Aug 20, 2010

Where are you drawing the line?

I heard a story the other day whose message is echoed in an article I read a few minutes ago.  The story is about a rabbi who moved to Baltimore in the early part of the 20th century.  Someone questioned him about his yarmulke which he wore sticking out of the back of his hat which was not the rabbi's practice all the years and was not the practice of the group to which he belonged.

The rabbi answered - when I came to America I knew that I'd face struggles with my yetzer hara over matters of religious observance.  So now, even if the yetzer hara should win, what would he accomplish? That I would move my yarmulke back under my hat ...

In other words, getting back to the topic of the three previous posts, what issues in chinuch do we want to deal with? To a great extent, we can choose which ones.  As an example, if children attend schools with peers who have lavish parties for their bar (or bas) mitzva or peers who include sports activities in their bar mitzva celebration, their parents will have to contend with issues such as: will we do the same as the others? is it right to make our son different than his peers? should we compromise on how we would like to celebrate a bar mitzva? and so on.  But if the children attend schools where the schools set the rules on where a bar mitzva can be held and what is acceptable, and that is the school you choose, then how to celebrate is a non-issue.

As Emuna Braverman wrote in her Aish article called "The Makeup Wars": "Once we choose a school whose values we embrace then we have to allow our children to be in step with their peers – obviously within reason. At the same time that we were having this struggle with our daughter [about make-up], a friend of ours (whose daughter was clearly at a different school) was struggling with her over whether she could sleep out in the woods with her boyfriend. Suddenly makeup didn’t seem like such a big deal! We have to choose an environment that matches our values and then work within its parameters."

Which is why I think R' Twerski's unqualified call to warn our children about drugs because "drugs are everywhere, even in our Torah institutions" and "we live in a society that is awash in drug use" is misplaced.  Would he also say we should tell all teenagers in frum schools and yeshivos about what can happen if a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship goes too far? About out-of-wedlock babies? After all, by his reasoning in every school "there are marginal youngsters" ... Or would he agree that talks about sexual relationships are out of place in yeshivos?

Aug 18, 2010

Another follow-up post

I'd like to know how far is R' Twerski willing to go with this line: "The greatest danger is not being aware that one exists."  There are all sorts of dangers out there and is it really necessary for us to know about them all? I am not convinced.  I think we ought to protect children and even ourselves from unnecessary exposure to the seamier sides of life. 

And more important, I think, than informing children of lurking dangers is to inform young marrieds that they must devote themselves to raising their children, heart and soul.  Both parents need to give their children quality and quantity time.  Nothing can replace sitting around with kids on Shabbos or any other time and just shmoozing, sharing ideas, stories.  Singing together.  Going on outings together.  Nothing.  I don't care how many speeches kids get about drugs - predators - eating disorders - smoking - moods and depresssion - it's worth hardly anything at all if they don't have a loving and respectful relationship with their parents.  When children want to emulate their parents and don't want to hurt them, then self-destructive and secretive behavior is rendered unnecessary.  We need to work to increase family loyalty and decrease the kind of peer pressure that makes parents bystanders in kids' lives.

Recommended reading: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate M.D.

Follow-up to previous post

What issues must we deal with or do we choose to deal with? It depends on where we are raising our children and what kind of school and camp they attend.  If they live in a mostly sheltered environment and attend a school with children coming from a similar background, in which drug use is quite remote, not only would I think raising the issue would be pointless I think it would be harmful.  However, if smoking is something they see, that might warrant a talk from an authority figure like a doctor who tells them of the dangers, followed up by a talk by the rebbi or mashgiach about the halachic reasons not to smoke.

"How do you teach a child not to touch fire without telling them it's hot?"

Items that are hot naturally come up in a toddler's life.  There is hot food, a hot oven not to touch, hot water in a tub or sink and a parent will comment about waiting until it cools off, about being careful not to touch it, ouch.  It's part of life.  Just as we teach children how to cross the street and warn them to look around carefully.  Or have a fire drill.

"Would you say the same in regards to talking to them about child predators?"

It is appropriate and advisable to tell a child about the importance of never going anywhere with anyone without permission from home, even with someone he/she knows well.  No need to inform them of molesters and what they do.  Little talks with a parent about tznius, about not going off with a counselor or someone alone is fine.  The emphasis could and should be on 1) permission from parents  2) modesty  3) impressing on them that if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret from their parents the first thing they should do is tell their parents. 

Aug 17, 2010

Imprinting the Positive

R' Abraham J. Twerski wrote an article called "Speaking about the Unspeakable" in which he says we should talk to our children about drugs.  He asks, "how will our children learn about the evils of drug use if we don’t talk to them about it?" As for those whose children are sheltered he says, "The greatest danger is not being aware that one exists." 

Li'Shichno sidrishu u’vasa shama” - seek His Presence and come there (Re’eh 12:5). The Ponevezher Rov asked why is it that when the Torah tells us to build a Bais HaMikdash, the location is not clearly stated, i.e. the pasuk never refers to Yerushalayim?

He contrasts this to the Arei Miklat (Cities of Refuge) where the Torah tells us “tachin lecha ha'derech”, and Chazal explain that the roads should have signs at every junction pointing in the direction of the Arei Miklat. The reason for this, he explains, is that the accidental murderer, in his flight to safety, should not need to stop and ask directions because we don’t want everyone to know that a murder took place since it will desensitize the people to murder.  Sins, even unintentional ones, should not be discussed.   On the other hand when a person is going to the Bais HaMikdash we want him to stop everyone along the way to ask for directions to awaken in them the desire to go to the Bais HaMikdash too.

The Chinuch Malchusi says that we learn from here that you should not teach your children through negative examples. Do not point out the wrongdoings and teach them its evils and how they must avoid it. In a sense this will open up their thoughts and teach them all sorts of bad things that they would have surely avoided had they come upon it themselves.

A distinguished mechanech once related that when he was a young boy many years ago (before drugs were a huge problem) in school in the Bronx, they brought in an officer from the Drug Enforcement Agency who brought in many kinds of drugs and gave them a lecture about avoiding each one. This mechanech said that it was very educational to the bulk of his class who ended up on drugs!

Good education means monopolizing the mind with positive lessons, examples, and stories. Just like the questions on the way to the Bais HaMikdash, this attitude will help the children find the Shechina after a longer but very successful journey.

As a community, online or otherwise, we should speak about all the good that Jews do and there is so much good!  It is very demoralizing and a spiritual downer to read and hear, time and again, about sins and crimes that are committed.  Highlight the positive!

Aug 16, 2010

What Life Should Be

The following is a happy parent's assessment of his son's summer camp - Yeshivas Kayitz experience:

"My son is having a BLAST!!! Learning and having FUN!!! That's what summer and life, for that matter should be!"

Hmmm.  That got me thinking. 

I take note of which words are in capital letters followed by exclamation marks: BLAST and FUN, and which is not in capital letters: learning.

I observe a parent's understanding of what not only a summer vacation but what life should be.

I wonder, did I miss a critical lesson (or two or three) when we were taught what life is about? I simply do not recall learning, reading or hearing that life is about having a BLAST and FUN.

I thought it's about Love and Fear of G-d.  About Torah, Avoda, Gemilus Chasadim.  About Ahavas Yisrael, Olam Haba, Yemos Ha'Moshiach.

What kind of students and children do we produce when we think that life should be about fun as opposed to Serving G-d?

Now I'll take the other side.  What the parent meant is that a Jewish life should be full of exuberance and simcha.  That is true!

But in the statement, learning and fun are separate.  It's not that the learning is geshmak (though perhaps it is).  It sounds like they do their learning (get it over with?) and then move on to what they're really interested in: having A BLAST and FUN.

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