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Family First Inbox: Issue 836

I thought my life was normal. Until I realized that it isn’t.
Knowledge Is Power  [Inbox / Issue 833]

I’ve been following the responses to Miriam (Pascal) Cohen’s original article intently. After reading response after response, it’s absolutely clear she touched a raw nerve for so many. I’d like to humbly suggest an idea as to what we can do going further.

Information is a powerful tool. Unbiased information, that is. When teens are given straight information, they have the knowledge to empower them to make decisions, hopefully positive ones.

I currently teach a Nutrition/Health Science curriculum in Monsey, based on the years of education I pursued on this topic as a registered dietitian. We learn how eating can be a ruchniyusdig pursuit, we learn in depth about every nutrient, its functions, complications of deficiencies, ideal sources, how our bodies desperately need them every day, and how restriction is detrimental.

We explore claims on food packages, learn how to read a Nutrition Facts label, and explore why food can be better for our health or less so, without judgment, so the girls can make mature decisions, now or at a different time.

Maybe if more high schools would consider teaching the girls some practical nutrition information, we could help so many.

Chaya Tziry Retter, RDN, CPT



What about the Young Marrieds? [Growing Up / Issue 834]

Thank you for a fascinating and thought-provoking article. Dr. Kessler’s research vividly paints a realistic — and somewhat disconcerting — picture of the processes that single women go through to discover their adult identities.

It makes me wonder — what about the girls who do get married at age 19 or 20? How do they navigate the process of finding themselves and becoming an adult, while simultaneously building a marriage relationship and, most often, dealing with a baby or two?

And... dare we propose that the young women who actually took the time to discover themselves before marriage might actually be better suited to forming a relationship and building their families?

Single Girls Aren’t Nebach


Growing Up / Issue 834

I really don’t appreciate the direction Family First has been taking recently. For the last five months, all of the material has been focused on the so-called singles crisis. It’s not a crisis — Hashem will send each person a shidduch when it’s the right time and no project or initiative will make that time change!

Please stop writing about single girls as nebachs who need to be treated properly. You only talk about someone needing to be treated properly if you believe they shouldn’t be.

Sick of the Singles Crisis


We All Struggle [Know This / Issue 834]

I’d like to weigh in on the Know This column discussing social anxiety. I’ve been struggling with social anxiety since I was little. I was the quiet kindergartener hiding in the corner of the classroom, the elementary school kid who had a hard time making friends, the high schooler who was insecure and unsure if her friends were actually interested in her.

I thought my life was normal. Until I realized that it isn’t.

When I got back from seminary, my social life dwindled to almost nothing since I was afraid to reach out (and friends started moving on and getting married). Things were hard, and it was no fun. It was time to reach out for help.

In therapy, I had so many “aha moments” that showed me where I was going wrong. I realized that the belief that “I have social anxiety and therefore I get to skip this event” is limiting. The struggle is real, but the only thing avoidance accomplishes is that it pushes off recovery. Healing happens when you take charge, when you realize that the only one who has the power to change things is you.

So, I started small, like not skipping an event I really didn’t feel like attending — and preparing myself beforehand for some possible conversations that people might initiate (mostly so that I don’t blank out when they do). Self-talk helps — I tell myself things like, “It’s okay that I feel everyone staring at me. It’s okay that I’m hyperventilating. I’ll get through this. I’m going home soon.” After repeating this quite a few times, my brain started believing it. ‘Cuz it really is okay. (Most people don’t realize that you’re blushing/breathing heavily/blanking out. It’s usually your brain making you feel like you’re performing worse than you actually are. And if they do — that’s okay, too!)

Finding supportive friends who know about the struggle definitely plays a huge role in overcoming social anxiety. Just knowing that they’ll listen and understand makes things easier.

So does accepting that we all struggle, each in our own way. Those who look the most perfect are likely the ones who have it the hardest (take it from me, he he).

Name Withheld


Impact on the Family [Know This / Issue 834]

It is with pain in my heart that I respond to the article about social anxiety while living with this situation. It’s with great tolerance and understanding of social anxiety that I’m writing this. Although my sympathy is deep and I feel along with the sufferer of social anxiety, there is a missing component that needs to be addressed as well. Typically, when a family member suffers from any condition, there needs to be a support system for the other family members. Is there any understanding of how deeply this condition affects the surrounding family members? For example, a wife cannot go to her parents for Shabbos or Yom Tov due to her husband’s condition. He can’t make phone calls or go on errands. He won’t do any shopping or go on Chol Hamoed outings with the family. Can you fathom the impact?



Being Nice Is a Torah Mandate [Day of Defiance / Issue 833]

I’m writing about women doing things regarded as “off” — socially unacceptable. It sparked a lively discussion at our Shabbos tish because not only were most of the “off” behaviors simple menschlichkeit, they weren’t even that strange.

Besides, I behave peculiarly (by the standards of the bizarre society these examples represented) all the time.

I wear colored dresses to simchahs.

My sheitel has a touch of red in it, not because I’m a redhead (I never was), but because it gives life to my face. It cost me £39. It does the job, is easy to care for myself, and I’ve even had compliments on some of my £39 sheitels.

I admit publicly that I don’t really get much out of saying Tehillim (though I do it anyway).

I smile (and frequently talk to) strangers all the time, and let me tell you, you have not seen a transformation until you smile at a tired old lady, and she smiles back and her face looks as though the sun has come out.

I try to see workers, taxi drivers — anyone doing a job — as people first, not just robots performing a function. I try to be understanding and make allowances. How many people do you know who have been sent flowers by their utility company?

I say please and thank you regularly, and if someone steps on my toes (literally or figuratively), I take the blame. It doesn’t hurt me. They know whose fault it really was, and they bend over backward to be nice because I’m not attacking them.

I try to pay my bills on time and apologize if I forget, and if I don’t have money, I don’t buy anything I don’t need.

If someone gives me a ride, I make sure I don’t keep them waiting. I’m out there early.

I try not to tell lies. Yaakov Avinu stands for emes. I want to be like him because Yitzchak’s gevurah frightens me (though I understand its necessity), and Avraham’s chesed for everyone seems beyond me (though I’m still trying).

Some of this takes self-discipline, which isn’t a popular concept nowadays. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

Now, I’m aware that your readership is heavily “big-city” (New York, London, and so on) and that residents in big cities are like that in general — they don’t recognize people outside their own circle. That’s how humans handle living in places with hordes of people living cheek by jowl.

But as frum Jews, why have we (well, not me, but you know what I mean) bought into this mindset?

This idea of total conformity is unfortunately only one example of the way Torah Yiddishkeit seems to have been hijacked and twisted by frum big-city society. This isn’t Yiddishkeit! The competition, the lashon hara, the emphasis on rigid conformity, schools rejecting children who don’t fit their perceived image, self-created problems like the shidduch “crisis” — none of these were present to the same excessive degree 50 or 60 years ago.

I live my life according to what Torah says, not according to what my neighbor does. Please encourage your readers to indulge in “off” behavior — and why is it considered so socially unacceptable to be a mensch? — as often as possible! A little kindliness goes much farther than people realize.

Mrs. Henye Meyer


It’s Meant to Be Hard Work [Inbox / Issue 833]

I’ve been following the letters in the inbox about tefillah and have found the conversation to be very meaningful. I found the timing of this article to be real Hashgachah as I’ve been finding tefillah a real challenge since I had my second child. I’d recently really been trying to work on it, so this brought much-needed chizuk and inspiration.

I wanted to bring up just a couple of points. Tefillah is called avodah shebalev — it’s not meant to be easy, and while it would be nice if we could always have Shemoneh Esrehs that were truly filled with kavanah and left us feeling uplifted, that’s not realistic, and also really not what tefillah is about. Anything that’s worthwhile and meaningful comes only through hard work and dedication.

So sometimes I’ll daven and feel super inspired and tap into the meaning of the words, and sometimes I may find it harder to concentrate and have to put in more effort, which is how I know I’m truly growing.

Another point I realized is that, baruch Hashem, at this stage of my life, with little children, consistency may not always be possible, and that’s okay. We always hear about how consistency is the key to growth, and while there’s certainly truth to that, insisting on consistency may stop you from growing at times. I so related to the letter writer about how by day four, who’s keeping track anymore. I have taken on a kabbalah to daven at least one Shemoneh Esreh a day. I’ve been doing this for a few months and yes, I’ve missed days, but while in the past I would have to “start over” and feel guilty that I couldn’t keep a simple kabbalah (and I used to daven three Shemoneh Esrehs a day), I just keep on going, and think if I could’ve scheduled my day any differently. If yes, then I’ll try to do better next time. If not, then that day I was fulfilling my tafkid in another way.

I also really try to connect to Hashem throughout the day. On my drive to work, I talk to Hashem in my own words. Throughout the day, I ask Hashem for success, and also thank Him when things work out (or when they don’t). When I put my kids to sleep, I say a perek of Tehillim with them. I love that my daughter knows this is part of the bedtime routine, and I hope it will build her connection to Hashem.

I work on my emunah, and I feel that that has certainly impacted my tefillah when I have the time to daven.

One last point. We were zocheh to spend this past Succos in Yerushalayim, which was our first time back since leaving five years ago due to a medical condition. When we went to the Kosel, I was overcome with emotion. The last time we were in Eretz Yisrael, it was during shanah rishonah and I thought I had so much to daven for. Now after experiencing life some more, I realized I had so much more to daven for — where to start? Suddenly it hit me. I’m living the life I davened for, married to a true ben Torah with two precious children, and building a Torah home. Where else can I start other than thanking Hashem for the brachos He has given me? This realization has stayed with me whenever I get frustrated that I don’t have the time to daven — I’m living out my tefillos, and I can connect to Hashem through that.

We, as Jewish women, have no shortage of things to feel guilty about. Let’s try to figure out what works for us at each stage of our life, and may we be zocheh to use every stage to connect to Hashem in the most ideal way.

Name Withheld


Family Connections / Issue 832

I appreciate the answer Sarah Chana Radcliffe gave to the mother of two daughters, one who has an easy time in school and aces all her tests without studying, as opposed to her sister who studies very hard and doesn’t do as well as she would like.

However, there is a point I’d like to bring up. The daughter who has to study hard is actually learning important life skills and building her resilience for all areas of life. She’s learning how to work hard and accomplish and deal with failure as well as success.

The gifted student who never has to study and just breezes through is missing out on critical life skills. I had a child like this who never learned how to study or work hard at anything because everything came so easy to him. He never dealt with failure. He had lots of accomplishments, but when he went to college he suffered greatly. He had never built good study skills, or resilience against failure, or been in a situation where he felt pressured by the demands of school.

Your less “gifted” daughter is actually the winner. We can train ourselves to look differently at our children and be proud of their development of healthy life skills rather than silly test scores. Our children will feel the difference in our attitude.

C.J., Israel


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 836)

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