Embracing Bais Yaakov Dress Standards – Differences Between Mother and Daughter

Bais Yaakov school dress standards often include duty length skirts (to the calf and not to the floor), loose fitting, legs fully covered with knee socks or stocking, past the elbow, staying away from fashion trends, etc..

Some FFBs and BTs did not embrace all these standards in their own dress, so they are faced with a contradiction between what they do and what they’re children are expected to do from their schools.

How have parents dealt with this issue?

Originally Published August, 2010.
From the comments:

Belle says:

Tznius is a very hard mitzva for some girls to keep to. There is a lot of peer pressure to look cool, thin and pretty, and unfortunately many would say wearing an adorable mini skirt and tee shirt is more cool and pretty than a long pleated skirt and button down blouse. Having said that, then, when a parent herself “is not there yet” then the child will take that, consciously or unconsciously, as permission herself to be “not so strict.”

I think that a parent should choose which school best suits their family’s hashkafa and educational priorities. Then if the dress code is not in line with the parents’, it is incumbent on the parents to get it in line by the time the child is old enough to notice. Otherwise the child will detect hypocrisy (they are very very sensitive to that) and possibly reject the school’s teaching. The only exception I can think of is if the parent and child can honestly communicate about a single issue – let’s say wearing stockings – and the mother can say, “You know, I never grew up wearing stockings all the time and I still find it so hard to wear them in the summer. I wish I had the strength to do it because I think it is important, and I am going to try. But please know that I support that level of tznius and that is why I think that you need to wear them, you are still young and I want you to form good habits and have higher standards than I have.” If a child has maturity she will then see this not as hypocrisy but as a human struggle.

The real test, of course, like Judy Resnick says, is when the girl grows up and makes her own choices. Nothing that we do guarantees that someone else will choose to do mitzvos at the highest level, despite how they were raised. Sending them to a school with high standards is a good start, since that is what they get used to HOWEVER not if the school is too restrictive. Then it’s just a turn-off.

From the comments:

Judy Resnick says:

At home, my husband and I were strict about Hilchos Tznius for me and my girls, and we sent our daughters to schools that were also strict in their dress codes. The girls were OK with this because it was accepted as the norm within their peer group and their friends and their community. Girls on the block where they grew up, even if they attended different schools, held by these standards. In addition, the girls in our shul and in other shuls in the community, and the girls they met at the playground or in summer camp, also held by these standards. Because they fit in comfortably and felt “normal” rather than “odd” or “weird” our daughters did not have a problem with Hilchos Tznius while growing up.

I did have a problem when the schools enforced rules that I thought went beyond Hilchos Tznius into some bizarre desire for ultra conformity. For example, the high school which my youngest daughter attended did not permit girls to wear their hair long and down over their shoulders: they had to tie up their long hair into a pony tail. They also did not permit dangling earrings: girls could only wear small stones in their ears. I also took issue with the ugly plaid skirts that were required for uniforms for high school girls. They were totally unattractive, making the girls look less mature, less smart and less thin all at the same time. However, I did not protest as I wanted my daughter to attend that school.

While I do my best to adhere to Hilchos Tznius in my own clothing, I do have personal issues with the limited color palette for frum women’s wear. If you go to an organization dinner, it looks Gd forbid just like a levaya, because all the women are wearing black. I’m not talking about looking garish or attracting attention, but why can’t we women wear some brighter colors sometimes, such as a tasteful dark red or a peach and aqua ensemble?

My four daughters are grown women now between the ages of 27 and 34. They are all wives and mothers and living independently. Three of them have chosen to continue observing Hilchos Tznius; the second girl has made choices and has decided not to do so, although she still keeps kosher, Shabbos and mikveh. I think you could describe this daughter as LWMO, not meaning anything negative toward LWMO or my daughter’s personal choice of her own observance level.

Parents Cannot Be Their Childrens’ Friends

In the good old days children were expected to be seen and not heard. The rules of childhood were clearly defined. They were taught to have good manners, follow parental instructions, and to never give lip to adults. Blind obedience was demanded and, punishments were often swift, corporal, and harsh. When a child became old enough it was expected that he or she help out in the house, the shop, or the fields, whatever the case may be. Yeshiva boys were often exempt from such labour but, they had little idle time to neglect the rigors of Torah learning. Marriages were often arranged by parents while the children were still adolescents giving the prospective choson and kallah little choice over the matter. How times have changed!

Our ancestors of yesteryear would be quite shocked to see how we raise and educate our children nowadays. The modern day approach seems the complete opposite of what it once was. After several decades of expanding our knowledge of child psychology, modern society has developed a much more nuanced view of children. They are no longer seen in black and white terms as miniature adults that need to be tamed through discipline. Today parents are told that each child is a unique individual with their own personality traits, desires, moods, talents, and special potential that the parents and teachers must respect and cultivate. While child rearing trends seem to come and go every few years, our modern view of the child is that he or she is an independent person in their own right with needs and wants that we have to recognise. Therefore, children are often given the freedom to make their own choices and to express their own opinions, and often in many cases, even outright child rebellion is seen as healthy.

Torah teachings are eternal, hence these are never subject to any shift in psychological theories or new discoveries. The famous teaching of ‘Al pi darko’, was Shlomo HaMelech’s ingenious pedagogical teaching of “educate a child according to their ways.” Each child’s chinuch should be accommodated to meet their particular needs. Our ancestors surely knew of and followed ‘al pi darko’, but they did so within their view of the child resulting in much more rigid and more clearly delineated parameters. The issue that arises these days is one of going to extremes. How far do we go to teach a child according to their needs? How far do we go to cater to each child’s wants and to allow them their own choices and freedom of expression until we go too far and wind up with a child that is chutzpahdik, undisciplined, or off the rails completely?

It is surely harmless and might even be healthy for a little girl to choose whether or not she wears her pink skirt or her blue one for Shabbes. Nothing will go awry if a boy is asked what parts of Torah he enjoys learning the most and allowed to focus on that. Indeed children should not be treated like little robots without their own emotions and minds. The old way had its advantages in that it created much more obedient children and less rebelliousness. However, one can be safe to surmise there was also quite a bit of repression and, even covert abuse in their methodology, albeit unintentional, as the parents were products of their day, as we are also products of ours.

Yet, the question remains, how much choice and freedom is too much? Should a child also be given the freedom to decide if she wants to watch a video a little bit longer than allowed? Or should a child be given the freedom to eat that cake right before dinner? Most parents would say of course not, as they are reasonable people, and there must be rules. It is understood that children must be given structure, limits, and discipline. We won’t allow them to skip bruchas, refrain from washing negal vasser, or to eat treifes, chas v’shalom. There are limits.

However, life gets busy and stressful. After all, there are kitchens to clean, bills to pay, and errands to run. If little Mendy or Chani is whining, pestering, making demands, or miserable, maybe we can feel pressured and feel like we are being a bad parent. Aren’t they also individual human beings with their own wants and needs? Maybe it’s harsh or cruel to deny them their freedom of expression? Modern child psychology is there to justify just giving in to their will. We could tell ourselves we are not being too lax but, we are respecting our child’s personhood. Where to draw the line between being overly permissive and respecting the child’s individuality becomes muddled and unclear. When this happens we could run the risk of ceasing to function as our child’s parent. Now we have become our child’s friend and this is dangerous territory.

A child needs their parent to be their parent and not their friend. A parent who functions as a friend is denying that child a functioning parent. A parent who cowers, shows anxiety, and gives in to their child’s unreasonable demands when their child tells them “I hate you!” has reneged on their parental responsibility. A parent who allows their child to run wild and to be ill- mannered may convince themselves that they are being a good parent by giving their child freedom to express themselves, but is actually doing that child a great disservice. A parent who asks their child their opinions about important family matters, or about whether they should be punished, or allows their child to berate authority figures or other adults, has put their child on equal footing with them as an adult. When parents do all this, how can we expect children to be respectful?

Much good has come from the modern child psychology. Nevertheless, as with anything in life, the path of moderation is the wisest one. Moderation can be defined differently for each person. Thank G-d we have a Torah and wise Jews we can turn to for guidance.

Musings of a BT Baby Boomer Bubbie

Baby boomers were never supposed to get older. We see ourselves as eternally youthful. The boomers are the generation that came into its own along with rise of the youth culture. In fact, it could be said that we invented the youth culture. Ours is a generation in complete denial about aging. The declarative slogans “fifty is the new thirty” or “sixty is the new forty” are nothing but wishful thinking, and futile protestations against the reality of time marching on.

Frum women have a definite advantage in this struggle against the aging process because we wear lovely wigs that cover some of the signs of aging beneath. Thick, lustrous, shiny sheitel hair that is almost always in place can serve to camouflage the grey. No hair dyes that leave grey roots for us! None of that thinning or brittle hair that older women pay hairdressers vast sums to transform into their youthful vitality! The sheitel can almost always guarantee that a baby boomer bubbie can subtract at least one decade off her age, at least in public. No better compliment can be paid to a baby boomer bubbie than, “You look too young to be a grandmother!”

Becoming a grandparent is a unique life transition in that one need not be involved personally for it to happen. Unlike becoming a spouse or a parent becoming a grandparent is a passive process. It just happens to a person without any biological changes or life decisions on their part. When my first grandchild was born I was working in an office. There were about one hundred and fifty people on the floor and only two of them were Jewish. It was a typical work day when I got the call about her birth. I was so excited that I could not contain my joy, so I jumped up out of my seat and shouted, “I’m a grandmother!” It took only a couple of minutes for everyone in the entire office to hear the news, and one hundred and fifty people gave me a standing ovation! They were all truly happy for me and there was a festive feeling in the office for a couple of days with people offering me their congratulations.

It struck me how many people commented on how I was such a young grandmother. This highlighted for me the decline of family values in society at large. Many people these days are putting off reproducing until later in life. Most of my co-workers did not know anyone in their life who were becoming grandparents at my relatively young age. Some older people expressed their sadness that their grown children may not ever give them any grandchildren, or if they do it will be in many years to come. This all made me feel so much more grateful to Hashem, not only for the birth of my grandchild and the youthful camouflage of the sheitel, but also for helping me to be on the path that brought me to this point in life that so many in our society may never reach.

Becoming a grandparent for the first time is always an exhilarating experience filled with much joy, but for the BT baby boomer bubbie, it comes with some extra meaning and poignancy. I am one of the miraculous accomplishments of the Rebbe’s grand mission against assimilation. This is not due to any great accomplishments of my own, but rather it is due to the multigenerational trend towards assimilation that was reversed with me. Through the Rebbe’s message and the shluchim he sent out, an ordinary young Jewish woman, namely me, from a completely assimilated Jewish family, started to take on Torah and mitzvos over thirty years ago. This young woman was the fortunate and blessed beneficiary of the toil and dedication of a multitude of the Rebbe’s Chassidim who dedicate themselves to spreading Yiddishkite. I took it seriously enough to establish a Jewish home based on Torah, the first of such a home in my family tree in at least four generations. The tide of my family’s assimilationist trajectory turned. Nevertheless, once that occurs, there must be continuity into the future generations, lest, G-d forbid, it all reverts to the assimilationist trend.

As Chassidus teaches, we elevate the mundane of this world into holiness. A grandparent taking their grandchildren to the park or the supermarket may appear to be a very mundane activity. However, for this BT baby boomer bubbie these everyday activities are wrought with messages that remind me of the hand of G-d and of the blessings of the Rebbe. Seemingly simple ordinary things like my little granddaughter’s growing understanding that we only purchase kosher foods when we go to the store, or her utterance of the words ‘Baruch Hashem’, are reminders to me that this family tree almost never made it out of the trend of assimilation if not for the Rebbe and his shluchim.

Reversing the trend of assimilation is a long arduous struggle and we can never rest on our laurels, become complacent, or take anything for granted, as it could always G-d forbid reverse itself. Grandchildren being raised with Torah and mitzvos who come from a reversed assimilated family tree are a living sign of the Rebbe’s victory against assimilation and of the coming Redemption, may it be speedily in our days.

I Wish Parents Would Stop…

I was asked this week: As a teacher what do you wish parents would stop doing?” This was my response…

Firstly, I wish parents would stop loving their children conditionally. Conditional love is the most devastating aspect of misguided parenting. Love is a fundamental and core need for every human being. Children who grow up in homes where they are loved for what they do (or don’t do) rather than for who they are, become dysfunctional. Children crave and depend on the love of their parents for their sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Over the years I have counselled many adults who in their childhood were loved conditionally by their parents and as a result, now struggle to cope with life. They experience every interaction as a judgement and are so fearful to fully engage or express themselves. It can take an individual who was not genuinely and unconditionally loved, hours of counselling and years of emotional rehabilitation to heal the wounds.

Moshe Rabenu loved the Jewish People, irrespective of their actions. Sure he was angry with their rebelliousness, frustrated with their actions, disappointed by their demands and heartbroken by their protests. But in spite of it all, he loved us so deeply, that he was willing to sacrifice his life in this world and the next for us. This is the love our children need. We can be disappointed, frustrated and heartbroken by them but we can never stop loving them.

Secondly, I also wish parents would stop trying to live their lives through their child. I see this time and again. Parents who failed to seize the opportunities that life presented to them, manipulate their children to live their unrealized dreams and aspirations. These parents place intense pressure on their children to live up to expectations that are neither realistic nor beneficial for each particular child.

The Ariza”l writes that just as the physical face of each person is different, so too are the emotional and intellectual dispositions of each person different. Every child is unique, with a unique personality, talents and desires. Every child has a unique core purpose and the distinctive potential to fulfill that purpose. It is the duty of every parent to give every child the greatest opportunity to reveal and express that unconscious potential. So instead of parents trying to mould their children into the people they failed to become, they should focus on creating a loving, caring and nurturing environment within which the child can actualize their unique potential.

Finally, I wish that parents would stop being afraid to discipline their children. When there are no boundaries, when children don’t receive the fundamental life skill of discipline, then they will struggle to actualize their unique potential. By discipline, I don’t mean an authoritarian or draconian approach but rather a system that educates the child to take responsibility for their decisions. ‘Free Will’ is a core Jewish belief. Hashem set up a world of cause and effect. He gave us a manual to guide us towards living a fulfilled and purposeful life. He also gave us the choice to follow that manual or not. Children need to learn that although they are free to act, there are consequences for making good and bad decisions – a lesson that not enough of our children are learning.

Visit Rabbi Aryeh Goldman at A Mindful Jew.

Mother’s Prayer

By Anonymous

This story is just so perverse
I thought it best to say in verse.
I’ve got a daughter, aged 23
Already grown up, you say to me.

I raised her right at least I tried.
Sent her to Bais Yaacov to bring me pride.
But the long blue skirt she threw away
And guess what she wears today?

A skirt so short
That I’m not proud
To show all that skin is not allowed!
But when I say her skirt’s too short
She says I don’t provide enough emotioal support.

She says it’s her right to show her knee
And that I love her conditionally
Perhaps my mother’s love has a flaw
But it’s Hashem’s who made the law

And when she flouts it I’m in pain
But she can’t hear me so I won’t say it again
Hashem I’m giving her over to you
Please make her value tznius , dress as a loyal Jew

Let her outsides reflect her inner glow
And let her sweet neshomo continue to grow

Originally Published 12/6/2011

The Nachas of a BT Parent

By Esti

As a BT, and a BT woman who always liked to sing, I’m a bit frustrated. Of course the outlets for women singers (not that I was ever a professional but I’ve been told I have a perfectly trainable voice) are few and far between. So I’ve resigned myself to singing in my home, for my children. I sing some nice tunes I’ve heard for Modeh Ani and make up new words for songs I know to motivate my kids to get out of bed, get dressed, hold my hand while crossing the street, bring me something on the other side of the room, and various other daily living activities. My 5 year old is constantly mesmerized by the fact that I know so many different songs. I’m sure my old friends would be cringing at the latest household lyrics I’ve written to various Beatles tunes, etc., and my daughter always wants to know where I learned the latest song. “I heard it as a kid” I just tell her, knowing that someday it will become obvious to her that I didn’t grow up like her listening to the best of Uncle Moishe and Mordechai Ben David.

My daughter’s music teacher just called to thank me, and my daughter, for providing her the funniest teaching moment of her 2007-08 school year. Morah Miri is trying to teach the kindergarten all about sukkot through some new songs she’s written. She says to the group, “I’m going to play a tune on the piano, and if you know the tune, tell me what it is.” She begins to play, “Take Me Out To the Ballgame.” My daughter raises her hand. “You know this tune?”

Shira Leah nods.

M: “What tune is it?”

SL: “Take Me Out of the Bathtub.”

M: “Take Me Out of the Bathtub? Who sings that?”

SL: “My mother!”

Now, I’m sure I’m not the only mother who sings funny songs to get their kids moving when they need to. I think its much more effective and fun for everyone than screaming. I admit I’ve done my share of that too. I also do my 5 minute increment count-down to carpool, starting from when they wake up, encouraging them to be dressed and downstairs in plenty of time so they can “Have Breakfast Like a Mensch”. There is nothing more rewarding to a mom than have kids whining “Imma, I need your help getting dressed because I want to have breakfast like a mensch!” They know this means sitting at the table properly having their cereal and milk and warm drink or cold milk. And, of course, fighting over who got more wheat germ on their cereal.

But what to tell our kids about where we got these songs? Or do we not bother telling them? I’m so plagued by the truth that I feel a little dishonest in not giving full disclosure. “Imma used to listen to the secular radio and had record albums (ok we’ll have to explain that) of these music stars, but we don’t listen to them anymore because their messages aren’t for a bas Yisroel, Imma just didn’t know any better at the time.” Not quite. Ideas, anyone?

Originally Posted 11/14/2007

The Books in the Dumpster

Anxious Ima

Last Wednesday morning , sometime between sunrise and the arrival of the school bus, I took a few dozen of my secular books off the shelf and deposited them in the green plastic dumpster outside of my house. This wasn’t easy for me; there is something deep in my soul that resists the idea of putting books in the trash. It just seems so unJewish, even nazi.

I probably never would have done it at all had it not been for what that happened the previous Sunday with my son. On that day he tore a sheet of paper from one of his notebooks and scrawled on it a suggestion that his rebbe engage in conjugal relations with his morah.

Why? I’m still not sure. My son is only ten years old. He watches no TV, doesn’t surf the internet, doesn’t see any movies or read smutty books. But he picked up this word, knew it was something outrageous and wrote it down and to his bad luck his rebbe caught him just as he was sharing his purple prose with a boy in the next row. He was reprimanded, dispatched to the principal’s office, and my husband and I, the ultimate source of this dereliction, were summoned to school the following day.

Of course I freaked out; stuff like this drives me wild with fear, what with the exploding population of at risk youth.The last thing I needed on my head was for this son to add to their numbers. He’d already had more than his share of school troubles and this school seemed to have a handle on him. The last thing I needed was to have him thrown out .

I have to say that my prayers were answered because the meeting with the principal went much better than I expected. The principal actually smiled at us, told us how much he liked our son. He explained that the punishment, was ultimately in my son’s best interest, to teach him to control his speech and his writing. That seemed reasonable enough. After all., I wasn’t in the business of raising a future pornographer but the whole thing got me thinking.

If my son has been suspended for writing about the original biblical “knowledge ” what did that say about me? In my bedroom, I had an entire shelf of books describing just such behavior in its many permutations, not trash, G-d forbid, not Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins but classy stuff, by Phillip Roth, and Jhumpha Lahiri, Toni Morrison,and Bill Bryson, all Pulitzer prize winners of course , but with the moral sensibilities of the seven nations whom Joshua expelled from the promised land.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against secular books or secular learning. “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu, “ the wisdom of the nations is creditable, believable, something we can learn from, but these books contained something other than wisdom. I’d say it was more like pig flesh, with a New York Times hechsher.

As I picked the books of the shelves to ready them for incineration , the offending scenes flashed back into my mind.. I’ll spare you the unprintable details, but I’m resolved. No more dirty stuff. If I want my sons mind to be clean I have to be vigilant about my own mind.

What will I do as an alternative? Ah, that is the terrible question. I love a good book and the contemporary Jewish novels, well, lets just say that they don’t do it for me,but I’ve got a plan. I’ll try the classics. First the Jewish ones the real food for my soul. I’m proud to say that in the past year, . I’ve gone through the Hazon Ish, Emuna and Bitachon and Pirkei Avos with the Bartenura and Rabeinu Yonah, all on my own, over my morning coffee. Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.

And for entertainment, I’ll try to stick with non fiction, histories, sociology, and older novels, from a cleaner , more innocent time. I’ll never be trendy—that really isn’t in the cards for an orthodox Jew. So I’ll be old fashioned, harken back to an earlier age.

Edith Wharton anyone?

Originally Published Nov 19, 2007

Rabbi Dov Brezak – Staying Focused: How to Build and Maintain a Loving Relationship with Each of Your Children

Rabbi Dov Brezak give a shiur entitled “Staying Focused: How to Build and Maintain a Loving Relationship with Each of Your Children”. Rabbi Brezak is an internationally renowned lecturer and author of Artscroll’s “Chinuch in Turbulent Times” and the acclaimed “Chinuch Concepts” tape series.

You can download the shiur here. (right click and save as)

Here are some points from the shiur:

– Our goal as parents is not so much that our children should become a mensch or a servant of Hashem, but rather that they should want to strive for those goals.

– The key is to create positive ongoing relationships with your children.

– Catch them doing things right – even minor things.

– Be quiet in the face of power struggles.

– Preserve their dignity.

– Don’t expect them to be there, help them get there.

– Set them up for success

Listen to the mp3 to get the full benefit of this great shiur.

A BT’s Recipe For Raising Good Kids in an FFB World

I recently met the grown son (20-ish) of a very talented rabbi and educator. The father is an overt ba’al teshuva, and the son a regular bochur who attends a top mainstream Israeli yeshiva. To me the boy seemed to have inculcated the best of what the FFB-and BT-worlds have to offer.

As a BT raising my kids in a FFB yeshivish world, I could only wish for the same success with my own sons. I asked the father how he did it, and the following is what he shared with me as his “recipe.” I understand every home, parent, and child is different and parenting isn’t “one-size fits all” and that the issues below implicate thorny hashkafic issues. Nevertheless, having seen the product and judging the recipe on its own merits, I thought his ideas were worth sharing. Whatever our recipe, may Hashem help that we all merit to have wonderful children!

1. Relaxed atmosphere in the home. I want life to be light, not heavy, for them. But light because Hashem loves us and everything is OK, not light from kalus rosh. Light has nothing to do with circumstance. You can have a parent die, a divorce, monetary problems and life can still be light. (This, to me, is probably most important of all and it’s a tricky balance to find. As a wise man I know once said, anyone can be a great gardener in Hawaii – if you have the right atmosphere in the home, children will naturally flourish, even under difficult circumstances.)

2. No shouting, ever.

3. Mistakes are not terrible, they are part of life. I want my kids to feel it’s OK to be naughty – it doesn’t make them bad people. They just need to apologize if necessary, do teshuva and move on. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.

4. Apologize to my kids when necessary. I’m not perfect either.

5. Very little interest in grades at school – middos are all that matter to me on their reports. This is not just words, I believe it – and my kids know that.

6. No labeling – even good labeling. You did a good thing, not you are a good boy. (If you are a good boy because you did good, it implies you are not good intrinsically – there’s another reason, but I want to keep this short)

7. Similarly, praise the act, not the child.

8. No punishment, rather consequences to actions (tricky balance this one and it’s taken a while to get it right – I learned this as some of the other ideas from Adlerian family counselling)

9. Ask them difficult questions as soon as they are ready for them – how do you know God exists? How do you know he wrote the Torah? Obviously, give them answers also.

10. Encourage them to ask the difficult questions that are bothering them. Value and appreciate a question like, why should I keep Shabbos or how can the world be 6000 years old – it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a wonderful opportunity to muchanech.

11. You don’t have to be frum if you don’t want to – ultimately, the choice is yours. You would be crazy not to be, but you do have the choice, nothing is forced on you. You don’t do me a favor by being frum. Do it for yourself – because it makes sense.

12. I try to learn through an outline of all of nach and give an overview of targyag mitzvos with each of my kids separately. I give them cash incentives to memorize Taryag or Avos.

13. The frum world may be crazy, but it’s the best society we have – embrace it, but don’t buy into the craziness, maintain your independence. Better a frummer school and we parents are the open minded ones, than a less frum school and we parents are the closed minded ones.

14. Secular people are Jews as much as we are. Goyim are not to be looked down upon, they are created in God’s image. Secular education is important and valuable.

15. You have a responsibility to support your family. That’s the man’s responsibility, not the woman’s.

If you wish to contact the author, you can direct any inquiries on Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, shaul@tikun.co.uk

Originally published on 8/13/2012

Being A Mother-In-Law and Not a Monster-In-Law

Now that all of my seven wonderful children (ages 25 to 38) are married, I am a Mother-In-Law (Yiddish: a “shvigger”) to seven adults. I just wanted to leave a few observations about making this potentially difficult parent-in-law relationship work well for all concerned.

First of all, please do not make the mistake. A son-in-law is NOT a son. A daughter-in-law is NOT a daughter. This can actually be helpful, as you don’t have twenty-plus years of conflicts and misunderstandings behind you: you start off with a clean slate.

Also there is the RESPECT factor. I can’t emphasize it enough and that is why it is capitalized. You must show RESPECT to your child’s spouse, and to your child’s spouse’s parents. Always speak politely and carefully to a child-in-law. Perceived slights can eat away at your child’s Sholom Bayis.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal once gave a great piece of advice: keep your purse open and your mouth shut. I actually enjoy talking to my children-in-law, but I never criticize, I always sound positive and upbeat. I try to praise as much as possible, telling my children and their spouses what a wonderful job they are doing raising my grandchildren. Words of chizuk and encouragement are always welcome to struggling young parents (particularly when accompanied by a cash gift to help out with the bills).

If you spend time reading books with three grandkids snuggled up close listening to every word, or take the grandkids out to the swings at the park so your tired daughter-in-law can catch a much needed break, your presence will be welcomed rather than dreaded.

Finally, if there is a special needs grandchild, your continued help and words of encouragement and strength are especially important. Raising a special child is a super challenge to parents, but if the grandparents get involved in a helpful and loving manner, it can make a great difference in making everyone’s lives a little easier. Special needs children adore the unconditional love of their Bubby and Zaidy, and tired moms really appreciate respite time when grandparents visit and entertain the special needs child.

To summarize, it’s not “shver” (hard) to be a great “shver” (father in law): respect, positivity and most of all love (plus an open wallet) will make the parent-in-law relationship work for everyone in the family.

Dr. David Pelcovitz – Three Keys to Raising Your Children

On Moetzaei Shabbos, December 25th, Dr. David Pelcovitz, one of the foremost child psychologist gave a lecture to over 500 men and women at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. You can download the shiur here.

Dr. Pelcovitz is the son of the former long time Rabbi of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz and his lectures are filled with relevant Divrei Torah, psychological insights and amazing stories that drive home his message.

The lecture was sponsored by P’TACH, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide the best possible Jewish and secular education to children who have been disenfranchised because of learning differences.

Find the Right Balance between Love and Limits.

Chazal say the key to good parenting is the left hand pushes away while the right hand brings closer. The left hand represents limits and the right hand represents love.

In our times, our general society is relaxing limits and we are affected by those changes. As an example Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the majority of teenagers surveyed in certain Orthodox communities feel that their parents should put more filters and controls on their Internet usage.

On the love side, Dr. Pelcovitz points out that the overwhelming majority of parents want to be better parents. As he put it, “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child”.

One area in which we can improve is giving our children our undivided attention. He speaks about email voice, which is the tone you detect when the person on the other side of a phone call is dealing with their email. We all have many distractions but we need to try to communicate with undivided attention with our children on a regular basis.

Keeping Perspective

The secular research on “mentsch making” says the number one predictor is how we talk about others with whom we disagree. We need to teach by modeling how we respect those we disagree with.

We have to realize that children are constantly absorbing lessons from our actions. And these lessons go very deep. Keeping perspective is a key component on good parenting.

Appreciating Your Child’s Uniqueness

Dr. Pelcovitz points out that families have bumper stickers such as “Lakewood or Bust”, “Ivy League Forever” or “Chesed or Else”. However, we often have children who don’t exactly fit into our vision. It’s very important that we see our children as they are and bless them for who they are.

Taking that a step further we not only have to recognize them for who they are but we have to be grateful for who they are.

There are just some of the keys to raising your children and we want to strongly encourage that you download and listen to the wisdom that Dr. Pelcovitz is teaching.

Originally Published on Dec 27, 2010

How Children View Their Parents as They Mature

By: R’ Aryeh Goldman
R’ Aryeh Goldman writes at Hitoreri

Parents: Step up to the Plate
How are our children to learn and integrate the inspiration and beauty of Judaism into their lives? How can we as parents make Judaism and our vision for our families something that they want to buy into and preserve? What happens when we choose complacency over pro-activity?

The answer lies within each and every one of us. Our children look to us for motivation and inspiration. They watch our every move and want to see if we are living in a way that is consistent with the mission we are trying to inculcate within them. They want to see us as a living model of a tradition that generates meaning, joy and purpose. Our children are in desperate need of people they can look up to as role models for how to live an authentic and committed Jewish life in a modern world and we, my friends, need to step up to the plate.

Throughout their childhood our children view us in different ways:

Birth to adolescence: During this phase children view their parents as perfect beings. They imitate our behaviours, and speech. They form a strong bond in those formative years. During this phase it is so important for us to lay solid foundations of love whereby the child knows and feels that you love them unconditionally. They must know that they can make mistakes and you will be there to support them as they rise again to learn from the experience.

Adolescence to young adulthood: This is the most challenging phase for parents but the most transformational for the child. During this phase of development the child is looking to form their identity and develop a sense of independence. The tension between parent and child that exist during this phase is an expression of the child’s desire to disassociate and disregard anything that they view as an obstacle. Therefore adolescents will seek to push the limits, assert themselves and challenge their parent’s decisions and way of life in an attempt to define their own identity and make independent choices. When the child views the parent as a controller they resist. Therefore the Piazcezna Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman Shapira zt”l advises:

“Thus, it is imperative upon the parent and educator to impress upon the child that it is the child’s responsibility to mature into a loyal member of the Jewish people; and that the parent and educator are only there to help the child help himself understand what the Almighty has instructed”

Ultimately that is the goal of chinuch, to inculcate within the child a sense of responsibly for their lives. Our children need to understand that each child has a unique mission to fulfil in this world and we as their parents are there to facilitate the process. In that way the Rebbe hopes the child will view the parent as a mentor and coach who has the best interest of the adolescent in mind.

Young adulthood: In young adulthood the child then reflects on the education they received and uses it as the platform for how they live their lives and educate their own children. It is common for a child and parent to “reconnect” at this stage of development as the child develops and matures they begin to understand and appreciate the dedication and love that went into their upbringing.

The Torah places a great emphasis on the role of a mentor in a person’s life. It is part of the reason why Torah is to be learned with a Rebbe/Teacher and not in isolation. The Torah is not an archaic theoretical code of life but rather an accessible and practical guide to a meaningful life. This does not come from reading a text; you need to see it alive. So do your children. Their teachers can instruct them how to accurately fulfil the mitzvos but as parents it is up to us to infuse Yiddishkeit with passion as we model a ‘Living Torah’.

We cannot afford to be complacent and take a back seat approach to the chinuch of our children. Our children need us to be proactive in providing them a framework for understanding the world they live in and and want us to create a safe environment to discover themselves. Rise to the challenge and be a positive role model for your children…so much depends on it.

Sacrificing for Our Children – Creating Our Future

I have seen the future of Orthodox Judaism. It is a future not fueled or defined by either a stringent or a lackadaisical approach to halacha or by the type of shul where one davens. Those are, of course, important aspects of our Yiddishkeit, but I see something different that paves the way for our future.

The future of Orthodoxy lies in the hands of the parents and families who make conscious choices and exhibit mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, on behalf of their children.

It is often said that today’s generation has it much easier than previous generations with regard to maintaining an observant lifestyle. We have kosher restaurants, plenty of food with kosher certification, many choices for fashionable yet modest clothing, easy availability of sefarim, online divrei Torah – even Daf Yomi on an iPad.

I admit that we do have it easier, but there are also different challenges that today’s parents face. As this generation’s teens and young adults grow up and eventually become parents themselves, I think it is key that they understand some of the lengths to which their parents went to for them.

For example, there are many parents who choose free or low budget “staycation” options for their family not because they can’t afford something better but because they feel any “extra” money should be earmarked for tzedakah. This is a powerful life lesson for all of us.

What about the parents who look past social stigma and put their teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation programs? These programs can put an additional strain on an already tight budget. Somehow, though, such parents figure out a way to make it happen because the alternative is unthinkable.

Recently I met a mother who canceled subscriptions to several magazines she had read for years because she realized the articles, pictures, and advertisements were not what she wanted her children exposed to. This has made a clear, tangible, and positive impression on those she is close with.

I know a mother and father who, instead of putting their children in a local public school, both walked away from successful and established careers and moved their family halfway across America to a community that offered yeshiva high school options. How many of us would be willing to do that?

I will never forget the parent who had a limited budget for a bar mitzvah and sold some of her jewelry in order to help pay for her son’s simcha. To part with sentimental and irreplaceable keepsakes must not have been easy, but when it comes to one’s kids, one does whatever it takes.

None of this is done for accolades or to be singled out at a shul tribute dinner. Acts of mesiras nefesh need not be grandiose and life altering. Every little thing we do has an impact. The parents who make sacrifices for their children are investing in and raising the future of Orthodox Judaism.

First published in a Letter to the Editor, from the Jewish Press, Oct 16, 2013

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Unconditional Love and Keeping OTD Kids at Home

Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark’s Essay in Mishpacha Magazine

By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Note To Readers: We are b’h getting excellent feedback on the just-released Volume II of our skills-based Bright Beginnings Chumash workbook. With the new school year not that far off, kindly drop us an email at bbchumash@gmail.com if you have any questions or if you would like to order it on behalf of your school for the new year. In order to better understand the educational philosophy that drove the creation of these workbooks, kindly click here for the Bright Beginnings home page. There you will find a 10-minute video, an 11-page sample of the original workbook, and links to articles extolling the value of skills-based learning.

More than a decade ago, I had my first conversation with Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, Dean of Beth Jacob Seminary of Montreal. I called him and Rebbitzen Gluestein to tell them how proud they ought to be of the exceptional talmidos their school “produced,” – several who were very involved parents in our Yeshiva during its formative years (one of whom is in need of a refuah sheleimah – please have Bracha Mindel Chana bas Nechama Zelda in your tefilos).

Reb Shneur penned a thoughtful essay, “Unconditional Love Has Its Limits,” in this past week’s edition of Mishpacha Magazine that is the subject of these lines. In it, he makes the case that parents ought to set “red lines” regarding the limits of their unconditional love.

Since that column ran, we received numerous emails and calls from parents and educators asking for our response to Rabbi Aisenstark’s essay and our position overall on OTD children living at home. I called Reb Shneur to discuss this as we painfully know from personal experience that very often published columns do not reflect the nuances of a given issue the way we intended them to. He asked that we post the clarification below regarding the background and parameters of his essay.


Dear Reb Yakov:

Thanks for calling to discuss my column and as always it was a pleasure discussing chinuch matters with you. Along the lines of our conversation, here is some background regarding why the column was written and what message is was intended to send and feel free to send it to your readers.

The article was written in response to several situations brought to my attention where parents were quite literally living in abusive circumstances when a rebellious child made life miserable for the rest of the family. The parents expressed their acceptance of these conditions because they were told to love their children unconditionally. I strongly feel that in situations like these, red lines need to set by parents so that their lives become manageable and their home can continue to function.

The crux of my article was not to discuss the matter of parents dealing with children who abandoned Yiddishkeit due to abuse/molestation, or those whose experience in our school system was painful due to learning disabilities or emotional challenges, because they cannot control their situation. Therefore they should be loved and supported unconditionally.

The article was also not addressing children who are slipping in their observance level or even not observant at all that are respectful of their family’s values and not undermining the authority of their parents. They, too, should be afforded every consideration to have them live at home in the embrace of their parents and siblings provided that they show some level of openness to religion (for example being open to discussing religion with a frum person of their choosing as a sign of respect for the family — as opposed to categorically refusing to engage in any talks of this nature.)

What I wanted to convey is that children who are spinning out of control and refuse any form of intervention must understand that there are gedorim, red flags and lines which cannot be crossed while still using the home as a base once they have gone off the derech. There is no unconditional love in these circumstances. When a child does not want any help from therapists, psychologists, social workers, family members, rabbonim, he/she cannot expect that his/her parents will love him as before. Such a child must know and feel that the door is always open as long as he/she opens a pesach shel machat. Even though he/she has lost unconditional love, love is still there for one who wants to try somewhat.

Thanks for reaching out to me for clarification and best wishes for hatzlacha in your avodas hakodesh


Shneur Aisenstark


Our position at Project YES on the matter of keeping OTD children (and adults) at home can pretty much be summarized by our 2007 Mishpacha Column Should We Keep Our OTD Child At Home? (full text below).

Having the greatest respect for Rabbi Aisenstark’s extraordinary accomplishments in chinuch over many decades, we feel compelled to share two points with our readers due to the importance of this matter:

1) Having dealt firsthand with similar situations for over sixteen years, it is our very strong recommendation to parents that their message to their OTD child and his/her siblings be one of unconditional love with no exceptions. Love does not mean acceptance. It means that the place our children hold in our hearts is not diminished regardless of how much they disappoint or even hurt us.

2) The story related of the rebbi who asked Reb Chaim Kanievsky about Yosef and his brothers in the context of this discussion conveys a dangerous message that today’s kids are disrespectful, and implies that this is the primary cause for kids abandoning Yiddishkeit when there are many diverse factors for this phenomenon (click here On The Derech for more on this.)
The reason that we do not pasken (determine) halacha (Jewish law) from aggadah (stories related in gemara) is because by their very nature, anecdotes are subject to wide interpretations.
And if in fact the implication of that story is correct, how does one explain the staggeringly high OTD rate on the Lower East Side a few generations ago or earlier during the times of the haskala (enlightenment)?
Most troubling is that some parents may derive a mistaken message from this anecdote, namely that little reflection and/or improvement in their parenting and quality of their home life is required because the blame is squarely placed on the shoulders of “today’s (disrespectful) kids.

We are deeply grateful to Rabbi Aisenstark for graciously opening this discussion, and we feel that this pilpul chaverim (discussions among friends) will help us all realize our deepest wishes that we have endless nachas from our children and grandchildren.


Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child at Home?

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We have 6 children ranging in age from a married daughter of 22 to a son of 8 years old. Things are well with us, b’h, regarding shalom bayis, parnasa and other areas of our lives.

We are writing to you regarding our 17-year-old son, who is a (very) at-risk teenager. We have been supporting him with testing, tutors, etc. throughout his school years, but nothing seemed to have worked. He’s been in several schools since 9th grade, dropped out and is currently working full time. We have an excellent relationship with him; he is respectful and does not violate Shabbos/kashrus in front of our family members. But he is, at this point in his life, completely non-observant.

Our dilemma is with regard to his 4 siblings still in our home. We are terribly worried that they will pick up his habits and lifestyle. We have so many questions:

1) Should we ask him to leave our home, as many of our friends tell us to do? (We don’t think that is a good idea)

2) How can we allow him to remain in our home and turn his back on all we hold dear?

3) What do we tell our other children? They all know what is really going on to some degree, depending on their age.

We are so torn over this decision. Adding to the confusion is all the diverse and conflicting advice we are being given by people. We are hearing, “be firm, be flexible, give him an ultimatum, always keep the lines of communication open;” on and on.

We would be most grateful for your advice. Thank you very much.

Names Withheld

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

The first thing that struck me about your letter was where you wrote about your confusion over getting conflicting advice from many different people, as it is something that I hear from so many parents are who are in your excruciating situation. I hope that this column will help you sort things out and not add to the swirl of information.

Before I get into the details, I’d like to inform you that from reading your letter I have a strong hunch that you are doing exactly what you ought to be doing. Why do I say that? Because you write that you have an excellent relationship with your son. Trust me, if your relationship survived his rocky school experience and crisis of faith, you should be giving guidance to parents yourselves.

While there is little I can do to completely allay your fears about your other children picking up your son’s rebellious behaviors, I can tell you that in my twenty-five years of dealing with at-risk kids and their families, I have found it extremely rare that a child went off-the-derech because he/she followed a sibling who strayed from Yiddishkeit. I think that what often skews the data and leads people to believe that off-the-derech is ‘contagious’ are situations where there are significant flaws in the family dynamics that are left unaddressed and uncorrected despite the fact that a child exhibited rebellious signs.

Now for some answers to your questions:

1) I am usually reluctant to give advice to people I do not know, but there does not seem to be any reason for you to even consider asking him to leave your home. I would respond differently if you had mentioned that he was self-destructing (substance abuse, for example), if he was undermining your authority or the quality of life at home, or if you felt that there was a clear and present danger of another child going off the derech. But none of these seem to apply, so I don’t think sending him away is even a subject for discussion in your situation.

For parents who have one or more of those three conditions present regarding a rebellious child, I usually recommend that they first go for counseling to try and improve things, and to gain a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. Then, armed with that information, visit their Rav to present their request for guidance regarding sending a child away from home. I do not think parents should make that dinei nefashos (life-or-death matter) decision without both of those components – medical and rabbinic advice.

(Recommended Reading: Jumpstarting Your Child’s Life, Letter From Your Teenage Child, Teeage Sturm Und Drang, Whatever” — Parenting Your Teenager On The Derech )

2) Please review my Mishpacha column, “Leaving The Door Open” for profound guidance that I received from one of our leading gedolim, who told a father in your situation to inform his child that he ought not feel disenfranchised from Hashem’s Torah and its eternal lessons just because he does not fully understand it all at the young age of seventeen – for growing close to Hashem and comprehending His Torah is a lifelong mission. You, as parents, can be most helpful in reframing your son’s ‘no’ to a ‘not yet.’

3) What should you tell your children? I have a simple answer for you. Tell your children that you love them all unconditionally; always and forever. And that means giving each of them what they need when they need it. Period. Exclamation point.

Explain to them that at this juncture in his life, your 17-year-old needs understanding and acceptance above all, and as difficult as this is, you are committed to provide this to him. This is the most honest and beautiful thing that you can tell them – that they would get the same measure of unconditional love, time, and acceptance from you if they had a crisis of any sort in their lives. Tell them that they, too, should love their brother unconditionally and not withdraw their emotional support for him due to his eroding faith in Hashem.

I cannot predict the future, but I can assure you that the best chance you have that your son will find his way back to Hashem is to follow the darchei noam approach I suggested. The bedrock of your unconditional love will hopefully provide the platform upon which your son can gently and slowly build upon – and return to Torah and mitzvos.

I usually do not mix my parsha and parenting columns, but I will make this exception and inform you of a profound dvar Torah that my dear friend Reb Pinchas Gershon (P.G.) Waxman of Lakewood recently shared with me.

The Gemorah (Shabbos 89b) relates that when the Jews will stray from the path of Torah and mitzvos, Hashem will inform our Avos (patriarchs) that their children have sinned. Avraham and Yaakov Avinu will respond that they ought to be punished for their misdeeds. Yitzchok, on the other hand, will implore the Ribbono Shel Olam “Are they (Klal Yisrael) only my children? Are they not Your children as well?” The Gemarah notes that Yitzchok will continue to plead until Hashem spares Klal Yisroel from destruction.

This is quite difficult to understand. Why was Yitzchok Avinu the only one of the Avos who was able to defend the Jews at that time? This is all the more puzzling as Yitzchak was noted for his attribute of gevurah (firmness), so he should have been the last one of the Avos to successfully defend his children.

One possible explanation is that of all the Avos, Yitzchok was in a unique position to advocate for the Jews since he kept his son Esav in his house despite Esav’s numerous sins. He sent his beloved son Yaakov away when Esav wanted to kill him (not Esav), and furthermore, when Esav’s wives worshiped idols and Yitzchok was becoming blind from the smoke of their incense; he still did not ask Esav to leave home.

Therefore, Yitzchok was able to plead to Hashem: “I kept and loved my child Esav despite his significant flaws; You too, should [keep and] forgive Your children.”

I do not profess to understand Hashem’s workings, but perhaps when the Jewish people are one day in need of forgiveness, the 2 of you and all others who unconditionally love and believe in their at-risk sons and daughters will become Klal Yisroel’s Reb Levi Yitzchok Bardichiver and advocate for all of Hashem’s children.

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

(Reb Pinchas Gershon later found a similar thought in the writings of the Chassidic rebbi, Reb Meir of Primishlan. For further discussion of this matter, see Rashi Yirmiyahu 31,15; Ein Yaakov, Panim Meirim Yayeitzei, Emes L’Yaakov Toldos 27,40)

Do As I Do

By “Devorah”

As the child of BT parents who got a strong dose of ‘flaming BT-itis’ when I was a teenager; and the wife of a BT, I’ve had the good fortune, if you can say that, of experiencing Baal Teshuva parenting from both sides.

That doesn’t mean I have a 100% fool proof knowledge of what ‘works’, when trying to bring up religiously-inspired, emunah-filled kids. But I certainly have a fair idea of what doesn’t.

When my parents first got frum, I was 15. We were doing Xmas; we were eating in McDonalds; we were starving on Yom Kippur (without any real idea of why) and avoiding bread on Pesach (again, without any real idea of why) but that was it. It was the worst kind of exposure to yiddishkeit: periodic occasions when we asked to do difficult things with no explanation or context as to why we should, or why it was important.

No Jewish community, or Jewish friends, to speak of. But a lingering sense that we were fundamentally ‘different’ to everyone else, which for a teenager, is probably one of the worst sensations.

It’s a long story which I won’t go into here, but when my parents embraced Judaism, they did it at 5000 mph. All of a sudden, Mcdonalds was out. All of a sudden, we had separate plates, and couldn’t have icecream after our chicken supper. All of a sudden, Saturday became a big long list of ‘thou shalt nots’ – once again, with minimal explanation as to why.
Read more Do As I Do

The Danger Of Lowering Our Expectations

In a recently letter to the editor of Jewish Action, Dr. Bernard H. White of Dallas, Texas, responded to an editorial by Dr. Simcha Katz, in which the OU president recounted the story of a young man who, although the product of a prominent Jewish day school and high school system, confessed to feeling “ignorant of Judaism” even after a year in Israel. Dr. White observed:

It is likely that Sam’s parents spent about a quarter-million dollars on his Jewish education, only to end up with an “ignorant” product. What a devastating indictment of the education we are providing to the next generation.

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.

The Jewish nation reached its halcyon days early in the reign of Shlomo HaMelech. The kingdom was secure from its enemies, its monarchy firmly established, its sphere of influence extending as far as Babylon, its Temple the single greatest wonder of the world. The people lived according to the dictates and values of the Torah, their spiritual integrity rewarded by Hashem’s blessing for material wealth. The opportunity to usher in the messianic era seemed palpably within their grasp.

But that potential was never realized. The introduction of idolatry by Shlomo’s foreign wives eroded the nation’s merit and caused the kingdom to be split in two. And although the separate kingdoms might have both prospered, the corrosive paranoia of King Yerovom of Yisroel propelled his people into a downward spiral culminating in the dissolution of his own kingdom and the moral corruption of neighboring Yehudah.

Despite Hashem’s promise of a dynasty like that of King David, Yerovom feared that when the Jews of Yisroel returned to Jerusalem to observe the festival of Sukkos, their joy at being reunited as one people would inspire them to reject Yerovom and pledge their loyalty to the House of David. Rather than risk losing his kingdom, Yerovom placed border guards along the roads to Jerusalem, erected a pair of golden calves for his people to worship, and proclaimed the words at still echo across the ages:

“Rav lochem – It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem! Behold your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

In a single phrase, Yerovom created within Jewish society a culture of mediocrity. After the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the victories over Amoleik and Midian and Sichon and Og, after forty years of mann and the miracles in the desert, after nearly five centuries combating enemy nations given free reign over the Jews because they failed to live up to the standards Hashem and the Torah had clearly laid out for them – after all that, Yerovom blithely declared that Hashem would readily accept Yisroel’s service to idolatrous intermediaries in order to spare his people a few extra miles of travel up to the place where their father Avrohom had been prepared to offer his only son in the supreme act of spiritual self-sacrifice.

And the people eagerly accepted his dispensation.

For our part, we refuse to learn the lessons of the past. If only we expected less of our children, the current thinking goes, then they would love their Judaism. So we lobby for shorter school days, easier grading, less homework, accelerated and abbreviated davening – and we look the other way when they pull out their phones to text on Shabbos.

Then we see that it isn’t working, so we just keep expecting less and less. What will we say when there’s nothing less for us to expect?

Rabbi Goldson writes at http://torahideals.com
To subscribe to his Torah Ideals email newsletter, go to the torahideals.com website and find the subscription link on the sidebar. Articles are posted, on average, every week or two.

High School Life

Recently we had two freshman boys join us for Shabbos lunch. They attend are both “out of towners” who attend a boy’s yeshiva in the area. I listened to my 6th grade son ask them questions about dorm life, the daily schedule, what’s expected of them with school work, and what they do in their free time. It got to thinking about my own experiences in public high school.

Aside from the duel curriculum, the school life of my children, is pretty much the same as what I went through from kindergarten through middle school. It dawned on me, during this Shabbos lunch, that my children’s high school experiences will be radically different than what I went through.

My high school had multiple cliques and sub-cultures and plenty of sporting and extra-curricular activities to join in. Homework and reports were fairly uncommon and while cheating and skipping class were fashionable, I never subscribed to these temptations.

Every weekend night (well, only Saturdays once I started keeping Shabbos) was spent either at a party in someone’s home, going to an “all ages” concert, or hanging out in public areas in downtown Wichita, KS just chilling, listening to music, and trying not to cause too much trouble. While my punk friends and I looked rather fierce and counter-culture, we were all pretty much harmless.

These boys told me that their Motzei Shabbos activities usually include basketball and pizza. Sometimes they’ll go to a friend’s house to watch movies or just hang out. I am sure there are other students that do more “incriminating” activities.

I’m curious, if anyone with high school or post high school children can offer some insights into parenting issue during the yeshiva high school years?

Hallel’s Excellent Adventure

Reprinted from JewishMom.com.

“Umm, well, you see Morah Achinoam…”

“Hallel needs to take two weeks off from school in January in order to travel to Canada to ‘discover her roots’…”

A “Masa Shorashim.” That was the embarrassingly lame white lie I invented in order to justify Hallel’s upcoming two-week absence from 6th grade. But “discovering her roots,” a phrase that evokes images of Eastern European graveyards and forgotten synagogues being used as Hungarian city halls, was infinitely loftier than the true purpose of Hallel’s upcoming trip to my husband’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario…

On this much-anticipated trip, Hallel would go skating on a frozen lake and tobogganing and (can you believe this?) SNOWMOBILING by the family cottage.

In other words, the point of Hallel’s pre-bat mitzvah trip (which her older sister went on as well before her bat mitzvah 2 years ago) was to have lots of fun in lots of snow with my husband’s parents.

So Hallel’s been away now for a week in Canada, and she’s having a fantastic time…

So far, she’s adored “boganning” and snowmobiling with Savta and watching an entire (completely mystifying) Patriots game with Saba…

But something that I hadn’t really thought so much about before Hallel left for Canada was the fact that we were sending our 11-year-old girl off entirely on her own to an entirely secular environment…

B”H, my in-laws are long-standing experts at “kosherizing” and the “kosher rules” as my mother-in-law calls them. And, miraculously, a very lovely, friendly young couple just opened up a Chabad House on THE SAME BLOCK as my father-in-law’s house and they generously hosted Hallel for both Shabbat meals.

But, in addition, during our phone calls Hallel’s been updating me on how she’s trying her best to live as a Jew in Kingston. She told me about how she decided to wear a skirt over her snowpants when she went “boganning” with Savta, and how she made Kiddush all by herself on Shabbat morning, and how she’s been davening almost every day, all on her own.

And I realized something that I hadn’t realized before.

My husband and I are two baalei teshuva raising a family-full of FFB children. And our children have never ever spent time on their own outside of an Orthodox home and framework.

So for the past week, for the first time in her life Hallel has been presented with a choice. With no Orthodox parents or teachers or friends or random busy-bodies looking over her shoulder, she has had to choose whether she would actually keep the laws that she has grown up with for the past 11 years…Despite the fact that if she didn’t daven or wash before bread or wear skirts, no Kingstonian would even bat a frost-bitten eyelid.

But there, in that totally secular environment, Hallel has decided to live in accordance with the Torah, just like Josh and I decided to when we lived in our own secular environments.

And I realized that my lame white lie to Morah Achinoam was actually the truth after all.

Hallel IS discovering her roots, retracing the route of the journey back to Hashem that Josh and I took ourselves 20 years ago.

Safe Children, Safe Communities

Let’s not mince words.

The future of our charedi community is quite literally in existential danger as the tension in Beit Shemesh plays itself out in the international media.

On a purely pragmatic level, this disturbing publicity has already placed the charedi community in Eretz Yisroel at greater risk of losing its financial aid to Yeshivos and Kollelim at the very least. In all likelihood, there may be far greater ramifications, as this could generate a tsunami of support among secular (and many religious) Israelis for a complete separation of church and state, which has the potential to end state support for all non-public schools in Eretz Yisroel.

However, the far greater danger is that we will be losing our souls should we fail to condemn the horrific actions, however isolated, of people who dress like us threatening women and children with violence, taunting them, and calling them all sorts of horrible names. And we will justifiably lose the hearts, neshamos and even lives of our children and grandchildren if we, rachmanim b’nei rachmanim (merciful people), cannot muster the righteous indignation and join forces to protest the appalling actions of these so-called kanoim.

Our community is just now coming to grips with the painful reality that is child abuse, and the ravages it leaves in its wake. We must now realize that there is communal abuse as well, from which we all continue to suffer. And just like we have come to understand that prosecuting and convicting child molesters can prevent future abuse, so too, we must make sure that these kanoim who are rodfim in every way, be stopped in their tracks.

As Rabbi Aryeh Deri clearly stated in an interview earlier this week, the only solution to rid our community of the depraved kanoim who are wreaking havoc on our community is to demand that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Child safety has been our highest priority at Project Y.E.S. for the past few years, and we recently launched several initiatives designed to help keep each and every one of our children safe and secure[1]. With the chesed of Hashem, our efforts, and the efforts of the Los Angeles based Aleinu school program and others like it, are creating a paradigm shift in how parents deal with the issue of child safety[2]

However, this entire enterprise took an enormous step backwards over the past days and weeks as our children rightfully wonder if the adults around them can keep them safe.

There are four basic messages that children need to internalize in order for any abuse prevention program to be truly effective:
1. Your body belongs to you
2. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable
3. No secrets from parents
4. Good touching/bad touching
We have long maintained that corporal punishment by parents and/or educators dramatically decreases and often negates the critical messages of abuse prevention (see Spare the Potch, Protect the Child for more on this). Well, how much more destructive is it for our children in Beit Shemesh to see their peers and even the adults in their lives shrug their shoulders and allow this sort of deplorable behavior by a group of radical adults go on unabated? How about its effects on Jewish children worldwide who see reports of this through the 24/7 media coverage, or hear this discussed this in school among their friends?

My dear friends, it has come to this. We have two choices. We can continue to blame the secular media for its campaign against our charedi community or we can admit the painful truth – that we collectively have allowed ourselves to be abused for many years now by a small and violent group of uncontrolled kanoim.

For the sake of our children, we need to collectively do everything in our power – everything – to put an end to the abuse immediately.

[1] As part of our Karasick Child Safety Initiative, we released a 33-minute DVD of our parenting seminar “Speaking to Your Kids about Personal Safety” this past June and our child-friendly picture book, “Let’s Stay Safe!” – both designed to give parents a comfortable and modest way to discuss personal space and safety with their children.

[2] Click here for more safety resources: The Karasick Child Safety Initiative of Project YES – Links to Safety Resources for Parents. Contact Project YES at (845)352-7100 ext. 114 or at email@kosherjewishparenting.com to arrange for a personal safety parenting seminar in your community, or to purchase bulk quantities of “Let’s Stay Safe!” for your school, shul, or organization.