Apr 30, 2011

Diagnosis: Toddleritis

Over Pesach I read a horror story in one of the frum publications about a family whose Yom Tov was ruined by the behavior of their 14 year old son. The article was presented "so that others can glimpse the challenges of raising a mentally ill child" and the "diagnosis" is stated as "ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder)." I was annoyed to see yet another article promoting non-illnesses as illnesses in the frum media.

Dr. John Rosemond is a psychologist who directed mental health programs for children, had a full-time practice as a family psychologist for a decade, has written numerous popular parenting books, and is a busy popular speaker and writer.  I don't agree with everything he writes but overall, he is quite sensible and calls for a return to the normal parenting of several decades ago in which parents were firm and expected obedience and decent behavior and there were negative consequences with those who did not toe the line.

His perspective on ADHD is, "The diagnostic behaviors quite simply describe a toddler. The reason that we are dealing with so many children school-age who are exhibiting these behaviors is because we are no longer in America curing toddlerhood. So we have children who are not maturing emotionally and intellectually because we are not disciplining their feelings state. Toddlers have bi-polar disorder. Toddlers have oppositional defiance disorder. Toddlers have attention-deficit disorder. Those three, I quote, 'disorders,' are normal to toddlers. My first grade class had 50 kids and was taught by one teacher. None of those 50 kids came to school with ADD, ODD or bipolar disorder. Because back then, toddlerhood was cured by the time a child was three."

I'd like to see less discussion of "medicalizing" and "diagnosing" of pseudo illnesses in our frum publications. I don't think this approach is helping anyone; on the contary, I think that it's very harmful. At the very least, we should be given different points of view with at least some articles opposing the medical-disease model!

Would you believe, in this sad article, the out-of-control 14 year old behaved beautifully, when he chose to, in front of others, so that friends enjoyed him as their guest while he created chaos at home! Does that sound like a real illness to you? Real illnesses are not put on and taken off at will! Come on, frum parents! Stop buying into this nonsense!

Apr 29, 2011

Blinded or Seeing What You Want to See

I read an article by Rabbi Leiby Burnham in which he waxed poetic about toddlers.  He writes, "Their life view, while limited, is not tainted.  They feel 'in power' all the time because they don't understand the concept of limitations.  They don't fear because they haven't yet been taught the concept of fear.  They truly feel that they can accomplish anything they set out to do, and will stop at nothing from achieving their desires."

As I read this, my immediate thought was - he is directly contradicting Rabbi Twerski! I remember being outraged when long ago, I read an article by R' Twerski on his favorite topic, self-esteem, in which he said that little children have less than zero self-esteem! His "proof" was, how would you feel if you had to live in a world in which nothing is your size and you had to climb up on to a chair and about the general impotence of children.

I was incredulous.  Surely, after raising his own family and seeing his numerous grandchildren, he didn't think that toddlers looked as though they were suffering from less than zero self-esteem! He knows the adage from R' Zushe of Anipoli about the three things we can learn from children: that when their needs are met they are happy, that they cry out when they need something, and are always busy.  Normal little children don't mope about their powerlessness!

This illustrates the idea that an optician notices everybody's glasses and someone who sells shoes notices what people are wearing on their feet.  R' Twerski's occupation is focused on self-esteem, primarily the lack thereof, and he sees it everywhere, even when it doesn't exist.

Apr 27, 2011

Pushing Ourselves

In one of the many articles written in response to "Tiger Mom," it said that the mother failed to define the goal.  The high grades on tests lead to what? If they lead to better jobs (= higher pay) what is the goal in that? He asked, "Is she suggesting that the goal in life is to be strong academically, perform in musical concerts, or make a lot of money? Is that the goal?"

I found it interesting that Tiger Mom's 18 year old daughter, who was just accepted to Harvard and Yale, explains the goal in a completely different way.  She said,“To me, it’s (life) not about achievement or self-gratification.

“It’s about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential.

“If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent. And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you.”

How often do we see ads for yeshivos that claim to enable their students to "reach their potential?" Do they really achieve that? There is talk of "shleimus" (perfection) but do we know of any schools or parents whose goal is for their students/children to truly push themselves to the limits of their potential?

How many of us can say that we have lived our entire life thus far at 110%? I can't.

Although I imagine that growing up as Tiger Mom's child was difficult and stressful, those of us raised in a culture of "do what makes you happy" and "try it, you can always quit," who rarely pushed to achieve what we thought was beyond us, have not experienced the tremendous satisfaction that this 18 year old girl feels.

Apr 22, 2011

Protect Their Privacy

The publicizing of pictures of bereaved relatives at funerals (such as those following terrorist attacks) has perturbed me for some time now.  How many frum publications publicized photos of the grieving father and brothers of Ruth Fogel? Avla number one is that some ghoul had the chutzpa to photograph the bereaved at the funeral. Avla number two is when editors choose to share the photo with their readership.

Where is the sense of shame that characterizes the Jewish people that should have ensured that their privacy was not violated by picture taking at that time? Where is the sense of propriety at frum publications that should have ensured that personal moments of bereavement, even in public venues, are not for us to gawk at?

On a very different but related note, I have given thought lately to how people gather round to watch as the chassan approaches the kalla to cover her face.  People glance from the chasan to the kalla to see the expressions on their faces.  Do they look happy to see one another or nervous? How are the parents reacting in this emotional moment? This also seems to be an invasion of privacy.  Members of the wedding party should be able to be in the moment and not have to be concerned about how they appear to others.  And yet, unlike the bereaved, they hired a photographer and want pictures to be taken of the badeken and under the chuppa so I conclude that this gives the guests "permission" to watch the proceedings.

Apr 15, 2011

The Invisible Wall

I just finished reading The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein.  It was an excellent read albeit so sad.  The writing is beautiful.  The author does an amazing job of painting word pictures so you can visualize the scenes and people described, Jewish life in a small English mill town before and after World War I.  It's a heart-breaker though in its description of Jewish life, the poverty, the anti-Semitism, and the problems his family suffers. 

The "Wall" refers to the separation between Jews and Christians on his street and the book shows the tragic consequences of a lack of a Jewish education.  It doesn't have a happy ending but I loved it anyway.  And I see that he wrote a sequel and then a third book which I look forward to reading.

Apr 14, 2011

Putting your foot down

A woman wrote a question to a frum publication for their advice column about her husband who wakes up late in the mornings and even if she wakes him at 10:30 it still takes a while till he gets up.  He is supposed to be learning in the morning in kollel.  Once he's up, the rest of his day is productive.  He is a night owl and doesn't go to sleep early and she doesn't know how to handle it.

I would like to comment on one of the responses she got from a respected rabbi who said he presented the question to his wife and one of his daughters-in-law.  He wrote, "My wife was adamant that the wife's role is to set her husband on the right path and put her foot down as far as his fulfilling his responsibilities."

I'll just briefly question whether her assessment of the wife's role is correct or not as many have said the ruchnius of the home is the husband's responsibility and the wife's role is not that of mashgiach, and would like to focus on the "putting her foot down" part.

I am curious as to how she thinks any spouse, wife or husband, can "put their foot down" about anything and expect compliance.  What is her method to ensure obedience? Does she offer prizes? Punishments? Both? Would she suggest the wife not make his supper if he doesn't get up earlier? Not do his laundry? Divorce?

A person (spouse, parent, anyone) can say something forcefully; can provide rational reasons; can speak from the heart, but ----- ultimately, the person on the receiving end has the choice of listening or not.

Apr 11, 2011

Power of Words, part 2

Shortly after writing the previous post, I read that Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky understood the words of the mishna in Pirkei Avos, "Lo matzasi la'guf tov ele shtika" (I didn't find good for the body except for silence) as follows:

Speaking is hagshama - it makes something megusham-tangible, it invests physical dimensions to a thought.  A thought is not yet in the realm of the physical.  Allow the thought to remain in its sublime spiritual state.

I thought this was an interesting understanding of these words, a more mystical one than I would have expected from him.  It fits nicely with the points in the previous posts.

Apr 7, 2011

Words Create a Reality

Point #1
On the day that Rabbi Yehuda Ha'Nasi was dying, his devoted students and colleagues decreed a public fast and prayed for him. Furthermore, they announced that whoever said that Rabbi Judah was dead would be stabbed with a sword.  Why? Because once the news spread, it would take an open miracle to bring him back to life (says the Shitah Mekubetzes).  As long as the news wasn't announced, he could be brought back to life through tefilla! Amazing!

Point #2
We've been learning about the Metzora lately.  The halacha is that the person, garment or house is not tamei until the kohen declares it tamei.  Even if a talmid chacham who is an expert in the laws of tzoraas knows it is tzoraas, it only becomes tamei on the kohen's say-so.

Point #3
Many people don't go to a cemetery or drink wine for 30 days, so what makes a nazir a nazir and a kadosh? R' Tzadok explains that the nazir utters the words, “hareini nazir” (I am a nazir) and this creates the kedusha.

What makes one cow different than another? If a Jew said, “harei zu ola” (this animal is designated as an Olah sacrifice), now you have to be careful with this cow for there are special laws that pertain to it.

How do fruits become teruma and fit only for a kohen? By our setting it aside and designating it as teruma.

Point #4
In the book "Aleinu L'Shabeiach" Shemos p. 375-376 there is a story of someone very ill and a family member consulted with a rav who told them all would be fine.  The man recovered and when the rav was later asked how he knew all would be well, he said: I have a tradition from my teachers that as long as the information is not conclusive and the doctors have not determined the diagnosis 100%, that means that in Heaven the outcome has not been determined with finality.  The words a person uses have great power to determine what will happen.  After a diagnosis, prayer can help but you need an open miracle.  Fascinating!

Apr 6, 2011

Reaction to Letter of Protest

I was recently told about a "Dear G-d" letter written by Rabbi Cardozo and I looked it up and found it here:

http://www.cardozoschool.org/show_article.asp?cat_id=1&cat_name=Jewish Thought and Philosophy&subcat_name=Man, God and the Torah&subcat_id=44&article_id=704&parent_id=1  

Rabbi Cardozo, as the website states, is a prominent lecturer and author .. a native of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community of Holland who holds a doctorate in philosophy.  He received semicha from from the yeshiva in Gateshead Talmudic College and studied in Israel at the Institute for Higher Rabbinical Studies of Chief Rabbi Unterman and at the Mir Yeshiva.

In his letter of protest, he expresses his anguish over the massacre of the Fogel family "and the death of at least ten thousand human beings due to a huge earthquake and tsunami that YOU, and nobody else, caused."  Why didn't G-d prevent the terrorists from perpetrating their heinous deed, he wants to know, and why did G-d allow the Japanese to suffer such devastation?

He wondered why nobody else seemed to be agonizing as he was, over these tremendous losses, and was amazed that people still showed up at shul to talk to G-d.  He could not understand how people were not preoccupied with this religious crisis and wonders whether something is lacking in them or perhaps in himself.

Rabbi Cardozo continues to believe in G-d even as he ponders these questions.

I am impressed if this letter truly reflects his emotions.  However, I find two things disturbing.  One, he does not differentiate with a "l'havdil" or otherwise, between the murders of the Fogels, our brothers and sisters, and the loss of life and chaos in Japan.  When I raised this point in discussion, someone vehemently disagreed with me and asked why the rabbis did not declare a day of fasting for the Japanese.  I was taken aback by this sentiment and asked whether, in our history, in our Torah, there is such a precedent.  This point was not well taken.  Although Hashem's mercy is al kol maasav, and so should ours be, our natural Jewish reaction should be different for our fellow Jews than for other human beings. 

Second, Rabbi Cardozo's reaction is based on the assumption that the Japanese were entirely innocent victims of an explicable massive tragedy.  Although he concedes that we cannot understand G-d, he is still torn between his intellectual understanding that G-d has His reasons and his emotional reaction to human suffering.  My reaction, by way of contrast, was to wonder why Japan? Why, of all countries which are idol worshipping and transgress other of the Seven Noahide Laws, did G-d pick Japan for this utter ruination?

Apr 5, 2011

Doing the Best They Can - Really?

I have read and heard many times that we should feel compassion for the people in our lives who are "doing the best they can."  Today, I was listening to a talk in which the speaker said he believes that parents, our parents, did and do the best they can with the tools they had or have.  If they didn't do something for you, it was because they couldn't.

It sounds nice.  It sounds understanding.  But I don't believe it.  Why? Because it's not true for me and I don't believe it's true for most people.  I know that I can't say about myself that in all that I've done, in all of my interactions, I did the best I could.  I could have done better! Couldn't we have said it more gently, reacted more calmly, been more patient? I know I could have. 

Apr 4, 2011

Mi K'Amcha Yisrael

I think we need to be discerning about when we exclaim, "Mi K'Amcha Yisrael," when we are amazed by what Jews do.  The words mean, "Who is like Your nation, the Jewish people."  There are certain things that are exclusively Jewish or almost exclusively Jewish, but then there are things that although they are impressive, are done by other people too.

I think martyrdom for the sake of Hashem would be a good example of something special about the Jewish people.  Although there are some non-Jews who gave up their lives for their religion, the vast numbers of Jews who died al kiddush Hashem rather than convert supersedes anything we know of among other people.  Simple Jews, learned Jews, pious Jews, not that observant Jews, whole communities died al kiddush Hashem again and again over the centuries.  We don't see this with any other nation.

I've been thinking about this because I read about US Marines who were posthumously awarded for allowing themselves to be killed by a grenade to save their buddies.  This immediately brought to mind the story of the Israeli soldier, Roi Klein, who jumped on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers.  I was taken aback.  Apparently, I was under the impression that what the IDF soldier did was uniquely Jewish. 

We know from Chazal what traits are uniquely Jewish.  Chazal say we are "maaminim bnei maaminim" - believers, children of believers, and Chazal say that Jews are: rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chasadim (compassionate, inhibited due to their refinement, kind). 

Can you think of examples of "Mi K'Amcha Yisrael"?

Apr 2, 2011

Books that Made an Impact

What books have I read that made a significant impact on my life?

I've been thinking about that.  I've read a lot of great books, some of which I've posted about here on the blog, but I'm not talking about a great read.  I'm talking about secular books that shaped my way of thinking.

So far I've come up with:

Medical Heretic by Mendelsohn
7 Habits by Covey
Marva Collins' Way
Dumbing Down Our Kids
Son-Rise by Kaufman
The Magic Feather by Granger
books like Kaufman's Happiness is a Choice
books on the mind-body connection like Bernie Siegel's, Dr. Sarno's, When the Body Says No,  The Brain That Changes Itself
Hold On To Your Kids
books like some of the Chicken Soup Books about making a difference
Self-Talk Solution
Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to your Mental Health by Glasser
books about the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs personality types

I'd like to know yours!