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When blood is thicker than faith

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Six years ago, I carried my brother on my shoulders at his Orthodox Jewish wedding celebration in Jerusalem, as dozens of men with long beards wearing white shirts and black suits spun in giant circles to spiraling music.

My brother is a self-described "Orthodox Jew with Hasidic tendencies" living a 2,000-year-old lifestyle of study and worship. As we danced, his bride celebrated in an adjacent room with other women. "Do you really accept me?" my brother shrieked from atop my shoulders. "Bro," I yelled back over the blare, "if you're happy, I'm happy."

But the feelings haven't always been mutual. Seven years before his wedding, my wife and I brought our then 3-year-old daughter to Jerusalem for Hanukkah. When I needed to get something in our hotel room from the lobby, my brother said, "Take either the stairs or the Kosher elevator." "The what?" I asked. "It stops at every floor," he explained. "It's been blessed by a rabbi. When you're with me on Shabbat, you must."

I walked up nine flights. Trouble was brewing. Later that night, while my daughter ran around our room singing, "I have a little dreidel!" my brother said to me, "She's not Jewish."

He was referring to my wife's conversion. My brother wanted my wife to take a mikvah, a ritual bath used for immersion in a purification ceremony. "The hell if I will," my wife said. She was pregnant with our son. As my brother stared at her pregnant womb, I knew what he was thinking. Late that night near the Wailing Wall, eerily lit with men davening, moving rhythmically back and forth while in deep prayer, my brother said curtly, "Don't you realize you're breaking our family's Judaism?! It ends with you!"


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