Mar 22, 2013

Pesach Pizza

I wrote about the feelings people have, for and against, items that we eat year round that are made kosher l'Pesach: here some time ago.  I've been thinking about the aura we create when we have things that are special for a particular Yom Tov or Shabbos like toys that are only used on Shabbos so children have something to look forward to on Shabbos on their level.

What if we had the opportunity to buy year round dishes and Pesach dishes that are identical.  Would we want that or would we want the Pesach dishes to look different? Many of our Pesach memories have to do with the special plates and glasses we used.  But, as far as I know, there is no inyan or minhag to buy a different pattern on silverware or dishes just for the sake of having something that looks different than year round! Yet, it does impart an excitement when you use completely different items on Pesach just like certain foods are associated with Chanuka and make that Yom Tov special. 

So maybe we are still kids at heart, who need these external differences to help get us in the holiday spirit and maybe it is this point that bothers though who speak vehemently against Pesach "pizza" even though their great-grandmothers made kosher l'Pesach versions of chometz foods.  Maybe previous generations, the ones who kashered their year round glasses because they couldn't afford another set for Pesach, didn't need external ways to get into the Yom Tov spirit because they were more spiritually in tune with what was going on. 

Everything happens by divine providence and is good. Today's young people are often the product of mixed marriages.  They didn't have the Zaidy of the famous Moshe Yess song.  They don't have nostalgic memories of Pesach at Grandma's.  If they find out about the laws of Pesach at all, it's new to them.  Perhaps the reason kosher l'Pesach cereal, ketchup, soy sauce, frozen dinners etc. are available today is because this helps today's generation have a kosher Pesach. 

Mar 18, 2013

Bechira not Victimhood part 2

I was reminded of this post: here when I came across another remarkable and similar story.  She is a young girl raised by drug addict parents, in environments without electricity and running water.  And yet, she has been singularly focused on getting an education and making better choices than her parents.

Here is the CNN fascinating article and video: here

What's missing is what makes her and her brother different than countless people growing up like her, who choose to follow in their parents' footsteps.  She says,  "If I had not had those experiences, I wouldn't be such a strong-willed or determined person." But I don't believe that! I think her nature is to be strong-willed and determined and therefore, despite her abysmal upbringing, she is focused on making a better future for herself.

Mar 17, 2013

The Power of a Baal Simcha

I read the following:

Why is a person who makes a simcha called a "baal simcha" - literally, a master of happiness? Because when a person marries off a child or gets married himself or any other happy occasions, he is a master of happiness and this is why he has a tremendous power at the time of his simcha to bestow blessings on others (quoted in the name of the Chozeh of Lublin).

We have proof from the Torah - when Serach the daughter of Asher told Yaakov the news that Yosef is alive, Yaakov, in his tremendous simcha, blessed her that she should live forever.  She lived for hundreds of years and midrashim say she is still alive in Gan Eden.

When BasSheva was given the news that her son Shlomo would succeed Dovid as king and build the Beis Ha'Mikdash, she exclaimed, "Yechi Dovid Ha'Melech l'olam," and till this day we sing "Dovid Melech Yisrael chai v'kayam."

Says the Sefer Taamei Ha'Minhagim: Take advantage of your special powers as a baal simcha and bless everyone!

Mar 15, 2013

Painful but True

Rabbi Chaim Yisroel Blumenfeld, a student of R' Wolbe and the mashgiach of a yeshiva for boys in need of motivation and guidance, says it's usually not Yiddishkeit itself that students have problems with.

Signs of disobedience or rebellion are symptoms of underlying emotional issues and most often, the problems don't start in Israel, they start at home.

I read this in a book written by someone who counsels parents:

"Nearly every parent who brings me in to heal their children's problems uses the same approach: "My child doesn't listen; can you make her listen?" "My child yells; can you make him stop?" "My child wants nothing to do with me; can you change her?" Of course most of the time I quickly discovered that the real problem lies with the family dynamic, not with the child.

"In fact, let me be more blunt. Nearly always, the problem lies with the parents, rather than with the children. So why don't parents own up to it?

"Because it's indescribably painful to accept that you have harmed what you love most in the entire world. So cognitive dissonance sets in and you can't see the truth.

"It is my belief that one of the corruptions at the root of modern family life is a lack of accountablity. "I can't do anything with my kids," parents tell me. "They're out of control." But this I do not accept. It is the parents' job to assert and maintain control. When one of my children does poorly in school, mistreats siblings, or speaks disrespectfully to me or my spouse, I don't look elsewhere for reasons. I step up squarely and take responsibility. If my children yell, it's because I yell. I formed them in my image and I take responsibility for the image they assume."

Mar 14, 2013

It's about Emotions, not Ideals

Mishpacha magazine had an interview with Rabbi Asher Weiss, a famous Av beis din in Yerushalayim, originally from America, and a popular magid shiur.  One of the questions he was asked was:

Is it possible to identify one main reason for the phenomenon of kids drifting away from Yiddishkeit?

His answer:

"The real antidote to this phenomenon must be administered in the home. By this I mean that the parents must create an atmosphere of joy and warmth in the home.

"Today, our children aren't leaving the proper path because their ideals have changed. We are not an "ideals" generation. Our children aren't leaving because of doubts or emuna questions either. They are leaving because they are not happy - not at yeshiva, and not at home. They think they might be able to find happiness somewhere else.

"... Parents must load their children with joyous experiences in everything related to Torah and mitzvos."

This is why I am not convinced that the Ani Maamim foundation and and Project Chazon are The Answer to kids disenchantment with Yiddishkeit.  The Ani Maamin foundation believes that when people have answers to emuna questions, they will live a passionate Yiddishkeit.  Why would intellectual answers generate a passionate commitment? There are many things that we know that do not translate into excitement in our lives.

Mar 13, 2013

Beautiful Parenting

In the book, "Holy Woman" by Rigler (see this post: here) it tells of Rebbetzin Kramer raising an adopted daughter Miriam.

It says:

"Miriam loved her mother but she idolized her father. His gentle, soothing manner made the little girl want to emulate him in everything. She needed no persuading or reminding to fulfill religious obligations such as washing hands for netilas yodayim, saying brachos, or davening. Whatever Tatty did, that's what she wanted to do.

"The endemic hand-wringing among religious parents desperate for ways to convince/cajole/ compel their reluctant children to fulfill religious obligations could learn much from Yaakov Moshe's (Rabbi Kramer) child-rearing technique.

"His unwavering love, gentleness, and encouragement were an adhesive that bonded his daughter to him so thoroughly that she replicated his every movement ... 'I wanted to follow his chumras [stringencies],' she said."

Mar 12, 2013

Parents' Responsibility

In the "Kids at Risk- Revisited" issue of the (now defunct) Jewish Observer, one of the articles said that two of the most devastating culprits chasing our kids away are feelings of intense pressure and a lack of validation. The pressure, says the article, comes from constant criticism of parents, rebbeim and teachers.

In another article in the same issue, the author writes of the constant stream of simchos and mitzvos that seem to have taken over people's lives (chasunos, sheva brachos, bar and bas mitzvas, l'chayims-vorts, melave malkas, PTA's, shidduch meetings, Tehillim groups ...) and he asks: Is it any wonder that we have children at risk? The children are raising themselves! I would add, babies and toddlers are shipped out of the house for hours at a time, so who is raising them?

If you ask those who work with problem youth, they will tell you that often, if not most of the time, the problem is at home. Of course, there are other factors, but for the most part, home is the key.  This is very unpleasant for parents to hear, of course.  We are living in a time where "blaming" and "judging" are considered out of bounds.  And yet, the Vilna Gaon in his famous letter to his family wrote:

"I have left behind several Yiddish books on Mussar (morality). See that [the children] read them constantly, especially on the Holy Shabbos, when Mussar is the only thing they should read. Always instruct them according to Mussar books.

"Don't hold back from hitting them when they curse, swear or lie. Don't be lenient with them, because parents will be punished severely for the corruption of their children, G-d forbid. And even if one constantly teaches them Mussar, but they do not follow it, one's sorrow and shame in the World-to-Come will be great. As it is written (Vayikra 21:9), "She defiles her father" - [in such a case] the son of a righteous man is called "the son of a wicked man" (Sanhedrin 52a). Similarly in other matters, lashon hara and gossip."

note: Many mechanchim are of the opinion that in our generation, hitting children is not an effective chinuch tool (some qualify that by saying that it's appropriate under certain rare circumstances). 

There is a certain understandable inconsistency in how we look at chinuch.  We kvell when we hear good things about our children.  We have such nachas and think we did something right when our children do well.  But if things don't go well, G-d forbid, we talk about the child's bechira and how other children in the family are all right and how it's obviously not the parents' fault.  Do we talk about a child's bechira and how the fact that they turned out wonderfully is also not to the parents' credit?

Mar 11, 2013

A Child Must Feel Beloved

The Tolna Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Menachem Weinberg (lives in Eretz Yisrael) is considered an expert on chinuch. He says:

"I can say with certainty that a large percentage of the dropouts can recount emotional blows they suffered at a tender age, between 8-12. Usually, they remember that their personal needs as a student were ignored."

He also says:

"A beloved child does not rebel. That's what Sifri comments on the pasuk, 'And you shall love Hashem your G-d' - someone who loves, does not kick.'

"If the child will love, he will not rebel, and in order for the child to love he must feel beloved."

Mar 10, 2013

Chinuch Q and A part 2

continued from previous post in the rabbi's own words:

That is what I am saying. Proof: Ask the average frum teenager (or even adult) why they are frum and you will see the response. I once told a wonderfully concerned teacher in a BY school that she should ask her students, 12th graders, why Hashem cares if they are frum, and she will see that they have no idea. Her answer to me was, "Why does Hashem care if we are frum?"

The curriculum today is much different than it was 100 or 200 years ago, and our lifestyles are much, much different. Jews used to see sincerity, Mesiras Nefesh, Tzadikim, and strong Emunah even if you grew up in the most average of homes.

Today, our religion is a business for everyone from social and educational institutions to Seforim publishers. Torah is huckstered by Madison Avenue magicians in the same way, and with the same sincerity, as Nike sneakers.

Bochurim today know they are "consumers" where Yeshivos vying for their "business" and the Baalei Batim's dollars. Ask an 8th grader if he thinks the determination of whether he will be accepted to a Mesivta depends more on (a) whether the Mesivta will be an asset to him, or (b) whether he will be an asset for the Mesivta. I tried this. "B" won, like every single time, hands down, and that's sad.

Torah life isn't what it used to be. When I graduated high school in 1976, if a kid said he wanted to go to Yeshiva and not college, but he wanted to go to another Yeshiva for Beis Medrash, the Hanhalah would kiss him and consider him a success. Today, the bachurim feel that the Yeshivos will not be happy or consider his stay there a success unless he stays in his own Yeshiva.

Balabatim, who have no idea whether they are allowed to take their temperature on Shabbos, spend years of their only learning time on Daf Yomi, because it has become a fad. They wanna finish shas.

Our entire Torah life has become plastic, consumerist, faddish. In other words, we have assimilated into the American consumerist, plastic mind set, and it has affected our religion.

Chinuch Q and A

In 2002 I asked a rabbi who was involved with "fringe kids" long before it became popular:

Could you please give me a quickie answer, as to what you think the main reason is that frum kids go off the derech?

And if you wouldn't mind, could you tell me:
80 or 90% (or whatever it is) go off because of -------
and the remainder go off because of ----------

His response:

80 or 90% (or whatever it is) go off because of lack of reasons to keep them on the derech, in the face of what should be resistable living pressures, usually doemstic conflict, usually between the kid and the parents, if not, then between the parents themselves. And the remainder go off because of the same thing.

to which I said:

Are you saying then, that the REAL reason is the lack of a reason to stay frum, but IF you have a supportive, wonderful family life, you stay frum ANYWAY?

Did I understand you correctly?

If I did, why is the lack of a reason to remain frum present today more than 100 or 200 years ago? Aren't we basically teaching the same stuff, not just the Chumash and Gemara, but the same chinuch pretty much, as always?

to be continued