The “Other” Brother

I love the story of the two brothers. I love their thoughtfulness for each other, how their desire to provide for what they perceive the other lacks overshadows their own needs. I love that a location which now shoulders so much pain between genders, religions and ethnicities, was originally a place where the two brothers met one starry night, arms filled with wheat for the other, tears streaming down their faces.

I’ve always thought of myself as the “first” brother. The one with the family and the desire to help those around him, including his, as I always assumed, younger brother. As the oldest child in my family and for someone with a life plan that began as a teenager (seriously, I told my parents I would be a rabbi when I got off the plane after my NFTY in Israel summer), I’ve been told I’m serious, organized, driven, motivated and passionate almost to a fault. First-born, type-A, over-achiever? Check.

In October 2011, I stood under a simple chuppah on the beach in North Carolina as my younger brother and his bride exchanged vows and rings. God-willing, I will have the privilege of giving their daughter and my future-niece her Hebrew name this spring. For my dear brother, life has blessed him, granting him a beautiful, supportive and loving wife (and just for the record, he’s also funny, a fantastic musician, and the cutest math teacher you’ve ever met).

Life has blessed me too—with professional success, opportunities to grow and learn, and an ever-growing circle of friends—all while living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Yet my life still resembles that of the “other brother,” the single sibling living without a partner and children. Lest you begin to feel sorry for me, I do want to have a family of my own and am working to make that a reality, while also enjoying the benefits of my current situation—physical space, social time, and financial freedom. 

Ten weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through my area, flooding the first floor of my apartment building and leaving me in the dark with no cell phone reception. When the water receded, I ventured out of my building through the mud to find a spot where I could get some reception. When I turned on the phone I found a half-dozen text and phone messages from my own brother. First, calm concern, then active worry. My sister-in-law also tried me, with no luck. Suddenly I became the other brother. Unlike years ago when I called to ensure that he was home safe, my not-so-little sibling was now the one checking up on me, making sure I was all right.

So too was my community thinking of me. As the only unmarried clergy person in my congregation, it wasn’t only my colleagues who wanted to know that I was out of harm’s way. Countless members of my community emailed and reached out to ensure that I was safe: two generous families let me stay with them, giving me hot meals, an outlet to charge my phone, and a place to lay my exhausted head.

You see I’m used to (and frankly quite good at) taking care of others. Turns out I’m not quite as good at letting others care for me. I wonder if the brothers in the story realized that they each gave the other a gift: the single sibling let his partnered brother think of, and take care of him and in return the other brother got to feel the warmth of communal and familial love.

As the other brother I can attest that sometimes it’s really magnificent to let yourself accept help, thought, and care from the people around you. For all of us type-A’s out there, believe me, it’s worth it.

And as the story of the two brothers ends:

Hinei matov u’ma nayim, shevet achim v’achiyot gam yachad.

How good and how very pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sit (and take care of) one another.

Karen R. Perolman is the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. She is the lucky sister of an awesome brother.

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One thought on “The “Other” Brother

  1. Karen, what a lovely piece. A super tribute to your brother and others who care about you and a wonderful honest acknowledgement, with which most of us can identity, that we are good at taking care of others but not so good at letting others take care of us.

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