Sage Advice: Brother Won't Fly to Israel, Opts for Guilt Trip Instead

By Amy Dickinson | March 14th, 2018


Dear Amy: What are my obligations to my sister, who left the country and moved to Israel?

My wife and I returned to our hometown after college, specifically because we wanted to be close to our families/parents. We wanted our kids to have grandparents and cousins nearby and to gather with extended family (and my sister) when they come to visit.

Whenever my expat sister and her kids visit each year, we spend a lot of time with them. I really love my sister and her children. Recently she has been giving me the biggest guilt trip about not attending my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, in Israel, almost 6,000 miles away. She feels hurt that she is “low priority” on my list.

Honestly, I was planning on going, but my pregnant wife is so sick, and I feel guilty leaving her alone to care for our other young child.

Is the person who moved away allowed to make the left-behind feel guilty for not spending thousands of dollars and several days on a plane? I have been to visit Israel several times, but I feel that she is out of line with the guilt. She is the one who chose to live abroad. I’ve never made her feel guilty. But I don’t think it’s fair to say I’m not choosing family, when I specifically live where I do because I chose family.

Is it fair for my sister to make me feel guilty for not coming to a religious ceremony thousands of miles away? (I’m not religious.)

What is my obligation? How do I navigate this without making her feel bad, but so that I don’t feel bad, either?

– Anonymous Uncle

Dear Anonymous: You don’t get to ask if someone “is allowed” to make you feel guilty. Guilt is a two-way transaction.

Do not diminish the importance of a Bar Mitzvah in a family’s story. Whether or not you are religious, they are, and this is huge. You seem unwilling to feel “bad” for having to miss this. But aren’t you sorry that you won’t be able to witness this important passage in your nephew’s life? Dude, go ahead and feel bad!

It might help the dynamic with your sister if you basically cop to being very sorry about this, but – given your own family’s situation, you’ve decided it isn’t wise for you to go. This will be your final answer, so any reaction she has is just the “guilt balloon,” caroming around the room as it runs out of air.

Write a very warm and avuncular letter to your nephew, offer him a special experience the next time he is able to come to the States, send a generous gift and express genuine interest in seeing photographs from the celebration.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

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