Family First Letters

At Family First, we hope to inspire, educate, and entertain. But it’s not a one-way street. One of the liveliest sections in the magazine is the Inbox, where readers weigh in, sharing their own insights, advice, questions, and experiences.
Here, readers share their reactions to Family First articles and reader feedback.
What do you think? Join the conversation. 
Family First Readers |
August 4, 2020
LAST UPDATED 3 years ago

Comments (73)

  1. Avatar

    The cover article regarding financial health at all stages of life was important and informative.
    Yet I was stunned to read in a Torah publication the suggestion that a spouse contemplating divorce should maintain a financial diary including “off the books” income not reported on a tax return. Keeping income “off the books” is not a tax strategy. It is fraudulent, illegal, and called tax evasion. To assume that this is commonplace enough in our community to be worthy of mention is horrifying. Being an ohr l’goyim means not only are we charged to illuminate the world through Torah, but that when the spotlight glares upon us, the umos ha’olam see nothing even resembling a chillul Hashem.

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    S.G.’s letter was beautiful. As someone who also lost the chance to have more children at a young age, I deeply related to the sentiments expressed in the original Words Unspoken, and appreciated S.G.’s desire to comfort her by telling her that this is not her “last” child — soon she will have grandchildren. Since she herself knows the pain we’ve gone through, and is coming from a place of understanding and true empathy, I was able to hear it from her. But I would like to point out that when someone is desperately longing for another child of her own, and is still young, surrounded by friends and relatives having one baby after another, assuring her that she’ll have grandchildren one day feels not only hollow but invalidating.
    When I was told that, I felt like screaming, “I don’t want a grandchild, I want my own child!” Please don’t brush o or cover over someone’s brutal pain of knowing she’ll never bring another baby into the world, the ache that lodges itself in her heart, never to fully dissipate. Please don’t give me comfort that ignores what I want most of all.

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    I felt compelled to write after reading Sober and Scared’s question about whether to share his struggles with alcohol addiction with a shadchan. I too questioned what to share and how to share and with whom to share when I fi rst started dating. You see, I never experienced alcoholism, but I went through a trauma at a young age and grew severely depressed. As the years went on, I turned to selfdestructive behaviors to help calm the raging emotions that I was feeling. Baruch Hashem, I’ve been on a path of healing and today am a healthy and functional member of society. When I fi rst met with shadchanim, I didn’t share specifi c details with them, but I did share with them that I went to a treatment center at the direction of my rav. Months passed and I didn’t receive a single suggestion from the shadchanim. Eventually I started getting suggestions, few and far between, but I didn’t know how to navigate them with my unique circumstance. I felt badly that I wasn’t being completely open about my situation. But I also knew that the more I share, the less likely it was that any guy would agree to go out with me. I fi nally decided to ask a rav what my obligations are, in terms of what to say to shadchanim and potential dates. With his guidance, I feel more confi dent about how to navigate this challenging time. My rav advised me not to share any details with shadchanim that I meet, and not to share anything with a guy until things get more serious. I still get nervous about being rejected because of my challenges, but I have my rav’s brachah that calms my nerves a bit. Sober and Scared, I highly recommend that you reach out to a rav who knows your situation and who can advise you in this sensitive matter. Once you open up to shadchanim about your struggles, the reality is that you will be considered “damaged goods” and the suggestions you receive may not seem relevant or appropriate to you. Before you go this route, ask your rav how to navigate the situation in order to ensure that you have the best chances of fi nding your bashert. May Hashem bentsh you that you fi nd your bashert at the right time, and that she will accept you just as you are, regardless of your past challenges.

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    I was very moved by Adina Lover’s story “Mind You,” about a woman, Reva, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and thought it was an excellent piece of writing. I was so surprised, therefore, to open up the Family First and find a negative letter about it. The author of the letter contends that the story should not have been published since it has no purpose, because one could not prepare for such an event, may it not happen to any of us.
    While that may be true, I feel the letter writer is leaving out an important point — which is that a story like “Mind You” helps those who are tasked with the challenging job of caring for individuals with memory impairment.
    When I was in college, I worked part-time one semester at an assisted living home. I was asked to spend most of my time with one resident in particular who was having trouble adapting to her surroundings as her memory was failing. This resident and I built up a nice rapport and warm relationship, as she told me stories about her childhood and appreciated that I was frum.
    Then, one day, I was asked to accompany her to a doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, as we entered the doctor’s office, she forgot who I was. She became combative and started screaming at me to leave. She told the office staff that she didn’t know who I was and that they should call the police. They wisely called her son, who came to take over and apologized to me profusely. I told him there was no need to apologize, and I felt terrible for him that he had to see his mother like that.
    I’m sharing this because the anecdote in “Mind You” where Reva reprimanded her daughter for wearing her late bubby’s jewelry brought this incident to mind. It’s crucial that anybody caring for somebody with memory impairment understands that the person is genuinely confused at that moment. They honestly think you are doing something wrong to them. Adina Lover’s writing brought that out beautifully. It is so difficult, when one is in a situation like that as a caregiver, to be able to take a deep breath and realize that the yelling and lashing out has nothing at all to do with you. It’s difficult, but it’s necessary.

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    I heard the longing in the voice of the woman who dreamed of entering into Shabbos with a calm house prepared by chatzos. She courageously stepped forward with all her best intentions, and it didn’t go as planned the first week she tried. She ended with, “My dream is still there, hovering in the air. But for now, I choose to live in reality.”
    There is great power and hope in the word, “Yet.” Not yet. Don’t give up on your dream to transform the way that you feel on Friday afternoons, and throughout the entire week.
    I am now in my 14th year of preparing for Shabbos before chatzos. It wasn’t easy for me either in the first year, until I figured out my own way that works for me, and I made it a habit. Chatzos is my normal. But it takes time to reach that place. I have spoken to hundreds of women with this same dream. I never suggest that chatzos preparation is for everyone.
    I’ve never met a woman who couldn’t manifest that dream into reality if it’s what she wants to do. The first week you try, it may not go as planned. That’s the beauty of Shabbos. It comes around every week to give us another chance! I’ll help you if I can — email Chatzoslady@gmail.com. It’s not impossible. It’s not even hard once you get the hang of it. Don’t give up on yourself and your dream. Hashem will help you — and so will I!

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    I have never written into a magazine before, but when I read “Mind You” by Adina Lover, I knew this would be my first time. The way the writer took the reader on a journey together with the woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was awe-inspiring and eye-opening. I genuinely felt that I was losing my wits and ability to trust myself.
    The article particularly hit home for me. My great-grandmother a”h, too, had a swift decline from when she received the diagnosis. It was excruciating to watch this proud, well dressed woman consumed by this cruel, confusing monster known as dementia. But what was yet more painful to witness was when she had clear moments, and was embarrassed by her confusion. When we called, she stopped asking after the children by name and started saying “How is your eldest son?” out of fear of getting it wrong.
    I am very grateful to Family First for featuring the other perspective, giving us a glimpse into the minds of our suffering loved ones.

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    Yael Zoldan’s musings about the questions her kids ask her had me in tears of laughter. It actually came just hours after an incident where my three oldest kids had been bombarding me with questions about meteor showers and craters. I frantically ran to my room where my husband was resting and told him it was urgent that he come save me, as I didn’t know a single answer to their questions!
    Since my oldest was a toddler, she has been an avid question-asker, and mostly the unanswerable type. Why did Hashem make Arabs? How do we get to Shamayim when we die? Where do bugs sleep? Who turns on the street lamps? Where does all the garbage go? Do birds blink? The other children soon followed her example, resulting in me developing my almost-fixed answer: “I don’t know; ask Tatty. This is his department.” They smile, mostly amused, usually placated for the moment.
    I have found that for some children, there is a sense of relief; if Mommy doesn’t know, it’s okay if we don’t have the answer either. And that is what keeps my ego intact each day as they, baruch Hashem, relentlessly pepper me with questions that make me feel super inadequate. (Why do we have dreams? Who buried Hitler? Why do you say “you’re making me nuts”, why not “making me kugel??”)

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    I was struck by the irony (or Hashgachah) of Mrs. Faigy Peritzman mentioning in her Parshah column the long-forgotten minhag Yisrael of the kallah’s family bentshing her with the words of Lavan to Rivka, “Achoseinu, at hayei l’alfei revava” the very week that the rosh yeshivah, Rav Dovid Feinstein ztz”l was on the cover of the main issue, the week of his petirah. This minhag was very close to the Rosh Yeshivah’s heart; he was distressed that a minhag that had been part of our mesorah for centuries fell to the wayside in recent generations, and he wanted it reinstated. He asked a talmid, Rabbi Eliezer Chait, to compose a song with these words that people would sing at the badeken.
    The magnificent song was recorded by Eitan Katz and Baruch Levine and has now gone viral, and it was Rav Dovid’s hope that the minhag would be returned to Klal Yisrael. In fact, just three days after Rav Dovid’s levayah, on the Wednesday of his shivah, I attended the badeken of the daughter of the menahel of MTJ, Rav Dovid’s yeshivah, and the kallah’s family sang these words. I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room.
    As I read the column, I had chills thinking about the fact that Faigy must have written this weeks before Rav Dovid’s petirah, and had no idea that mentioning a minhag so dear to his heart would coincide with the week of his shivah.

  9. Avatar
    Faigy Peritzman

    The last line of Rochel Ellman’s article, “I’m afraid my time will never come,” must have resonated with many. It’s the tiny fearful voice in any nisayon that worries us that perhaps the yeshuah will never come.

    With that in mind, I’d like to inform the public of a worldwide Tehillim initiative geared to shidduchim. Anyone who would like to participate (open to all, not limited to singles) can submit a name for davening for a shidduch and receive a perek of Tehillim to be said once a week. It will only take a few moments, but it may be the extra push to tilt the balance for good.

    May this achdus b’tefillah be a zechus for all of those in need. To join this project, please email tefillahanon@gmail.com

    With a brachah of yeshuos k’heref ayin to all,

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    As an older single I can certainly identify with the daily struggle to silence what Rochel Ellman deems “the greatest fear” as I attempt to live my life with joy and fulfillment despite my current situation. As someone working in the field of Jewish education for over ten years, I’ve found myself in the exact predicament that Rochel describes, multiple times. While I am truly happy for each new kallah, I’ve also learned to hide my tears in plain sight (not an easy feat when working with older elementary-aged students).

    In her piece, Rochel highlights a sentiment that is acutely felt by singles and those around them — the awkwardness of not knowing how to best relate to a single in potentially painful situations.

    A wise mentor once told me that as soon as someone feels that they have to “mind their p’s and q’s” around you, your relationship with them will never be the same. I have found this advice to be true, and so I’ve adopted a policy of frankness. For example, when it became clear that my assistant was heading toward engagement and she felt ready to have a conversation, I expressed my joy while at the same time having an honest discussion about the ambivalence of feeling happy for another while simultaneously experiencing intense feelings of longing. From that moment on, the awkwardness and uneasiness dissipated, and we continued to have candid discussions about both of our experiences throughout her engagement and newlywed periods. We remain friends to this day.

    The notion of being straightforward and not allowing single status to become “the elephant in the room” is something that I feel fortunate to have experienced in my interactions with my “bystander” colleagues. Another such example occurred the night after the aforementioned assistant announced her engagement. I received a text message from a colleague simply saying, “I am sorry that you are going through this. I am here for you.” There was something about the straightforwardness and sincerity of that simple message that really touched me. It was exactly what I needed.

    No one wants to be single, but changing our mindset regarding singles can prevent a great deal of pain and heartache. The reluctance to be straightforward when relating to singles sends an unspoken message that there is a measure of shame inherent in this challenge, when in truth the prolonged struggle to find one’s bashert is no different than any other nisayon and should be treated as such.

    If our community can learn to acknowledge that being single, though a painful reality, is not tragic but is in fact the best possible existence for those whom Hashem chose to put in that position, we will be displaying our emunah in Hashem’s unique plan for each of His creations. Perhaps in that merit we will be zocheh to see the yeshuos that we are so desperately hoping for.

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    Ester Jakabovits

    Dear Tzipporah Bar-Lev,

    With tears in my eyes for a mommy who longs to erase her child’s pain with her embrace, I want to echo your son’s comparison of you and Rochel Imeinu. Your courage to share a journey most people keep in the recesses of their hearts may very well be at the root of Rochel’s courage to do the “unpopular, risky thing, to give over the simanim to her sister.

    In your act, in sharing your journey toward bringing your son to a psych ward, you may have given words to others who are too afraid to speak, camaraderie to those who don’t know how. On the yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu, which recently passed, I davened for your special son.

    How do I know he’s special? Because his is obviously a sensitive neshamah, feeling things at a frequency most of us don’t. Perhaps his soul lacks the dressing, curtain, mechitzah, that allows us to function in this world, but gives him no rest.

    Sending you continued strength,

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    Rosally Saltsman

    I read the article “I’m Stuck,” but the responses to the woman’s dilemma — in both the article and the subsequent inbox letters — seem to lack any amount of validation. We hear you, we understand your pain but you can overcome it if you just…

    Do people not realize that Am Yisrael is composed of 12 different tribes with different critical attributes and holy purposes? The tribes were allowed to intermarry and when they did so the women went to live in another tribe — another community.

    I live in Israel in a neighborhood with at least 11 shuls within a three-to-five-minute walk from my apartment but they all cater to different groups of people: Sephardic, Yemenite, Ashkenazi, chareidi, chassidic, dati-leumi Torani, chardal, Carlebach. And everyone chooses the shul he wants to go to and it’s not necessarily the one you would expect or the one other members of his family go to.

    If a woman is feeling sad and frustrated with her spiritual framework because she feels it’s suffocating her and her true spiritual expression, telling her she has to learn to live with it is not a good or fair solution. If a child is suffering and unhappy at his school, do you tell him to live with it or try and find a more appropriate school? If someone is in a job they find constricting, do you tell them, “No, you have to work at this job for the rest of your life?” Of course not.

    Shlomtzy Weiss tells the woman, “Your soul has accepted this challenge.” Would she tell the same thing to a baal teshuvah who’s interested in becoming religious, “Your soul has accepted this challenge — stay where you are, this is essential to your purpose in this world?” And don’t baalei teshuvah have a choice as to which community they align themselves with? Why shouldn’t people born religious have that choice?

    Obviously if the letter writer is a chassidish woman married with children, living in an insular community, she can’t say to her husband, “Let’s go move to a religious moshav in Israel.” (Or can she?) But what we can do as a people is to realize that not one size fits all. The same way that baalei teshuvah seek their spiritual path that leads them to Torah-true Judaism, those born into religious families often seek a different path than the one they were born into, and we should validate that need and help guide them to the right mentors.

    In a book I wrote, Soul Journey, there was a story about an unhappy yeshivah bochur whose rosh yeshivah sent him to a chassidic community where he thought he would find simchah. He does. This probably couldn’t have happened at the beginning of chassidus, but it can happen now. And the opposite is true as well.

    Choosing a different community to align yourself with might be difficult, but not allowing someone to explore the possibility can have devastating results that may reverberate through generations. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing but we do have to validate who and what people are at their core. Seeking change isn’t always the yetzer hara at work. Sometimes it’s davka the neshamah.

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      I wanted to add my thoughts to the letter “I’m Stuck,” written by a chassidish woman who does not feel spiritually fulfi lled in her community, and the ensuing responses. The letter resonated deeply with me as a fellow chassidish woman, although my struggles
      vis-à-vis the chassidus I belong to are very different. Nevertheless, the underlying feelings and emotions of being different and not relating to the other women in my community are the same. As the responses so beautifully suggested, it is possible to remain in the same place and still access that which is missing. But for many years, I still struggled with this feeling of being disconnected with my community.
      I had this underlying feeling of “If only I had been part of somewhere else, it would all have been better, I wouldn’t have had to go
      through so much pain, etc.” I even had these thoughts and feelings validated by choshuve people when I sought their counsel. Much inner work over the passage of time has taught me a thing or two. There is no such a thing as, “It could have been prevented somewhere else.” I am exactly where I am meant to be in order to go through whatever I need to to fulfi ll my tafkid.
      The pain I’ve been through and the journey I’ve made is not because I belong to a particular chassidus, but because Hashem wanted me to go through this growth journey. Therefore, He planted me here, exactly where I belong. The former train of thought leads to feelings of being a victim. And as long as a person feels that way, she can never fully make peace and reach a true place of yishuv hadaas. Wishing all women (and men) the clarity and inner peace that comes with knowing you are exactly where you’re meant to be.

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    Nechama Burnham

    The last story in your theme collection What I Reaped totally took my breath away — because of Chana’s beautiful, elegant response to her husband’s announcement that he was leaving kollel, and how her courage, wisdom and real emunah heralded a turnabout. I’d like to share a turnabout that we experienced.

    This is a story about a young woman, Nechama Leah, with seven adorable and precocious children (my grandchildren!). We will skip the first chapters, seven months with few outlets for boundless energy, and the revolving-door nature of quarantine for one child after another… and back again. We will only highlight the picture of Mommy, six-week-old baby in arms, conducting the Seder herself, because the usual baal haSeder was in quarantine in his room. Suffice it to say, the parents’ efforts to keep it together, and with good cheer, were impressive.

    But then the couple came down with corona over Succos, despite all their precautions. Coronavirus, you may know, can sap one’s strength completely, and cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms. The absolute worst scenario for Nechama Leah was not being able to go to shul on Simchas Torah, and bask in the rarefied light from her husband’s beatific face, not to see her children rejoicing with the Torah. Nechama Leah is a full partner in her husband’s Torah, giving up his company and his help so that he can learn, and she takes infinite pride in every siyum of his and the children, making a real occasion of these milestones. And now, to be locked out of this simchah? That would be the ultimate “potch in panim,” a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way to spend Simchas Torah.

    Imagine my surprise when I called Motzaei chag to hear my son cheerfully answer the phone. Yes, they were feeling much better. And they’d had a very special Simchas Torah! They were able to see/hear various minyanim out the window. But the most beautiful part of the day was when the parents and children made their own hakafos around their dining room table, each child holding a Chumash, singing with spirit and fervor. The hakafos went on for over an hour, and for once in her life, the mother could sing and dance with her children and husband. Everyone could hold hands, they could sing lustily, unencumbered by masks. They could put all the ahavah and achvah of their family, and the lessons of emunah and ahavas Hashem the parents had taught their children, into their relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam and His precious Torah.

    Nechama Leah said it was positively the best Simchas Torah of her life, an unforgettable, unbelievable, incredibly uplifting, very inspiring day.

    And that is what they reaped.

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    Miriam Silver’s “The Yizkor Club” resonated deeply with my experience in joining the “club” this year. Reading her article was validating and enlightening at the same time.
    This Yom Kippur was my second time saying Yizkor, but it was my first time saying it in a regular shul. When the girls and women began filing out of shul, I was surprised to note that my heart was pounding. I was nervous. I was scared that the ladies next to me would forget that I belonged in shul for Yizkor this year. I was shy to be there when I was clearly so many years younger than everyone else in the room. I was scared that I would say the wrong thing. My father didn’t teach me how to say Yizkor before he passed away.
    As I whispered the tefillah amid the eerie silence in the shul (and probably, like Miriam, also said things that I shouldn’t have), I asked myself a few times if I was really supposed to be there. Maybe Tatty is alive? But he’s not. The realization shocked me, as it does every time, and I struggled to hold back my tears.
    As we finished saying the tefillah, a woman sitting near me murmured words of comfort in my ear and a woman on the other side of me seemed to wordlessly take upon herself the role of my caretaker for the rest of Yom Kippur, telling me to sit down when I looked tired and offering me a sweater when I was cold.
    So, although I felt like I didn’t belong amongst the “people who stay inside for Yizkor”, and I wish I didn’t belong there, I know that these women are not just the other Yizkor stayers (is that a word?). They’re people who have lost loved ones and they get, in some way or another, what I’m going through now as I go through my first year of saying Yizkor for my father.
    Thank you Miriam for putting your — our — experience into words, so that I can remember when I say Yizkor next YomTov that although our experience is not always spoken about, it’s definitely shared.

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    Leba Friedman

    Thank you, Mrs. Weinberg, for the truly inspirational Touch Base column that illustrated a strong awareness of today’s struggles about oversharing. Mrs. Weinberg briefly mentioned one point which I believe warrants further discussion in some forum.
    Today’s girls are taught in a basic, cursory way about the issur of (even minimal) public displays of affection with their spouse. Somehow, for many, it goes in one ear and then, once married, out the other. The sensitivity never has a chance to develop, as virtually all of their friends are posting these types of pictures, or worse, acting that way regularly in public, too. Often, couples would never strike such poses or behave in such ways in the presence of others, but in a picture (and professional shoots are their best opportunity, read: excuse), they think, what’s the big deal? This is a tragically unfortunate chillul Hashem.
    As Mrs. Weinberg writes, there are sources that explain that this is an explicit issur, not just an admirable chumra. Anything you wouldn’t do to the cashier guy at the grocery store, yes, that’s already considered negiyas chibah, affectionate touch, i.e. halachically off-limits. The Rema’s example of affectionate touch is when a husband checks his wife’s hair for lice, or she checks his. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that anything more “touchy” than lice-checking is an open, clear violation of halachah, and a surefire way to perpetuate a sadly growing trend.

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    Miriam Adahan

    The women who responded to “I’m Stuck” were all eminently wise and empathetic, all pointing out that truly spiritual people will feel alone, to some degree. As Miriam Kosman stated, “Spiritually aware, sensitive people often feel lonely, [simply because] most people aren’t that interested in their inner world.” It doesn’t matter where you go, truly spiritual people are vexed by those who emphasize the superficial aspects of a religious life.

    Rabbi YY Jacobson, in The TorahAnytime, July 20, 2020, tells us that the letters of Sodom are the same as Mosad (institution). Our Sages tell us that the citizens of Sodom had a bed by which they measured their guests. If the body was too long, they cut off the feet. If the body was too short, the person was stretched. Unfortunately, sometimes institutions are oppressive, forcing everyone to conform, causing a loss of individuality and independence.

    On the other hand, as the writers said, the feeling of belonging, the shared ideals and the safety of a predictable structure are lost when individual uniqueness is emphasized. Baila Vorhand shows how one can march to one’s own drummer in private, modestly, without making a public stance of rebellion.

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    I read with interest the letter signed Beaten by the Beat, in which she shares how she doesn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her chassidish community. I was struck by curiosity: Which “unique style of growth” does the writer seek? What is it she cannot be?
    I’d appreciate if the writer would clarify which aspect of spirituality she feels is barred to her as a chassidish woman. As a chassidish woman myself, I can’t think how being chassidish could do that to a person. There may be aspects of avodah that chassidim put less focus on, but that doesn’t mean an individual can’t personally improve in that area. You want to be makpid on zeman tefillah, be makpid on zeman tefillah. You want to eat yoshon, eat yoshon. Who’s holding you back?
    The key difference in the avodah of a chassid is the emphasis on doing avodah b’simchah. You don’t like to do mitzvos with simchah? Go ahead, frown.
    I apologize for coming across cynical, and maybe I’m (chassidish-ly) naive, but in my eyes, when someone wishes to “defect” from chassidus, it’s usually a frustration with the many stringencies a chassid lives with. I don’t doubt your deep spiritual aspirations, but I do challenge you to share one aspiration you can’t aspire toward due to a chassid’s boundaries.
    Baila Vorhand put it so well. “What’s stopping you from listening to shiurim by this rav, learning seforim that reflect his teachings, and incorporating the ideals you identify with in your daily life?” If she’s a Satmar chassid and doesn’t like the position against women learning Tanach, I’m pretty sure her rav will allow her to learn whatever she chooses to learn.
    A chassidish life is rich and fulfilling. Yes, chassidim live with many boundaries. We’re more makpid on tzniyus, we converse in primitive Yiddish, we don’t follow or take any interest in sports. We’re more insular. We’re less comfortable in galus, less exposed.
    If a woman of 2020 admits that being chassidish stifles her, I’m left to assume that it isn’t the spirituality of chassidim that rubs her wrong, but rather the uncomfortable limitations this affiliation imposes on her life. And if this is the case, and it’s a driver’s license or dating life or longer sheitel she craves, she shouldn’t elevate that to spirituality-seeking. That’s lifestyle seeking, and her struggles are not as lofty as she makes them out to be.

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      I found the letter in “I’m Stuck” written by a chassidish woman who didn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her community, fascinating at several levels. As a major fan who avidly followed All I Ask and was blown away by the story’s depth, I loved that a fellow reader so related to one of the key themes of the story.

      As a fellow chassidishe woman, I believe I understood some of the unwritten sentiments between the lines of her letter, and fervently hope that she read every word of the excellent responses and found a workable way forward. Which is why I was somewhat taken aback by the responses printed by other chassidishe women in Family First, particularly the one from ‘A Thinking Yet Unbeaten Adult,’ who expressed skepticism that there is a form of spirituality available in the litvish world that a chassidishe woman could not access, and suggested that she was really seeking lifestyle changes.

      First, I found it interesting that the letter writer jumped straight to the chassidishe/litvish divide, when my impression was that the woman was looking at a different “brand” of chassidish. Are these other chassidish women living under a rock? There are hundreds of possible communities and sub-communities within the very broad definition of “chassidish,” and it’s no secret that in many communities it is considered the height of betrayal to follow a different chassidish mehalech than the one you come from, even if it all looks and sounds the same to a non-chassidish person.

      But beyond that, my educated guess is that the automatic implication of the letter by the “unbeaten adult” — that chassidish equals better, and if you’re not “up to it” then you’re “worse” — is probably one of the things that bothers “I’m Stuck” to begin with. Mrs. Unbeaten Adult exquisitely describes some of the core ideals of chassidus, and she has clearly been blessed with the chinuch that has successfully transmitted these values. But can she honestly say in 2020 that everyone who affiliates as chassidish lives up to these ideals, or is even aware of them? Is she unwilling to acknowledge that there are many chassidish communities where the focus on the “culture” is emphasized much more than any intellectual aspect — for both men and women? That it’s possible today to call oneself chassidish and walk the walk, talk the talk, and reap all the societal benefits, while living a lifestyle that is the antithesis of the very values she specifies?

      On the flip side, does Mrs. Unbeaten Adult really think that chassidim have a monopoly on boundaries that she listed, such as being makpid on tzniyus, not taking an interest in sports, being insular and less comfortable in galus? I have many litvish friends who are paragons of all of those values, and chassidish friends who are not. And vice versa. Drawing these assumptions, and then unfairly judging the writer for “elevating lifestyle seeking to spirituality seeking” completely misses the nuance contained in both the letter and the responses.

      Flippantly suggesting that any supposed issue can easily be resolved by the woman independently taking on practices that are not the norm for her community is ignoring the likelihood that what she’s missing is like-minded peers, and/or the understanding and acceptance within her family unit that her interests are outside the cookie-cutter mold they’re used to.

      So, dear “I’m Stuck,” this one’s for you. While I’m not in your situation, I get where you’re coming from and do not think you’re just looking for a driver’s license. My advice to you would be to study the responses to your letter because every word is gold. The only assumption I would make about you is that you’re still relatively young, and might have found their comments unrealistic or out of touch, but I encourage you to keep an open mind and try some of their suggestions. You may be pleasantly surprised.

    2. Avatar
      Chaya R. Porges

      While I immensely enjoyed the article “I’m Stuck,” with a question written by a chassidish woman who doesn’t feel spiritually fulfilled in her community, I was left extremely confused by a letter written in response.

      The woman in “I’m Stuck” was talking about spiritual growth and connection with Hashem. But the letter writer, who questioned the woman’s sincerity in seeking spiritual connection, seems to equate connection and growth with minhagim or chumras, i.e., yoshon, insularity, zman tefillah, driver’s license, a longer sheitel…

      Connection with Hashem is not necessarily, or should I say only, acquired by the above. Those are details. Some more important details, some less important details, but details nonetheless. With an exception of the point of simchah shel mitzvah, the letter writer did not touch upon one more fundamental aspect of chassidus. Authentic chassidus is full of depth, and a great path to spirituality. I was raised chassidish, and chassidus has been a major catalyst of growth for me.

      I would venture to say that this kind of attitude is what’s alienating and disillusioning women like the original letter writer. If we created a system where chassidus is all about chumras and minhagim, where have we left room for spiritual connection and authentic chassidus?

      I would also like to note that for some reason, whenever there is any negativity or perceived negativity, toward the chassidish system, there will inevitably be a backlash. I fail to understand why acknowledging that we might have an issue is so painful. If the only way we can stay in this system is if we perceive it as flawless, then that would arguably be our biggest flaw of all.

  18. Avatar
    R. S.

    I really appreciated the “I’m Stuck” article and all of the thought-provoking responses. It was particularly interesting to hear from Baila Vorhand, who expressed that she is able to relate to the questioner’s internal dynamics.

    I would, however, like to take issue with one word in the piece. I’m sure this was not Baila’s intent, but writing “not the typical chassidish woman” to describe someone who possesses intellectual and spiritual depth is nothing but derogatory speech.

    Why was the word “chassidish” necessary there? Either these qualities are not typical of any woman — or any individual, perhaps — or they may be present but are not necessarily obvious to others, being that this is a lonely journey. As Rebbetzin Shlomtzy Weiss so beautifully explains, the feeling of being individual, of feeling unique, is less about the external details and more about an internal emotion. The word chassidish in that context only helped feed more into the erroneous stereotype about chassidus, in general, and about chassidish women, in particular. If we see such assumptions in the mainstream media, that’s one thing, but to find it in a frum publication and expressed by a chassidish woman, no less, was hurtful.

    As a chassidish woman who views herself as both intellectual and spiritual, I also found this statement ironic. While many associate chassidus today as a list of garb-related rules, what this approach to Yiddishkeit has actually brought to the world is how to specifically channel intellectual depth and spirituality toward avodas Hashem. I personally know several women who actually connected to chassidus davka because of their intellectual and spiritual profundity. They were yearning for more and found their answers here.

    Chassidish teachings can be helpful to any and all Yidden, regardless of their affiliation. As Miriam Kosman noted, how we connect to Hashem and to our spirituality has little to do with our outer appearance. Anyone, and everyone, can benefit from the direction that works for them. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s vision was not to create an exclusive, insular division of Judaism. Rather, in his desire to help every Yid connect to our Creator, he simply offered a direction in doing so, one that is not mutually exclusive to any affiliation.

    May each of us merit finding the direction we seek in leading a life of spiritual and emotional fulfillment,

    1. Avatar
      Baila Vorhand

      I want to explain why someone would experience their particular chassidish group as being too constricting, since some letter writers had a hard time understanding how this could legitimately be.

      The Baal Shem Tov brought a great light down to this world, one that borrowed from the era of Mashiach. There were two parts to this light. One was a series of revolutionary messages for the simple people — the general population, that stressed, as the letter writer put it, avodah b’simchah — Hashem loves you, He sees the good in you, hope is never lost, every act of effort is treasured, rejoice in being a Jew, etc. Simultaneously, he disseminated deep kabbalistic teachings (which actually serve as the intellectual backbone for the above-mentioned revolutionary messages).

      Among his students, there was a sharp divide whether these teachings should be taught to the masses or reserved for the few and worthy. The Baal HaTanya spread the teachings of abstract, intellectual penimiyus haTorah, while others were sharply opposed. (“Who was right?” Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita asks his bochurim in the Tanya shiur. “Both, of course. For some, the less intellectual, more emotional and practical path is ideal, for others the intellectual-abstract.”) This letter is not the place to explain the reasons for each of these positions, (you can contact me for further explanation) but they deeply affected the type of communities and then dynasties that these tzaddikim and their descendants formed.

      In addition, when chassidus reached a region, it took on the culture of that region, which is why Gur (Poland) is so different from Chabad (Lithuania) and Satmar (Hungary) and Belz (Galicia). In certain of these regions there was a huge emphasis on tzniyus and chumros. Sometimes this emphasis was combined with an ideological opposition to mass dissemination of abstract penimiyus haTorah.

      So, it is very possible for someone to be born into a group that is “rich and fulfilling” for many, that starves and aggravates their souls because of the lack of intellectual profundity in the teachings readily available and its emphasis on stringencies. (Of course, the opposite can also be true. Someone with a more practical nature can feel disenfranchised if the group they are born into stresses only, or mostly, the abstract.)

      Please don’t knock the challenges of other people just because you don’t understand them.

  19. Avatar
    Cindy Romand

    We loved this! It is a “fantastic amazing” story. I keep rereading it to see if I caught all the songs – and keep sharing it with others. Especially in these difficult times we so appreciate the smiles and laughs it brought, as well as the fond memories of beloved songs my family grew up with. Thank you!!

  20. Avatar
    A Big Fan of Abie

    Flipping through last week’s Family First, I hit upon the Family Tempo fiction story. Imagine my delight and pleasure when I “chapped” the story! It was takke a gevalidge zach!
    You truly made my Shabbos.

  21. Avatar
    Shoshana Schwartz

    Thank you for this very important article on the difference between unconditional love and boundary-less love.
    Kids certainly know how to pick up on a parent’s weakness! Children don’t just pick up on the indecision in their mother’s voice, they can sense their emotional energy three floors away. It is our own inner work that helps us acquire the self-confidence to stand our ground, without giving in to fear.
    The article underscores the importance of parents working on their own emotional issues. Too often, women put their own needs on the back burner, investing all their energy in their children_— and none on themselves. What we need to realize is that investing in our own emotional health is actually the best way of promoting our family’s emotional well-being.
    If you are not sure if you are overidentifying with your children, take a week to just observe your own behaviors. Don’t try to change anything, just observe, preferably by taking notes. Are you more lenient with some children then others? Do you shy away from all conflict? Do certain fears, anxieties, or memories surface when doing this exercise? What triggers strong reactions in you? See if any patterns emerge. Then you can decide, perhaps together with an objective party, if your boundaries need firming up or if your emotional health needs a boost.

  22. Avatar
    Gunhold Family

    As longtime Journey’s fans, something we have successfully passed on to our children, we need to share how excited we were to read S. Botnick’s “Journey through Life.” It was an absolutely brilliant piece and made for an interactive reading experience for our entire family as each child kept pointing out one more reference that the rest of us had missed. The interweaving of the plots was skillful and creative, and the thrown-in references were complete genius. (The car dealership from Sheepshead Bay that closed down was absolutely perfect). We hope to see a lot more from this author in the future!
    Thank you for enhancing our Shabbos,

  23. Avatar
    Chana F.

    I always love the parenting-related articles that appear in Family First, and the article about love with boundaries was no exception. I found myself nodding along as it resonated so much with me.
    My oldest child is in that age in between childhood and pre-teen years, and he has an innate independence. As a parent I need to put my foot down about certain things, and that is particularly hard for me. Like the article mentioned, I second guess myself, feeling desperate for him to fit in and allow him to do the things that “all the other kids do.” We’ve had many, many conversations (arguments?) about age-appropriate allowances like bedtime and places he may go on his own. There have been many tears shed on his part.
    The times that I felt energized and strong about my perspective, and did not back down from what I felt was right regardless of what his friends were doing, were the times that the tears disappeared the fastest. And even more importantly, when the tears disappeared, there was a very real sense of calm. Those moments show me that my child needs a mother who displays confidence, not a mother who is flailing and unsure. That makes a child feel insecure and that he is too much to handle, which leads to an unsettling feeling for the child.
    Please keep the parenting articles coming, they are such great reminders of the way I want my home to look!

  24. Avatar
    26 and Single

    Dear 22- year old,
    I hear you.
    I keep telling myself that I’m not old either.
    Because honestly? Am I really actually that old? I still BH have so much of my life in front of me. And R’l I know great girls, women older then me who are still single and I don’t view them as old.
    So no. I’m not old.
    But then I look at my family members and friends having a second child and a third. I see the kids having upsharins and having their first days of school. I think about how many kids my mother had by my age. I see the cousins that started high school when I was in college getting married. I notice how some of my friends no longer know how to have conversations regarding things other than sheitels and strollers. These friends who in the same breath say “maybe you should do this or that, meet this shadchan or that one” and “my husband doesn’t know anyone single who is good enough”. I consider how this Yom Tov, I will once again be in my childhood bedroom instead of the option of making Yom Tov on my own. I hear the whispers when I walk into shul or go to a family simcha of “yeah, I don’t know what to do either”. I think about the BNB that I’ve been meticulously planning and hear the clock ticking on the life that I want to build to be a better eved hashem. I think about how the odds of getting married before 27 feel slimmer and slimmer each day.
    I know that I’m not old, but trust me it doesn’t feel that way.

  25. Avatar
    Alisa Avruch

    I’ve been enjoying the Ring Me series very much. But when I read the chapter about Chaviva, who decided to marry a “great guy” despite his social awkwardness, I had a mixed reaction.
    On the one hand, I was glad that Chaviva chose to focus on his inner qualities and marry him despite this slight lacking in outer behaviors. In Chaviva’s case, the marriage “worked” because she apparently was able to take over his wardrobe decisions and teach him better interpersonal skills.
    But I am extremely cautious about encouraging a young woman to marry someone with the intention of “fixing” him. In most cases that is a recipe for disaster — at best creating the desired change but causing stress in the relationship, and at worst creating an ongoing stand-o¬ where the husband refuses his wife’s constant attempts to change him.
    A strong marriage is built on each side accepting the other, despite their imperfections. In the case of the relationship of a wife to her husband, her respect for him is paramount to the relationship — and “fixing” is incompatible with “respect.”

  26. Avatar
    Sarah Rivkah Kohn

    Thank you for the terrific article, “One for the Books.” I must second the sefer recommended by Rabbi Tenenbaum, Pirkei Avos: Generation to Generation, by Rabbi Muller.
    Having used it for the second time this summer, I am blown away by how pragmatic it is without being simple.
    As I was putting it away after the summer, I caught myself. Rabbi Moshe Haikins of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah had shared with me a few years back that when the rebbetzin of the Steipler passed away, he instructed his daughters to learn Pirkei Avos in her memory (Derech Sichah, pg. 85, 485, quoting Rav Chaim Kanievsky). As I am in the year of aveilus for my father, it hit me that this would be a great sefer to continue throughout the year as a zechus for his neshamah.
    As Rabbi Tenenbaum pointed out, the stories and insights are very sharable and make for great family learning. In fact, some of the families who recently lost a parent or grandparent to COVID asked me if I had any ideas of a sefer they could learn as a family. This was my recommendation, as it is suitable for multigenerational families.

  27. Avatar
    Judy Landman

    I loved, loved, loved reading the book picks by rebbeim, mechanchim, and public speakers. It was so interesting to read the choices and the whys behind them. Being a reader and writer myself, as well as a preschool morah, I would like to add some of my own recommendations. For the historia teacher and young and older teens, I highly recommend Forever My Jerusalem. It is a beautifully written narrative of what it was like to live in Eretz Yisrael as it became a state. It also paints a picture of the physical daily living before modern inventions (getting water from a cistern, etc.).
    For any teacher, counselor, or even high school students, to get the scope of the long-term e-ffects of bullying, I advise reading the newly published A Veiled Truth. A contemporary novel, with lots of humor about running a wedding hall, it addresses the torment of childhood bullying from an adult perspective. For middle schoolers, my daughter and I loved the biography about Rebbetzin Kanievsky for children. We learned so much and the pictures made the lessons so much more relatable.
    Finally, my favorite genre is children’s picture books! Over the years, as a mother and then a morah, I have discovered quite a number of books that my own kids call “mommy’s books” which I unabashedly share with my Shabbos company (pre-corona of course). They are simplistic yet have great messages for young and old. My list is long and I am happy to share it with others, but here are some worth checking out: Henny is a book about a chicken born with arms instead of wings, which deals with being di¬fferent and the success in discovering that. The Girl and the Bicycle is a picture book without words; its’s a sweet story about perseverance and kindness. And finally, The Happiness Box, about a boy who discovers where true happiness comes from.
    Happy reading to all! And please make this a regular column!

  28. Avatar

    As with all of Esther Kurtz’s articles, Outside Chance is a great read and a great story that my whole family enjoys. The conversation between Chaim and his parents about whether he should switch out of his yeshivah brought up some interesting discussions. The blanket statement that a bochur has to decide if he belongs in an alef yeshivah is not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes it’s best for a boy to remain surrounded with better boys, as long as he feels comfortable and part of the chevreh.

    My husband can testify. He knows a boy who remained in a top yeshivah from grade 9 to beis medrash without applying himself to learning. However, when he began learning seriously, he had a place in the yeshivah among metzuyanim. Had his parents given him this ultimatum — that if he doesn’t apply himself to his learning he’d be better off in a different yeshivah — he would likely not be where he is today — a choshuve yungerman.

    1. Avatar

      Dear C.W.,
      I read your letter about how it is not a simple decision for a boy to decide whether or not he belongs in an “alef yeshivah,” with interest. On behalf of myself and a large group of mothers whose sons have struggled through yeshivah, allow me to comment.
      The language in the letter hit us hard. Expressions like “alef yeshivah,” “better boys,” and “metzuyanim” reflect judgment and of sorting neshamos into boxes labeled “superior” and “inferior.” I think as a community, we need to work harder at emulating Hashem, who judges us on how much we struggle.
      I don’t think people realize how hurtful and damaging these terms are. We throw them around loosely, unaware of how deeply the messages cut and how dangerous the mindset is.
      You mention a boy that your husband knows, who remained in a “top yeshivah” without applying himself to learning — but that when he started learning more seriously, “he had a place in the yeshivah among metzuyanim” and is today a choshuve yungerman.
      For every boy in your husband’s example, there are so many who are suffocating through “alef yeshivos,” suffering in silence, terrified of communal censure, and dying inside. Whether they emerge unscathed or not is a risk that’s too scary to gamble on.
      From a Mother’s Heart,

  29. Avatar
    Sarah Rivkah Kohn

    Confession: I’m one of those who was not from those who were able to listen to any shred of chizuk during the pandemic. I was dealing with too much pain to allow for even a shred of what others saw as uplifting messages.

    Being a friend of Mrs Faige Zelcer, I figured as a courtesy I would listen to the message on tefillah she’d emailed via Penimi. I honestly didn’t believe I would be able to listen to more than a minute’s worth because of the pain I was in.

    But it was different.

    There were words nobody was saying.

    Words that spoke of the innate struggle to connect, of the fact that not all women were bound to their siddur during this time… or ever.

    I felt heard. Ironically, it made me want to connect more and daven more.

    When I opened Family First on Rosh Chodesh Elul and found the new column continuing this much-needed conversation in print, I was elated. Thank you Family First and Penimi for giving voice to so many of our very real inner battles with tefillah. Thank you for the validation of all the statements that don’t feel right. Thank you for sharing carefully sourced words of substance that resonate with so many of us.

    May this be the catalyst for a stronger, deeper connection to the One Above,

  30. Avatar
    Just Want to Help

    I’m writing in regards to the story about the woman who experienced terrible postpartum anxiety. I just wanted to make others aware that an extraordinary amount of perinatal/postpartum emotional conditions, (as well as standard anxiety, depression, and even bipolar or mania, etc.) are connected with thyroid issues. These will not be revealed by a standard reading of a blood test, and the majority of the symptoms will not improve by taking Synthroid, which is a synthetic T4 hormone and just one of the five hormones produced by a healthy thyroid, all of which are essential to physical and emotional wellbeing.
    Thousands of people, suffering from a very large range of both physical and emotional conditions, have been helped once they knew how to properly identify, and treat, thyroid conditions. I’ve witnessed this myself.
    For more information, please read “Stop the Thyroid Madness” by Janie A. Bowthorpe.

    1. Avatar
      Name Withheld

      I would like to add a belated, yet important, point to the discussion on postpartum anxiety. I, too, suffered from this crushing condition. After experiencing it several times with my older children, I made a remarkable discovery.
      I’m a big proponent of nursing, but after a while I noticed that during every feeding I would get a serious anxiety attack. I would sit hunched over, crying, waiting for the feeding to be over so the awful feeling would pass. Eventually it got so bad that I couldn’t recover in the time between feedings — and it kept getting worse and worse. When I asked various health-care providers about this, they laughed at me.
      After some time, I did extensive research and discovered that there is a condition, called DMER, in which the hormonal change in the body during feedings trigger these feelings (which are hormonal, too).
      There are various degrees of severity, but for me DMER was debilitating. This “aha moment” gave me so much hope. Although it was terribly difficult not to nurse my subsequent babies and to bottle feed instead, I was a different person. I thank Hashem for directing me to true relief and I’m publicizing this in the hope that it can help others.
      My children may not have had mother’s milk, but at least they had a mother.

  31. Avatar
    Avi Samuels

    I feel that I should clarify a danger in the phrase “Other Derech Children.”
    My children have heard this from me many times — that just because one was born into a certain segment or derech of Yiddishkeit that does not make it the right way. Harbei derachim yesh. There are many ways to serve Hashem: Lubavitch, Satmar, Modox, litvish, chassiddish, yekkish… and the list goes on and on. These are all valid ways because they all believe that Torah shebiksav and sheba’al peh are from Sinai, and they all accept the primacy of halachah. They are all “on the derech”… though not necessarily one’s own. They therefore can be referred as being on “another derech.”
    But to apply the phrase “other-derech children” for those who have gone off smacks of relativism — i.e. the belief that there is no objective truth, that there is “my truth” and “your truth” and that all are a “derech.”
    But I know what you really meant — and I want to clarify it. You mean that your children, though not frum presently, are traveling on another derech to eventually discover the real truth — the truth of Yiddishkeit, And because you respect their struggle, and realize that sometimes those who take that route have an even greater appreciation for the real truth in the end, you respect them.
    And for that I respect you.

  32. Avatar
    Name Withheld

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Leeba Atlas!
    Thank you for taking the bull by the horns and sharing your story about postpartum depression with the world. I read every word and the only thing that bothered me was that I didn’t have the courage to share mine as well.
    I have seven children kein ayin hara and had PPA (postpartum anxiety) by each one! And yes, I’d go into the pregnancy knowing what was going to happen and davening that Hashem would give me the strength to survive this because I so badly wanted more children. I’ve had my share of physical pain in life but nothing, nothing, can compare to the Gehinnom of losing my mind. With a shattered psyche it’s not possible to overcome the nisayon, there’s nothing there to work with. The one line that really got me from Leeba’s story was the line, “I couldn’t even exist one more minute more.” My doctor kept telling me it was going to be over soon, in six weeks, but just six seconds of that type of suffering is too much.
    I would just like to emphasize that during my experience, I was very misled by health professionals who claimed I needed to relax, rest, and appreciate what I had. Even now, when my youngest is five, a good friend who is a nurse told me she thinks I took my condition too seriously and that’s why it kept coming back. As if I could make myself get into that state of complete torture simply by moping.
    Please, if you’ve never been there, don’t give opinions. They are so painful, so insulting, and ultimately can be extremely dangerous, as Leeba so aptly portrayed. Would you tell a cancer patient that she caused her sickness by not being chipper enough?
    I wish I could tell so many well-meaning but ill-informed laymen and professionals, “If you have nothing knowledgeable to say, keep your mouth closed.”
    To all those who have “been there” I give you a brachah that in the zechus of your suffering to bring children to the world, may you only see nachas from those children.

  33. Avatar

    Leeba Atlas, your story about your postpartum depression blew me away.
    You so vividly and accurately describe the journey of mental illness and dealing with denial, despair, deep pain, shame, hope, acceptance, and more. We can feel great and then regress. Just as long as we keep on fighting. I experienced prenatal depression, which is not as well known as PPD, and I want women to know that it can happen anytime during a pregnancy as well. Seek help if you have been feeling “off’’ in any way for two weeks or more.
    Thank you, Leeba, for being so brave and sharing your story to give others awareness, validation, and hope. I’m still climbing my mountain and I want to give others chizuk from my experience. I have had enough of suffering in silence. I couldn’t say it better than you: “We need to be open to seeking help because it’s not a struggle we can fi ght alone. We need to be open enough to share our battle scars— and our recoveries— because our healing gives others hope.”

  34. Avatar

    I was saddened to read this “Words Unspoken” written by a seminary teacher who shared negative information about one of her students when called about her for a shidduch. I commend the author for doing everything right. She first avoided answering the question and then, when in doubt, consulted her rav.
    The only problem is that no teacher of seminary students qualifies as a reference for shidduchim unless the teacher has stayed in touch with her student after she left seminary. Seminary (and yeshivah) students, especially in Eretz Yisrael, experience a time of introspection and growth. These young adults are exposed to wonderful role models who open their students’ minds to the wonderful opportunity of a life of joy, purpose, and fulfillment. They have the once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore their many questions, receive convincing answers, and have the time to struggle with inculcating the pure derech haTorah into their lives.
    As teachers, Hashem has given us the privilege to plant seeds into the next generation. Some seeds take root immediately, but some take time to germinate. A student at the tender age of 18 is really just beginning adulthood. What she was like at that age in many instances is very different than what she will be at 20 and beyond. How can we testify as to the character of our students who we have not seen in months and years?
    Mechanchim and mechanchos must realize and appreciate that six months after a student has left school, the educator is no longer qualified to testify as to the character of the student. I don’t presume that my shoulders are wide enough to offer a definitive psak. I am merely echoing the discussions that I have had with recognized poskim.
    The burden of responsibility is not only on the educators. It is also on the parents investigating a possible shidduch for their child. Someone who knew a young adult as they were going through their formative years does not qualify as a reliable source of information and should not be consulted unless the relationship continued after seminary.
    May we be zocheh to continue to educate these young adults and may they all blossom into upstanding members of Klal Yisrael with proper middos and yiras Shamayim.

    1. Avatar
      Name Withheld

      As a teacher who gets shidduch calls, I’ve been following with interest the back and forth about the seminary teacher who gave negative information about a student.

      Full disclosure: I’m the mother who called the teacher.

      We had some questions based on the girl’s factual history. Knowing that this teacher would want to help us within the bounds of halachah, I called. I know her well enough, and she knows our family well enough, to know that she would not discourage a shidduch with a “troublemaker.” A lively girl with a sense of humor can easily be a maileh in a shidduch. But a girl who is still trying to undermine a teacher while in seminary is displaying character traits that can wreak havoc in a marriage.

      I beg to differ with those who feel that seminary teachers should not be asked for shidduch information more than six months after seminary. If not them, then who? An immersive year in seminary, while not the sum total of a girl, does give a fairly good snapshot of a girl’s middos.

      As both a high school and seminary teacher, I find a very big difference between the two groups. The girls are in seminary because they want to be there. They are also very aware that they are on the cusp of shidduchim. Consistently displaying a serious flaw in middos at that point is telling. No, it is not conclusive — girls continue to mature and develop, hopefully throughout their lives — but basic middos tend to remain.

      Some suggested only asking information from a teacher who’s kept up with her student. But such a teacher will most likely be her student’s advocate and will not reveal information, even if it could be crucial, if she feels that it might derail the shidduch. Friends of the meduberes, as well as most other references, say whatever they think will get the shidduch rolling. They relate whatever qualities they would like others to say about them.

      From all the horror-stricken letter writers, it would seem that there really is no point in asking for information altogether. Simply assume that everyone is wonderful. Halevai that it would be that simple. I wish there were another way to configure our shidduch process. It is so fraught with confusion, pain and anxiety. I am sure that I speak for many mothers when I say that if there were another system that doesn’t require asking about people, yet preserves the tzniyus of our children, I’d be the first to jump on the bandwagon. I don’t want to know anyone’s flaws, but I have a responsibility to do my hishtadlus to try to protect my children.

      I, for one, was very appreciative and extremely impressed by the way the teacher handled the situation. It was a picture-perfect illustration of the halachos of toelles that we all could learn from. There is a time to refrain from speaking and a time to speak. It is not our feelings that determine which it is. It is halachah, as paskened by rabbanim.

      May all find their zivug hogun, bekarov!

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    Dear Former Teacher Who Cares,
    I was saddened to read your letter to your former student about how you likely ruined a shidduch for her by relaying negative information about her to a caller. I read the responses criticizing your actions and would like to add another angle.
    I truly believe that shidduchim are min haShamayim and that your student’s basherte shvigger will hear what is right for her when the time comes. It’s not her that I’m sad for — but you, her teacher. I am saddened that after teaching your student for a whole year, the only thing you can find to say about her is negative. I feel bad for you that you couldn’t see past your student’s immaturity to the person that she really is.
    Being a student is not easy. It’s pretty difficult for someone with a lot of personality to sit still for eight hours straight. I would know. I was one of those students who acted out and disturbed terribly in class.
    One of my teachers taught us once a week for parshah. Let me tell you, she definitely got a large dose of my antics. When her mechuteneste — now my shvigger — asked her for information about me, do you know what she said? “What a friendly and outgoing girl! Your son will never be bored a day in his life.” I am still astounded at her ayin tovah — and eternally grateful for it.
    As a teacher, your job isn’t just to get up in front of the classroom and deliver outstanding lessons. You also have a responsibility to your students to see each girl in front of you as a person and a tzelem Elokim. If you truly look for the good in your students, then their negative behaviors will not be what stands out in your mind when you think back.

  36. Avatar
    Shoshana Kagan

    I’m responding to the article about a woman’s valiant struggle with postpartum anxiety. How I can relate! My struggle took place over a decade ago. I was truly and utterly alone, with no community organizations to turn to for guidance — anything related to this very common ailment was taboo.

    A serious bout of PPD/anxiety brings intense and almost indescribable suffering. It’s truly debilitating to the whole family. Once you emerge from the illness’s tenacious and fiery grip you will never be the same again, but as I see it, you will have been uplifted and transformed.

    After recovering from my experience, I was humbled beyond belief. I became a more caring and sensitive eved Hashem. I also learned self-help techniques and coping skills that I still utilize. I view my struggle with PPD/anxiety as one of the most painful yet one of the most rewarding events of my life — not unlike the birth of a child, which is so intrinsically connected to this ailment.

    When I was a young mother I wrote the book Waves of Blue, chronicling my experience, to lend support to others who were suffering in silence. I’m so grateful to know that it is widely circulated by Yad Rachel and is in libraries around the country. My message to anyone suffering from PPD-d related illness is, “You’re going to be okay! Take the steps you need to take, reach out for help, and be very patient with yourself. Recovery takes time, but when you get to the finish line you will emerge a stronger and more developed person.”

    If anyone would like a (free) copy of Waves of Blue to assist them or their loved one on their road to recovery it would be my greatest pleasure to send you one. I can be contacted through Mishpacha.

  37. Avatar

    As someone who’s experienced perinatal depression, I truly appreciated the story about postpartum anxiety. Like the author, I’m also one of those perfect mothers whose kids are always matching, who sends suppers to neighbors, and who’d would gladly have your kids for a week if you go away. But during my last pregnancy, I just wasn’t myself emotionally. After finally getting to a therapist, who directed me to Yad Rachel, I was put on meds, which brought me some much-awaited relief. I want to thank Yad Rachel for giving me my life back.

    The worst part, by far, was my fear of people finding out. Then one day it hit me. I’m not doing anything wrong. Why am I hiding this?! I opened up to a close friend, also a picture-perfect housewife. Before I’d even finished, she burst out, “I know exactly what you mean! I had that with my last baby also.” It felt so good to be open.

    That was all I needed. Over the next few days I discussed my situation with another three friends. Two of them admitted that they (or their sisters) had also had similar experiences. Why? Why does an already painful situation have to be clouded with the fear of people finding out?!? We’ll only make it easier for ourselves if we are honest and open with others. They’ll understand. They know the feeling all too well.

    1. Avatar
      Name Withheld

      I’m writing in response to the letter “Why Are We Hiding?” written by a self-proclaimed “perfect mother” who “just wasn’t herself” during her last pregnancy. Eventually, she went for therapy and was prescribed medication that helped her get back to herself. When she finally mustered up the courage to tell friends what she was going through, three out of four admitted that either they or their sisters had had the same experience.
      While I agree with the letter writer that we should break the stigma about mental-health services, when I hear stories like these, I wonder how many women are suffering from PPD, and how many are really victims of fatigue, overwork, and unrealistic expectations.
      My sister, a therapist in the tristate area, told me that many postpartum women used to come to her and ask for meds just to get through life. One story in particular stuck with me: A woman who’d just had her fourth baby in as many years asked to be prescribed medication for anxiety. She was going back to work the next week, when her six-week leave ended, and she kept panicking at the thought of how she was going to hold everything together. When my sister suggested that maybe she reevaluate her lifestyle and make some changes that would help ease her load, she said, “No, no, that’s not happening, I just need medication to reduce the anxiety.”
      My 17-year-old daughter has told me that before a big test, some of her friends take anxiety medication just so they can make it through the test. So while yes, some people are overly reluctant to take psychotropic meds when they need it, plenty of others are using these meds to help them deal with the demands of regular life — or, if you will, the impossibly high expectations of a new mother to care for her baby, run the house, take care of the other kids, be there for her husband, and support the family (fully or partially).
      Postpartum is a challenging time no matter what. When everyone’s postpartum difficulties become PPD (or when every energetic kid becomes ADHD) then how do you identify the people who truly are clinically ill and require serious psychiatric intervention?

  38. Avatar
    Ruchi Koval

    I was a little thrown by the implication in “The High Road” that physical aggression is worse than verbal abuse and has to be addressed differently. I know this is a common approach, and schools and camps often have a “zero-tolerance policy” toward physical aggression that does not exist for verbal aggression.
    In fact, physical aggression is often a response to verbal attacks, where the victim of verbal abuse is finally fed up with “taking it” for so long and lashes out in self-defense — physically. While no one should harm another person’s body, I believe this is still self-defense. Bullies get away with subtle verbal assault and they know they can. But only physical aggression gets addressed.
    Of the roughly 250 mitzvos available to us nowadays, about ten percent are related to our speech. Hurting other people with our speech is just as bad, if not worse, than hurting them physically. The scars, as we all well know, last much longer too.
    Maybe it’s time for us to revisit the outdated and non-Torah attitude (which I know Sarah Chana Radcliffe didn’t intend) that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Not true and not Jewish.

    1. Sarah Chana
      Sarah Chana

      You’re correct on both counts: Verbal abuse is seriously hurtful and no, I did not intend to minimize that Torah-true fact in any way. What I was saying is that there is actually an instinct to attack back physically when we’re physically attacked. It’s a survival instinct, wired into our limbic system. Although we may have “had it” with a verbal abuser, on the other hand, there is no such instinct to attack physically in defense of a verbal attack. There may be a strong desire to lash out physically at that point due to anger and emotional suffering, but one can overcome that desire because it isn’t governed by a physical instinct. Therefore slightly different interventions are called for in dealing with perpetrators.
      Nonetheless, no one should underestimate the harm that is inflicted by verbal abuse; it may not be bone-crushing, but it can be soul-crushing. This is why the Torah specifically prohibits it through the transgression of ona’as devarim, the prohibition of hurting people’s feelings with words.

  39. Avatar
    Caren V. May

    This letter left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. As the teacher recounts, “I only taught her once a week… a few years back… classes are huge and not very interactive,” yet the teacher recalls this young lady since she was disruptive and difficult. Her dilemma was what to tell her friend when it comes to a shidduch reference. Interestingly, later in the article the teacher says, “I’ve never been asked for information about any other girl in your seminary class,” leaving the reader to wonder if she’s ever been the go-to mechaneches for references.
    As a teacher of teenagers myself, I’ve had disruptive, non- cooperative students at times. But if I were called for shidduch info, I’d bow out and refer the caller to a teacher who is more intimately involved with that student. It’s been quite a few years since the teacher had interacted with this young lady. I’d recommend she call, connect, and see how she’s doing.
    Calling a posek is a plus for guidance, yet in this case it seems that a specific dynamic and friction were at play. So my question is: Are you the teacher who really cares?!? I have my doubts.

    1. Avatar
      Name Withheld

      I was taken aback your suggestion that the teacher bow out and refer the caller to another teacher. Really? The teacher made it clear that she’d asked daas Torah and been advised to speak up. I think it’s pretty clear that the teacher’s concerns about the student were a bit more significant than occasionally whispering to a friend in class.
      If you have serious concerns about a shidduch, or about a person’s marriageability, it is incumbent upon you to ask a sh’eilah to find out if you are required to say something. I know firsthand the damage that can be wrought when people who should speak up stay silent.
      My oldest daughter got engaged to a top boy shortly after finishing seminary — a serious learner with a vibrant personality from a top yeshivah. We were on a high all throughout her engagement.
      The crash came during sheva brachos. My husband overheard our new son-in-law complaining to a cousin about the support we were giving him. It stung. We were supporting the new couple generously, and besides — badmouthing the shver during sheva brachos? We didn’t say anything, trying to shrug it off and attribute it to nerves and fatigue. But then my teenaged daughter told me she’d heard him snap at my daughter as they walked into the last sheva brachos, fashionably late as befits a chassan and kallah, blaming her for their lateness and calling her lazy. We were stunned.
      Things just got worse, and quickly. Our son-in-law put up the thinnest of facades when he was around us, but his disdain for our daughter was apparent. When we tried to talk to her, she just shut down, pretending that everything was fine. When her kallah teacher called, at our request, she did the same. Our beautiful, charismatic, popular daughter was fading — and fading from our lives. The couple stopped coming for Shabbos, and my daughter rarely answered our calls.
      We made a few more calls, and what we learned shocked us. The chassan’s father — a respected community figure — was known for his temper; his wife had long been cowed into submission. More than one person used the term “personality disorder.” We were beside ourselves. But the real kicker came a couple of weeks later, when my husband met our son-in-law’s rebbi at a wedding. He approached him, hoping for some insight, advice, something. The rebbi looked my husband in the eye, a pained look on his face, and sighed. “You don’t have to tell me anything,” he said. “I was his rebbi for three years. I already know.”
      My husband — the gentlest, kindest person I know — turned and ran out of the hall. He was afraid that if he stayed any longer, he’d have beaten the rebbi. He came home and cried. “He was at our vort!” he sobbed. “He shook my hand and told me mazel tov! And now he tells me he already knows?!”
      It’s been six years now since I last spoke to my daughter. She has four children whom I’ve never met. A kind neighbor keeps me updated on her life, although details are scanty — my daughter has slowly ended all of her friendships, never socializes with the women on her block, doesn’t go to simchahs. Our pain is indescribable— and compounded by the knowledge that there were many people who could have spoken up, but didn’t.
      I know that it feels cruel to “ruin a shidduch” by speaking up and relaying negative information (when halachically indicated). But trust me, it’s much more cruel to ruin a life.

  40. Avatar
    Mindel Kassorla

    I was especially moved by this Words Unspoken, because as a fellow seminary teacher, I have found myself in similar predicaments. I commend the author on consulting a rav, because when we try making these decisions on our own, we are often unable to see the larger picture, from a wiser point of view. It’s so painfully difficult to accept that sometimes the answer we get is not one that can be revealed to the subject of the sh’eilah, but just because it’s uncomfortable, that doesn’t make it wrong.
    Hopefully, the “subject” can understand that in reality, no teacher can ruin your shidduch; ultimately, it will come from Hashem at the right time.
    I would however like to suggest an additional point. I have experience as an eim bayit, an academic counselor, and a therapy-referral consultant. Most of the time, the picture I see of a student varies drastically from her classroom behavior (for better and for worse).
    In my work as a shadchan, I know that the expectation that this mother will expend additional effort to call other references is too high. Parents who get one negative report will usually look no further.
    If this teacher really cares as much as she says, it would be very wise and considerate for her to do some of the legwork first. Call other teachers, verify if this was usual behavior or not, and perhaps find a teacher who knows her in a different context who can provide a wider perspective.

  41. Avatar

    Mrs. Radcliffe, you offer two good options for dealing with an over-reactive, defensive spouse. But you do not address the low quality of life that comes with living with such a person.
    What if “Dinah’s” words did contain traces of accusation or irritation? “Dan’s” sensitivity does not allow her to have a range of regular feelings.
    “Why is the counter covered in crumbs and grease?”
    “You didn’t even thank me for making breakfast, you just accuse me and point out every minor mistake! How was I supposed to know that the toaster leaves crumbs? I didn’t even get a chance to clean this up before you jumped down my throat!”
    Life with hyper-defensiveness is narrow and exhausting; every word is weighed against a potential flood of backlash. Normal needs (ie., please don’t leave messes on the counter) go unaddressed because the risk is high and the reward is null. One spouse disappears while the other’s endless neediness takes up all the room.
    Besides for these two methods of looking aside or skirting the issue, can you suggest ideas to address the core issue?

    1. Sarah Chana
      Sarah Chana

      When a person has a chronic personality problem such as the one you are describing, there are a few different scenarios that can unfold. One is that a serious confrontation of the issue may yield some improvement. That should always be attempted first. If raising the issue and asking for change results in no change, marital counseling can be the next step. In some cases that may also involve individual counseling.
      If all these steps have been taken and there’s still no improvement, the marriage will be compromised. Not everyone ends up living with a healthy, mature, pleasant partner. It is simply a sad fact of life that some people enjoy certain blessings that others don’t, such as more financial comfort, better health, more successful children, and more pleasant spouses — among other factors. How one copes with life’s difficulties, including an unpleasant spouse, is all part of one’s spiritual journey.

      1. Avatar

        I respectfully disagree with Sara Chana Radcliffe’s response that some people are married to kinder spouses, and some people are not. This is very disempowering for wives and disheartening. There is a better way.
        I have a close friend who was told by her therapist that she needs to “accept” the fact that she is married to an inflexible and difficult person, and will never have the warmth and connection in her marriage that she was hoping for.
        Fortunately, instead of going that route (and accepting this), this friend learned and incorporated six skills from The Empowered Wife by Laura Doyle. She felt empowered and began seeing immediate changes in her marriage. Her husband became supportive and started treating her like a queen; she decided to stay married because she was truly happy!

        1. Sarah Chana
          Sarah Chana

          Yes, first, one tries everything. I myself am a psychologist who helps people change all day long! Improved relationship skills such as those described in Laura Doyle’s book, marital counseling, personal therapy, marriage and personal-development courses and so much more is available to help us all do better and most often, these things DO make us all so much better. However, even when they help us, some of us will still have our essential personality challenges and even disabilities. While one woman can transform her husband with her new skills, another may not be able to do that. It is this latter scenario I was referring to when saying that some spouses will be less wonderful to live with than others. This is just the same as “some children are easier and more well-adjusted than others” even in the care of the most wise and nurturing parent. It is a fact of life.

  42. Avatar
    Fransesca Zuckerman

    There has been much discussion about extravagant weddings, and whether or not it’s anyone else’s business what someone else spends on a wedding. It’s clear, though, that extravagant weddings raise the bar.
    But what concerns me the most is not raising the bar, or becoming part of a more materialistic society. As someone who’s spent years working in seminaries, I am shaken by the number of mothers who declared they spent more on makeup, clothing, or gowns “because it’s important for the kallah to feel beautiful.”
    I certainly agree that a kallah should feel beautiful, but I’m so worried about the actual message she ends up getting if looking beautiful requires hundreds or thousands of dollars. “Listen sweetheart, the face Hashem gave you is oookaay, but it is going to take A LOT for you to be beautiful.” Why not try out the feel of “You are so beautiful, any gown will make you shine!” or “Any makeup artist can make a face like yours look gorgeous!”?
    These mothers all so clearly want to make their daughters feel good, but I’m afraid that they’re taking away the last shreds of self-esteem she may have. Mothers hope a girl hears the message that she deserves the best. That may come across by investing in her furniture (or not: it may just make her feel entitled) but that same approach, when applied to her appearance, may give her the message that she doesn’t measure up.
    I know all of these mothers just want their daughters to feel beautiful on this special day, so that they can carry that confidence into married life. But many of these girls will look back at their wedding day, and say “What a shame; I’ll never be that beautiful again….”

  43. Avatar

    Your serial Yardsticks was an excellent portrayal of real life in our community and extremely well-written. The subsequent tête-à-tête detailing varied wedding expenses and obligations has generated much discussion among my younger daughters.
    Conducting an informal poll, I’ve found that even post-Covid-19, things haven’t changed all that much — girls still dream about really beautiful weddings. We all want the very best for our daughters, and we focus our time, energy, and money on making beautiful chasunahs. Your magazine has featured some pretty big numbers — from $24,000 for flowers to a singer brought in to the tune (pun intended) of $16,000 — all for one night. But the overemphasis on all of these pichifkes can be very costly — in many ways.
    The most important thing that a mother can do for her children is to put as much time and money as possible into giving them the gift of a great kallah teacher. Seems to me to be a better investment than flowers that last barely 24 hours.
    We are facing a crisis and it may not be just the escalating costs of making a chasunah. Our children are suffering. Our relationships are suffering. All the money spent on beautiful gowns, sheitels, and music cannot save a marriage that has gone south. The rate of divorce and unhappy marriages in our world has unfortunately never been higher. There is one way to combat this.
    Let me start by telling you what a kallah teacher does. We develop a relationship with your daughter, spending many hours getting to know her so that she’ll feel comfortable getting in touch after her chasunah when needed. We teach her the halachos but focus on hashkafa. We teach her how to connect to her spouse, how to develop common interests, how to have healthy disputes, how to become best friends and truly connect.
    I have a wise friend who sends her boys to a chassan teacher before the wedding and continues through the first year of marriage at a cost of $150 per session. Money very well-spent! That’s netzach — not the band, not the flowers, not the sheitel.
    As a kallah teacher, I get to know some of the most wonderful mothers as I teach their daughters, but it never fails to amaze me that there are some mothers I never speak to. The girls arrange the kallah teacher themselves, and the mother never even calls to say hello. I’m sure this same mother is calling the caterer, the dressmaker, the florist, and the hall, but the most important part of the preparation gets put to the side.
    There have been so many incredible kallah teachers over the years who’ve stopped teaching kallahs and took other jobs because kallah classes didn’t pay enough for them to support their families. Compared to the other expenses on the list, kallah classes are the biggest bargain around!
    We need to start prioritizing our relationships because we can all appreciate the joy that a close connection can bring. Believe me, the flowers can always come later.

    1. Avatar

      You’re right when you says relationships are suffering and that a good kallah teacher is a must. But in the past, I’ve also heard the idea floated of pre- and post-marriage counseling. It never took off, probably because of the stigma attached. (Our kids are all perfect, right?) Still, I think it should be revisited. Imagine if young couples could have that guidance at the start of their marriage. How many long-term conflicts could be avoided? How many spouses could learn effective communication? Learn to foster deep and meaningful connections?
      You also commented in surprise about the mothers who are never in touch with you throughout the entire time you’re teaching their daughters. Maybe they’re respecting their daughter’s boundaries. Maybe some girls prefer to handle things on their own. It doesn’t mean there’s any less love or caring. There’s more than one right way.

    2. Avatar

      Are chosson/kallah teachers necessary? Of course. I’m just not sure they should be the ones serving as therapists. When did this become a business too? I’ve got a novel idea: Let’s invest in ourselves. Let’s invest in our spouses and our marriages and our children. Let’s see if we can teach our children about healthy marriages by showing them our own. Let’s empower them by teaching them about commitment. A marriage is a promise. Let’s keep it. Let’s talk about the importance of time, effort, caring and sharing. And if and when issues arise that need addressing, let’s find competent rabbis and qualified therapists who can help them navigate some bumps in the road with professional help.

      1. Avatar

        Mrs Moses, you asked a rhetorical question, “Are chassan/kallah teachers necessary?” to which your response was “Of course.” Why? For thousands of years Jewish mothers have taught the halachos of marriage to their daughters themselves. Why, in the age when Jewish women are more learned than ever before in history, are we sending our kallahs to strangers to be taught before marriage? As far as teaching relationship building, what is a kallah teacher going to teach a girl that she hasn’t already learned by watching her parents’ model for 20 years? And if the parents were bad examples, how is the kallah teacher going to undo that damage in 10–12 sessions? As you stated, this should be left to professional therapists who have to answer to supervisors while the kallah teacher does not. There is simply no oversight and no supervision in this industry.
        I am sure I am not the only person who can fill a book with stories of relationships damaged and lives ruined by the well-intentioned advice of “top” kallah teachers. I firmly believe that we need to rethink the whole system.

        1. Avatar
          Yitty Bisk

          C.F. – You’re right that for thousands of years the mesorah has gone from mother to daughter. Bais Yaakov also did not exist. But most mothers today aren’t ready to homeschool their daughters (as we’ve learned these past few months). And thousands of years in galus have unfortunately left a negative impact on Klal Yisrael, specifically in these areas.
          You’re correct that kallah teachers are not therapists. They are “first responders” who are trained to pick up issues and refer them to the appropriate address. Just like an EMT knows whether to refer a client to a doctor or rush him to an emergency room, a competent kallah teacher has a contact list of rabbanim, doctors, and various therapists as well as a support system of professionals and other teachers with many years of experience.
          And as F.S., another letter writer noted, newlywed couples absolutely do need a support system after marriage even more than before! It is imperative that their relationship develop during shanah rishonah (which, by the way is not just the first year, rather the first stage of marriage) in order to not have to repeat that stage seven to ten years later, this time in the marriage therapist’s office. I’m wondering why you have not called your kallah teacher? My guess is that she would be glad you reached out and happy to help. There are other venues out there as well.
          Marriage mentoring has been around for over 15 years. It’s time for the Orthodox community at large, and couples in particular, to embrace the idea and make it a “given” to connect with a mentor.
          Mrs. Michelle Fruchter has recently created a wonderful venue for women like you called “Marriage Buddies” where a newlywed is matched up with an older and wiser mentor. You can reach her at marriagebuddies613@gmail.com.
          Wishing you and all newlyweds much hatzlachah.

        2. Avatar
          Sara Spero

          I have been following the debate about the need for chassan/kallah teachers with much interest. The response that “this has been something that had always been handled in the past by parents” left me a bit confused.
          Full disclosure: I do not clean and kasher my own chicken, liver, and meat; I have been known to purchase a sliced bread in the store or even a challah or two on a frenzied (or not so frenzied) Friday; and I do not boil the unpasteurized milk that used to be delivered to our front porch in a giant wine jug so that my father could drink chalav Yisrael.
          My European mother — a student of Frau Schenirer’s Shabbos Bnos groups and a graduate of Radim, Plaszow, and Buchenwald — did all of those things, yet had no problem entrusting the sacred mission of teaching me the responsibilities of the sanctity of Jewish life to Mrs. Sisty Glustein, who was my kallah teacher in Cleveland about a hundred years ago. This did not mean that my mother abdicated her responsibilities of parenthood — and neither did I, when it came time, do the same for our daughter, whose kallah teacher was Mrs. Neche Moerman. Providing healthy mentors and teachers who continue to encourage and inspire our children, is what sharing parental obligations is all about.
          It really does take a village….

        3. Avatar
          N. R.

          I would like to add my voice to that of C.F. questioning why we have outsourced the teaching of our daughters to kallah teachers. I couldn’t agree with you more— so much so that when my third daughter got married, I taught her myself.
          When my third daughter got engaged, her two married sisters, who’d learned with two different “top” kallah teachers,
          encouraged me to teach her myself. They each felt that it would have been much better for them to have been
          taught by their mother, who knew them so well and whom they trust. Neither of them had felt the need— or the comfort level — to consult with their kallah teachers after they were married. They said they preferred to consult with me on appropriate issues, with their rav on issues pertaining to halachah or marriage, or a doctor when the subject was clearly medical.
          After discussing it at length with our rav, who encouraged me, I very successfully taught my daughter. The experience was beneficial all around. I intend to give my next several daughters this option when their turn comes, b’shaah tovah.
          If we toilet train our children, teach them about growing up, and guide them in personal and halachic matters, as all
          Yiddishe mammas have in the past, why do we delegate this most important job of all? Perhaps kallah teachers can shift their teaching experience and broader knowledge of the subject matter toward empowering mothers to take back their rightful place in this area.

          1. Avatar

            I’ve been following the unfolding debate about whether Klal Yisrael’s kallahs should be prepared for their chasunahs by their own mothers or “outsourced” to qualified kallah teachers. While I feel that this is a long overdue conversation, I worry that in framing it as a tug-of-war between parties vying for control, the real issues at play are being entirely overlooked.
            As a mother of daughters and a kallah teacher, I relate fiercely to each side of this dialogue. It is arguably true that nobody can know or love a child more deeply than her mother; that this mesorah is “toras imecha” in its purest form; and that the natural connection between parent and child can best create the ideal conditions for its transmission. It is also true that many mothers feel inadequate to the task, and that many daughters, for a range of reasons, feel uncomfortable with the idea of learning this Torah with their own mothers.
            In conducting a workshop I run for mothers entitled “Talking to Our Children about Sensitive Topics,” the most frequently expressed sentiment I encounter is “I want to do this, but I don’t know how!”
            As a community, we’ve managed to communicate certain messages to our children relating to the relationship between males and females. We have conveyed the vital message that we need to shield and protect our eyes and neshamos from the rampant pritzus that surrounds us. We’ve conveyed the never-been-truer message that Hollywood has distorted and perverted this aspect of human experience and that its portrayals have no place in the minds of pure, striving bnos Yisrael. In more recent times, we’ve even managed to convey important messages about personal safety.
            But somehow, I feel we haven’t managed to convey the “mafli laasos” part of this equation; the healthy, normal, Torahdig approach to marriage, based on HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s design of human beings and the mitzvos He gave them. I wonder how many parents realize that saying nothing at all also sends a very distinct message, loud and clear. This is about a deep understanding that is transmitted in countless age-appropriate and tzniusdig ways, spoken and unspoken, as a child matures and develops, then intensifies as he or she approaches marriage.
            Often one of the greatest challenges a kallah teacher faces is the “unlearning” that is necessary in order for her to proceed with the beautiful Torah-true messages she is prepared to impart.
            I would humbly suggest that teaching the black-and-white halachos is hardly the primary responsibility of a kallah teacher today; any reasonably bright individual could probably learn the halachic how-tos from one of the many high-caliber books and lecture series available, as well as through many reliable online resources. Rather, it’s that “Toras Imecha,” a proper understanding of the magnificent reality and purpose that emerges when we study and implement those halachos that cannot be imbibed from the pages of a book. It’s the creating of a safe and respectful space for any and every concern or question that a kallah may have before and, most important, after she embarks on this wonderful, holy, and sometimes frightening and confusing journey with her new chassan. It’s helping the kallah envision what’s possible when this avodah is properly understood and implemented.
            This isn’t really about who should be teaching our kallahs as much as how to best teach them at every stage of life. Here’s my vision: Let’s partner together, mothers and kallah teachers, to support each other in this critical, holy, and life-altering work. I have conducted trainings to empower mothers to teach their own daughters (though I do believe that in most cases a kallah should have a session or two with an experienced kallah teacher as well.) And let’s give enormous credit to each mother who knows that, for whatever reason, she isn’t the ideal teacher for her particular daughter, and seeks out the most suitable and qualified shaliach she can find to represent her.
            With the tefillah that together we can support healthy, thriving batim ne’emanim b’Yisrael,

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      I was so gratified to see Chaya Reich extolling the importance of investing in a qualified kallah teacher. Having proper chassan or kallah training can literally spell the difference between the life or death of a marriage.
      Many parents have become aware of the importance of checking into a prospective teacher and asking for credentials and rabbinic affiliations, but unfortunately, there is no required training, supervision, or governing body that regulates the field of kallah teachers. It is time for us, as a community, to band together and set up a system to ensure that our children can learn about our precious mesorah from qualified, well-trained kallah teachers, enabling each one of them to create a binyan adei ad.

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      F.S., Brooklyn

      I’m recently married and having such a hard time adjusting. It is of vital importance that a girl be provided a mentor, marriage coach, or kallah teacher, whom she’ll be in contact with after her wedding. Imagine if we could take care of our little “adjustments” when they’re still small issues, and not have to deal with them 20 years down the line when they’ve become something way bigger.
      Couples get married and need to figure everything out themselves. Just as important as it is to teach young kallahs before their wedding, it is even more vital to have someone to speak to, someone smarter and older, to give advice and serve as a listening ear. I feel so alone and don’t know where to start looking. If only this would be stressed before the wedding — that you automatically keep up with your kallah teacher / marriage mentor. Girls in this generation really need it.
      Hope all kallah teachers who read this can make a difference in our world!

  44. Avatar
    A 21-year old

    Dear 22-year-old,
    I read your Words Unspoken about what it’s like being a 22-year-old in shidduchim, and all I can say is, wow. What an incredibly written letter. And you must have read my mind, because this is exactly how I feel. The only difference is that I’m not 22 yet, I turned 21 a few months ago. But I feel just like you do.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for giving me that incredible feeling of validation, especially now when spending time with still-single friends is so limited and loneliness creeps up a lot more often than it used to, especially for those of us doing school online, spending hours locked up in our rooms poring over notes, alone.
    It isn’t fun, but it’s not bad, because we’re not old, but we’re not young, so what exactly should I be feeling? I don’t know. Probably that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, because Hashem put me here. Maybe I should
    study that instead of my notes. Thank you again.

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      Lea Pavel

      When did the age of 21 mean that a girl is “no longer young”? I must counter that 21, and yes, 22, are both very young ages. If someone’s friend married at 20, it does not follow that being single at 22 means that one is “no longer young.” Twenty-one is young. Twenty-two is young. Dare I say that 23 is also young. Perhaps we don’t have a shidduch crisis. Perhaps we are merely aging out young women who just recently reached voting age.
      When I was 23, someone told me to “just get married so at least you’ll have children.” I dated for many years following, looking back in wonder that anyone could consider the low 20s “old.”
      We are no longer in the Middle Ages with a life expectancy of 45. I think we can leave “old” for the great-grandmothers.

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        You’re right; 21, 22, 23 are not old. But maybe it’s not about age. Maybe it’s not about peer pressure. Maybe it’s just about pain.
        I’m not here to defend my pain to you — it goes far beyond the number I turned at my last birthday. I’m 23 and, yes, I’m hurting as a single. I’ve learned time and time again that pain is pain. Week after week, in these very pages, we hear from mental health professionals telling us that pain is valid, it does not help to disown, discard, or despise it.
        Being 23 and single might not sound painful to you, for whatever reason. But think about the reason all of these articles and letters were written in the first place — because people are in pain.
        Some of us “younger” singles are mature and deep, and feel more than ready to move on to our next stage of life. Some singles know that the clock is ticking on their ability to have children, due to a medical issue you may not be privy to. And some are simply waiting to move away from challenging backgrounds, to give all their beautiful gifts and talents to a husband, to a family.
        The desire to get married is not always defined by age. Often, it’s defined by a beautiful gift Hashem gave humanity — the desire to connect on the deepest of levels, in a marriage. It’s not about our age, or being old.
        To all of you out there saying we’re not old, we shouldn’t complain: We don’t bash your pain. Please don’t bash ours. Let’s be a society that can understand, once and for all, that pain is valid, real, and deserves respect.

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          Lea Pavel

          My comment seems to have been misconstrued. I said, “21, 22, and 23 is not old.” I did not say, “Anyone who is upset that they are still single at such an age is being ridiculous.” One can still yearn for marriage (as I did) at those ages without labeling oneself as “old.” Nor should our community label any single individuals at those ages as “old.”

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        Sharon Cohen

        Lea, I appreciate your sincere empathy for young singles. However, you then turned around and said, “I think we can leave old for the great-grandmothers.”
        On behalf of all the outstanding, vivacious, young, and young-at-heart great-grandmothers, I must inform you. We are not OLD.

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          Lea Pavel

          My apologies to the great-grandmothers who took offense at being called old. We can leave “old” for Mesushelach (unless I’m insulting him as well).

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    Sara B., Israel

    After we got married, we didn’t have much money to spend on ourselves. While we loved our shanah rishonah, we wished we’d had more money to go on vacations before im yirtzeh Hashem having children.
    I understand that parents want to help their children if they can afford it.
    But spending $80,000 on a wedding plus buying new unnecessary clothing, and an entire apartment of new furniture… in my mind that’s excessive. Of course, everyone can spend what they want.
    But imagine if parents went to their children and said, “Our budget allows us to spend x on your wedding. Would you
    want us to cut back and give that to you as your shalom bayis fund?” The couple could use that money to spend time with each other— going out to eat, staying in a hotel once in a while, going away for Shabbos. I would have jumped on that.
    How about you?

  46. Avatar
    Name Withheld

    In response to the list of wedding expenses shared by Hanna Green and anyone who shares her mindset. You’re all wonderful people.
    You spend responsibly and within your budget. However, it isn’t fair to judge others. Materialism is very important to some people, it’s their oxygen. It’s not right for anyone to tell someone else, “But you
    don’t have money, so how can you spend like that?” And it’s definitely wrong to say, “I have and I don’t spend, so if you don’t have money, you for sure shouldn’t be spending!”
    Please just remember where money comes from. The One above. He decides who has and who doesn’t. Who gives and who takes. No one in the position of having more should feel superior to those with less. Nor should they judge on how others spend their money. EVEN if that money was given to them by others.
    May The One Who Provides, continue to give you the means to help others.

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