was late by the time we got there, busing into Yerushalayim and then struggling to get directions and squeezing on another bus, braving the heat and the crowds and then getting back to Kiryat Sefer late at night, after picking up supper and doing the whole trip in reverse.
“I feel like we barely did anything, and we were traveling all day,” grumbled Dovid.
I couldn’t disagree with him.
“After the wedding, we’re going to do all the touring you want,” I promised.
The wedding itself was something special, Perry looked radiant, and I had a great time with my sisters. There’s nothing like everyone sitting together at a simchah. I was so happy we could all be there for Malka; she’d come to so many of ours despite the long trip.
The next day, we all slept late — the heat, the jet lag, the late night, all catching up with us. By the time we woke up, the day was half gone, and the kids were pining to go out and do something.
Baruch was looking up directions online. “There’s some sort of big park with boating not too far away,” he filled me in. “We need to go somewhere, do something. Let’s take them there, and hopefully we’ll get back in time for sheva brachos….”
I called my sisters. Leah and Yocheved were both excited to join, they had no plans either, and the kids were getting bored and irritated.
“Think we’ll get back for the sheva brachos?” I asked Leah.
“Listen, maybe we will and maybe we won’t, but my priority is to keep the kids busy,” she said, practically. “They’re bored and cranky and they’re not invited to anything tonight. If we get back in time and we can go, then great. If not, then fine. It’s just a sheva brachos, we don’t even know the hosts.”
I felt the same way.
“We missed you last night,” Malka said, when we went over the next morning for brunch.
“I’m sorry — we just were too exhausted after our trip to that park,” I said, regretfully. “Maybe we can stay one more night… I mean, we planned to go to our rental in Yerushalayim already — my boys are chalishing to get there — but….”
I trailed off. What could I do? My children were going crazy here, they had nothing to do, we’d promised them trips and touring, this was their summer vacation. They weren’t even invited to tonight’s sheva brachos; only Baruch and I were. I couldn’t keep them here another full day just for us to attend a sheva brachos in the evening.
“Scratch that, it won’t work,” I said. “But maybe some of the others will be there tonight? Dina, Yocheved, aren’t they staying for Shabbos?”
“Wait.” Malka frowned. “You’re not here for Shabbos? I thought….”
“Nooo… I told you, we wanted to spend the second Shabbos in Yerushalayim,” I said. “Remember? We’re only here two weeks, and we wanted….”
“Oh, yeah, I think you did say something.” Malka looked unhappy. “I forgot. You know that, like, no one’s going to be there?”
“Really?” I was surprised. “What about everyone else? I thought….”
Malka shrugged. “Meir’s gone back, Leah’s taking her family up north, my siblings-in-law are all leaving except for one…”
“Oh.” That still left a few families, but I felt like saying that wouldn’t be much comfort to Malka. She’d clearly had the idea that we would all be there for Shabbos.
I didn’t know what to say. I felt for her, I really did, but my family needed a vacation, too. What was I supposed to do?
Yerushalayim was just what my kids needed — and honestly, it was just what I needed, too. It had been years, decades even, since I’d spent a Shabbos in Yerushalayim. The apartment was beautiful, it had space and a view and was in prime location, just a short bus ride from anywhere we could want to visit.
We had a whirlwind few days, the Kosel again, the Old City, a bunch of tours, davening at Kever Rochel, trying to cram everything in. After Shabbos, we planned to go up north for a full day trip around Meron, Tzfas, Teveria, and then another day we’d take the family to the Dead Sea.
Shabbos was something else — we davened at the Kosel, then walking back through streets filled with Jews of all types, enjoyed the meals in the beautiful apartment we’d rented, and sat till late Friday night on the mirpeset, taking in the breathtaking view of Yerushalayim spread before us….
“Sure beats the view from that apartment in Kiryat Sefer.” My son Motty grinned. The balcony there had faced other buildings, and nothing else.
I smiled. Yes, we’d made the right decision for our family — for ourselves, too. I needed this, it was an exhilarating experience, we couldn’t have missed out on this for another Shabbos in Kiryat Sefer. When would be the next time we could take a trip to Israel as a family?
But when I spoke to Dina after Shabbos, she told me that Malka had been really hurt.
“Most of the family wasn’t there, she was really upset,” Dina told me. “Honestly, it was pretty quiet. You, Leah, Yocheved, and Meir all weren’t there. It wasn’t really a big family Shabbos, and I think Malka had been really hoping for that.”
I bit my lip. It was a little… disappointing, to have such a small crowd show up for the Shabbos sheva brachos.
But didn’t Malka see where we were coming from? That it was our chance to have a family vacation in Yerushalayim — and that spending more time in Kiryat Sefer just wasn’t a simple option for us?
“We flew in all the way and spent almost an entire week with her,” I told Dina. “Why doesn’t she understand we couldn’t do more?”
If I could tell Malka one thing it would be: We’re so excited to join your simchah, but we also need to give our children the vacation that they need.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 974)
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