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Family First Inbox: Issue 866

“As I was told by a mentor: Challenges are a shortcut to greatness”

Nonprofits Are Public Servants [For Granted / Issue 865]

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the serial For Granted. As someone who founded a nonprofit, there are weeks I feel like someone crawled into my brain a decade ago before writing this serial — so many familiar dilemmas.

A few things in this week’s installment jumped out at me, and for the sake of the public (and maybe educating fictitious characters!), they should be shared.

So often, nonprofits are started exactly like Chesed Tzirel — born of a need by people with passion but zero nonprofit background. (There is actually an incredible training program called the UJA Chesed Leadership program that has trained over 85 frum female leaders of nonprofits. These characters should join!) So they might not know a thing or two or three….

1) Partnerships in nonprofits are super sticky. While each person can and should have their role, as they’re clearly learning, anything belonging to the organization (e.g., list of volunteers) must be shared for the long-term health of the organization.

2) This is a biggie: When Dini raised the funds, she specified what it would be used for. This means that, legally and halachically, if the use changed, she needs to notify the donor and ask if it can be put elsewhere. (Had the donor not specified or had she put it away until Ayala took the job — that’s a different story.) Yes, tzedakah is tzedakah, but it’s not a free-for-all of using wherever and whenever, unless it was raised for discretionary or general use. I don’t want donors to get the wrong idea reading this; well-run organizations don’t do this. (But yes, we have all made mistakes that have taught us a lot.)

3) While passion is so important, and they both have a huge concern for their clientele, there is something that’s been niggling at me. Dini’s entire need for pulling together the organization to its future big-league form is for the purpose of proving her worth to her family. Ayala’s decision not to take the role as a paid position (which, frankly, would likely be more sustainable at the rate they’re going) is for the sake of idealism.

Neither is looking at decisions through the lens of what would benefit the families. This is a dangerous path because there will continue to be hard decisions to be made, and in real leadership of organizations we can admit to our human biases (no shame there), but ultimately decisions need to be made from an objective, logical place, answering the question: What is best for the families we serve? A nonprofit is a public servant. It cannot be about what’s best for any founder at any given time, or the community will suffer.

Keep the awesome story coming!

Sarah Rivkah Kohn

Founder & Director, Links Family



It Worked for My Daughter [Watch Them Grow / Issue 865]

I was so excited to see the article last week that featured my daughter’s OT, Gitty Zelczer! I can’t overstate how much worse things might have gotten for my daughter without OT. She was doing poorly in school, and her teachers and principal said she had attention deficits. Our pediatrician went so far as to prescribe medication for her, and I was totally going to start her on it, assuming this would be a lifelong struggle. As a last-ditch effort, I took her to get evaluated by Gitty, who specializes in sensory integration and vestibular. OT has worked wonders on my daughter. She now has a perfect attention span and is up to grade level. Some children really do need medication, but not all do. It’s definitely worthwhile to do a therapy evaluation before moving forward with more radical treatment plans.

A Grateful Parent


I Forgive You [Your Home is My Home / Issue 864]

When I read the article about young people “adopted” by other families, the story of the boy who was dropped by his host family really resonated. The same thing happened to me. I wish I could tell my host this:

Dear Mrs. M.,

When you took me under your wing senior year and were there for me, when I felt the world come crashing down on me in so many ways, you were a balm to my dysfunctional upbringing. At first I resisted it. I was so scared to get hurt again. So scared to be let down.

But you encouraged me, guided me, and allowed me to believe that there are people in this world that do love and care. Through seminary you were my “mom” that I never had. You called to hear about the ups and downs, I called to wish you a good Shabbos, and it just felt normal to have a “mom” like everyone else did. I began to heal  from my childhood scars. I was excited to come “home” to a place where I felt so loved and cared for.

Then I got back from seminary, and I don’t really know what happened. You stopped answering the phone. Stopped hearing about my ups and downs. No more good Shabbos calls. And I was confused, hurt, scared even. I thought I had you, and then in the snap of a finger, you disappeared from my life. There was no explanation. And it hurt — hurt badly. My belief that there are people in this world that care went whooshing away. I lost what I thought to be the biggest gift.

When I think about it now, all these years later, even though I have my own husband and children, I have to say it still hurts. A lot. But a small piece of me understands that maybe I was too much, my baggage was too great to bear, and busy with your beautiful kids and husband, you felt you needed to take a step back. I can understand now because my own life is one big whirlwind. I always wondered how you managed to stay afloat.

But what is still hard for me to understand is, how you did it. There was no goodbye. That was hard.

I forgive you. Thank you for what you gave me then. And now as life continues, I just wish you and your family all the good in the world. When you take care of Hashem’s children, then Hashem takes care of yours. You’re still a role model in many ways.

With tears, pain, and admiration,



Shortcut to Greatness [The Scenic Route / Issue 864]

Thank you for discussing the topic of infertility. Fertility treatment is generally considered a top-secret operation, as it should be, due to its private nature. But the downside of this tzniyus is that when I was thrown into a whirlwind of doctors, tests, and treatments during shanah rishonah, I felt so, so alone. There were days when I collapsed after work and wondered what was wrong with me. Why could everyone else get it together, while I was stuck dealing with pregnancy-like symptoms without any good news? Did anyone care about my plight, or even know it existed?

A turning point came when I called ATIME, a wonderful organization that referred me to a competent doctor so I longer felt lost in the medical system. They also introduced me to a network of women in similar situations. The first time I attended an event, I was shocked that there were normal people struggling along with me in a world where everyone seems to get married and progress to motherhood. While it is still hard, I no longer feel as alone.

I want to highlight Chava’s point that, “I do know that my life isn’t Hashem’s plan B.” Infertility, like every other challenge, requires constant strengthening of bitachon. I am on a long process of acceptance and reacceptance that this is Hashem’s perfect plan for me. If I was meant to have a baby right away, that would have happened in an instant. But I would have reached the goal without gaining from the process, without going on the journey of being mevatel my ratzon for ratzon Hashem and discovering inner strength I never knew I had (and outer strengths, for example: I used to be terrified of blood tests, now they’re part of my morning routine).

Thanks to extensive reflection, conversations with mentors and rabbanim, tefillah, and bitachon seforim, I’ve reached a place where I can reflect on my experiences thus far and thank Hashem for giving me the gift of real growth and connection, built through working past uncertainty and dashed hopes. It’s so liberating to let go of all control, relinquish my trust in doctors and outcomes, recognize that my extensive hishtadlus is futile, and try to wholeheartedly accept Hashem’s decrees. Not to say that I’m always settled; there are times when I struggle to overcome feelings of disappointment, resentment, jealousy, and even a twinge of despair. This journey is about the dichotomy of hope and sadness, of recognizing the rose amid the painful thorns.

For a long time, I tried to resist my situation. Each letdown crushed me, and I had to fight to regain my desire to continue fighting. It was hard to remember the goal of the process, and even harder to remember that Hashem is with me.

But I’ve been working on myself and trying to become more connected to Him through every up and down. I think back to the person I was a year ago and humbly recognize that I’m in a different place, thanks to the constant struggle to find Hashem anew. As I was told by a mentor: Challenges are a shortcut to greatness.

Every step is designed with me in mind, for my maximum spiritual growth. I used to view my infertility journey as an unwanted detour, and I wished I wouldn’t have been sent down this path. After a while, I decided that if I’m traveling down this road, I may as well feel settled and enjoy the ride. It’s not my job to tell Hashem what’s best for me — it’s my job to surrender to His plan.

A couple of weeks ago, I was saying Tehillim on the bus after an early morning appointment. I was surprised at my realization that I’m content with the excitement and unpredictability of my journey that no one knows about, as if I’m a secret agent working with Hashem to fulfill our mission.

I truly am taking the scenic route, filled with mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome, along with sunshine and flowers. I have countless Hashgachah stories where I’ve seen Hashem’s obvious intervention to guide me at forks in the road. This scenic route can be enjoyable by choosing to focus on the growth instead of the pain.

Name Withheld


Be Aware! [Medical Mystery / Issue 864]

I found it interesting to read the article about a woman who had an allergy to Bactrim, as I recently returned from a hospital stay due to a Bactrim reaction as well. I’m writing my experience in short so people can identify symptoms and understand why it’s vital to seek care. I also want to bring attention to a fatal syndrome that can develop as a result of this reaction.

It also began with fever, chills, and a bout of misery. It was slowly followed by a severe rash as well as swelling over my entire body. It looked like my skin tone changed to purple, with some lone spots identifying me as white-skinned. I was going to brush this away as a terrible case of hand, foot, and mouth disease. However, my undiagnosed hypochondria led me to consult with Dr. Google. Hashem put a notion into my head that this just might have a connection to the antibiotic I was taking. At the advice of Dr. Google, I decided not to take additional doses prior to consulting a “real” doctor.

By the next morning my condition worsened, and my face was completely swollen. I was sent into the hospital, where I promptly informed them that I was having a Bactrim reaction. They concurred with my diagnosis and told me I was at the initial stages of Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The doctors warned me that if it continues down this trajectory, the rash will develop into a burn and enter the soft tissue membranes. This can be fatal, as all the internal organs are affected, and the entire body is effectively burned.

I was given a strong regimen of steroids intravenously to keep the rash from progressing. The rash had already entered some soft membrane areas such as my mouth, and the goal was to keep it in check until the Bactrim was flushed out of my body.

The doctor kept reiterating how lucky I was that I stopped taking Bactrim and was being treated in a timely fashion. As a result, I didn’t share the fate of most patients with Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The fact that I identified the symptoms and was hospitalized prior to the Stevens-Johnson spiraling out of control had saved my life. Perhaps an undiagnosed hypochondria isn’t that bad after all.

A Grateful Hypochondriac


Child of War [War Diaries / Issue 864]

I’ve been having bouts of déjà vu lately, ever since that first siren on Simchas Torah when I was directed into our shul miklat. Memories of more than a half century ago, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, keep flashing in my mind.

I remember as a tiny child in New York, maybe in nursery or kindergarten, bringing kitchen chair pads to school, where, at the sound of a siren, we were all supposed to line up in the hall, sit down, and put our heads down in our hands. We children were issued tiny dog tags that, although we couldn’t yet read, contained our name and date of birth, in case of war with Russia.

At home we had “blackout” drills every night where we had to cover all the windows; my father was the air-raid drill captain — we were meticulous about this.

In later years, when I could already read, I remember the big posters in our school auditorium saying, “Loose lips sink ships.” I was terrified that somehow I would say the wrong thing and cause harm to our soldiers and sailors. The radio was turned to the news all day, and the grownups huddled around it would talk in hushed tones.

I don’t remember anyone explaining to me what was happening. We children just absorbed it almost by osmosis. My uncles went off to war in Vietnam, one by one, and I remember conversations about how they could eat kosher in the army.

This was in New York City, not a war zone, and decades later, I still feel the tension and fright in the air.

We can just imagine what it must be like for the children of Israel today, especially those in the South, who have been relocated and are experiencing the reality of life and death all around them.

Decades ago there was little knowledge of the effect of trauma on children, but today we must be cognizant of the emotional effect on our youth, which will last long after the present crisis is hopefully long past.

Marion Reiss

Beit Shemesh


Another Way to View It [Parenting the Marrieds / Issue 862]

Regarding your article about parenting the marrieds, one of those asked responded that it’s “Gehinnom” (an acronym in Hebrew to spell out: gown, hair, nails, and makeup) to provide for the married children when marrying off another child.

I feel that this is a matter of perspective; it could be seen instead as a nice “minhag” (makeup, nails, hair, and gown).

Only simchahs for all of Klal Yisrael!



(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 866)

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