Nov 29, 2012

Feeling Good versus Actually Helping

I'm impressed with R' Shais Taub's approach to addiction.  I haven't read his book but I've see a number of his articles.  In an Ami article he says that addictions are a person's attempt at a solution to his problems.  Therefore, he sees no reason for a zero-tolerance policy against teenaged drinking, for it's not the alcohol that's the problem.

He points out that the government has spent billions on drug and alcohol education and he doesn't think it stopped a single person from becoming addicted.  ""Awareness and prevention" campaigns make people feel good, and they're easy to get funding for, but do they help anyone?" he asks.  He goes on to say, "If someone has the underlying issues that make them feel the need to self-medicate, then no amount of "awareness and prevention" will help.  They will still have the same inner pain.  I think we should focus far more on giving our children the spiritual tools to be emotionally healthy people."

The frum world has latched on to the "awareness" campaign in many areas as can be seen in the subjects of articles covered in frum magazines.  You sense the self-congratulatory spirit in these magazines.  They feel so virtuous for taking taboo topics out "from under the rug," and for attempting to "debunk stigmas."  They feel even more justified when people write in letters lauding them for being "courageous" in "tackling these painful subjects."  But is this awareness only making us feel good, as though we are helping anyone merely by talking about these problems publicly? If yes, let's see the evidence.

related posts:

Nov 27, 2012

G-d is Alive and Well in America

According to a 2007 Newsweek poll, 13% of self-described atheists or agnostics believe that "G-d created humans pretty much in the present form at one time within the last ten thousand years or so." Makes me wonder why they describe themselves as atheists or agnostics!

Young earth creationism is the most commonly held belief about the origin and development of life, held by 48% of all Americans.  How nice!

Another 30% believe that humans developed over millions of years but that the process was guided by G-d.

Interestingly, among firm religious believers alone, denial of evolution correlates with high education.

I find it encouraging that in this modern day and age, after decades of evolution indoctrination which eliminates G-d from the picture, 78% of Americans believe G-d is very much in the picture.

Nov 25, 2012

Ripple Effects

We want to do something to help Eretz Yisrael.  We can daven and say Tehillim and that helps.  Some write checks.  Some feel they want to do more, they want to do something tangible that demonstrates, to themselves, that they care about what is going on in Eretz Yisrael. 

Last week, while the rockets and bombs were still flying, someone said that she was not going clothing shopping.  While otherwise, she would stop in to certain stores and see if they had gotten in anything of interest, now she was avoiding that.  Why? As an act of sensitivity; shopping isn't appropriate while our fellow Jews are diving for cover, getting hurt, and having their homes smashed.

I understand the sentiment, however ... What about the store owner? What if avoiding unessential clothing shopping, in deference to our brethren, became a widespread phenomenon? Should store owners not make sales because of our sensitivities? Surely, there are other ways to share in others' pain that do not affect people's parnassa. Then again, maybe avoiding unessential clothing shopping is a good thing and something to promote, regardless as to whether there is a war going on (or people are homeless due to Sandy).

A similar question can be asked about wedding takanos.  Wedding takanos minimize wedding expenses.  When wedding expenses are minimized, they also minimize the earnings of those who provide those items.  If the takana is no diamond ring, just a zirconium, that minimizes the earnings of diamond dealers.  If one-man-bands replace multiple musicians, that minimizes the earnings of other musicians and bands.  If silk flowers are rented from a gemach, it minimizes the earnings of those who sell fresh flowers.  If l'chaim/vorts are made at home, halls are not being rented.

Does the parnassa of those providing these services need to be considered when cutting expenses? Apparently not, since leaders of various groups have established takanos.  And when considering parnassa, I can consider my own bank account and choose to minimize expenses without putting someone else's parnassa before my own.  However, not shopping because of a sensitivity to those suffering in Eretz Yisrael doesn't seem quite the same thing, because it's not about my parnassa versus anyone else's; it's about wanting to do something that reminds me that Jews are suffering.  That can be done in ways that don't affect anyone else.

Nevertheless, I admire the sentiment and the follow-through.  Somebody cared enough to do something.

Nov 24, 2012

Talk to Me

It has become popular to decry the current state of affairs in which people don't communicate properly anymore.  Articles have been written extolling old-fashioned verbal communication and bemoaning the fact that today, people no longer communicate in meaningful ways.  Of course they are unhappy with the texts and emails that pass for communication these days.  A variation on this theme is the complaint that people no longer write letters and how meaningful letter writing used to be, how people looked forward to receiving a letter and kept precious letters and how they are a valuable source of information of life long ago.

To respond to the first complaint, about verbal communication, well, letter writing has been around for millenia and people didn't complain about it! It was understood that written communications were sometimes the only way to communicate.  They also have an advantage over verbal communication in that you can write a draft, review what you wrote, correct and refine it and then have the reader give it his full attention which is not as likely with verbal communication.

As to the complain that people no longer write letters, yes, with phone calls being so cheap and cell phone ubiquitous, kids and parents are not writing letters to one another when in camp and Eretz Yisrael, the way they used to.  Then again, there were always those who were writers and those who weren't.  The fact that phone calls are cheap won't stop a writer from keeping a diary, blog or writing emails.

When I said I have contacted people via email that I wouldn't otherwise be communicating with, someone said to me - that's because you used to write before the advent of emails.  Those who are born to the email/texting/cell phone generation, are not as likely to write in meaningful ways.  That might be true.  But I think in other ways, we are more connected, knowing what is going on (sometimes more than I would like) with Jews all over the world through daily frum news sites.  It's different these days, and like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages.

Nov 22, 2012

The Truth of the Matter


R' Yosef Viener (rav in Monsey) saw chess players sitting for hours over a game. He commented about it and one of the players said to him, he thought he wasn't cut out to learn. He got married and became a day trader which required him to sit for 6 and ½ hours and concentrate (or he'd lose a lot of money). It was hard but he learned to do it and did it well.

Then he realized, a few years later, that he had been living a lie, convincing himself he couldn't learn Torah for hours. Money is a great motivator and he saw that money was important to him so he worked at it.  Learning wasn't important to him, so he gave up. When parents, teachers or the kids themselves say they aren't "cut out for learning," and say programs are needed for those "who can't sit and learn," maybe the truth of the matter is, Torah is not important enough to them to hold their interest.

Nov 21, 2012

The Rabbi's Daughter

A video was recently produced which profiled three prominent religious-Zionist rabbis whose daughters have left the fold.  The parents of these girls cooperated in the making of this film, so there is no issue here of publicly embarrassing them.

It has been said that the girls and their parents exhibited great courage in going public.  I think that applies to the parents rather than to their daughters.  The daughters are regularly seen in public and are obviously not religious.  They don't make an attempt to appear religious while secretly sinning.  The parents though, well, why did they appear in this film? Perhaps this is their way of doing what all those articles and speeches say to do, "keep lines of communication open," "be supportive," "don't be judgmental."

It bothers (angers?) me that their daughters put them in this position of having to publicly appear in a video that embarrasses them.  I think it was reprehensible to do this to their parents and maybe the parents felt they had no choce but to appear in a film that would, at least, make them look kindly and reasonable, as opposed to refusing to take part and having who-knows-what kind of film made about them. So no, I don't applaud either the parents or the children for allowing themselves to be exposed to the world. 

I found it interesting that the irreligious men in the video have more respect for the rabbis than their daughters. The rabbis were their teachers, and as such, the men felt they were deserving of respect. 

The daughters don't explain why they are no longer religious.  When one of them whines about Judaism, her husband gently counters with - you haven't searched for answers to your questions.  What comes across with two of them is their tremendous discomfort being the "rabbi's daughter," of being in his shadow, of being held to a higher standard and with one daughter, feeling different than her less religious peers when she was growing up. 

Why was this film made? What was the goal? Simply to fulfill today's mandate of sharing one's private life with the world? Let me guess ... "if it helps one person ..." blah blah blah, that tiresome, often silly line.  Was it meant to support other children of rabbis in going off the derech? Was it meant to show parents in the same situation how to be loving despite being spat at in the face? We aren't told. And at this point, the video was removed and I don't see it available online anymore.

Nov 14, 2012

Nature or G-d?

First in a speech.  Now in an article.  Am I being overly sensitive or is it shocking that rabbis use phrases like "Even as nature demonstrated its capacity for ruthlessness," and "the cruelty of the storm" when talking about Sandy?

Do they really see nature as being separate from G-d or is it just a figure of speech to them?

Is it that they can speak in terms of ruthlessness and cruelty when the subject is nature or the storm, but not if G-d is the one who inflicted the storm?

Nov 8, 2012

"Everything is a Gift from G-d"


I'm reading a book about an irreligious Jewish woman and her quest for a baby.  She was raised Conservative, dropped all religious practices, married a goy, was an ardent feminist to whom her career was her top priority.  Then she woke up and discovered that having a baby in her late 30's was not going according to plan.

A particularly interesting chapter is when she goes to visit a childhood sweetheart who became frum after his bar mitzva, married a frum girl, and went on to have 15 children.  Needless to say, the author cannot begin to relate to their religious choices and to their chaotic household with kids coming and going.

The beautiful part is where she writes that her friends assumed that Larry had made Beth have all those kids, but that wasn't true.  Beth told the author that they had so many children because she wanted them.  She said, "When I was young, I spent a lot of time at our rabbi's house.  They had 11 kids.  I liked the atmosphere there.  I wanted a big family too.  And I'm excited every time I find out I'm pregnant.  It never gets old.  It's such a miracle.  It's the same with the milestones; it was just as exciting when number fourteen took her first steps as it was when number one did."

Larry was a doctor, often doing 16 hour shifts.  He said, "I like everything I do.  I like the kids. I like my job.  Everything is a gift from G-d, everything.  Part of this for me is realizing we're not in control of everything.  Some people don't use contraception and have no kids at all or, unfortunately, have difficulty. Other people have two children or six.  If we have fifteen children, that's what's supposed to happen."

* This is not the family from the book.

Nov 3, 2012

In My Not-So-Expert Opinion

As I've written several times before, I find finding one's passion to be a fascinating topic.  Back to the book I was reading about the guy who collected Yiddish books so they wouldn't be gone forever, there are a number of things that struck me about his story.  One is, he stumbled upon his passion. 

Two, he threw himself heart and soul into his work (which is what people do when they feel passionate about something).  This meant that he traveled extensively, exerted himself physically, extended himself financially, and did whatever it took to further his ambition.  Perhaps this is why he had extraordinary success because yogaata u'matzasa taamin - he singlemindedly pursued his dream and Hashem allowed him to succeed even though Hashem couldn't be thrilled with the rescue of kefira and other nonsense.  It should be noted that hundreds of the books he saved are worthwhile, such as the 700 yizkor books and Holocaust memoirs that were written right after the war.  And perhaps, indirectly, his raising awareness of the importance of Yiddish books  has inspired Jews to reconnect in some way to Yiddishkeit.

Three, he had many helpers and supporters who shared the same dream.

Fourth, he broke the rules.  After his first direct mail letter campaign which he did with a professional letter writer and was successful, he wrote subsequent fundraising letters himself.  Rather than short letters with lots of underlining and bullets, he wrote four to six pages, single spaced, writing to the members of his organization as though they were friends.  More and more members joined.

When he was ready to build a 7 million dollar center to house the books and offer all kinds of services and programs, the largest gift, up to that point, with one exception, was $10,000.  Most contributions were $18 and $36 a year.  The experts told him it couldn't be done.  They told him that 90% of the money would have to be raised from 10% of the donors and that he'd need 40% of the money before he could announce the campaign to the public. 

He did the opposite.  He wrote a letter to the members and the money poured in.  Some donors, who had been sending $18 a year, mailed checks for $50,000! The phones didn't stop ringing and within two months, through direct mail alone, he had raised over two and a half million dollars.

A project is different than parnassa which we are told is set on Rosh Hashana.  Are there people who throw themselves into projects, exerting themselves mightily, and then fail? We don't hear about them unless they finally succeed (like Rabbi Noach Weinberg who failed many times before he succeeded with Aish Ha'Torah). They don't  write books, so we don't know.  What sets those who succeed apart from those who fail? Anything that we can learn from or are there heavenly considerations that make some succeed and some fail?

Nov 2, 2012

Upping the Odds for a Miracle

A letter that I wrote to a frum publication:

I'd like to share with your readers what it says about prenatal sonograms in the book Aleinu L'Shabei'ach (Devarim, p. 242) by Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein. After a patient refused to have an ultrasound done, with Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky's support, a doctor asked R' Zilberstein to explain this to him. He asked his brother-in-law, R' Kanievsky who said that if there are no specific medical problems with either the woman or the fetus, it is preferable for her not to do a routine sonogram. As long as no problem has been diagnosed, prayer is more beneficial. If, however, a woman has a sonogram done and it shows a defect in the fetus, it will require an open miracle to heal the baby and not everyone is worthy of a miracle.

R' Zilberstein brings support to this position from the miracles related about Elisha and the Shunamite woman with the oil and later with her son, in which the miracles needed to be performed discreetly. Hashem wants miracles to be done in as inconspicuous a manner as possible. A blessing from a sage and prayer are more effective when an illness or defect have not been discovered and a big miracle need not be performed.

R' Zilberstein said he heard in the name of the Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l that a person should go to a sage for him to pray before he goes to the doctor, because once the doctor says there is a serious problem, it is much more difficult for the sage to reverse it.

R' Zilberstein adds that many times, women have the routine sonogram which reveals a possibility of a problem and this causes the woman to be extremely anxious and fearful, especially when many defects are incurable. Doctors often recommend the termination of the pregnancy, which is forbidden. All of the anguish suffered by the mothers is therefore pointless, he says, since there is nothing they can do about the defect and there is a good chance the baby will be fine. It is better not to take these tests since Hashem created the world in such a way that a woman should not know what is in her womb, as Shlomo Ha'Melech says in Koheles 11:5.

I have read numerous stories of women who were given dire news upon taking a sonogram and were pressured to terminate the pregnancy. These stories ended with a healthy child. Were the doctors wrong or did a miracle occur? We don't know. What we do know is that those reading the sonograms don't even get the gender right 100% of the time, or the size of the baby. If sonograms are about saving even one life, as one letter writer wrote, thought should be given to all those lives that are ended, r'l, because of routine sonograms. Likewise, thought should be given to the effects of prolonged and extreme anxiety on the expectant mother and the fetus.