Dec 26, 2013

Kometz Alef Uh

There was a tribute to Rabbi Meir Pilchik a'h in Mishpacha magazine.  He was a menahel and fundraiser associated with the Stoliner yeshiva but "his primary claim to fame was as an alef-beis rebbi in the Stoliner yeshiva."

The article went on to describe what a devoted and patient rebbi he was, and how he made Torah and Yiddishkeit sweet for the children.  One detail that caught my attention had me wondering.  It said that "he kept a looseleaf in which he detailed the progress of each child in his pre-1A class.  He would monitor their mastery of keria, ensuring that no one left his classroom crippled for life with an inability to read."

This was over 40 years ago and there was no "special ed," no special ed training, and no keria programs.  How did he, and Racoma Shain, author of All For the Boss, who also ensured that every child who left her class could read, manage this? Were the children different back then? Did something change? Was it the norm for all or the vast majority of children to learn how to read in an ordinary classroom, or were these particular teachers unusual?

How could we find out?

Dec 22, 2013

The Emotions Ruler

Within two days, I came across two versions of the "ruler idea."  I read the first one in an article by Miriam Adahan.  She writes,*  "I created a little two-sided ruler. One side shows varying degrees of happy faces and a happiness scale from 1–10. The other side shows varying degrees of pain, also from 1–10." 

She has children use them to show how happy they are or how painful something is or was.  Quantifying it can be very helpful in teaching how to prioritize and maintain a proper perspective.  It sounds like a great idea for adults too! If we had to pick a number to fit a genuine tragedy and a number for burning the onions, that could readily help us tone down our reaction to that which is more trivial.

Two days later, I read an article in Binah by Chaya Spirer Leeder, a social worker, in which she describes being in a hospital and seeing a chart with faces depicting levels of happiness to pain.  #1 was a smiling face and #10 was a crying and screaming face.  The nurse occasionally asked her what number she was. 

In her practice she uses the same idea to "allow the kids to re-evaluate their feelings and put events into perspective, prompting them to think, 'Is this really the worst thing that has ever happened to me?' The answer is usually no."

She also showed how by ranking a bad feeling, it enables us to think about what we can do to lower the number and if we can't lower the number, how to change what we think about it so we can feel better.

I like the idea of rating feelings, for the reasons mentioned above, and also because when other people tell us their assessment, it enables us to understand their perspective.

*for the full article see: here

Dec 20, 2013

Deaf Pride?

There is a movement among the deaf called "Deaf Pride."  They do not view their handicap as such.  They consider it a difference, not a disability, hence not something that needs to be fixed.

Those in the "deaf culture" are vehemently against cochlear implants in children, which they call invasive surgery in defenseless children, because (aside from health concerns), by enabling children to hear, parents are making a major decision for their children.  As one deaf person put it, "I think it is wrong for a hearing parent to deny a deaf child their cultural identity and force them to be hearing."

This view is perturbing.  What is the Torah understanding of this issue?

Dec 19, 2013

Socialist Chesed

In one of Mishpacha's Succos supplements, there was a piece about cost price catering in Gateshead, England.  A team of ladies does all the catering for local weddings and it can be as elegant or as simple as you are willing to pay for. 

I don't get it.

This chesed began 30 years ago when there were two caterers in the community who made a living (i.e. their service was not at cost price) from catering simchas.  A doctor in the community asked two women if they would be willing to arrange cost-price simchas to provide an option people could afford.  Once this became standard for every couple getting married in Gateshead, naturally the caterers went out of business.

So regardless as to what you can afford, you get a cost-price wedding catered by six ladies out of a list of volunteers.  Why would they want to cook for someone who can afford to pay for a caterer? I don't know.  Why was it a good thing that caterers were put out of business? I don't know.  Why is this done for everyone, no matter the need? Someone suggested it's because England is a socialist country so this is the mentality.

Toward the end of the article it says the waiters and waitresses respect the frum lifestyle but they can't always understand it.  One of these non-Jewish waitresses couldn't believe that no money is made off of catering these weddings because "as far as she's concerned, if people can't afford it, why are they having 300 guests at their wedding?" Uh, right. 

If weddings had fewer guests eating at the meal, we could bring the caterers back because weddings would be affordable.  The caterers would make a living, the volunteers could turn their attention elsewhere, and even the gentile waitress would see that Jews know to pay for what they can afford.

Dec 15, 2013

"Give Honor to the Torah"

As I write this, I can hear lively Chassidic music playing out in the street.  I am fortunate in that I live in a location where Hachnosas Sifrei Torah take place every now and then.  I am alerted to the possibility of one taking place when I hear loud Jewish music. 

I go out on my porch which overlooks an avenue and have a bird's eye view of a wonderful procession of dancing and strolling people accompanying a new Sefer Torah to its new home.  In the more elaborate celebrations, children in white shirts are given (safe) torches to hold and there are large circles of dancers.

In today's day and age, this is done with the help of the police who block off streets to allow the safe passage of the Torah.  What a contrast to the article I read earlier today in which a woman describes life in Frankfurt in the aftermath of Kristallnacht.  She says they watched Germans smashing their way into the beis medrash across from her house and seeing a Sefer Torah thrown out the window upon which they tore kria. 

In fact, many of the people attending the Hachnosas Sifrei Torah I get to see are themselves Holocaust survivors or the children of survivors.  The survivors probably never dreamed of the day when gentile police would help Jews give honor to the Torah.

Dec 13, 2013

Is it Hot in Here? Nah

One of the explanations given as to why Chushim the son of Dan took action and killed Eisav at Yaakov's funeral is that since he was deaf, he did not become immersed in the negotiations over the burial as did the rest of the children and grandchildren of Yaakov.  It happened slowly.  Eisav made a claim, the brothers made a counter-claim, Eisav responded, and it was decided that Naftali would go back to Egypt to get the document.  Chushim missed all this.  All he knew was that his grandfather's burial was delayed and this was disrespectful.

This idea, of slowly getting used to an untenable situation is referred to as the "boiling frog syndrome." Supposedly, if a frog is placed in boiling water it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

I am reminded of all this in connection with an article that I read by Sudy Rosengarten in which she provides the history of early education.  When she was a little girl, nearly eighty years ago, children started school at age six.  That is when they learned the ABC's and numbers.  A little googling shows that twenty of 34 European countries have a starting age of six and another eight wait until seven.

Then kindergartens were started for five year olds where they heard stories, played, and painted.  What followed was America's Head Start program for poor, disadvantaged children, ages 3-4.  The age has been lowered even further with playgroups for two year olds and younger in the US and Israel.  This is not for an hour or two.  Some of these programs are until three in the afternoon.  Of course, babysitters may keep them even longer.

If a mother wants to keep her child home because she doesn't believe that sending babies out to school is beneficial to them, there will be no playmates during school hours.

Mrs. Rosengarten covers some of the problems inherent in this new system which is now considered the norm ("boiling frog syndrome).  Most importantly, very young children need their mother.  There are years to come of schooling and these early years cannot be replaced.  It's a time when they are forming their first and most significant emotional attachment which will stand by them forever.

She also refers to those children who don't do well in group settings at the age of two and how "accelerating the natural timetable just isn't good for them" and how early academics are not a good idea.

All this may be irrelevant given that today's parents are "boiled frogs" and cannot imagine keeping a child home past the age of three, never mind four and five.  More often than not, these days, mothers are working so that even Rabbi Mandel a"h of Yeshiva of Brooklyn, who held that little children belong with their mothers, was "forced" by circumstances to open a preschool.  Mothers told him that they would be sending their children out of the home regardless so could he please open a class for them. 

The water has been boiling for so long now, that I don't think even a modern-day Chushim can save the day.

Dec 12, 2013

Contemporary Litvishe Views on Birthdays

In the Artscroll biography The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, about R' Yehuda Zev Segal, it says (p. 189), "He would say that a birthday is a day to express gratitude to Hashem for the years granted to carry out one's mission in life.  It was a common practice for talmidim to approach the rosh yeshiva on their birthday and request his blessing that they grow in Torah knowledge and yiras shomayim.  On at least one occasion, it was the rosh yeshiva who approached an outstanding talmid and said, 'Today is my birthday.  I wish to undertake to develop further in Torah and yiras shomayim.  Please bless me that I should succeed.'"

from the new edition of the Artscroll Reb Moshe book, p. 311
"All the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were called by Reb Moshe [Feinstein] and the Rebbetzin on their birthdays.  The family would reciprocate by calling Reb Moshe every 7 Adar to wish him well on his birthday.  Those who lived in the NY area would come to the Lower East Side to do this in person.  This was so accepted a practice in the Feinstein family that when one grandchild was once unable to get through on the phone, she received a call that night from Reb Moshe, who was concerned that something was amiss.
"The family emphasizes, however, that these were not simply "Happy Birthday" calls, but opportunities for them to express their fervent hopes and blessings that their father and grandfather merit another year of life in good health, and receive his blessing in return."
footnote: for a number of years, a group of students from Yeshiva of Staten Island would travel to the East Side on 7 Adar to present R' Moshe with a loose-leaf containing chidushei Torah written by the yeshiva's talmidim.  R' Moshe would glowingly accept this unique gift and leaf through the entire collection in the presence of the talmidim.

Dec 10, 2013

What We Read

In an article I read, a mechanech from upstate New York, not referred to by name, says he makes the effort to travel and speak and makes a point of denouncing certain frum publications by name.  Why? He said one of them had an article about the life of a billionaire and this is antithetical to the desire we should have for a simple life.

I don't know who the man is and I don't know which publication he is referring to.  I don't know why this information was not shared when the man thinks it's his mission to go public with his opinion.

It is possible that the magazine he castigates made a poor choice of a topic.  Let's say they did.  If we followed his recommendation, we would eliminate a magazine or magazines geared to the frum reader.  I'm not convinced this is a good idea when reading material for the frum reader is limited.  Would he prefer that we read secular reading material instead?

Perhaps.  Maybe he thinks that if it comes under the auspices of a frum imprimatur, we are not on guard.  When we read something from a secular source we might be more alert to contradictions to our values.

On a related topic, there are reading lists one can get for children, of books that are not of Jewish content but have been vetted for appropriateness.  Artscroll has published textbooks with classic English literature that they selected for appropriateness.  I've been thinking about this.  I've also been thinking about someone reading "All for the Boss" for her English class.  It's a terrific book which I've read four times, but for an English literature class?

To read or not to read, that is the question.
Or, to read and what to read, those are the questions.

Dec 8, 2013

Spiritual DNA

I read a terrific chinuch idea in an article by Rabbi Hillel Belsky, printed in Hamodia's Inyan magazine. 

He described a talmid of his whose achievements in general were average but who was particularly devoted to tefilla b'tzibbur.  He never missed a minyan and the disparity between his punctiliousness with this mitzvah and other areas of his spiritual life was obvious.  "Upon investigation, I learned that his grandfather, whom he had not known, used to stand on street corners trying to collect people for a minyan in a dying neighborhood."

R' Belsky is the founder and dean of a seminary in Yerushalayim and he says he tries to enlist his students to search their family backgrounds to find the specialness of their ancestors.  "Who were they? Were they known for anything special, big or small? Any area of avodas Hashem for which they were moser nefesh? It all becomes a part of their singular and collective spiritual DNA."

The idea is "to encourage students to claim their forebears' strengths as their own."  On the subject of Shabbos, the students were asked to find out about any instances of mesirus nefesh for Shabbos on the part of their parents, grandparents and so on.  He says "the stories the girls told could have filled a book!"

"Every family has stories.  I want my students to connect to these stories."

And it's true.  A family does not have to be illustrious to have inspirational stories.  A family does not even have to be religious to have mitzva-related inspiring stories.  We need to speak to family members and glean these stories so that we have personal inspiration to draw upon.

Nov 30, 2013


Someone in her forties said: When we were growing up, the Holocaust was very much a part of our lives.  We were children of survivors and survivors lived all around us.  My children have no particular interest or involvement in the Holocaust. 

We were also very aware of the plight of Soviet Jewry.  We read stories about life behind the Iron Curtain in Olomeinu and sang songs like JEP's "Dear Nikolai" and "Let My People Go." Then Russian Jewry began to come out of Russia and they were all around us.  We saw them babysitting, taking ESL classes and we invited them for Pesach.

The person I quoted earlier bemoans the lack of idealism in her children.  Their concerns and involvement include doing well in school, getting married, having a family, and paying the bills.

That's not to say there is no idealism in our youth, but it is not within her children's world.  It gave me pause for thought.

Nov 25, 2013

"The Boys in the Boat"

I just finished reading this wonderful book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics.  I was impressed by the writing from the very start and even though competitive rowing is not something that interests me, the author wrote so beautifully that I was kept enthralled. 

It was interesting to read his descriptions of life in the 1930's such as life on a college campus.  Just the description of how teenagers dressed back then drives home how distant we are from those more moral times.  The book focuses on one of the boys in particular.  He went through a very difficult childhood and he handled it with such resiliency, working extremely hard to support himself and get himself through college. 

The story of the college rowing team is interspersed with the rise of Hitler's Germany.  The Berlin Olympics were designed to fool the world into thinking Germany was civilized at the very time that they were actively preparing for war and persecuting and murdering Jews. 

It was fascinating to read how this kind of rowing requires not only tremendous strength but great intelligence too.  They all had to keep up their grades and the crew athletes were known to have the highest GPA in the university.  When they finished college they went to work in impressive jobs and all but one married and had families. 

There are parts that describe how the boats were made and what it takes to have a perfectly coordinated team of rowers, which can serve as life lessons and as wonderful mashalim (analogies).

I highly recommend it.

Nov 18, 2013

Kudos to Kedem?

The founder of KosherFest was asked whether there was anyone who has been part of KosherFest since it began twenty-five years ago.  His response, printed in Mishpacha magazine, was "There are two handfuls, I would say.  Kedem is a big one, and kudos to them.  We weren't a wine drinking community, it was just a cup of sweet wine for Kiddush, but Kedem educated an entire generation.  Now there are more than 1000 different bottles of wine at Kosherfest.  It's really, 'My, how they've grown up!'"

This is a good thing? Good for the wine manufacturers and distributors who make money on it, but who else is it good for? Is that what we were missing all this time, an education in how to drink? Previously we were immature? Presumably this is why I have been reading many articles in recent years about the out of control drinking going on in within frum communities. 

I found the articles showing pictures of KosherFest unappealing.  It looked to me like KosherFress.  I understand the need for those in the kosher food and beverage industries to network, and I understand the need for new products to alleviate the situations of those with allergies and illnesses that do not allow them to eat normal foods.  But do I think our increasingly obese and struggling with limits frum community needs even more food products than we already have? No.  Was I lacking anything very important twenty-five years ago when it came to food? No.

“Every day is a new adventure,” said EF of --- which has been producing bakery items for 52 years. “It isn’t just keeping up with the times, it is staying ahead of the times that is what really has to be done, although there are classic items that are tried and true and people never get tired of those.”

I must be missing something major since I don't understand why we must constantly come up with new culinary items.  But as long as we say the words "I'm eating this l'sheim shomayim," we're okay, right?

Nov 17, 2013

Consider Yourselves Warned

I've been thinking intermittently about the disaster in the Philippines.  Major loss of life, misery and devastation.  How everything that happens in the world happens for the sake of the Jewish people.  The following was written by R' Mendel Weinbach a'h:

When news of an earthquake in Japan a century ago reached the Radin Yeshiva in Poland, the sainted Chofetz Chaim assembled the students and delivered an inspiring mussar lecture.
This lesson was delivered millennia ago by the Prophet Tzephaniah who declared in the Name of G-d:
"I have cut off nations; their pinnacles are desolate; I have made their streets waste so that none passes by; their cities are destroyed so that there is no man, there is no inhabitant. I said, surely you will fear me and will learn a lesson." (3:6-7)

The words of the Prophet are quoted in a lecture written during the Middle Ages by the great Talmudic commentator Rabbeinu Nissim who points out that when people fail to learn from the disasters which strike others, they cause such tragedy to come closer to them. One who fails to see natural disasters as a Heavenly warning and fails to make any improvements, he concludes, is comparable to one who has sinned after being warned and thus exposes himself to retribution.

I have a hard time with this, specifically with the making improvements part.  I get as far as remembering everything that transpires happens for our sake and that they are supposed to be calls to teshuva.  I wonder if others are more successful in taking this to heart.

4th Anniversary!

Just to mention that I posted my first post in November 2009, so this is my 4th anniversary of blogging!

Nov 9, 2013

The Incredible Shabbos Project

I am so impressed and moved by what I've been reading and seeing about the special Shabbos initiative a few weeks ago in South Africa.  It took place on Shabbos parshas Lech Lecha and Yonoson Rosenblum described it as, "An experiment that has no precedent in modern Jewish history. It was called “The Shabbos Project.”
"The idea was simple: Encourage every Jew in South Africa to celebrate one Shabbos. And not just a friendly Shabbos dinner where nonreligious participants would be welcomed even if they drove to their host’s doorstep. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, 42, who has led the South African community since 2005, decided early on that the Shabbos must be observed in its entirety."
“Keeping Shabbos completely was crucial to the success of the Shabbos Project,” explains Rabbi Goldstein. “The kedushah, energy, and emotional power of the experience depends on doing the mitzvah exactly as Hashem instructs. When Torah is diluted, it loses its spiritual power. South Africans like a challenge, and responded to my call to keep Shabbos in all its details accordingly.”
To get some idea of the magnitude of this project see this: The Great Challa Bake about how thousands of women and girls gathered to bake challa.  And take a look at the website with all the information and resources that were made available to South African Jewry: here and be sure to click on "Our Stories" to read the reactions of those who participated, many experiencing Shabbos for the first time.

Oct 31, 2013

"A Divine Madness" cont.

In his lectures, Rabbi Miller spoke about his experiences in Europe on the eve of the war.  He was an American boy who was one of the few to make the voyage to learn in European yeshivos.  I remember hearing him describe, over twenty-five years ago, how he witnessed the chilul Shabbos in Slabodka. 

R' Miller, being an iconoclast, did not follow the frum party line which focused exclusively on the great yeshivos of Lithuania.  He described the deterioration of religious Jewry.  Although he spoke about this, apparently he did not feel that his manuscript about the Holocaust should be published in his lifetime. 

A very prevalent question asked by the irreligious and religious in the decades following the war was, "Where was G-d in the Holocaust."  This was (maybe still is) a question that kiruv rabbis had to expect.  R' Miller's book is his response to that question as the subtitle is, R' Avigdor Miller's Defense of Hashem in the Matter of the Holocaust." His position can be summarized as: the Holocaust was a fulfillment of what it states explicitly in the Torah, if you abandon Hashem, He will abandon you and you will suffer tremendously. 

"Blame the victim" implies that someone undeserving of pain, suffering, and sorrow is being accused of deserving pain, suffering and sorrow.  The premise of R' Miller's book is that the Torah spells out what we must do and what will happen if we don't do it.  Were we or weren't we faithful to Hashem?

The facts are, European Jewry, to a great extent, was comprised of Zionists, freethinkers, Bundists, Socialists, Communists, and Yiddishists.  Frum families were losing children rapidly to the secular world.  Sarah Schenirer's radical idea of schools for girls in the 1920's and 1930's was an emergency measure because girls were educated in Polish public schools and were dropping out of Yiddishkeit.

Although I can see how R' Miller's approach is true to Torah, it is troubling because of all the fine, frum people we know about who were destroyed and the destruction of frum life, shuls, sifrei Torah, yeshivos, i.e. those who did follow the Torah.  Furthermore, we don't see how destroying European Jewry accomplished anything.  Numerous assimilated Jews escaped or survived and numerous religious Jews who survived dropped their observance.  You had the resilient few who were frum previously and remained frum.  We don't see a mass teshuva movement happening during the war and subsequent to it.  That doesn't happen until decades later.  If the goal was to get European Jews back on track, did the Holocaust accomplish that? No.  And if that was not the goal, was the goal just to punish? Then why did so many assimilated Jews escape and so many pious Jews perish? But then, R' Miller is not talking about a goal; he is saying the Holocaust was a natural consequence of our behavior as spelled out in the Torah.

I'd find it interesting to read a sampling of book reviews written by Holocaust survivors.

Oct 30, 2013

"A Divine Madness"


A book with Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l's perspective on the Holocaust has been published, posthumously.  It is quite provocative and controversial to the point that in a full-page ad, it shows the book surrounded by people's opinions:

"I would recommend this book to every Jew."

"I honestly would be terrified to give this book to a non-observant person."

"Solely defended the justice of the HaKadosh boruch Hu."

"This is a big change from the usual approach."

"I feel that this book stands at the brink of a crossroads in Jewish History.  The Jewish world can either choose to read it and take heed of its message, or carry on and reject it."

"I think this book should be banned."

"I'm buying ten copies for my children and rabbinical friends."

"Not likely to be a popular message."

"Hard to put down.  Read it in one sitting."

"The notes distracted me from the book's readability."

And the ad says: You Judge.  Your comments are appreciated.  First printing sold out. 

to be continued

Oct 28, 2013

Jews on Trial

October 28, 2013 marks 100 years since Mendel Beilis was exonerated.  The book, shown above, is a CIS publication.

Beilis was falsely accused of killing a young Christian boy in Czarist Russia.  It was not only Beilis being tried, but the Jewish people as well, of course.  So much hinged on this trial, it garnered international interest.  A psychologist testified as an expert witness for the prosecution that in his opinion it was a case of ritual murder, which doesn't do anything to improve my opinion of that profession! Beilis was in jail for two years until the trial took place.  When acquitted, he moved to Palestine with his family, and then to the United States.

There is a lot of material: here about the case.

Oct 26, 2013


Joseph - How One Man Can Make a Difference by Jack Doueck (Sephardic Press) is similar to the Shloimie! book that I reviewed: here in that it's about a regular guy named Joseph Beyda, from the Syrian community in Brooklyn, who excelled in chesed (who also died young).  The stories told about him are exceptional.  He did chesed I would never dream up and he did chesed that I might consider but not actually do.

It was published years ago and I started rereading it.  It's inspirational reading, though the inspiration is not worth much if it doesn't get us to do chesed ourselves!

I've realized that a trait that many super-chesed doers that I've read about have in common is that they are outgoing people persons: Shloimie, Joseph, Reb. Chaya Sara Kramer (Holy Woman), Rebbetzin Basha Scheinberg (The Grand Rebbetzin).  An exception might be Mr. Herman from All for the Boss because what comes across about him is the desire to do what is right. 

So I got to thinking, what about those who are not people persons? Those who are more introverted and enjoy solitude?

Nobody is excused from chesed and caring for and helping people doesn't have to be done in an overtly outgoing manner.  There are doers of chesed who are more low-key and we can find the role models that we can emulate.

Oct 25, 2013

The Truth Can be Hard to Take

There are two schools of thought about why children from frum homes go off the derech.  One approach ascribes a specific reason or reasons to the phenomenon such as learning disabilities, molestation, not having the fundamentals of our emuna, and unhappiness.  Pinpointing the cause enables us - parents, teachers, the community - to do something about it; to make sure it doesn't happen or to be alert and helpful when it is already a problem.

The other approach maintains we have bechira and therefore, parents and teachers can't take credit or blame when a child picks a particular way of life.  We can do our best to teach and provide a good environment, but ultimately, how children turn out is out of our hands.  And this explains why children from wonderful homes, where other siblings are fine and frum, can be the black sheep.

Many years ago, Rabbi Brafman (principal of the yeshiva of Far Rockaway) wrote, "the consensus of professional and lay activists working with at-risk teenagers and dropouts has been that the overwhelming majority of their clients come from broken homes, orphaned homes, dysfunctional homes, or unhappy homes."

He was criticized for 1) being wrong - after all, dropout children strikes the best of homes, and 2) causing pain to the parents of these children by implying they are at fault for their children's rebelliousness.

Back in 1999, an anonymous therapist described as having a large Orthodox practice in the NY area, wrote the following in a letter to the Jewish Observer:

In the course of working with countless troubled youngsters, I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with many mechanchim, therapists, and lay activists.  It is indeed the consensus among all those with in-depth experience in this field that these youngsters come from unhappy homes.  In the vast majority of cases, there were serious problems in the parent-child relationship that predated the rebelliousness.  In other cases, the child had a difficulty (ex. learning disabilities) and the parents reacted with criticism rather than being supportive.

It does indeed seem like this problem happens in "the best of homes," but we need to remember that what we see as a "good home" is often not how the child experiences his/her home.  People in the field are often shocked by the discrepancy between the parents' public persona and their private behavior at home.

So, while no [normal] parents purposely make their child's life miserable .. if the child becomes seriously rebellious you can be fairly certain that they made serious and persistent errors in their parenting, most often by being persistently and unreasonably critical.

.. There is a great hesitancy among those in the field to publicly state what they privately know.  I believe that this hesitancy, however well intentioned, is leading to a fool's paradise... This desire not to hurt people's feelings is preventing us from helping them solve the problem which they want to be helped with.

Even if it was true that some frum children become rebellious without the home being a major contributing factor (although I have never actually seen such a situation, and have never heard of such a case), no one would deny that in the vast majority of cases, this is not the case.  Are we not contributing to the persistence of this tragic problem by denying this reality? Would we recommend that doctors not tell their smoking patients that they are putting themselves at a high risk of getting lung cancer, in order not to hurt their feelings? Should the fact that some people smoke without getting lung cancer and that some of those who contract lung cancer never smoked, blind us to the fact that smoking is a major contributing factor for lung cancer? Likewise, should our concern for their parents' feelings prevent us from publicizing the well establish risk factors for teen rebelliousness? This seems to be a clear example of misplaced and misguided rachmanus.

When I meet parents of rebellious children, I am, of course, empathetic to their pain and suffering.  But I also point out to them those aspects of their relationship with their child that have likely contributed to the problem.  I also suggest that that although this information may be painful for them to acknowledge, it can also be a source of hope.  By realizing that the problem does not strike at random, but rather has a cause, it is within their power to significantly alleviate the problem.  Parents who make a serious attempt at improving their relationship with their rebellious child often see dramatic improvement in their child's condition.

I have often been admonished by these parents and children for not making this information known to the community, to challenge the belief that there is an "epidemic" out there striking families at random and that parents are powerless to prevent or alleviate this problem.  It is for this reason that I have written this letter.

Oct 22, 2013

It's All About Love

In the September 2004 issue of the Jewish Observer, there was a letter by Dr. Bentzion Sorotzkin in response to a previous article about the dangers of the Internet.  What follows are some excerpts from his letter:

Some of you may erroneously conclude that exposure to the Internet, by itself, will cause someone to go off the derech or become involved in promiscuity.  If this was true, then one would expect that such tragic events would be significantly more prevalent in modern Orthodox communities than in more insular ones, since the people in the latter communities are much more shielded from outside "cultural" influences.

Judging from my professional experience, the sad fact is that the percentage of rebellious teens and promiscuous spouses are very similar in both types of communities.

Some may feel that the ends justify the means and therefore, it is worth using (inaccurate) scare tactics to encourage parents to protect their families from the spiritual dangers of the Internet.  However, there is a distinct danger to this approach.  It gives a totally inaccurate picture of the reasons for youngsters going off the derech or for couples to stray.  As a clinical psychologist, with many years experience working with rebellious teenagers in the frum community,  I can state categorically that the Internet has never been the prime factor in causing a child to rebel against his family's way of life. Rather, it is family conflict, often caused by parental mishandling of common childhood behaviors, that cause a child to rebel. 
When I meet parents of rebellious teens they often express shock that their children went off the derech when they worked so hard to shield them from outside influences. They are much less sensitive to the negative impact of their own harsh and critical parenting style on their children's future ruchnius level.     In a book of lectures by rosh yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg he states: "Show me the juvenile delinquent and in almost every case I will show you a person resorting to desperate means to attract the emotional warmth and attention he failed to get but so much wants and needs ... Aggressive behavior, when fully understood, is in fact nothing but love frustrated. It is a technique for compelling love, as well as a means for taking revenge on a society that has let the person down, leaving him disillusioned, deserted and dehumanized .. If you find rebels in society today, it is because they were never given the proper love.    A recent sefer on chinuch (Chinuch Malchuti) makes the following points: "Parents who treat their children with flexibility and do not overreact to minor infractions will have children who remain loyal to them and to their way of life.... "Educators who deal with dropouts relate that every single one only dropped out because he or she received insufficient love at home. None of them claimed that they left due to complaints against Hashem or the Torah. Lack of love at home is the reason for dropping out of yeshiva and for going off the derech. A child who receives sufficient love at home will never drop out or go off the derech."

Oct 18, 2013

Extended Toddlerhood

From another letter to a frum publication, written by an 11 year old:

My younger brother has ADHD too.  Even though he is already nine, he still bothers and pinches us all the time.  He doesn't listen to anything we say and including him in our games always ends in fights.  We have to hide our nosh and prizes because he takes them.  He used to smack me a lot, until I learned how to be smarter.  Now he mostly hits and bosses my younger brother; that hurts me even more.

Sometimes it gets so bad that I wish he was not my brother.  We can never do anything fun as a family because he always takes charge and ruins it for everyone.  It takes my mother so long to get him homework done that she almost never gets to help me with mine.  My mother has explained ADHD to me but I still get angry that he can't just control himself already.

My friend's brother has special needs and their family gets to do lots of fun things with Chai Lifeline.  It is not fair that no one knows what we are going through.  People can't see ADHD so easily and we are not sure that we want others to know.  I am glad he takes medicine now because it helps a lot.

Tell me, when a child hurts other people, ruins games, and takes what doesn't belong to him, does that sound like a disease? A mental illness? Or like a toddler?

As Dr. John Rosemond puts it:

"There is no such thing as having ADHD. It is not a biological condition. It is not a disease. It is a lifestyle condition. It is a developmental condition. And I absolutely know from much personal and professional experience that the behaviors we call ADHD can be corrected, cured, by parents without the assistance of psychologists (or drugs) in a matter of 3-6 months. It is not rocket science. If you understood that this is just extended toddlerhood - that's the first step to dealing with it."

Oct 17, 2013

ADD/ADHD Revisited

I haven't written about ADD/ADHD in too long, considering how often it comes up in frum publications and talks.  Previous posts on the subject include:
Refreshing! and
Diagnosis: Toddleritis and
This is ADHD? and
ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder - When Parents' Attention is Deficient .

This is from a letter written by a mother to a frum women's publication:

I have two children with ADHD (and five without) ...  I try with every fiber of my being to be supportive and nurturing towards my sons.  I understand their therapists' pleas for me to be patient and not to let everything get to me, and I can look away, but my other children can't.  When my 14 year old daughter completed a book report that she worked on for two weeks and then her brother came in and ripped it to shreds in a fit, it was difficult for me to comfort my daughter.  When she begs me, "Why do you let him? He never learns!" something inside me wants to snap.  She's right.  He's right.

And into all this walks the therapist and says, "Keep your cool - he'll come around one day, and we're giving him tools."  When he comes around, I might have five other bitter and angry and misunderstood kids.  They know their brother has his issues and they are kind and gracious, but sometimes they feel he ruins their lives.  My older son is medicated and in therapy and he has come a long way, but he has kicked more holes in the wall than we can ever fill.

First, I will say that my heart does go out to her.  She is a mother who cares.  Deeply.  And it sounds like she is trying to be a superlative parent.  My protest is not about her, but about a medical world that is destroying kids and their families as this mother describes. 

Although the mother does not say how old her boys are, they are obviously not two or she wouldn't be medicating and therapizing them.  How can our hearts not go out to parents who are told to be "supportive and nurturing" while not being told to discipline their children and how to do so to achieve results?

A child is destructive and all the therapist has to offer is a request for patience and reassurance about the distant future? The mother is realizing that this approach is undermining the entire household and is doing nothing to improve the situation. 

more on this soon

Oct 16, 2013

Shameless Indeed

As a follow-up to this post: here about inappropriate advertising in the frum world - I wrote a publication asking them whether their rabbinical board approved of an ad for ice cream that is for "pleasure seekers."

I asked:
How could this possibly be directed to your readership who are mevakshei Hashem, not mevakshei pleasure?
I ask that seriously. 
The wording of the ad is antithetical to our values.
Then I noticed a different ad, this one for a  sort of dessert/snack that combines bread sticks and chocolate.  The ad describes it as "The Cravers Combo" and promotes it as "shamelessly indulgent." No comment. 

Oct 11, 2013

Getting the Loving Message Across

Rabbi Noach Orlowek writes, "R' Yechiel Yakobson, one of Israel's revered educators, once met with a group of 'off the track' teenagers.  He asked them how he could prevent what happened in their families happening in his own.  They answered, 'You don't have to worry.  Your children know you love them.'"

R' Orlowek then writes, "At a wedding in Milwaukee, I sat at the same table as Rav Michel Twersky, who grew up in Milwaukee 80 years ago and attended public school, since there were no yeshivos there at the time.  I asked him how he and his brothers turned out to be such wonderful marbitzei Torah and paragons of Torah principles and Torah living.  When I asked the question, his entire demeanor changed.  Slowly and clearly, he said something that has never left me.  'We knew two things about our father, that he loved us very much and that he believed in us.'"

R' Orlowek goes on to point out that this is not to say that families where children have rebelled did not love their children.  "But sometimes, the message that they love their children does not come through clearly."

One approach to getting the message across is by seeing which "love language" means the most to a child.  Gary Chapman explained how he came to categorize five love languages, "Some of my encounters with couples through the years that brought me to realize that what makes one person feel loved does not necessarily make another person feel loved. For a number of years, I have been helping couples in the counseling office discover what their spouse desired in order to feel loved. Eventually, I began to see a pattern in their responses. Therefore, I decided to read the notes I had made over twelve years of counseling couples and ask myself the question, “When someone sat in my office and said, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what did they want?” Their answers fell into five categories. I later called them the five love languages."

It's simple and straightforward and worth looking up.

Oct 10, 2013

G-d's Calculations

I read a related idea to something I posted previously: here about how G-d has everything worked out based on our actions.  The idea can be read in its entirety as it appeared in Community magazine: here

The gist of it is, a sofer set aside some of his work time every month to voluntarily train two aspiring sofrim.  His colleagues said he was giving away valuable time in which he could be earning money.  He doesn't see it that way.  In his view, the time is well spent because it would otherwise be consumed by unpleasant things and he doesn't lose out at all.

According to his philosophy, if he is destined to lose work time every month, since this is part of life, he'd rather let his fellow Jews benefit from it.  "I am confident that these hours are lost time anyhow."

He and a colleague kept track of the time they spent working and the work time they ended up spending on other things.  The colleague was astonished to see that even with his volunteer work, the other sofer still worked more hours that month than he did, and that he lost time for various other reasons.

The conclusion: What is destined to be lost, one loses regardless, but you can utilize the loss of time for mitzvos and even save additional hours thereby!

Oct 9, 2013

Nach and Paying Attention

I was reading something where there was a parenthetical note about how none of the Shoftim were succeeded by a son*.  That stopped me short and I read it again, in incredulity. 

Why was I so astonished? Because kings are succeeded by their sons and Moshe wanted his son to succeed him and Rashi refers to this and it's discussed by the meforshim as to why it was Yehoshua.  And often, rabbinical posts are taken over by sons if they are worthy.  And yet, it never occurred to me that the Shoftim were not succeeded by their children!

And that got me thinking about how when I've learned Navi, I haven't thought much, and that was a perturbing thought.  In my defense, when it comes to Chumash we are taught early on to ask questions and there are constant questions and answers being offered.  This is not so for Nach.  There is less commentary and when Nach is learned, it is mostly to get the storyline and the meaning of the pesukim, without delving much into an analysis of every word.  But still ...

 * Gideon might be considered an exception

Oct 4, 2013

What a Mechaya!

There is a wonderful story told about R' Moshe Feinstein z'l, told by Rebbetzin Altusky in this delightful video: here beginning at 10:33 minutes.

It is worthwhile seeing the rebbetzin telling the story for many reasons: you hear it directly from the source, you hear it with all the nuances as she tells it, you get to see the wife of a great talmid chacham and teacher z'l, the daughter of Bessie who was a sister to Racoma Shain ("All For the Boss"), the daughter of the great rosh yeshiva, R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, and a special woman in her own right.

For more about the great posek and great Yid and human being that was R' Moshe, I recommend the revised Artscroll book which I review: here

Oct 2, 2013

Who Am I? part 2

continued from previous post

The article continues with the story of a girl from a wealthy neighborhood going to seminary in Eretz Yisrael and being amazed by the simplicity and purity of the kollel families there.  Over her year in Israel she heard about the idea of a woman supporting her husband as he learned.  She decided that this is what she wants.  She knew she couldn't manage for more than five years, but she was excited about this prospect.

Then she returned home and went back to life as she always knew it.  She thought about all the things she would be unable to have if she lived a kollel life.  She wanted a Torah home but wondered how she could support a family.

She consulted with rabbis, kollel wives, teachers, etc. and received a variety of comments, some of which supported her lofty goal and some of which knocked it.

"I didn't know what to think.  Was I just on a seminary high? How could it be that I was so sure about something a short while ago, yet now I was so tormented? Which was the real me? Am I the girl who really needs all these luxuries, all this money, all this stability and practicality .. making my seminary decision just a hasty, foolish, idealistic thought? Or am I really the seminary girl who 'saw the light,' and felts as if kollel was the right lifestyle to live, and I am just hesitating now because I'm back home?"

She concluded that a kollel lifestyle was not for her and turned down shidduchim suggestions with wanna-be longtime learners.  She wanted her husband to learn during their first year of marriage and take it from there.

Oct 1, 2013

Who Am I?

continued from previous post

I read an article by Malka Weisman about a girl with well-educated parents who herself was an ambitious student.  She had her sights set on an Ivy League college.  She worked hard and scored high on the SAT's in order to have a chance at winning an academic scholarship to a very expensive school.  She won the scholarship but her parents were still faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay which they couldn't afford.  She took the SAT's again to get an even higher score and did all she could to achieve her goal.  In the meantime, she prepared to go to seminary in Israel.

She went to Israel and loved it and her classes.  But when she heard ideas that contradicted her secular educational goals, she chafed.  As time went on, she began to wonder whether her plan of attending a secular university was a good one for a bas Yisrael.

During Pesach vacation she received the exciting news that she had been awarded a full scholarship, but at that point, she wasn't that sure she wanted to attend it any more.  It was a wrenching decision, made after much agonizing, but she gave up the scholarship and decided to go to a program attended by frum girls.

Then she went back to the US and began to feel regrets over her decision.  People told her she had been brainwashed but she said nobody forced her to make this sacrifice.  She made it because she believed it was the right thing to do. 

"And I wonder, throughout all this, if I was really me when I made that decision.  'Me' is the academic girl who values education, who doesn't settle for anything less than the best.  'Me' is the girl who was accepted into the university of her dreams.  Who was the strange entity who 'changed her mind? If that was me, then who am I? Am I the person who was so excited to get accepted to my dream school, or the inspired seminary girl focused on the one, true, straight, Torah path in life? This is my identity crisis. Which person am I?"

Sep 30, 2013

The Seminary High

A woman whose daughter went to seminary in Israel for a year, said she wants her daughter to have six months back home before dating so she can see who she really is and not date from a "seminary high." 

That got me thinking.  Why does this mother think that the "real" person is the one who comes down from her inspiration? Maybe the inspired person is the real person? How are we defining real?

An analogy, you go to an event or shiur and are inspired by the speaker.  Is that real or not? You know how when are you excited by what you heard, you want to tell people about it? Would it be a good idea to wait a week or a month before telling anyone so the inspiration will wear off and the real you will be back? I don't think so ...

But I do understand where that mother is coming from.  It's one thing to sit in a classroom, having all expenses paid for, usually by one's parents, and being inspired to marry a ben Torah and enable him to learn for years to come.  Actually being married and living that life is another thing.  So the mother figures that six months down the road, reality will set in.  If the girl still feels strongly about her religious undertakings and ambitions, she will say so and date accordingly (though even then, it's not like actually being married).  But to date while on a high can be a dangerous proposition because you can end up married based on idealistic commitments that are not as desirable as time goes on.

R' Avigdor Miller z'l felt otherwise.  He said a girl should go from graduation to the chuppa for precisely that reason.  She is idealistic and should marry in that state and it will uplift her future life.

Sep 29, 2013

Is He Really Doing His Best?

Shais Taub found it necessary to write a lengthy (more than a page) explanation about his use of the phrase "he was doing his best" in a previous article.  It leaves me wondering what the point is in using a phrase that is so puzzling that it needs that much explaining. 

I remember coming across the phrase, "He is doing the best he can with the tools he has" in Miriam Adahan's writings years ago, and not liking it.  Why? Because it isn't true.  I assume that if I am not always doing the best I can, neither are other people.  After all, how often are we actually doing the best we can.  If someone offered us a million dollars to do better, wouldn't we do better? Quite likely!

Taub says, "When looking at a person's behavior, we have to take into account all sorts of factors ... the best that they were able to do at that moment, with the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual capacities they had at that time.  These factors include their experiences, their education, whether they had enough sleep last night, and so on."

He goes on to say that none of these factors are excuses and they don't absolve anyone of anything.  They just help explain the rationale behind someone's behavior.  He goes through all this explaining in order, he says, to help us see that the problem is with the other person, not us.  But then I don't accept this line either, "They were pathetically incapable of doing better." Sure they were! But for some reason, Taub wants to use these phrases which aren't true, while simultaneously saying, the person should have done something to become the kind of person that doesn't do those bad things.

I can see thinking through various factors to explain someone's unacceptable behavior; we do this when we are judging someone favorably.  But why not simply say: "Their behavior was unacceptable; They could have done better; It was hard for them because of bad habits/poor role models/difficult personality, etc.?"

Sep 15, 2013



I started reading it on Rosh Hashana and finished it on Yom Kippur - I highly recommend the book Shlomie! (Artscroll).  He wasn't the usual rosh yeshiva, mashgiach, or rebbe that Artscroll biographies are about.  He was a balabus who lived in Flatbush who was a vilde chaya as a boy and went from yeshiva to yeshiva to yeshiva.  Today, he would be drugged for ADHD.  His good heart and yiras shomayim were always apparent, even when he was unable to sit in a classroom.

He went on to become extremely wealthy and a huge baal tzedaka.  His greatness was not merely in being able to write checks (though that is a great thing).  He loved people and loved making people happy.  He was constantly alert to how to help people in ways that had nothing to do with money.  Another aspect of his greatness was the fact that even though he could barely sit long enough to learn, he had regular learning sedarim and was machshiv Torah and talmidei chachamim.  He sought to grow spiritually and kept moving further away from a materialistic lifestyle.

He is an inspiration for those who were not a success in yeshiva and an inspiration to all when it comes to loving and pursuing chesed.  It's a book about a "regular guy," who with all his fun-loving geshmak-keit, was quite extraordinary.

Sep 12, 2013

Be a Guest - Be a Host!

I received an email which informed me that someone on had sent me a message, asking whether he could join us for a meal on Yom Tov. 

Have you seen the site? You can sign up as a guest or a host and then, either wait for someone to invite you or to ask you for an invitation, or actively seek a guest or a host.  This person lives in a different neighborhood and will be davening in my area on Yom Tov.

I checked out his profile and then spoke to one of his references (in Arizona), just to ascertain that he is a normal person.  I was reassured that yes he is, and a mentch.  That was enough for me to send a message back to him.  We exchanged a few messages, about food preferences and timing and we are on!

Isn't this special? A "brother," a fellow Jew we never met before, will join us in our succa! How exciting!

Sep 10, 2013

Post Rosh Hashana Thoughts

Primaries were held today for major positions and an election is coming up in November.  As I wrote almost a year ago: here , the election was decided by the Heavenly court on Rosh Hashana and we voters went to carry out their decision.

There is news regarding Syria every day and the big question is whether the US will attack or not.  On Rosh Hashana I thought, the articles I've been scanning speak about those for and against a military response, but there is no united feeling here about what should be done.  I figured, that's because the decision about Syria will be made on Rosh Hashana.

Now it's a few days after Rosh Hashana, and there is still no clear direction.  Maybe it is because the decision in the Heavenly court was not finalized and matters are pending during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva.  I think about how the "little people" like the president of the US and other world leaders think they are making history with their decisions.  In reality, they are carrying out G-d's plan for the world which is the Geula. 

And since all world events are about us, as the Gemara says, a ship does not sink at the other end of the world except for the Jewish people, maybe that is why the decision is pending.  I don't know whether we should attack or not, but Teshuva, Tefilla, and Tzedaka will avert the evil in any decrees.

Sep 2, 2013

From Hopeless to Hope in an Instant

In a recent news item, a man in Ohio, Tony Yahle, was given up by the doctors and declared dead.  And yet, 45 minutes after his heart stopped beating he began to show signs of life. They say he fully awoke at the hospital five days later.

The cardiologist, Dr. Raja Nazir, said, "In the last 20 years, I've never seen anybody who we have pronounced dead ... and then for him to come back, I've never seen it.  Actually, I've never heard of it."

The man's 18 year old son said, his father went "from hopeless to hope in an instant.”

That last line stood out for me.

We have a phrase for that: yeshuas Hashem k'heref ayin (the salvation of Hashem like the blink of an eye).

I looked up how fast is a blink of an eye and found this: On average, a human eye takes between 300 and 400 milliseconds to complete a single blink. That's roughly between three-tenths and four-tenths of a second.

Aug 30, 2013

Women and Tefilla

A question I've long had goes like this:

Women are exempt from the same tefilla requirements as men because they are exempt from mitzvos asei she'hazman grama (positive, time-bound mitzvos).  Women have household obligations, specifically, children to care for, and they cannot be obligated to daven as a man does. 

But if a woman takes a job which requires her to be at a certain place for set hours, then that would seem to demonstrate that she can do time-bound activities.  If so, why should she be exempt from tefilla like a man?

I was reminded of this question when I read an article in which a woman says davening used to be the focus of her day.  Even when she had a baby, she davened three times a day.  When she had a second baby, the demands of the newborn and the toddler did not allow her to daven much at all.  The way she put it, "Every weekday morning, I faced a marathon consisting of nurse-the-baby-feed-the-toddler-throw-on-some-clothes-change-and-dress-two-children-pack-up-the-diaper-bags-daven-fly-out-the-door ... all by 8:10."

She said she couldn't do everything and so, she gave up on davening.  She goes on to say how she learned that she could daven an abbreviated davening. 

So I don't get it.  She can work six hours a day, a time-bound activity, despite her childcare and household obligations which she delegates to others, and this exempts her from davening, a time-bound activity.  Why?

Aug 29, 2013

City of Refuge versus Yerushalayim

In a related idea to the previous post, the mishna says that the roads to the arei miklat (cities of refuge) had to be smooth and wide and there had to be signs directing the inadvertent murderer where he had to go.

In contrast, there are no such instructions regarding the roads leading to Yerushalayim for the pilgrims making aliya l'regel.  Why are we helpful to the inadvertent murderer and not to the good Jews going to the Beis Ha'Mikdash?

The answer that's given is, when Jews ask for directions to Yerushalayim, it publicizes the mitzvah and gets other people to join them.  As for the murderer, the Torah wants him in the ir miklat as soon as possible, with the least exposure to other Jews.  The less contact with negativity the better.

Aug 28, 2013

Lesson from the Sefer Ha'Chinuch

In the Sefer Ha'Chinuch on parshas Ki Seitzei, mitzvah 534 (or 537) is to bury the person who was hung after being stoned to death for serving idols or for blasphemy.  The "Key Concept," as written in "The Concise Sefer HaChinuch" in English says, "When people see the executed person's corpse hanging on the post, they will say that such is the punishment for having cursed the Holy One's name.  When they utter these words, however, they remind themselves that such a sin is possible, and simply by speaking of the sin, they do damage to their souls."  This is why the person's body is taken down and buried on the same day that he was executed.  "As a result, there is less opportunity for people to do self-inflicted damage to their souls."

Reading this triggered the thought that I wrote about here, questioning what effect being regularly exposed to negativity has on us.  I won't repeat myself, go take a look :)

Aug 27, 2013

Different Reactions

Someone I know had a dream about the Arizal, in which she was told to say Nishmas and the Pitum Ha'Ketores until Ana B'Koach, and then to say it backward.  When I heard this being discussed and whether a rav should be consulted about others saying it too, my reaction was: She had the dream, so she can say it.  What does it have to do with anyone else?

I have enough to say without someone sharing dream instructions with additional things to say! It struck me though, when I heard someone else's completely different reaction.  As this person said, "My gut feeling ..." in my mind I finished the thought, "In my gut feeling, the dream was for her," but the thought was ended quite differently.  "My gut feeling is, if someone asks that verses be said, if I had the discipline and time to do it, of course I would like to help."

Well! How jarring and illuminating to encounter a response that was entirely different than my own.  Although I think my reaction is valid, I am still impressed by the willingness to make this commitment, even if it is only wishful.

Aug 26, 2013

Voices in the Silence

Voices in the Silence (Feldheim) was published in 1992.  It is one of those "must reads" about extraordinary people living excruciatingly difficult lives with mesirus nefesh in the Soviet Union.

One place where the flame of eternal Judaism still burned brightly was in a tiny basement apartment on Yaroslayskaya Street in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine. Behind closed shutters, one remarkable family continued to devote themselves to an authentic, Torah-true life, performing numerous acts of chesed on a daily basis. This was the home of the Meisliks, a family that was not afraid to risk life or limb for the sake of a mitzvah. Voices in the Silence is the memoir of Basyah Meislik and her parents, Reb Yehudah Leib and Alteh Beileh, Jews caught in a life-and-death struggle against the forces of darkness. Their incredible self-sacrifice and boundless devotion to Yiddishkeit make this a very special and truly inspiring story.
Rebbetzin Basyah Barg speaks to women all over the world as she travels to raise money for her chesed project.  What she did to avoid attending school on Shabbos, from ages 9-16, is just unbelievable.  Then again, her parents were unbelievable and they instilled her with their pure emuna and bitachon. 
It is absolutely heartbreaking that out of 17 pregnancies, her mother lost nine babies and then seven of her children were killed in the war.  She lived till 91 with just this one daughter Basyah left, and tragically, Basyah has no children! This hasn't stopped Basyah though, from remaining devoted to serving Hashem and inspiring others with her example.

Aug 25, 2013

More on Mothering

A frum female doctor living in Israel, who is the mother of 13 children (7 of whom are married now), wrote a book about the tough choices she had to make between her family and her career.  While training to be a doctor, she gave birth to six children.  During her residency she had three more children.  She says she could not have done it without her husband and quite honestly says, "I am not a role model for anyone.  It was a terrible life.  It meant splitting myself into pieces, missing all the siyumim and siddur parties and so many milestones in my children's lives. 

In a Binah interview she goes on to say, "The most important thing a woman with children can do with her life is to be a mother ... Your children only have one mother, your husband has only one wife.  Had I known what this choice entailed, if I could it all over again, I would choose differently."

During the six years of her residency she would light candles by herself in the hospital, away from her family's Shabbos table.  She would leave her house at 6:35 a.m. and be gone for 30-40 hours. 
Her 3 1/2 year old son once said to her, "No mother does this to her children, no mother!"

While in medical school, she and her husband consulted with R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z'l to ask him whether she should continue or quit.  He told her to continue since he felt she could perform a real service for the frum community where there were hardly any frum, female doctors.

She says that her children definitely suffered.  They wanted her at their school events.  Every mother was there, but her.  "I lost out on happy times with them.  Those precious years are gone forever."

The interviewer asked her what her adult children think of her, are they proud of her and feel pride in her work.  She said, "No, I don't think so.  I think what's most important is to have a real mother who is physically present.  But at the same time, they know that I do what I do l'sheim shomayim." 

As to a previous comment, "It is not "at his wife's expense" if she is willingly and eagerly supporting him to learn because she truly yearns for her husband to become a great talmid chacham, and is fully ready to sacrifice for that worthy goal" - when a husband goes off to learn, knowing that his wife who just gave birth will be traveling over an hour each way with two babies in order to interview for a job, whether she is fully behind that decision or does it because she feels it is expected of her, does not change the fact that his learning is at his wife and children's expense.  How he is able to learn with a clear head, knowing that his kimpeturin, nursing wife is spending the day in this way, in preparation for leaving her babies to be raised by others, is beyond me.

When it is only the adults affected by the decision, that is quite different than a decision that drastically affects the children who are brought into the world and are made to suffer for Torah study.  When in our history were mothers separated from their babies for the sake of Torah? Husbands have separated from their wives, like Rochel and Akiva for the sake of Torah, but not mothers and their young children.

Aug 23, 2013

The Power of Expectations

Sara Rigler wrote an intriguing article in the May issue of Ami magazine.  She said that Rebbetzin Kramer, the subject of a book that she wrote, see here, would call newly religious women who visited her "tzadekes."  At first, she thought her na├»ve but as she got to know her, she saw that Reb. Kramer could not be fooled.

She concluded that the rebbetzin's motivation was to convince people that they could actually become a tzadekes.  She saw it in them. 

Sara Rigler goes on to relate a story about how she realized her 15 year old son was in the wrong yeshiva when his rebbi did not see him in a good light.  If his rebbi did not view him favorably, he could not guide her son to becoming great.  She concludes, "The lesson the rebbetzin taught me [is] that the people in your life become the vision you hold of them ..."

She then tells two marriage stories.  She met two women who had married serious learning boys and had been kollel wives until their husbands announced they were no longer believers.

One wife divorced.  Ten years later, her anti-religious husband is a terrible influence on their children.

The other wife considered divorce but then read something that convinced her that it wasn't a good idea.  She decided that she would make it the best marriage she could and that this entailed respecting her husband.  This wife believed in her husband, thanked him for what he did, complimented him in front of the children for how he cared for his father and ignored what he did wrong.  Ten years later, he did not return to what he once was but he was going to shul daily and learning Torah every day.  Remarkable woman!

Aug 22, 2013

No Career!

Continued from previous post

The only public speaker that I can recall saying it the way it is, is Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein.  He quoted the pasuk about Sarah being in the tent, in response to the angels asking Avraham where she is.  Then he went on to say, "I can’t say it at Ohr Naava or I’ll lose nearly everyone, but the man should be out working and the woman home taking care of the house. No career! No guy should say he wants five or whatever years of support from his wife. What is his Torah learning worth if it’s at his wife’s expense?"

And the children's expense. 

I remember the shocked look on someone's face when someone suggested (facetiously, but to make the point) that mothers who opt not to raise their kids because they're busy working should give them up.  There are women out there willing to raise them ...

We used to hear the story of a gadol (it's hard to know who it really happened with) who was consulted about the chinuch of a person's young child, say a two year old.  The rabbi said, you are two years too late.  Chinuch begins at birth and before.  Maybe they don't tell this story anymore.

Aug 21, 2013

An Upside-Down World

A kimpeturin of Lakewood has a baby less than 5 weeks old.  She also has a 22 month old toddler.  She goes to New York to interview for a job in her field.  Why? Is she a new immigrant in dire need of supporting herself? Is she a single mother? No. It is because her husband is learning. 

She is not the first, not the last.  Plenty others do the same.  So what else is new ...

A woman writes to Binah magazine about being a kollel wife with three children and a full-time job out of the house.  She has a nightly walk with a neighbor and tries to get to sleep early.  I read this several times and wondered where her husband and children fit into her life. 

She thanks her husband for being Mr. Mom (not her phrase).  He gets the children ready in the morning, takes them to school, packs lunches and snacks, often cooks supper, shops for groceries, bakes and braids challa, and has cooked for Shabbos several times.

To borrow a term from R' Yosef, the son of R Yehoshua (Bava Basra 10), "Olam hafuch ra'isi" - I saw an upside-down world.

Yes, women have worked throughout the generations. The Eishis Chayil of Mishlei works.  Yet, it was a rare situation in which husband and wife switched roles and the mother traveled to support the family while the father raised the children and ran the home. 

A mother wrote that she received a note from her seven year old daughter:

"Dear Mommy, if it's not too hard and if you're not working, could you listen to me read for five minutes? We get points for this in school, and I only have one stamp.  Everyone else has a whole card already. Love ..."

And we will keep on reading "courageous" articles about post-partum depression, sad articles about the rise in divorces in the frum world, and disconcerting articles about children and their myriad of problems. 

Aug 19, 2013

Avoiding the "Whatchamacallit Syndrome"

Rabbi Pam z"l was very particular about using lashon nekiya (clean language).  He once addressed the talmidim in beis medrash and said I don't understand how someone can use the words "stupid" and "crazy."

He also said, I don't understand how someone can say whatchamacallit.  A talmid went over to him after the schmooze and asked, what's wrong with whatchamacallit? R' Pam said, if you are saying whatchamacallit, it means you didn't think before you spoke.

The person delivering the talk I was listening to, this talmid of R' Pam, said: Let's not fall into the "Whatchamacallit Syndrome," whether it's our brachos or how we talk to one another.  In every aspect of our lives, if it's a whatchamacallit life, it means we didn't think before we did it, and that's dangerous.

We can guess what R' Pam would think about the usage of "whatever," and "you know" and the other fillers we use.

Aug 16, 2013

Hashem as our Father

I read a moving article in which the author, a counselor in a Russian camp, described visiting day.  How saddened she was to see the family members, "estranged Yiddish parents, some of whom were descendents of chassidishe rabbonim and chashuve gedolim, others were children of simple erliche Yidden.  These neshamos were so cut off, so unfamiliar with their people's customs ..

"I suddenly felt the terrible feeling of a parent whose beloved child is off the derech.  The pain, the hurt, the broken heart.  It is almost unbearable.  I contemplated the immense suffering Hashem must feel, having so many wayward children ..."

What immediately comes to my mind is - what is the comparison? Do parents rip Yiddishkeit away from their children and then mourn their going off the derech? Or do they try to raise them in a wholesome, Jewish environment and, for whatever reasons, their chinuch efforts do not bear the expected results?

Hashem is the one who had the shuls, yeshivos and mikvaos close in Russia.  Hashem is the one who made life so miserable in Eastern Europe that poverty-stricken and persecuted Jews left for America in their millions.  Hashem made Hitler rise to power and annihilate most of European Jewry.  That most Jews today have not had a proper chinuch is not, for the most part, because parents withhold it from their children, but because Hashem set things up in such a way that most of His children are estranged. 

Why He chose to do this is inexplicable to us.  Maybe, contrary to Hashem feeling grief over His handiwork, He feels joy at every single mitzvah estranged Jews keep.  Because unlike a parent whose children has left the path, Hashem's children who never had the path, still feel a warmth toward Yiddishkeit.  The neshama still flickers.

Aug 12, 2013

What Message Are We Conveying?

Continuation of previous post:

If R' Aisenstark is talking about demonstrable love, I tend to agree with him.  Why would someone who departed from a frum background change their way of life, their lack of tznius, their non-observance of Shabbos, if the people around them treat them just as they would if they were strictly observant? If they are showered with love regardless as to what they do, that sends the message: Whatever you do is fine.

Would we smile, praise and hug a preschooler if he emptied out the fridge and all the cabinets, creating chaos in the kitchen just as we would if he helped clean up all the toys? If we did, would that be good chinuch because we would be conveying that no matter what he does, we love him? Or would that be abysmal chinuch because it does not convey right and wrong to the child?

Do those communities that put up with public lack of tznius get more or less tznius from its members than communities with high standards of tznius which no one would think of breaching? According to R' Bender, acceptance and love will ultimately lead to the desired results.  I don't see that happening on a public level.  It might be effective with certain individuals. 

Back to rebellious children, I think that the love for the child is always there, regardless as to what they do, though it can be covered over with immense pain and resentment.  So I wouldn't use the word "rekindled" as R' Aisenstark does.  I'd like to see a combination of the two, in which the child knows that his parents love him always, but they must stand up for Torah in their home.