Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Groundbreaking New Children’s Book Released: LET’S STAY SAFE!

Let’s Stay Safe, published by Mesorah Publications, is the newest breakthrough from Project YES, a division of Agudath Israel of America Community Services. According to Artscroll, “It may well be the most important picture book that a parent will share with his or her young child.” We all want to keep our children safe, secure, confident, and happy.

With this book’s delightful pictures and child-friendly rhyming text, Let’s Stay Safe helps us give our children essential life lessons in safe and unsafe behavior:
• Personal safety • Staying away from strangers • Crossing the street safely • Bicycle safety • Fire safety • Safety in the home

In language that can educate and empower, this groundbreaking book gives children the tools to stay safe and secure in our increasingly difficult world.

A Personal Message from the Author (Bracha Goetz):

Over four years ago, our youngest daughter, Shira Goetz, gave me the encouragement needed to write a book designed for frum children about personal safety. I “knocked on the door” of every frum publishing house I could think of with my safety manuscript, but no company was willing to publish it back then.

It would still be just a file on my computer, if not for Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. Over two years ago, I sent my manuscript to Rabbi Horowitz, the Director of Project YES, and he devoted himself to getting the safety book published. Along the way, the personal safety book evolved into a more comprehensive safety book that includes personal safety as another normative safety measure. That’s what makes it a major breakthrough for the frum world – abuse prevention being acknowledged as an essential topic to be included for parents and children to learn in order to guard their safety, right alongside fire safety.

I believe that without Rabbi Horowitz’s tremendous efforts – and my daughter’s heartfelt prayers through these years – we would not be able to witness the miracle of this book being published now by Mesorah Publications, with the endorsement of Torah U’Mesorah as well, thank G-d. Although I really only became aware of the underground world of abuse in our midst just four years ago, B’H, there has been great progress during this time in beginning the process of weeding it from our beautiful garden. It should only continue – and prevention education is key.

From this whole endeavor, I learned that we don’t have to be great scholars or have lots of money or prestige to make our communities better places. We can be baalei teshuva, gerim or FFB’s, and if we see what needs fixing, we don’t have to be afraid, we can work on repairing things. I also learned during these four years, over and over again, that we really can never accomplish anything on our own. We need Hashem to smile upon every single effort we try to make. And we need support from other individuals committed to striving for improvement.

I wrote this book to help keep our little ones safe. In the merit of reading this book to young children, may all of our precious ones be blessed to remain pure and in good health, with shining neshamas.

Let’s Stay Safe is currently on sale at an introductory price of $10.79. Go pick up a copy here.

Does Anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have Kids?

Does anyone on the U.S. Supreme Court have kids? How about grandkids, nieces, nephews, even neighbors with kids? I wonder.

In it’s final decision before adjourning for summer break the court struck down a California law intended to protect children from playing with video games that depict murder, maiming, rape and other forms of violence. In a gross perversion of First Amendment jurisprudence, one that probably has the Founding Fathers—all of whom were parents, reeling in their graves, a 7 to 2 majority said that the games are protected speech and can be freely sold to minors.

These are just a few of the games our Highest Court says our kids can have. “Manhunt 2,” which features a display of dismembered bodies and awards points to the player who can mutilate his victim most grotesquely; “Ethnic Cleansing,” in which the player selects a specific minority group then proceeds to gun down members of that race. “RapeLay,” in which the objective is to rape a mother and her daughters.

Writing for the majority Chief Justice Antonin Scalia a conservative Reagan era appointee said that the state’s “legitimate power to protect children from harm does not include “a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

In his opinion he mentioned Grimm’s fairy tales and Hansel and Gretel thus indicating that in the court’s eyes, today’s games are merely a digital extension of this tradition.

Is Judge Scalia off his rocker and what about the six other justices who concurred?

As a Mom of tween and teenaged boys, I’ve seen these games and they are horrible, even beyond horrible. Last summer, my sons got hold of GTA, Grand Auto Theft—one of the games the Court now protects. GTA is about crime, auto theft, prostitution and murder The soundtrack is a string of obscenities set to a rap beat.

Other than keeping my boys busy, by turning them into zombies (not a state I like to see my children or anyone else’s enter) I hated GTA. One afternoon, I got up my nerve and confiscated the game unleashing a tsunami of anger in my sons akin to the reaction one might get from addicts who are denied their fix. Lets face it, that is what I was doing. These games are drugs of a kind, highly addictive or “immersive,” in euphemistic gamer speak.

Research endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association indicates that these games lead to “an increase in aggressive behavior, physiological desensitization to violence, and decrease [in] pro-social behavior,”

Last year Craig Anderson, director of Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence, authored a paper pointing to clear and convincing evidence that “media violence is one of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression.”

So why did the Court strike down a law aimed at combating this scourge. According to the law’s author California Senator Leland Yee, who is by the way the senate’s only licensed child psychologist the reason was greed. According to Senator Yee, the Court has “once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children.”

The impact of this decision will extend beyond California. The 11 other states—Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia—that submitted amicus briefs will find their options to restrict these games will be severely limited.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself a prominent opponent of these games, has famously said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” but that village has be aligned with that child’s best interests.

Right now thanks to the Supreme Court, the United States of America is not that village.

Teleconference: Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

Upcoming Live Teleconference…

Tantrums and Sibling Rivalry: Maintaining Harmony in Your Home

In this program presented by Rabbi Avraham Mifsud and Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, you will learn effective strategies to deal with tantrums and sibling rivalry.

When harmony is disrupted it affects the whole family; call in to hear how you can develop better responses to challenges and strengthen the relationships with your children instead of damage them.

Wednesday and Thursday August 3rd and 4th from 9-9:30 pm, Eastern time

Dial (712) 432-1001

For part I on Wednesday enter access code 445 787 937#

For Part II on Thursday, enter 467 637 417#

This program is sponsored

לעילוי נשמת

ר’ משה ירחמיאל בן יהודה

Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly accurately described it as, “Every parent’s worst nightmare.”

Nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Boro Park, Brooklyn finally convinced his mother that he was old enough to walk home alone from day camp. It was only seven short blocks to their home, and she had gone over the route with him beforehand to make sure.

Only he never made it home Monday evening.

His family called the police when he didn’t arrive home. Literally thousands of volunteers combed every inch of the blocks between his home and the day camp.

The break came when Leiby was spotted on a surveillance video, talking to a man outside a dentist’s office. It seems that Leiby had made a wrong turn on his way home and asked for directions. Then Leiby got into the man’s car, a Honda sedan.

The dental office was already closed for the night, but determined police detective work helped them track down both the dentist, who didn’t live in New York, and his receptionist. They went into the office and examined the dentist’s patient records.

The search ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning at an attic apartment not far from the boy’s home. The person of interest made a full confession to the police, including information about where the boy’s body could be found.

He confessed that he had killed the boy.

Other than a minor offense, he had no prior arrest record, no accusations or allegations against him. There were no hints. No one could have known in advance that he would commit a crime like that.

We live in a dangerous world. Even in a tight-knit community, children can get badly hurt.

How do we protect our children? We can’t keep them in a bubble forever. Keeping them in a bubble would be even more dangerous, because once out of the bubble they wouldn’t know how to stay safe.

The only solution that works is to drill children in an age-appropriate manner never to talk to strangers, never ever to get into anyone’s car, to not allow themselves to be snatched up, to not go inside anyone’s house, even someone who speaks Yiddish or Ivrit or Russki or looks Chassidishe or is wearing a yarmulke or long payos “just like them.”

It also has been suggested that a child in trouble can be told to “trust a mother,” that is, if the child sees a mom with a stroller and/or young children of her own, that the child can ask the mom for help (but not a strange adult without children).

Jewish mothers have been accused of being overprotective. But when are we not being protective enough? Every concerned parent has to find this balance between watching over a child and allowing a child independence. When is a child old enough to walk by himself/herself to a friend’s house? To cross the street alone? To babysit for a neighbor’s child? To stay home alone one night? To ride the city bus or the subway? To walk home from the park, or from school, or from day camp? To walk with a group of other young people home from shul or from a Shalom Zachor late on a Friday night?

We can’t lace our children into armor or insert electronic tracking chips into their shoulders. We can try to arm our children with common sense and a sense of self-protection, to yell or run away, to not allow anyone to touch them in the wrong place, even someone they know, to tell their parents anytime they feel afraid or when told to “keep a secret.”

Regrettably, there are those of our own, those who look like Orthodox Jews and dress like Orthodox Jews and talk like Orthodox Jews, who can and do commit such crimes against children.

Hopefully the monster who did this will be locked up in prison for the rest of his life. It won’t bring back Leiby Kletzky, but will prevent any other children from being this person’s victims.

Can we prevent the next tragedy?

Expanding the Backyard

One of the things that initially excited me about find was that the website/community allows me to interact with fellow Jews who are growth-oriented and get advice from others. As a parent of a boy entering 6th grade, a daughter entering 4th grade, and a daughter entering kindergarten I am always looking for eitzos (advice) on parenting.

Growing up with parents who were both politically and religiously fairly Conservative/traditional I was, ironically, given pretty much free reign in terms of set rules in our home. Aside from the standard “let me know where you’ll be and who you’ll be with” my parents were not to strict when it came to what I read, watched on TV, style of clothing I wore, or what music I liked. Thus, growing up in the 1980s I ended up reading, watching, wearing, and listening to things that, for sure, would raise eyebrows within some Orthodox circles (and probably a red flag with the words “At-risk” printed on it).

We are blessed to live in a thriving frum community, with great chinuch options, and my children are surrounded by positive influences. So far, so good. However with the trend of those raised in observant homes keeping “half-Shabbos” (a term that describes teens and adults using their cell phones to text and go online with on Shabbos) and the constant danger of kids-at-risk rearing its’ not-so-attractive-head I, like most, am concerned about my own children.

Recently my wife had the opportunity to speak with a father of 7 who has, with much help from his wife, raised fairly “normal” frum kids. She asked him what their secret was, and he said simply that they let their kids have choices within defined parameters. When my wife told me this, I said that it’s sort of like making your backyard a little bigger so your kids feel that they have more room to play. For a few years, as I look back now, I’ve been doing this unconsciously.

There are always, in our family, issues like: the yarmulke vs the baseball cap (on top of the yarmulke), the skirt is “too long” vs “too short”, my friends watched parents rented this movie and why can’t we, etc. I think that most of us can make our own list. Now, my kids are far from perfect, but we have tried to raise them to know what’s expected of them. Overall, they are good kids. We attempt to be aware of what they watch, give them choices of what to wear (in the summer, when they are don’t have to wear school uniforms and follow dress codes), and let them think they have a little freedom about what they listen read and listen to (BH they don’t read or all of our tricks would be for naught).

I think, based on what the conversation my wife had, that we are going to take on a much more active role in structuring the choices we give our own children. Hopefully (with a lot of davening) they will find enough leg and elbow room within Torah Judaism to stretch out and get comfortable.

I’d love to hear any advice or thoughts about what seems to work and not work with raising kids.

Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety – mp3 and article

Here is the audio file of Rabbi Horowitz talk on “Speaking to Your Kids About Personal Safety” in Queens last night.

The practical tips are from the article below from Rabbi Horowitz’ website.

In the broadest sense, I think that the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from sexual abuse is the moment that they walk down from the chuppah and begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy (click here) and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything – ANYTHING – with their (click here) parents will, in all likelihood, inform their parents the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Let’s face it. Foolproof protection is impossible. You cannot follow your children wherever they go, nor should you raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they will meet. Moreover, as I noted last week, even though the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended and close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

Therefore, the most effective things that parents can do is to keep their children safe are to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

– Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say.

– Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.

– One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).

– Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy.

– “Your body belongs to you,” is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult.

– Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

This Cannot Go On

By Chaya Houpt

Around the time Y.B. and A.N. turned two, they started to Talk. Not just words, but sentences, and then plans and games and conspiracies. Where they had previously been mostly indifferent to each other’s presence, suddenly they were partners in crime. They would stay up for most of the night, chatting and laughing and playing.

I placed them in their cribs at 7 PM as usual, but now, instead of quietly thumbing board books and sleeping until 7 the next morning, they would party.

My husband and I would go to sleep around 11 or 12, lying in bed with clenched teeth as we listed to our daughters carry on from the nursery down the hall. The next day, they were miserable company: cranky, short-tempered and whiny. Each day, the cumulative sleep debt was worse.

And naptime was a problem, too. They wouldn’t nap at all in a room together. We set up a pack-n-play and carried Y.B. down to the laundry room each afternoon, where she would often be woken early by the doorbell.

This cannot go on, I said.

So we sought the advice of our parents, mentors and friends. We tried bribing, threatening and all kinds of parental trickery. There were staggered bedtimes, later bedtimes and I can’t even remember what else. It was frustrating. Infuriating, even. We felt so powerless.

Some of the things we tried helped a little. But mostly, the girls just grew out of it. They gradually got used to the wonder of verbal communication, and they learned to be quiet roommates.

How long did it take before they started going to sleep quietly at an early hour? Oh, about A YEAR.

. . .

Another story, this one about mornings:

I have encouraged my girls to be independent and self-sufficient from the youngest age. When they entered the “I do it by self” phase, I was thrilled. I watched in wonder as my tiny children performed more and more of their morning routine by themselves: getting dressed, brushing teeth.

And then, sometime around last November, it just stagnated. They started dawdling, protesting, refusing to do anything by themselves. Mornings became a nightmare.

This cannot go on, I said.

I wrote an email to Jenny. “I don’t want to start every day with a battle,” I wrote. “Here is what I have tried.” And I listed all the tricks and strategies I had employed.

Jenny empathized and offered some ideas and suggestions, which I implemented. It helped a lot, but A.N. was still having a lot of trouble getting out in the morning.

This cannot go on, I said, and in January I wrote Jenny again.

She helped me through the situation, and said, “If things are still terrible Purim-time, let’s rethink.”

Purim came and went. Pesach rolled around, and then Yom Haatzmaut. Last Sunday was Lag B’Omer. And even this morning, it was a battle to get A.N. dressed and out of the house.

And you know what? I’ve accepted it. I don’t feel the urgency to change or fix the situation. Maybe this CAN go on. Maybe I don’t need a solution, or maybe our family isn’t ready for a solution.

One day last week, my neighbor Leah observed that my kids have a hard time with the morning transition. It was good to get objective confirmation, because Leah is no stranger to the challenges of a house full of young children.

“Is it always the same kid?” she wanted to know.

“Nope,” I said, because though A.N. might present the most challenges, Y.B. and B.A. have been known to get into the elevator howling and refusing to put on shoes as well.

And then she said something like, “You are always so calm with them.” I don’t remember her exact words, because of all the noise from the choir of angels.

. . .

So that’s the thing. Every meltdown, every dragged-out journey to nursery school, every impossible morning presents a challenge: how can I fix this? How can I get this family running like a well-oiled machine?

But that’s not always the victory Hashem has in store for me. Maybe I am simply meant to try my best to help the situation, and when nothing works, I can accept reality as it is and know that I am growing stronger, more patient, more calm in the process.

This cannot go on? Why not? Here’s another one: this too shall pass. But not on my timeline.

Chaya blogs about parenting and life at All Victories.

Parenting and Drinking Responsibly

“It is an Aveira to Get Drunk on Purim,” was a direct quote from Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a, who took precious time from his busy schedule and shared his da’as Torah with hundreds of participants worldwide last week during a Project Y.E.S. conference call, titled, “Purim Parenting: Keeping Our Children Safe and Sober.”

I had intended to keep the scope of the conference call limited to practical advice that my dear chaver Dr. Benzion Twerski and I would offer parents on setting appropriate limits on Purim activities and to teach their children how to resist negative peer pressure to engage in hard drinking. However, as soon as we announced the conference call, we were inundated with questions from many people who asked me to clarify the words of our chazal (sages) “Chayav einish l’besumei be’puria ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” which loosely translated says that one is obligated to drink [on Purim] until he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai. With that in mind, I asked the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a, who has served as our posek in Project Y.E.S. since its inception thirteen years ago, to take a few precious moments from his busy schedule and share his da’as Torah with our listeners.

“Chas v’shalom (Heaven forbid) that our Torah would consider getting drunk to be a mitzvah,” said Reb Shmuel. He explained that the word l’besumei is derived from the root word which means to sniff something – and said that this means that one should have only “a whiff” of drinking.

The Rosh Yeshiva also shed light on the words “ad deloi yoda bein arur Haman l’baruch Mordechai” and said that when one sings a song when he is in a heightened state of simcha (joy) he occasionally will sing the verses in incorrect order – meaning that he will sing the verse of Arur Haman in the place of the verse of Baruch Mordechai. It is inconceivable, he stated, that the words of our chazal condone the type of drunkenness which render a person incapable of performing the mitzvos of our Torah.

Reb Shmuel shlit’a is hardly a da’as yachid (a lone voice) in this matter. There is a kol korei issued by Agudas Yisroel and disseminated by my dear chaver Elly Kleinman signed by 26 leading gedolim, admorim, rabbonim and mechanchim that states in unequivocal terms that “chayav ainish…” only refers to wine and not whiskey. And it states that “free use of whiskey” is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da’as chachamim. Obviously, the term “free whisky” was used to denote hard drinking as opposed to a moderate amount of drinking. (A hard copy of the kol korei can be downloaded from my website Just click here.)

Responsible vs. Irresponsible Drinking

To be perfectly clear, the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a was discussing irresponsible drinking – and not the moderate drinking which allows a person to break free of his day-to-day inhibitions and arrive at the type of exalted “neshama yeseira” that allows him to connect to Hashem and all that is beautiful in Yiddishkeit with “soaring spirits” (pun intended).

My brother, Reb Yehudah shlit’a, who is the Mashgiach in Yeshiva South Shore, drinks along those lines on Purim. It would be fair to describe him as being above the legal drinking limit during the latter hours of the Purim Seudah. He would never think of driving home from the seudah on Purim, not should he, for it would be illegal, and he would be putting his life in sakana as well as the lives of others. So in technical terms or legally for driving purposes, he certainly could be classified as “drunk” during that time. But the words that would come to mind when observing him in that state would be, “Kedusha, elevated, hisorirus, simcha shel mitzvah, … perhaps even funny.” My brother sings “gramen,” gives brachos to all he speaks to, tells them how wonderful they are, talks about Mashiach and how he needs to do teshuvah. Honestly; I make sure my wife and I, and all our children and now our grandchildren go to him for a bracha when he is in this spiritual high. Far from being “drunk,” he has the “whiff” of intoxication that the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to.

However, the flat-drunk state that some adults and bachurim are engaging in under the guise of Purim which is in a very different category. This is the type of hefkarus (frivolity) that does not lead to any of the attributes of one who is drinking with true Simchas Purim, and that is the aveira that Reb Shmuel s’hlita was discussing. And Reb Shmuel firmly added that “It is an aveirah to say it [hard drinking] is a mitzvah.”

Some point to people of generations past who engaged in serious drinking on Purim and use that to support their claim that getting drunk on Purim is “a mitzvah.” However, I propose that it is illogical to bring proof from anyone who allowed or condoned Purim drinking back then and apply it to today’s climate. That would be like saying that one need not wear a seat belt today because someone in the 1950’s (before it became the norm and the law) didn’t wear one.

Times have very much changed in the thirty-five years since I was a teenager. None of my friends drank aside from Purim – including those who were less than model students – and many didn’t even drink on Purim itself. None of us. Period. Pull up a chair at a Shalom Zachor or Vort nowadays and see if that is the case today.

I also invited Professor Lazer Rosman, who is one of the original members of Hatzoloh, served as an active volunteer for the past 40 years and is currently the senior coordinator of Boro Park Hatzolah to join our conference call as well so our listeners can hear firsthand of the devastation caused by out-of-control drinking. He spoke about the chilul Hashem, injuries, carnage, full-blown toxic shock comas and even deaths that he personally witnessed as a direct result of Purim (and Simchas Torah) drinking. With all that in mind, I maintain that the dynamics have changed dramatically and in light of the sakana hard drinking represents nowadays we must completely end its existence in our community.

I very strongly recommend that all parents with pre-teen and teenage children at home listen to this conference call to hear the da’as Torah of the Rosh Yeshiva shlit’a and the wisdom and life lessons of Dr. Twerski and Professor Rosman. You can do so easily by visiting our website,, or by calling (712)432-1011 and entering access code: 455963558#. The content of that conference call is most certainly appropriate for children of any age and I suggest that you have your children listen along with you if possible.

Aside from the short-term danger, the brutal fact is that the vast majority of people in our community have their first exposure to drinking and smoking on Purim. Alcohol and tobacco are “Gateway Drugs,” meaning that nearly every single hard-core addict started with these substances. Worded differently, keeping your kids from early experimentation with alcohol and tobacco is by far the best way to keep them from becoming addicted later on in life. Just read these stunning statistics from the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse that I’ve been quoting in the dozens of columns I’ve written on drinking and smoking over the past 12 years:

• “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

• “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”

The message is crystal clear – stop your kids from experimenting with smoking and drinking and they are almost certain to remain drug free all their lives.

In light of the danger of long-term addictions and their subsequent consequences, I honestly feel that any adult who encourages or even condones hard drinking on Purim bears some moral (and probably legal responsibility for short-term effects in many cases) responsibility for the ruined marriages and lives of those in his care who later become alcoholics and substance abusers.

One also must take in mind what message adult hard drinking gives to our children. Many things start out as neutral or commendable actions and then become distorted beyond recognition a generation or two later. So bear in mind, that your (what you may think is) “under-control” hard drinking might be giving free license to your children and grandchildren to get “toasted” on Purim in a manner that is far, far removed from yours, and certainly not what you had intended. And, sadly, you cannot “unring that bell,” once you decide it has gone too far.

Finally, please understand that kids really do “get it” regarding drinking and drunkenness – or almost any other topic – at a very young age. My jaw dropped some twenty years ago when a friend of mine casually asked our eldest son – then eight or nine years old – if his father gets drunk on Purim. (I had never really discussed this with him previously and his response was purely what he had picked up about this matter by osmosis.) My son responded, “No way. My father knows so many secrets about other people’s families [due to my work with teens-at-risk and shalom bayis] that he always keeps to himself. He would never get drunk because if he would, he might start telling people all those private things.”

© 2010, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.

Question of the Week: Is Different Always Better?

Rivka writes:

I have, thank G-d, children of varying ages. I often find that I’m placed in a situation where I have to approve/disapprove or allow/permit certain activities that my children’s friends are engaging in. For example, we do not permit our children to attend movies. From time to time, my 11 year old will ask if he can go to a movie with his friends. This, despite, the fact that he knows that we will not allow it. My question is not how to deal with this issue or when to say yes or no. My question is how to explain things to a smart kid in a manner that doesn’t put down others who engage in an activity which we don’t permit. When I try to explain to him the differences in hashkafa, he asks things like “does that mean our hashkafa is better” or “if their hashkafa is legitimate, why isn’t it good for us?” Now, I understand that a kid will often say anything when frustrated or trying to get his way but how do I explain these matters in a way that doesn’t denigrate others? Thanks.

Admin: If you have a Question of the Week to submit, please email us at

Making Exceptions

Getting from the house to cheder — or rather the two separate chedarim that my sons attend — always takes time. Shmuel is like a seven-year old Wordsworth — constantly stopping to marvel at the wonders of nature (and the neighborhood); while Pinchos, five, comports himself like a young Newton, always pausing to ask how things work. Today, a garbage pick-up fired both of their imaginations. Yes, getting to cheder takes a long time.

Between the flights of sublimity and the mechanical inquiries, I pursue another topic — ‘How to Cross the Street.’ First, an under-undergraduate course in semiotics: ‘What do the thick white lines on the pavement mean? What does the blue and white illuminated image of the pedestrian connote? Yes, this is the place to cross the street!’

So we stand and dutifully wait. One car zooms by; and another. Then a young father, with ear phones – he seems deep in thought — his five year old daughter in tow, crosses down the block, away from the pedestrian crossing. I see Pinchos wondering: ‘what exactly is abba trying to pass off on us?’ ‘You don’t have to cross here,’ he finally says, another car whizzing by: ‘look at them,’ he points to the father and daughter still in sight and already at the makholet across the street, presumably poised to buy lachmania and choco for the day ahead.

‘No you can’t have lachmania and choco; mommy packed you a lunch.’ And: ‘just because other people do the wrong thing does not mean that it’s right.’ Finally, a car stops, the driver waiving us across benevolently. I nod in gratitude: ‘thank you for abiding by the law.’

Pinchos is first today. Shmuel, shy, is reluctant to accompany us, so he waits outside the cheder gates. Some boys lean out towards the street through the metal bars – starting to tease him, even as I’m standing by. ‘Yesh l’chem baya?’ — I ask — mimicking what boys typically say when taunting Shmuel who has Down’s Syndrome: ‘you guys have a problem?’ When I come back, Shmuel is still standing there – he looks confused, a departure from his wondrous happy friendly self: one of the boys is standing with his tongue hanging out with a mocking stare.

When I returned my wife asked: ‘what do you expect?’ Pinchos is in one of the schools that would not take Shmuel — why should we expect more from children than their teachers?

Back on our morning trek, now walking in the direction of Shmuel’s cheder, we encounter the bouncy-gait of the nine year old Yehuda: ‘Good morning Shmuel!’; and shortly after, a smiling boy in Shmuel’s class, ‘Shalom Shmuel!’ ‘He’s my friend,’ Shmuel boasts loudly to me. And then the gawky eleven year-old from down the block, who keeps a rooster in our building courtyard, volunteers, ‘Can I walk with Shmuel to cheder? I’ll take him!’ These are boys from a chassidic cheder in our neighborhood: while other principals told us, ‘Shmuel will give the school a bad name‘; their rebbe says: ‘it’s a mitzvah gedola; it’s a big mitzvah!’ So the children look at Shmuel as an opportunity. Or maybe they just like him?

So what kind of exceptions do we make — for ourselves? for our children? One thing is sure: when we start making exceptions, they become natural, even second-nature. Like crossing the street in the wrong place, or, making a new friend, even though he may be a bit different.

Vaccinating Our Children Against Prayer

I am writing this column on the train – the one AFTER the one I was supposed to catch, as I experienced that forlorn feeling when I rushed as fast as my legs would carry me, my briefcase, coat, umbrella, and take-home kosher pizza for the kids from my business meeting in Manhattan to the train that would carry me home to my Highland Park, NJ home. As I strode confidently on to the platform, relieved that I had “just made it”, I saw the doors close before me, sudden and sure, with me on the outside of the door. I missed my planned train by something like 5 seconds, and I wasn’t happy as I mentally calculated the impact on my schedule of needing to wait for the next one.

It’s a dangerous thing, giving a writer time to sit in a train station to contemplate. I couldn’t get the image out of my head – that of the train door slamming in my face, and the sheer permanence of it. No amount of begging, waving at the conductor, crying, would have helped. I was simply on the other side of the door; the lucky ones were inside, and I was outside.

My mind flashed to my business meeting earlier in the day, which began when a man in the meeting made what was seemingly a friendly gesture – he offered half of his tuna fish sandwich to another man in the room. The other man smiled widely at the generosity but immediately declined the offer. “Let me tell you why I NEVER eat tunafish,” he said. He then proceeded to explain that when he was a child – many years ago – he had become carsick on a family trip when he reached into a bag looking for a yummy treat and instead, came up with tunafish coating his hands, and sending a wrenching smell up to his nose which led him to lose the contents of his stomach. From that moment, tunafish was a four-letter word – just the thought of it, (and especially the sight or smell of it), made him feel queasy.

Essentially, this man had become vaccinated against any lifelong enjoyment of tunafish, in one quick moment. And this, my fellow readers, is the best way I can describe how I felt, and feel every year, during the High Holiday davening that we have all recently experienced. At the ripe old age of 50, I can tell you that I was vaccinated against meaningful prayer when I was about 10, and 40 years later, I still feel that I am standing on the wrong side of the door – the one where people hold a siddur and look like they are praying, but they are disconnected, tired of standing, confused, and sad, because they don’t know how to daven, and they can’t seem to “get there” no matter how hard they try.

I was raised with the typical secular introduction to prayer – none. There was no mention of G-d in my childhood home, no Hebrew school, no role models of people who ever prayed, no understanding of the Hebrew language – and the best vaccination of all – I was forced to go to synagogue two days a year, for “Happy New Year” and Yom Kippur, where all I remember about those experiences is counting the ceiling titles, the pages left to go in the siddur, and the hours to go.

I do not blame my childhood upbringing for being “vaccinated” against meaningful prayer. I am an intelligent adult who has read hundreds of inspirational articles, books, and magazines, attended shiurum, conversed with partners in Torah, and relied upon my trusty transliterated siddur to help me manage the Hebrew in the service. I understand that prayer is an avodah and I know that working at it is a lifelong ambition.

I also know that, just like the man who to this day can’t stomach tunafish because of his childhood negative association, it is taking a lifetime of work to try to undo the entrenched negative association I have embedded in me from unhappy childhood connections – or disconnections as it were – with synagogue.

I may not ever get it right in this lifetime. For me, it might be too late, but at least my children know what it’s like to live in a house where people pray, they are learning how to pray, and more importantly why to pray at school and at home, and they go to synagogue every week, not twice a year. Even if they sometimes find prayer boring, and synagogue too long ( don’t we all), of one thing I am confident. They have a better shot at it than I do, because they were never vaccinated against it.

My time of sitting in the train – and thus the luxury of contemplation – is coming to an end. I leave you for now with one last thought that gives me pause. Some childhood experiences are so visceral and deeply felt, they enter into our children and lodge permanently somewhere in their psyche, never to be entirely shaken loose. As I am still in a contemplative mood from recent Yom Kippur introspection, I ask myself now, are my children at all vaccinated against something for which I would hope they would not have a negative association? Did it come from me?

I pray not.

Whew, I do know how to pray after all.

Syndicated newspaper advice columnist and author of twelve books, Azriela Jaffe is an international expert on entrepreneurial couples, business partnerships, handling rejection and criticism, balancing work and family, breadwinner wife and dual career issues, creating more luck and prosperity in your life, and resolving marital conflict. Her mission: “To be a catalyst for spiritual growth and comfort.”
Visit her web site here.

Parenting by Choice – the Antidote to Today’s Bombastic Culture

Parenting by Choice – the Antidote to Today’s Bombastic Culture

If Jewish identity, pride and general “mentchlekeit, are of value to you and are goals for what you wish to instill in your children – you have more reason to worry than ever. For parents, teachers and Rabbis everywhere – this is the buzz. In a society where internet, TV, DVDs, movies, magazines, iPods and billboards that inundate in a torrential downpour without respite – no group or segment is left untouched (more like “unscathed”) by today’s “24/7-media-at-your-fingertips-and-everywhere-you-turn” culture. Is there an antidote?


“Parenting by Choice”.

When my wife and I were parents with “three under three” to chase after, besides consuming tons of books and tapes on “Parenting” – we looked ahead of the game to find the kids who were the ripe fruits of their parent’s labor. We asked them (from teenagers to young adults) – why are you such a “good kid”? They were respectful, well-mannered, intelligent, playful – strong in Jewish pride and intentionally or unintentionally – brought the same out in their friends while living in everyday, “modern” America. Their consistent answer:

“Comes from the home”.

Not the school – not the Rabbi – the home.

Now, did we do a nationwide survey? No. Yet you don’t have to before seeing “a pattern” and a straight answer that resonates with obvious truth:

“Good kids come from the home” or rephrased – “Parenting by choice”.

So what about the kid(s) who seem to come from a home where the parent’s seem to everything “by the book”?! Patience….

We also did some discreet “interviewing” with parents who constantly “kvetched” about their kids or had some real “nachas” issues – were there any “patterns” there? You bet.

Before I “go there” – let’s just say it simply re-enforced what the “good kids” told us:

“Good kids come from the home” or rephrased – “Parenting by choice”.

Are you “Parenting by Choice”?

In HaYom Yom, “22 Teves” p. 13:

“Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah commanded by the Torah regardless of his standing in Torah, whether deeply learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half-hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children, and to do everything in his power – and beyond his power – to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”

As a parent and a IT Program Manager – “Parenting by Choice” means:

“Do we have a plan and are we working it”?

Any serious undertaking with a high value return needs planning and constant monitoring | refining to ensure the plan is being worked, the plan is realistic and is able to adjust to the “unknowns” – why should parenting be any different? Is there any more a serious and valuable undertaking than raising a child who is a ethical and practical benefit to society?

So while we may plan and save for which college our child will attend and what career path they will choose – how much detailed and daily thinking have we put into addressing how to mold our children in a nurturing way that will foster Jewish identity, pride and general “mentchlekeit?

6 Guidelines to “Parenting by Choice”

More of the patterns that we found by “good kids”, the parents who enjoy the fruits of “parental orthodontics” and advice from experts – could be distilled into 6 guidelines:

1. Do “Parenting by Choice” – have and work a plan.

Check – we covered that. The parting comment on this guideline is – doing “Parenting by Choice” means not claiming victimization by a bombastic society – it means taking back control from a bombastic society and culture.

2. Be a Model – don’t expect our children to do what we do not.

I hate this one. It is the hardest and the problem is – it is the “Golden Rule” of parenting. We all know the “Do-As-I-Say-and-Not-As-I-Do” approach breeds contempt and rebellion. The upside is – children, like all challenges in life, bring out the latent strengths within us to force us to be better than we ever conceived. My children force me to be accountable, to grow. As much as I hate it – it evokes more love to them for it.

Some common sub-themes that detail guideline #2:

a. Dedicated and growth centric – If I am not disciplined and striving for personal growth – what do I expect from my kids?
b. Submissive to a “Higher Authority – if we do not listen to a “Higher Authority” (e.g. Hashem, the Torah, Rabbinical guidance) – why should our kids listen to us?
c. Live Judaism with joy and priority
This doesn’t mean to always have a smile plastered on our face. Let me give some examples:

“Oy, Pesach’s (or Shabbos is) coming – all the cleaning, shopping, preparations….”.

“I have to go to Synagogue.” Or as one parent once told me: “I can attend any day except for Wednesday because I have karate class”. What messages are we sending with statements like these? Also, when was the last time you checked your facial expression during prayer? Do you look engaged or like you are doing your tax returns?

Even if we were to observe Judaism to the strictest degree yet broadcast through comments or our body language that it is a burden, we are “missing out” and we don’t attempt to convey the beauty of our rich, 3,300+ years of Jewish heritage with eagerness and enthusiasm – don’t expect “optimal results” or be surprised by kids who “aren’t interested”.

Another, major ingredient is: Martial and community (synagogue) harmony.

As a close friend of mine who directs a school for assisting troubled teenagers puts it – “You can always find marital or Jewish community discord as one of the top three factors contributing to creating troubled kids”. Examples: Synagogue politics or bad mouthing (instead of solution finding with) the Rabbi, school or criticizing your spouse.

3. Have Borders, Consistency & Fairness

Children and teenagers need rules and boundaries – they will test them but crave them they do. They need to know there are rules, there are consequences to their choices and consistency in the follow through to those consequences which will be “a punishment that fits the crime”.


A child does not put their toys away. They can put their toys away or the toys will be taken for 1-3 days. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they whine.

A teenager behaves irresponsibly with a privilege – it is revoked. Keep to the consequence no matter how much they “freak-out”.

Don’t we as adults understand this? If we choose not to show up for work – what are the consequences?

4. Build self-esteem.

Guideline #3 doesn’t mean being a cruel dictator or a drill sergeant. We have to put thought into how to bring out the strengths of our children and how to help them, help themselves to compensate in their areas of growth.

Example: Help them think through their homework – don’t just give them the answers.

5. Ask some hard questions and give some honest answers about what we are allowing to influence our children.

Friends, TV, internet, cell phones – the list goes on and on. This is called “Parenting by Choice”, not “My-Kid-Is-My-Friend”. Take control. “Parenting by Choice” is a benevolent dictatorship – not a democracy. And yeah – it’s for Gen X and not the 1950’s. This is a loaded topic and would love to dedicate a future article to it.

Example: Do we have to use media for entertainment or can we find an interactive hobby (“interactive” meaning board games, physical activity – not “Wii” or any “gaming”) ?

6. Pray and pray some more.

To address an earlier statement – what about the parent’s that seem to “do it right” and their kids are not exactly a source of nachas (yet)?

The most important factor is, after all has been exhausted and done – we need to pray (constantly) to Hashem for our children’s success. Like a farmer who works, plows and sweats to plant and nurture a crop – if a drought ensues, if pestilence attacks or an early frost comes – all his work is for naught.

At the same time – if the farmer does nothing – why should he be surprised at a crop of weeds?

Easy? – NO – what’s the alternative? Parent/teacher meetings? Ritalin? Expulsion? Therapy? Drugs? Rehab? Stress? Aggravation? What we put in is, on average – what we get out. If we let a bombastic society put into our children in our stead – why should we be surprised if the result is a bombastic child or teenager?

Our energy as parents is going to be used one way or the other – to invest or to make amends – fortunately, we have influence on how our energy will be spent.

Be Empowered in “Parenting by Choice”

Go here as a great resource for “Parenting by Choice”. Great for listening online or being downloaded for on the go. Targeted at the “frum”, “traditional” and not yet observant – you’ll be refreshed by the real-world depiction and down to Earth, tips and tricks that get Parenting results.

About the author: Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein is a Lubavitcher, with 7 children (14 years-4 years old), married to a “Women of Valor”, strives to actualize the imminent Redemption and works as a business consultant | IT Program Manager.

Stained Holiness – An Educational Issue

By R’ YY Bar-Chaim

“And they should make for them(selves) fringes On the corners of their garments,
Throughout their generations…
And you shall see it And you shall remember all the Mitzvos of G-d and do them”

~Num. 15 ~

My youngest recently had his Bar-Mitzvah and was proud to mark the occasion, among other things, by wearing his tallis katan (garment to which we attach the tsitsis fringes) above his shirt. It was particuIarly sweet for me to see him take on this Mitzvah with such uninhibited demonstrativeness, since the following Torah portion ended with that Mitzvah, as quoted above. Still, I cautioned him to not get too attached (no pun intended) to wearing the entire garment out since it will probably become a magnet for filth.

“Oh, Abba – really!”, he grunted. “I’m not a little kid.”

“No question,” I reassured, “but the nature of the beast is that outer garments get dirty quickly. Besides, just like your older brothers wore their bigdei-tsitsis in until Yeshiva, and like Abba does during the week, so too do I think it’s davka a grown-up consideration to do like your elders.”

“But Abba, that will seem sooo strange!”, he cried. “We’re Chassidim now, and that’s what most Chassidim do…”

“EXCEPT for a few, with me among them!”, I retorted. Then as a compassionate afterthought: “Still, I do respect that you’ve grown up in this community, in contrast to me and your brothers, for most of your life. So if you’d like to try and keep it clean, I’ll consider letting you wear it out. But if not, you’ll have to wait til Yeshiva.”

I think he decided that it would be strategically wise to not say more, because he quickly slipped away with a knowing smirk. As in saying, “alright Abba, I’ll lay low and you’ll probably forget all about it!” Indeed, with the other boys I probably would have pursued the debate til we got mutually clear on the right thing to do. But this one is different. He’s five years younger than the “first generation” and respectively has fallen into an entirely different role in the family. I have also aged, of course, and gotten past the keen sense of being a newbie in this holy community and the attendant fear of deviating.

Still it bothered me to not be seeing eye-to-eye with my son.

I was thus pleased, a couple of days later, to have another opportunity to address the issue. I had just spied numerous “decorations” on his tallis katan, which he had tried to keep out of sight by draping the front part over his shoulder but which now came clearly into sight as he bent over.

“Alright kid,” I funlovingly chided, “it’s time to face the facts. HOW many stains have you managed to get?”

“NU Abba. What do you expect?”

“Precisely that,” I smiled. “It’s totally normal. But that’s why I’ve been preparing you.”

“But you CAN’T make me tuck it in!”, he protested, with a vehemence that pinched the core of my paternity. “They’ll laugh at me. It will be sooo embarrassing…”

“More than walking around with a filthy cape?”

“YES. EVERYone tends to get it dirty…”

“Ah, THAT”s what I feared. It’s for that reason that I DAVKA want you to tuck it in. You don’t have to be one of the crowd in EVERYthing, after all, no matter how holy they generally are. Aye, we didn’t make all those sacrifices to enter such a holy community for you to take on all their vices…”


I could hear myself guilt-tripping. The plug holding back my long-held anxieties about the “dirty bathwater” in which the “baby” of our Yiddishkeit was sitting had now been pulled. I surely didn’t want to throw the baby out, but I’d be damned if I was gonna let my kids get comfortable in that bathwater!

“Your RIGHT, Abba,” he suddenly said, jolting me out of my reservations.

“What? You agree?”

“No, not exactly. I just said you’re right that it’s not the best part of this derech (pathway of piety) that boys walk around with filthy talleisim ketanim. Still, I ask you to let me keep it out, because the embarrassment of being different will be worse!”

Whew. Now THAT’s one honest child. It certainly stymied the flow of my reproach. Could it be that I was also right and also wrong? And was the right part tainted by my own, projected horror at the possibility of living a life of stained holiness? I mean, perhaps the thought of holiness equaling cleanliness is one big fantasy schlepped over from the Xn culture in which I was raised??

These are questions I haven’t yet resolved and I’d be most pleased to hear some thoughts on the matter from others who’ve grappled with it.

How Does One Determine Appropriate Parental Control?

Many BTs were brought up in an environment of very permissive parenting and have witnessed the perils of such an approach. In the Torah world, there are clearer distinctions between proper and improper conduct and much closer guidance between parent and child. However this can lead to an over-exertion of control and BTs may be more susceptible to this, due to their lack of Torah guided parental models in their lives.

The general question is how does one determine appropriate parental control?

Let’s try to focus on a few specific questions.

– Should you steer your children away from friends whom you deem inappropriate?
– How much of a homework helper should you be?

Obviously these are not yes/no questions, but sharing your thoughts and experiences would be helpful.

For a good article on this subject, see Relinquishing Control – The difficult art of letting go. by Rabbi Noach Orlowek.

Rabbi Horowitz has an article on “Bad Friends”.

And so it begins…

My oldest daughter, turns 5 this summer. That means it’s time to start kindergarten. Before we were married, my wife and I had discussed schooling. I was raised in public schools and thought they were excellent. She was raised in private schools, and the only thing she had heard about public schools were all the problems reported on the news. Still, I had told her at the time that I wasn’t saying ‘No’ to private school, I just wanted to consider all the options. Especially since we now live in an area that has excellent (nationally ranked) public schools. People move to our neighborhood so that their kids will go to the local elementary, junior, and senior high schools.

After we were married and had our current two daughters, and I started becoming more religious, I saw more value in the private schools. Not so much because of problems with public schools (I still think they are very good), but because I wanted my girls to get a richer Jewish education than I had received. They are both in the local Chabad preschool, and are quickly absorbing material that I’m still struggling with myself. (e.g.

So now come the hard decisions. Where we are located, there are basically 4 choices for schooling:

1) Public school – No Jewish education, and would have to do the “Kids need Yom Tovs off, no food other than what we provide, etc.” dance pretty often.

2) Local Jewish Day School – There is a local Jewish Day School. However, it was developed by many people in the area and while it’s a good school, it’s not at as high a religious level as what we wanted for our kids.

3) Send to more religious Jewish Day Schools – There are a few Jewish Day Schools that are more religious, but they are not as local. The travel time during “rush hour” is about an hour each way, assuming no major incidents. Our neighbor does this with their current kindergartener, but others in our community wait until the kids are a little older before putting them through such a commute. On the other hand, the neighbor’s son does seem to learn a great deal there.

4) A new school – A few families in our community are working with our shul to see if we can start up a new program, initially at the kindergarten level, maybe to go up to first or second grade. It would be a more religious focus than the local JDS, but a smaller group of people, an untested program, and is currently still struggling to get organized.

We are still working on deciding what we will do. The application for the local JDS is due this month. We haven’t even checked when applications are due at the schools farther away, but really don’t want to see our 5 year old commuting that long. Our best hope is with the new school, and we are participating in meetings and all, but are afraid of putting all our eggs in one incomplete, untested basket. We’ll probably apply for the local JDS, but if the new school does fly, go over there. Hopefully we would know before the various payments are due.

I usually try to have a nice neat conclusion/learning experience at the end of my write ups, but this one is still very open ended. However, if anyone has suggestions/comments, I welcome them.

My Elementary-Aged Kids are Smarter than Me!

The BT journey is a humbling one. On the one hand, you become convinced that Hashem did write the Torah, and he chose YOU and your family to carry out its mission. You come to feel that G-d does care what goes into your mouth, what is spoken by your tongue, and even, whether or not you fast on Yom Kippur. But just in case you start feeling too arrogant, there’s nothing like the embarrassment of not being able to help your kindergartner with homework to bring you right down to size.

Along the journey of the past ten years there have been thousands of moments when I have felt just plain stupid. When I didn’t know the words to pray, or that I should be standing up when I prayed them. When I sewed up all the slits on my long skirts in an inspired, momentary, desire to dress frum enough for my black-hat, wigged, shul, only to realize after the fact that those slits are put into these skirts for a reason! When I’ve asked a question of my Rav, only to reveal how little I really knew about the subject at hand, as he asked probing questions. Oh, the list goes on and on. But no list of embarrassing moments reads as long as the itemization of each and every time that my ineptitude in Hebrew made it impossible for me to assist my children in school, or the way I want to slink down into my seat when I attend “meet the teacher night” and I can’t really understand what the Hebrew teacher is giving over.

As we now school the children in Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion in Piscataway, NJ, half the student body is frum from birth with parents the same, and the other half are like my kids – their parents may be BT’s, but these kids are already fluent in Rashi and able to converse in Hebrew at the Shabbos table. We parents all look the part, as if we’ve been observant for generations, but some of us are trying to learn a few choice Hebrew words we can slide into the conversation so that our lack of learning isn’t plastered all over our foreheads like a billboard. A few Yiddish words, interspersed with a few of the more common Hebrew expressions bantered about, and hopefully, we’ll “pass.”

Until one of my children, maybe aged 11-years old, comes crying to me and says, “Mom, I don’t understand my homework!”. Or I go to shul on a Shabbos that has something different about it, and I’m lost in the service, flipping the pages of my siddur back and forth and trying to figure out where I am, and where the rest of the community is. And then, despite all of my learning, and commitment, and ongoing efforts to make up for my lack of yeshiva education, I am red-faced again, experiencing what I now call one of those “BT moments!”

I’ll share with you how deep this insecurity can run sometimes. I was a professional speaker for a Gateways seminar, and was both delighted and nervous to be receiving this honor. I had recently published my book, “What do you mean, you can’t eat in my home?” and I was there to help other BT’s deal with family issues that have arisen because of increased observance. It was candle lighting time, and perhaps fifty women were standing in front of a large table of tea lights, ready to light. I couldn’t get my tea light to light. No matter how hard I tried, the flame would not ignite the wick. Meanwhile, ladies were waiting behind me for their opportunity. In a flash, I experienced one of those “BT moments”. It went something like this in my head: “Here I am, such a stupid BT, I don’t even know how to light one of these stupid candles. I bet this never happens to FFB’s!”

Now of course, this kind of self-talk is crazy. My problem was with my candle, not my technique, or my lack of learning. It was just a bad habit, for me to sink into momentary despair at my stupidity.

I’d like to tell you that these moments don’t happen for me anymore. But that would be a lie. They still happen frequently, but when they do, I try to snap myself out of them quicker. If I sink into despair, I refocus my attention either, away completely from the topic, or, I make myself think of something I have accomplished, rather than what I have not, or, never will, accomplish.

I will never learn enough Hebrew to keep up with my kids. Thank G-d. We have sacrificed so much, my husband and I, so that our kids will far surpass us in their Jewish learning. My husband takes great pride in the fact that our 9-year old son is starting to give him a run for his money. My kids know that Mom can’t help them with their Hebrew homework, but they also know that she puts out a beautiful Shabbos table, that people in the community think of her as a woman who does chesed, and that she really lives by her firm commitment not to speak loshon hora. I know they are embarrassed by me sometimes. But really, what kid isn’t embarrassed by a parent from time to time? I should be rejoicing that their embarrassment is because of my lack of Hebrew background, rather than raising a household of kids who could care less.

When I cry, and I do, in those moments when I feel just too stupid to pull off this journey and do it well, this is what I believe I must think. How wonderful that I am in a place in my life where those tears arise, when I can cry about what I do not know, rather than being in a place where I have not a clue what it is that I am missing. There was a time I never shed a tear about what I’ve missed out in my Hebrew learning. That’s far sadder than all the times I now cry because for me, it really is too late to catch up. Yes, I know, Rabbi Akiva didn’t start till age 40. Yes, I know, theoretically, it’s never too late. But it is, for me, too late for some things. I’m too old to have another baby. I’m too fat to fit into sized-eight clothes. My bunions hurt too much now for me to walk ten miles. I’m not going to learn Rashi, and my kids have learned to ask their friends and teachers for help with homework. I can’t do it all, and some of it, I can’t do very well.

And so be it. Because I’m on the journey, and so are my kids, and maybe I’m bumbling along this road some times, but bottom line, I’m
ON THE ROAD. And really, I hope, that’s what matters.

Cry with me sometimes, and laugh with me. At least we are on this
journey together.

Shepping Nachas From Graduation

When a son or daughter graduates any stage of the yeshiva system in North America, one should contrast it with what passes for Jewish education in the heterodox Jewish community and indeed shep nachas. As a BT, you should have a great degree of nachas that you have raised a son or daughter who probably has a lot more Jewish textual knowledge and appreciation of what a committment to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim are all about. For some students, there is no doubt that ideals such as Achdus take on a more real meaning in summer camps, where divisions and cliques that sometimes develop during the school year can dissipate as a child makes new friends that can last for a lifetime.

It is equally tempting for parents to be triumphalistic if their children did well in school and seem well on their way to becoming Bnei and Bnos Torah-especially if they compare them to relatives whose children do not appear to be headed in that direction. However, I think that while such a view may have a temporary and fleeting sense of achievement, IMO, all a BT parent has to do is to realize that there are so many Jewish adults and children whose knowledge of wnat it means to live as a Jew committed to Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim is based upon either urban myths or stereotypes about Torah Judaism.

Much has been written about the role of yeshivos and seminaries in EY in shaping the committment of American Torah committed high school graduates across the Torah spectrum. I firmly believe that while at one time “the year in Israel” may have been indeed a luxury, that it is a necessity. Like it or not, high school across the range of the hashkafic spectrum often is not that spiritual and the competition for grades and who is in charge of various wholesome extra curricular activities can detract from spiritual growth. It is no coincidence that many students who either were barely committed or went through the motions in their school years discover and develop a love for Torah in EY. Even if your child did well in school in terms of developing on the spiritual, academic and social levels, IMO, in most cases, the student who spends a year or more in a yeshiva or seminary in EY returns afterwards with a far greater committment to Halacha, even if his or her hashkafa may be somewhat different than his or her parents. IMO, the key is not how a child appears or acts upon his or her graduation or departure for EY, but rather their demeanor and appearance in the arrival area after landing at JFK. I have long been of the view that parents who visit their children should not just take them shopping or out for dinner in Jerusalem’s malls and restaurants or provide them with R & R in a hotel room. Rather, a parent should sit in on a shiur, chabura or chavrusa and really attempt to see what their child is accomplishing on a spiritual level. IMO, if more parents participated in their children’s education in this proactive manner, we would hear more nachas about our children and less complaints about the so called “slide to the right.”

An Exchange of Letters With My Daughter

In preparing to move my newly married daughter out of the house I found two letters that we had exchanged a few years ago. The letters were written in the summer of 2001 while Elisheva, between eighth and ninth grades at the time, was away at camp in the Catskill Mountains and are reprinted below with her permission.

Dear Mommy & Abba,

I don’t really know how to start this letter but I guess I’ll try. Approximately a month ago before camp I came to two decisions. They were made on my own; no one put me up to it. It was something I needed to do for myself. I guess I’ll get right to the point. The first thing I decided is that I won’t wear slits anymore. As of now I don’t have any slitted skirts, so I just won’t buy any with slits. The second thing is (to get right to the point) I don’t want to go to the movie theatre anymore. The last few times I went I just sort of cringe and feel like this is not where I belong. I hope you respect and approve these decisions. I don’t expect you to go out of your way for me, for example on Chol Hamoed. I’ll be fine, I’ll go to a friend or whatever. I really love and admire both of you.

Much Love,



Dear Elisheva,

First of all, Happy Birthday! Wow, you’re 14. It’s hard to believe. Seems like yesterday you were clutching your “pillow”. Oh wait, it was yesterday. (he he)

Regarding your letter to us. Not only do we respect and approve of your decision, but we are very proud of you. As parents we can plant the seeds and nurture the growth of your Yiddishkeit, but we don’t know it has taken root until you begin to grow on your own.

As Baalei Teshuva mommy and I both know how important it is to be able to come to observance on one’s own. Before any of you were born we joked how it would be nice if we could raise our children non-frum so they could become Baalei Teshuva on their own.

The truth is though, a Baal Teshuva is not just someone who goes from eating at McDonald’s to eating at KD [Kosher Delight]. Everyone, no matter how “frum”, can and should be a Baal Teshuva.

Some parents worry when their children become “frummer”. We know that you are a very level-headed person who can tell the difference between true growth in Yiddishkeit and a lot of the “Shtus” out there that people pretend is being “frum”. You also know that Frumkeit is not just on the outside, but also the type of person you are and how you represent Yiddishkeit to other Jews and even non-Jews.

We look forward to watching your continued growth into a true Bas Torah.


Abba & Mommy

FFB Children of BTs Part I

Last year, we were zocheh to host Rabbi Lazer Brody for our first Beyond BT melava malka. As my wife and I were discussing my plans for getting to Passaic motzei shabbos, our (now 14 year old) daughter asked to come along. My wife and I had previously decided that we wouldn’t be bringing any of the kids (even though this daughter is probably more mature than I am) and we jokingly told her “Sorry, it’s only for BTs”. She immediately responded “Yeah, but I have BT blood”. The kid is right.

BTs raising their FFB children face many, many challenges such as balancing how much of their past to reveal to their children, keeping up with their children’s studies and walking the tightrope of relations with non-frum relatives. But, in my humble opinion, FFB children raised by BT parents tend to exhibit a certain indescribable quality. Those BTs among us who have been zocheh to have children know that the challenge of BTs raising FFBs is a unique one. It is at times, daunting, rewarding, hilarious and, let’s face it, often downright scary.

I do not profess to be a parenting expert or an expert parent. I do profess to be a parent and to having many BT friends who are parents. In a way, I guess that qualifies me to discuss this issue. In this piece, I intend to highlight some of the major parenting issues and challenges facing BT parents, as I see them. Feel free to disagree, I’m sure you will:) .

In order to write a piece of this length, it helps to use acronyms. However, I haven’t yet stumbled upon a good acronym for children of BTs (I’ve tried SOBs [sons/daugher of Baalei Tesuva], too heavy with negative connotation, FFPs [frum from parents], too lacking in any personal input or choice on the part of the child and FFBBDBPBT [frum from birth but different because parents are baalei teshuvah], just too long. So, for the purpose of this piece, I will call them CBTs (children of Baalei Teshuvah).

My personal take is that well adjusted CBTs combiine the best of both worlds. They often have the bren and entusiasm that BTs are famous for (no, that does not mean that FFBs do not have enthusiasm) and the formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure of an FFB (no, that does not mean that BTs don’t have formal learning, schooling, skills and social structure). There is often a seriousness of purpose and an acceptance of Jewish responsibility that is not always found in non-CBTs. I recognize that this is an extreme generalization so let’s just say that CBTs have the potential to synthesize the best of the BT world and the best of the FFB world. We often decry the rift between the FFB and BT worlds and the challenges of BT integration and/or acceptance. CBTs have the opprtunity to integrate without shedding the positive aspects of a BT outlook. In life, the greatest potentialities walk hand-in-hand with the greatest potential pitfalls. Let’s identify some of these potential pitfalls and some possible approaches for avoiding them.

Great Expectations and Vicarious Living

Some BTs bemoan “lost time”, meaning that they feel like they wasted a good portion of their lives doing non-Torah things. A symptom of this “lost time” syndrome is that one might feel, perhaps subconsciously, that since their children were born into frum homes, they will direct their lives in such a manner as they think they would have lived if they were born into frum homes. One might also think that each of his children should be the gadol hador as opposed to being the best chaim or chaya he\she can be, living up to their personal potential and not to our “wannabe” dreams. The result of this vicarious parenting approach is often undue pressure, unrealistic expectations and the squelching of individuality.

Perhaps, the best way to address this issue is by first addressing it in our own lives. In addition to the parenting problems mentioned above, this “lost tim e” syndrome can be depressing and debilitating. I think that two approaches can help in that regard.

1. I have a family member who is a giores (convert). Shortly after she was megayer (converted), she told her Rav that she felt like she had wasted her whole life chasing sheker (falsehood). The Rav responded that Bnai Yisroel spent 40 years wandering in the desert before reaching Eretz Yisrael. It was 40 years of complaining, wrong turns and sins. That 40 years was necessary in order for Bnai Yisroel to reach the “holy land”. They couldn’t have gotten there without it. He continued, “You couldn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten to yiddishkeit if it weren’t for your own wanderings. “

2. The other approach was laid out by Rabbi Brody. Rabbi Brody says that we have to realize that we were born into non-frum families because that’s exactly where Hashem wanted us born. To quote Rabbi Brody “what, there wasn’t enough room for you in a family in Boro Park or Bnei Brak?!”. Along with that understanding comes the fact that Hashem determined that you be born into a non-frum family in order to grow from that and to bring something different, something special to the frum world.

Coming to terms with our own uniqueness and individual role will help us to appreciate and foster the individuality of our children, thereby avoiding vicarious parenting.

Stigmatism and Pomposity

I find that there is an interesting dichotomy in how many BTs view themselves. Some feel as if they are second class citizens and will do anything to hide the fact that they are BTs (that is not to say that all BTs who are very discrete about the fact that they are BTs do so for this reason and that there are never good reasons to do so). Others wear their BT status as a badge of pride. This can also be detrimental when taken to extremes. The way we view ourselves and our frumkeit is usually picked up by our children. BTs who are embarrassed that they are BTs will have children who may feel inferior or not as good as their non-CBT peers. On the flip side, BTs who take an extreme, unhealthy pride in their BT status can expect their children to develop a hloier-than-thou attitude toward their non-CBT peers.

The way to address this potential pitfall is by developing in our selves a healthy attitude toward our BT status. I would suggest that such an approach would be “I am happy that I am a BT because that is what Hashem has chosen for me and He doesn’t make mistakes. I am happy that I was zocheh to become frum and that I have tremendous opportunities for growth. Being a BT, in and of itself, doesn’t make me better or worse than the next guy. It simply means that I have different challenges and potential. The world needs FFBs and the world needs BTs.” If we take that attitude, our children will incorporate it in their lives allowing them to avoid both stigmatism and pomposity.