| Double Take |

On the House  

Would my siblings really force me out of my home?


Two days after we got up from shivah, my siblings invited themselves over for a visit.

What I did not expect was that they were coming to ask me to pack up and move out — now.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

We’re a large family, nine siblings in all. I’m the oldest daughter, which means whatever you think it means, and probably plays a role in why things turned out the way they did.

I moved to Eretz Yisrael after getting married, and we stayed for many years. Eventually, though, we felt it would be better for our growing family to move back to the States, and the clincher was when my father — still relatively young — suffered a stroke.

My parents had just married off their youngest child, my sister Ruchy. Now, with their “golden years” ahead of them, my father was suddenly incapacitated.

It was devastating for my mother — for both of them. They weren’t the kind of couple who dreaded the empty nest — they had all sorts of plans for these years. My father wanted to retire and go back to kollel, my mother wanted to be that stay-at-home Bubby hosting the grandchildren. Eventually, they planned to make aliyah. And now, everything had changed.

My father recovered somewhat, but never completely. My mother was overwhelmed with his care, with the insurance and the paperwork and trying to find aides. My siblings were struggling, each trying to handle their own lives plus care for my parents, and no one was really taking charge of the situation.

So when we were debating moving back, this was what sealed the deal: We would move back to America, move in with my parents, and help them out while setting ourselves up for our new life.

We made the big move, and we soon had our hands full. My siblings were so grateful, heaping blessings on us for taking charge, handling the hours-long wait on hold for the insurance company and filling out ridiculous amounts of paperwork, but it was really a win-win situation. The move was a huge expense, and getting into schools, figuring out the system, and so on, was complicated enough for us — having a home to move into, rent-free, for the foreseeable future was a huge brachah for our family, too.

And it was my parents’ home — familiar, spacious, in exactly the right neighborhood. We got to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim literally 24/7, plus had the perks of living in their home — what could be better?


onths passed, and my father’s situation didn’t improve. Other health issues came up, and we spent a lot of time at doctors and then in hospitals, until it was over.

After Tatty was niftar, Mommy changed. She became… old, somehow. She’d always been cheerful and energetic, but now she was less active. You had to push her to go out of the house, see friends, get some fresh air.

We hadn’t planned to stay with her long-term — we hadn’t really thought about the long-term much at all — but the truth was, she needed us emotionally just as much as my father had needed us physically. Without Tatty, she was lonely and lost — without us, she would be totally alone in a huge house echoing with grief and memories.

And so we stayed, and again, it worked well for everyone. I’d already taken over the shopping, cooking, and running the house, so it was almost like Mommy was moving in with us, except that it was still her house, her comfort zone, her familiar bedroom and linens and pictures on the wall.

And she loved the company. My children grew up with their grandmother; a welcome change after the years living far from family. My siblings were delighted that our mother had family with her around the clock. And we were happy to keep living there, comfortable in the spacious quarters and grateful to have this opportunity to be there for Mommy.

It wasn’t easy; anyone who’s taken care of an elderly parent can attest to that. But for the most part, baruch Hashem, things went smoothly. We’re the type of people who try to look for the positive and don’t get bogged down sweating the small stuff, and that attitude made a big difference.

The years passed, we began marrying off our older children, and eventually Mommy started needing more active care. My siblings, most of whom lived nearby or a short drive away, chipped in to help, but it was obvious that the brunt of the work would fall on us — we lived with her, after all. A doctor’s appointment, a glitch with insurance, medication from the pharmacy — we took care of these things. I wasn’t about to call up my siblings and assign errands.

To their credit, they really tried to help. Every Yom Tov, and many Shabbosim, too, one or the other of my siblings invited Mommy, which was a nice way of giving us a break, but really — it wasn’t a great system. Mommy didn’t like going out, she didn’t enjoy being out of her home, and later on, she needed the accessible bathrooms in the house and the stair lift we’d installed.

Sometimes, we hosted my siblings for Yom Tov, which was nice, but still a lot of work for me, even if we split the cooking and my sister brought the linens. I was still the hostess.

The only time we really got a break was when I went away with my family and had one of my siblings actually move in. We did that around once a year; it was important and necessary. But let’s face it: 51 weeks a year, the burden of Mommy’s care — and as the years went on, it became more of a burden — was mine.

Still, I wasn’t complaining, and we were grateful for the enormous perk — we got to live in a lovely, large home in the heart of Lakewood, rent free. Honestly, if not for this arrangement, we’d probably be renting an apartment in one of the outlying communities — who could afford to buy a house on a kollel budget?


wenty years after we moved into my parents’ home, we’d married off most of our children and had long settled into Lakewood life. Mommy’s care was a natural part of our routine, and we regularly hosted my siblings so they could also spend time with her and enjoy the family togetherness.

As the years passed, though, Mommy’s needs grew. We were back to spending time in hospitals, hiring full-time aides for when she was home. There was one thing, then another, and eventually she was hospitalized for what turned out to be several months, until the end.

All my siblings helped out with shifts. Even Chani, who lives in Eretz Yisrael, made a point to fly in for a few weeks solely to be with our mother, and she really worked hard — for those few weeks, she barely left the hospital. She was determined to do her part, and besides for needing to be constantly available on the phone since I was the one who knew the ins and outs of Mommy’s medical history, insurance, and doctors, I really did get a “break” from the day-to-day care.

I couldn’t complain; my siblings really did their best. And we were always sensitive to each other’s needs, no one was demanding or resentful, and my siblings sent us breakfast packages and suppers many times over the years in appreciation of the way we bore the brunt of the burden of care for Mommy.

And then she was nifteres.


one mentioned the house at the shivah.

We sat together in my parents’ home — my home. Of course we did, it was the home where we grew up. The house held all our memories, the photo albums, and the stories. We had a stream of visitors, neighbors, friends, distant relatives. We reminisced, cried, laughed, bonded as a family.

At the back of my mind I knew things would have to change — we’d need to sort out my mother’s stuff, and her house now belonged equally to all nine of us… but I assumed we’d deal with that in the future — the distant future. After all, I lived here, my family lived here. I didn’t think about it much during the shivah, but when I did, it was with the assumption that I would slowly but surely clean out the house and organize things, and figure out the longer-term plans later.

I knew the house technically belonged to all my siblings equally. But we’d lived here for years; surely no one would ask us to up and leave from one day to the next.

I was sure my siblings would feel the same way.

Apparently, they didn’t.


ight after shivah, my brother Nussy — the oldest, the spokesman — set up a meeting. “To discuss the will,” he said over the phone.

The meeting, of course, was in my house — my parents’ house. Right away, I felt like my siblings were looking at it differently, coming in like they owned the place — well, I guess they kind of did — but almost ignoring the fact that this had been my family’s home for the past two decades and counting.

We exchanged pleasantries, passed around Ruchy’s brownies and some drinks, and then Nussy took the floor.

“I spoke to Mommy’s lawyer yesterday to discuss how things will work with the will. It’s a process, getting an inheritance takes time, there’s the taxes, etc., but we can get to work and it shouldn’t take too long.”

He started talking timelines and expenses, paperwork and figures, my siblings chiming in, but I was starting to get a deep sense of discomfort. Inheritance, money, taxes… were they talking about the house?

“The will — are you talking about selling the house?” I blurted.

A cold, uncomfortable silence filled the room and I suddenly knew that was exactly what they were all speaking about.

“Look, let’s be real, most of the inheritance isn’t worth very much, it’s the house that is the main asset here,” Nussy said. “And even split nine ways, and after taxes, it’s not a small sum — you know this is one of the most popular areas in Lakewood, a developer would snatch it up. And Dassy’s making a chasunah now, and Moishy’s been trying to close on a house — this is really something that will help everyone, so yes, we’d like to go ahead as soon as possible.”

The way he said it, so easily, so unapologetically, was the biggest shock.

Didn’t they all realize this was my home? That I had nowhere else to go?

“I hear you,” I said, suddenly feeling like I was facing a tribunal, with all my siblings acting as the prosecution. “But you know that we live here. All our stuff — this is literally our home since we moved back. And Mommy’s stuff, and even Tatty’s — there’s a huge number of things to sort out, and….”

“I’ll help you with Mommy’s things,” three of my siblings offered at once.

But it wasn’t just that. It was the years and years and years, 20 years’ worth, of my own family’s stuff. The clothing, the books, the mementos, the seforim and toys and baby paraphernalia and closets stuffed with married girls’ things that they’d left behind when they got married and moved to various countries and communities, not necessarily nearby.

And even if we could tackle all the stuff — we had very little savings. Even with a share of the profits of the house we couldn’t dream of buying something, certainly not in this neighborhood. Never mind that the housing crisis meant there was probably nothing available.

I had four unmarried children living at home. What did they want, that I should move to a basement rental 45 minutes away? How would that even work? We were older, established…. The idea of having to move neighborhoods, maybe even cities — I couldn’t even contemplate that.

My husband hadn’t sat in on the meeting — it was clear that my siblings wanted it to be siblings-only. But now I needed him there. I couldn’t begin to process the whirling, screaming thoughts in my head.

“Let me talk to Shmuel, I’ll get back to you,” I said, weakly.

My siblings looked at each other. They didn’t say much, but they left.

I had bought myself a day of relief — but what would be after that?

Shmuel took the news pretty calmly — it takes a lot to ruffle him up — but he didn’t have much insight to offer.

“Look, they have a right to sell the house — it’s not ours,” he said. “I know this is a little fast, and I must say I’m a bit surprised by that as well, but what can we do? We’ll have to look into the best option for us. Look at the positive — this didn’t happen when we had a full house, most of the children are married and living elsewhere — so we have to downsize. It’s not the end of the world.”

But it isn’t just the downsizing. It’s the impossibility of finding something in the right location, and the fact that we simply don’t have the financial resources to buy. It’s the fact that we have zero notice to clear out 20 years’ worth of possessions and will probably have to discard most of it because we definitely won’t have the space for it in a small rental.

“Maybe we can speak to your siblings and see if they would hold off a year or two, give us some time to work things out,” Shmuel said. “Or if they can help us find an apartment, maybe chip in to help us set things up, furnish it, you know. It’s a huge expense to move and furnish a new place all at once, and they know we don’t have the means for it.”

That made sense. And wanting to make sure I made the points clearly without too much emotion getting in the way, I decided to type up an email and send it to all my siblings together.

I explained our situation, told them that of course I understood they had a right to the house, but I wanted to ask them to do one of these things to make this major change easier for us.

They refused on both counts.

Nussy was the spokesperson, calling me up after an ominous day of silence on the email front.

“I’m so sorry, Tzippy, we all really feel for you,” he said. “But the house — it’s something we need to do. Too many of us need the money urgently, too many are struggling with bills and we just can’t afford to wait if we do have the opportunity to sell at a very good price. And regarding chipping in to help set you up — what should I say?” He did the verbal equivalent of throwing his hands up in the air. “We can all help with the packing, the clearing, but money… you know our family, no one has much to spare. You know we don’t even all own our own houses.”

So the verdict, it seemed, was in. And now I had to pack my entire life into boxes, throw away whatever wouldn’t fit, find somewhere new to live, stretch our thin budget to manage exorbitant rental prices….

And my siblings, days after we sat shivah for our mother together, are standing by and forcing me out into the cold.


If I could tell my siblings one thing, it would be: I know you have a right to your share in the property, but this is a huge change for my family. We spent years taking care of our parents for all of you; can’t you work with me to make this easier?



You hear these stories about families getting torn apart over inheritance. It was never going to happen to us though; we’re just not that type at all.

We’re nine siblings, and we’ve always gotten along beautifully. Even when it came to things that could have been sticky, like caring for our parents in their later years, we always managed to work things out together — in a mature way, not speaking behind each others’ backs, no one growing resentful or feeling like they were doing too much or someone else too little.

A lot of this, of course, was thanks to Tzippy, the oldest daughter in the family. She’s a real tzadeikes — there’s no other way to describe it. Though it does go both ways — she’s the one who always steps up to the plate and does what needs to be done, no questions asked, but she’s also the one who has things just work out for her in crazy ways. We all laughed at how she moved back from Eretz Yisrael with no money and a husband learning in kollel full time, full of emunah that everything would fall into place — and it did. She ended up living in my parents’ home for over 20 years, rent free, mortgage free — literally all expenses paid.

Okay, of course she paid for the groceries and whatever bills weren’t covered with whatever pension or life insurance funds my parents had, but still, not paying rent for 20 years is nothing to sneeze at.

Most of us siblings are solid struggling middle-class. It took us time to scrape together down payments, a couple of us are still renting, and while one or two of the siblings are managing better than the rest of us, no one is rolling in cash. We’re all just doing our best to make things work.

And then Mommy passed away, and suddenly, there was an actual yerushah to speak of.


one said a word throughout the shivah. We didn’t decide or agree on that; it was just obvious. You don’t talk about dividing up the money while you’re sitting shivah for a parent. I’s just… not.

But as soon as it was over, my sister Dassy called me.

“I wanted to ask you… do you know anything about the will?” she asked. “I hate to sound crude, but if Mommy left the house to all of us… we’re really struggling. You know we’re making a chasunah now, and our expenses are through the roof, therapies for the twins and who knows what. Life. Whatever. I just thought… it would be such a help if we got our share of the inheritance as soon as possible.”

I was a little caught off guard, but honestly, I shouldn’t have been. We all needed the money, life was insanely expensive, and the house, even divided nine ways, should yield a decent sum, something to help all of us with whatever we were struggling with.

My brother Shimon called next. He’d sold his house a few years ago to buy a larger one, and he confided in me that he’d bitten off more than he could chew. His boss had downsized, he was working fewer hours, and things were difficult.

“I’m not making the mortgage payments. We could lose the house,” he told me. “If there’s any way to speed up the yerushah… it could make all the difference in helping us get back on our feet….”

One by one, I was hearing from each of my siblings… and everyone wanted to know the same thing. What’s with the will? What’s with the house?

There were other small assets, but there are nine of us, and the house was the only thing of significant value.

Then I got a call from a developer who was an old family friend. He, also, seemed hesitant to bring up the subject, apologizing if it was a lack of tact in the face of a recent loss.

“I just want to tell you for your own good, you’re sitting on a gold mine,” he said. “The street where your parents lived — it’s one of the most expensive areas in town. If you put it on the market, it would be snatched up; every developer dreams of flipping such a house, maybe turning it into a few apartments….”

When he named the figure he estimated we could ask for the house, even I was amazed.


“Right now it’s a seller’s market, prices are high,” he told me. “If I were you, I wouldn’t wait too long to sell.”

Okay, I got it. But there was just one snag.


It wasn’t just that she lived there and seemed to have no intention of moving out. We also had a lot of hakaras hatov to her — she’d done everything, literally everything, for my parents in their final years. Of course we’d done what we could, but come on — compare being there for Mommy day and night for 20 years to the occasional Shabbos or chauffeuring to an appointment.

And she was our sister, we loved and cared for her. It was going to be hard, really hard, to ask her to move so that we could sell the house.


decided to hold a family meeting, all the siblings, to discuss the will — and also, to gauge Tzippy’s reaction. Who knows, maybe she already realized her time in the house was up and was preparing to move as soon as possible?

I knew it was kind of wishful thinking, but we hoped for the best.

I tried to couch things sensitively, talking about the inheritance and explaining the need to process things as quickly as possible. Everyone knew what I was talking about — everyone, that is, except for Tzippy.

I saw the look on her face when she realized. The way her eyes widened a little and her lips parted and she shook her head slightly and asked, “Wait — are you talking about selling the house?”

Oh, boy.

Hadn’t she realized that that’s what this was all about?

I looked around the table, but all of my siblings were avoiding my gaze. Figured; no one wanted to be the bad guy. No one wanted to hurt Tzippy.

I am the oldest, though, and the one who called the meeting. The dirty work, I supposed, was mine.

“The inheritance — it isn’t that much, the house is the main asset,” I said, trying to keep my tone gentle. “And actually, it’s worth a lot — even once we split it nine ways, and after taxes, it isn’t a small sum. And a lot of us could do with the money right now, so yes, we were hoping to go ahead with the sale as soon as it’s feasible.”

Tzippy looked totally, utterly shocked.

“We — we live here,” she protested. “We have all our stuff — this has been our home for years and years… and there’s still Mommy’s stuff to sort out, and Tatty’s — so much to sort through….”

This, at least, had an easy answer.

“We’re happy to help with that,” a few of the siblings offered instantly. Of course we would — why should it be Tzippy’s headache to deal with all our parents’ accumulated possessions, a lifetime’s worth of things?

But of course, that wasn’t really the point.

Tzippy was still shaking her head, like she couldn’t believe we were even suggesting this.

“I’m going to talk to Shmuel and get back to you,” she finally said.

Shimon was eyeing me, and I knew what he was thinking. What’s there to talk about? The house doesn’t belong to you.

But I couldn’t, wouldn’t, say anything. This was hard for Tzippy; the least we could do was give her some time to process it.


he email came two days later, classic Tzippy-style. Warm and sweet and ever-so-earnest… and also, impossible.

To my dearest siblings, amu”sh,

This is a challenging time for all of us, following the petirah of our dear Mommy, a”h.

On top of that, we are working together to handle the yerushah. We all know of families that have broken apart because of machlokes due to the inheritance. It’s a terrible thing, and chas v’sholom it should never happen to our family, who have always been so close.

I understand that you all need the money and that the sale of the house would be a big help for you. But please, please understand it from our perspective.

Shmuel and I have lived here for over 20 years. Baruch Hashem, we have raised a family here, alongside taking care of our parents. It’s been a privilege and a zechus, and also, as you know, we worked very hard to care for Tatty, and then Mommy.

Maybe we should have, but we weren’t thinking about moving out and buying a house of our own. We wanted to stay as long as we were needed. And honestly, we don’t have the means to buy (or even rent) a home in this area, or of a similar size. Having to move now is a big, big change for us, and something very difficult logistically.

I discussed it with Shmuel at length and we thought of two possible solutions. Please, dear siblings, hear us out and see if we can agree on one of the following.

  1. Let things be for another year or two, to give us time to see different options, deal with our stuff, and move in a calm and unpressured way.
  2. If that’s not possible, we would respectfully request that the siblings help us out with the costs and practicalities of finding an apartment, furnishing it, and moving. Perhaps we could designate a portion of the yerushah money for this purpose.

Please understand that if we had the means, we would move today! We don’t want to stand in your way and we are only asking these things of you because we simply don’t have the means to do it alone.

All my love,

Your sister Tzippy

I read the email once, then twice. It was a hard read, emotional, and even wrenching. I could see that she was in a very difficult place.

And yet the requests didn’t make sense for us. We couldn’t wait when so many of us were struggling desperately and needed the money now — and the market was ripe for a sale. And how could we be responsible for setting her up, paying her rent, furnishing an apartment for her when we ourselves needed help?

She’d lived rent free for 20 years. Now it was technically our property — and we couldn’t afford to continue letting her live there for nothing.


course, I was the one to break the news — again.

I didn’t relish the position in the slightest, but I did what I had to do, trying to explain things, trying to couch it as gently as possible.

Of course, I said, we would help with what we could. The packing, the sorting, we’d even help her move her own stuff to a new place. We’d try to help her find an apartment, do whatever we could.

But it wasn’t much.

“I just really don’t know how we’re going to manage,” she told me at the end of the call. The defeat in her voice hurt me.

I understood where she was coming from, I really did. And yet all of us were barely scraping by. I myself had rented for years and years, struggling to put together a down payment. When we did buy, we purchased a home in an out-of-the-way community. By now, it’s thriving and considered fairly central in its own right, but while it wasn’t back then, it was all we could afford.

Tzippy was the lucky one. She’d lived for decades in a huge house in the center of Lakewood. But now that house belonged to all of us, and we desperately needed the money.

What were we supposed to do?


If I could tell Tzippy one thing, it would be: We’re all struggling with money, and we don’t even all own our own homes. We would love to make the transition easier for you, but it’s just not within our means. 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 992)

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