Friends are great, but we should always remember that family is one of the most important parts of our lives. Our family is part of who we are. This week's Torah portion is all about family and family events - weddings, siblings, the births of the heads of almost all of the twelve tribes, etc. Making the effort to be close with our families - even if it's difficult - is well worth it.
In our story a kid learns how to look at her family ties in a new way.
Kate felt both excited and relieved as she watched the blue family RV pull out of the driveway. She was excited because she'd finally made afternoon plans with Lori and Fran, two of the most popular girls in her class. She was relieved because she knew her family would be gone for the whole afternoon.
She liked her family well enough - most of the time - but there was just no way she'd ever invite friends to her house when Jay-Jay was home; especially cool kids like Lori and Fran, whose circle she was really trying to get into.
Jay-Jay, her younger brother, was simply too different. Kate's parents had explained to her that he had Down Syndrome, which made him look and act very different from other kids his age. They said he was a special soul, and she had to admit she loved his big smile and the way he loved her to hug him. But she didn't love the way her social life had gone down the tubes ever since Jay-Jay had come into her home and her life!
But today her whole family, including Jay-Jay, had gone away on a full-day apple picking trip. Her parents had wanted her to come too, but she'd said no. She felt embarrassed to go out with Jay-Jay, and by not going she'd finally have a chance to have friends come by.
The doorbell rang. Kate double-checked her outfit, smoothed her hair, took a deep breath and opened the door with a smile.
"Hi, guys. Great you could make it! Come on in." She led the kids upstairs into the playroom, where she put on some good tunes and broke out her most special sticker-albums for them to look at and trade.
Things were going fine, with Kate stepping out from time to time to bring up treats from the kitchen. After about a half an hour Kate heard strange sounds coming from the living room. It wasn't burglars; it was something worse! It was the voices of her family - her mom, her dad, her sister and ... Jay-Jay!
Kate tried to think fast. Maybe she could turn the music louder so her friends wouldn't hear them ... maybe she could lock the playroom door ... maybe she could ... But before she could do anything, the door burst open and Jay-Jay came bounding in and right into her lap! Disaster! She could see the stunned looks on Fran's and Lori's faces.
"Traffic jam - come home!" Jay-Jay said, laughing and holding out his arms the way he did when he wanted her to hug him.
Kate didn't know what to do. She was embarrassed enough as it was, but she also knew that if she didn't hug him, he'd feel really hurt. Unlike her friends, who would surely dump her now, Jay-Jay always liked her.
Oh, well, these friends are down the drain anyway, she thought to herself, and gave her brother a big hug. The boy hugged her back, climbed off her lap bounded back downstairs. Kate saw from the corners of her eyes, the two girls whispering to each other and nodding their heads.
"Um, Kate, I have to call my mom." Lori said, pulling her cell phone out of her bag.
"To come pick you up, right? It's okay, I figured you'd want to go home now," Kate sighed. But she was surprised when her friends looked at her confused and started shaking their heads.
"Actually," Lori stammered, "I want to call my mom and ask her not to come get us now." Kate didn't understand.
"Yeah," Fran explained. "I guess we were sort of getting a little, you know, bored. So, um, while you had stepped out to the kitchen, Lori had called up her mom to come pick us up. But your little brother is so cute! Just like my cousin with Down Syndrome. And it was so sweet the way you just hugged him like that. It made us feel, you know, happy to be here - and around you. So we want to stay."
Kate was blown away. Jay-Jay hadn't been holding back her social life - she'd been doing it to herself! Boy, did she ever owe that little kid another hug, and another chance, to be a bigger part of her life.
Q. How did Kate feel about her little brother at first?
A. She felt embarrassed because he was different and felt like it was keeping her from having friends.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt like she didn't have to be embarrassed.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Kate learned that day?
A. She had been uptight about her brother and blaming him for her lack of friends, but she saw that it was just her imagination. When she accepted him and her family for who they were, people respected her and liked her more.
Q. What do you think is the difference between our connection to our family and our connection to our friends?
A. While friendships are valuable and can be a lot of fun, they can never replace our family. A family tie is something very deep and while friendships come and go, our family is a part of us for life.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What, if anything, do you think a person could gain by making efforts to stay close and connected with his family?
A. A family is a support system. Even if we don't always get along, being connected to people who share our genes, physical and spiritual, can be a great source of strength.
Q. What do you think a person who feels embarrassed or uncomfortable about her family could tell herself to handle it better?
A. She should remember that her family is not just some random group of people she ended up with, but they are the people that God has especially chosen for her to be close with in her life. They are a big part of her identity and the more she accepts them for who they are the more she will be accepting herself.