Family First Inbox: Issue 844| May 23, 2023
“There is a suffocating lack of space for individuality in our communities”
The Key Challenge [Oh, Brave New World / Issue 842]
Mrs. Barabara Bensoussan’s article beautifully highlights some of the unique obstacles baalei teshuvah (BTs) face. A baal teshuvah myself, I truly appreciate the cute stories of parents trying their very best, the reality of the overbearing financial struggles that come with living and raising a family in the frum community, and the challenges of living according to halachah and hashkafas haTorah.
However, this article misses the key challenge in our generation for baalei teshuvah.
Somehow, the frum community has been convinced that those who have tasted a life void of Torah and mitzvos and have chosen to return are “sug beis — second-class.” If you think I’m mistaken, consider how eager you would be to have a BT or an FFB-WL (frum from birth, with lapses) as a shidduch for your child or for yourself.
To me, the reason for this is clear and it must be addressed: Far too many shomrei Torah u’mitzvos do so out of a sense of commandedness and communal pressure; they lack connection to the Source. They go through the motions, serving G-d without an understanding of who they are, and Who He is.
There is a suffocating lack of space for individuality in our communities. Yiddishkeit is taught based on conformity. The Torah of the individual, of inner expression, has been largely ignored. The beauty and sweetness of Torah has been replaced with skepticism and judgmentalism (which, unfortunately, has become a defining factor of our communities). The sentiment of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai (Berachos 28b) reverberates: Halevai we were worried about fulfilling the will of Hashem the way we’re concerned about what others are going to think and say about us.
We must teach people the body of Judaism, but we can only do so when we’re also giving over the neshamah, the soul of Yiddishkeit. Torah is deep, and it is also wide. Within the path of halachic observance and hashkafic sensibility, there are many correct paths. It’s time we let our children (and ourselves) know that it is okay to be different, to stand out (in a tzanuah and dignified manner), and that that doesn’t risk our commitment to frumkeit; it enhances it.
If we truly want to be marbeh kevod Shamayim, if we sincerely desire to bring Hashem’s children back to Him, we first have to take a look at our communities. Are we accepting of those who are different from us? Have we fostered a warm and welcoming environment? If the answer is no, then we’re not only failing to do kiruv, we’re actively pushing away all those who seek an authentic relationship with their Creator.
Our acceptance of the other brings them closer to Torah and mitzvos. Our acceptance of ourselves, of our own struggles and challenges, is crucial to our ability to accept others.
May we be zocheh to accept our own journeys, and the journeys of others, as well.
Kalil Shmuel (Kyle) Zaldin,
Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh
A Letter to Mirlana Morris [The Hardest Goodbye / Issue 841]
Thank you for agreeing to being interviewed. Your pain and private nature is apparent in the article, so I appreciate all the more your courage for going public.
There is something special that I’d like to share with you.
Although we live in Canada, during the Lag B’omer of Donny’s petirah, we were in Israel visiting family. My husband had gone up to Meron, while I remained in Yerushalayim.
Around one a.m., he left me a message that he was safe. He made it back to Yerushalayim around four p.m. on Erev Shabbos. He was unable to talk about what had happened, and we had no idea what he witnessed. He adamantly refused to describe anything on Shabbos, yet on Motzaei Shabbos, he still couldn’t share.
At the time it was Ramadan, and therefore seminary students weren’t allowed to go alone to the Kosel. We obtained permission to take our granddaughter there. Hoping this would benefit my husband, I asked him to bring us there. It was very late at night, the streets were unusually quiet, and the moon was shining softly over the plaza.
Mirlana, how I wish you’d been there!
As we entered the Kosel plaza, we heard an uplifting and heartwarming sound. Different from a rowdy kumzitz, it had so much soul. What was it? As we drew closer to the mens’ side, we saw it was packed with hundreds of young men, many with arms around each other, standing in concentric circles swaying and singing beautiful, heartfelt songs of nechamah.
As I took the scene in, I felt my heart soaring in awe. What?!
Someone standing there saw my confusion. “It is in honor of Donny,” he explained.
Yeshivas Shaalvim had brought their boys to the Kosel for chizuk. They’d put the word out, inviting others to join. Hundreds of boys from various yeshivos gathered together to give and receive chizuk. They all needed each other, and a medium in which to release their pain and offer hope.
At that moment I genuinely felt that Mashiach would swoop down and join them. The aura, the magic, the yearning, the “achdus” was tangible. I have truly never experienced anything so powerful or beautiful, and it was all because of Donny z”l.
I walked up to the Kosel and laid my forehead on the cool stones that have borne testimony to so much. For the very first time in my life, after the privilege of visiting the Kosel for the first time in over 50 years, I cried, and cried, and cried.
Thank you, Mirlana, for raising such an outstanding son, so valued and adored, who even in his absence brought us all so close together.
May Donny’s neshamah have an aliyah, and may you find comfort in the influence he had and the chesed he did.
Good Enough Is Excellent [Words Unspoken / Issue 841]
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the Words Unspoken letter written by the therapist mother to her children. That’s because she took the words out of my mouth.
I, too, make a huge conscious effort to ensure I’m a secure and solid mother for my children, yet I, too, find myself in a position where I doubt whether I’m that ideal mother, whether I’m giving my children everything they need emotionally to become healthy, resilient, and confident adults who can grow up to lead responsible lives, create loving relationships, and grow closer to Hashem.
I applaud the writer for not only portraying honesty and bravery in the way that we view therapists (hey, they’re not emotionally perfect people!), but also in her ability to admit to herself exactly where she’s holding in her relationship with her children.
This wonderful mother, who I’m sure is filling her role in a most incredible way, touched upon something that I’d like to expand upon. I hope it will help not only her, but anyone else who feels affected by self-doubt and the pain of trying to be that wholesome mother but never really feeling like you’ve “got” it.
That point is that being a “good enough” mother isn’t only okay, but research has proven it to be better than being the “perfect” mother. When your children are at the center of your world, when you consciously create stability, love, and security for them, when you pick up the pieces of “losing it” with them (by hugging them tightly once you’ve composed yourself, and letting them honestly and openly talk about their experience of seeing you shout, without judgment or justifying yourself), you’re doing a good enough job!
Don’t let excellence be the enemy of good. With Hashem’s help, may we merit to assist our children to their adulthood as healthy and wholesome human beings.
Another Mother Who’s Consciously Trying to Get It Right
Curiosity Kills the Copycat [Musings / Issue 841]
Mrs. Peshie Needleman’s “A Curious Buzz Word” spoke to my heart, mind — and love of curiosity. A high school teacher, I try to encourage that very trait in my students. When I extol the virtues of being curious — which Peshie did delightfully in her article — I add the following, “It’s said, ‘Curiosity kills the cat.’ My amended version of that and positive spin on that is: Curiosity kills the copycat. When we’re about to conform to the norms just because…. If we first arouse our curiosity as to why people are taking certain actions or purchasing certain somethings, we now have information or understanding, and can make our own educated decision, not just follow blindly.”
Thanks, Peshie, for giving the “eager to know or learn something” side of curiosity its rightful place in our mindsets.
Don't Shut Them Down [Inbox / Issue 841]
I recently read the Man with the Pan that featured two yeshivah bochurim, and I have to say, it left me with a smile on my face. It was creative and amusing, and I enjoyed reading it. However, when I read a critical letter to the editor about the article, I was surprised to see that some people take these things quite seriously.
While I can understand the writer’s concern about modernism potentially overtaking our mesorah, perhaps the concern is less about the two bochurim trying to be creative, and more about the next generation. With so many new and exciting inventions coming out every day, it’s a valid fear that our children or grandchildren may forget the rich values that our ancestors have instilled in us.
However, criticizing these two bochurim, the next generation, for using their humor and talents in a safe and kosher outlet doesn’t seem to be the solution! We should applaud them for thinking out of the box, rather than finding fault in something they clearly put their heart and soul into. There’s nothing wrong with being creative with Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. In fact, it’s an excellent way to make the experience enjoyable and inclusive for the next generation.
We must make sure to leave a good taste (no pun intended) in our children’s mouths when it comes to our heritage.
The letter writer’s concern is actually a reminder to those of us who are parents or in chinuch to make Shabbos and Yom Tov enjoyable for our precious kinderlach. We have the ability to instill in them the joy of serving Hashem, making these practices a joy rather than a burden.
Let’s encourage our children to embrace our rich heritage while also being creative and innovative in their own way. Please don’t shut down children’s just ideas because they’re not what we’re used to. Hear them out — these kids are smart!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)
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