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Family First Inbox: Issue 885

“To say, ‘There aren’t many mentors available,’ is a total cop-out. It’s up to you to be proactive in the search”

Safety in My Silence [Words Unspoken / Issue 883]

Dear Fellow Traveler,

I was a bit shaken reading your poignant, heartfelt letter about how you know the suffering of abuse, and how it shatters you — but also the life of beauty that you can build afterward. It’s true, the endless struggles, the bottomless depth of pain, the mind-numbing silence all around. The herculean efforts to get up again, day by day, trigger by trigger, to renew, rebuild, retrust.

You described it so well — it indeed takes a “village” of therapists, friends, and family to start healing. But is it true? Can there be a time when I’m no longer haunted by nightmares, confined by limitations of what happened? Can I hope for a day when this becomes a catalyst for post-traumatic growth and I can be someone bigger than the sum of my experiences? Is it possible for this to become a detail of who I am, not a definition? And mostly... Can I dare dream to have a beautiful, shining future like everyone else? Will I ever see myself as anything other than a hastily patched, shattered vase, severely handicapped?

I, like most of us, stay silent. No one will understand. There is safety in silence. Its wall protects but also isolates, severely limiting hope. Those who have breached that wall and are part of the incredible “village” who carefully help rebuild are angels in the truest sense. Thank you for peering back over to the other side and giving hope.

Still Shattered


Time for Us to Grow Up [The Conversation Continues / Issue 883]

Thank you to all of the letter writers who completely spelled out the mentor problem — how so many women don’t have mentors and don’t know where to find one. However, when you focus on the problem, you focus on the problem (and all its sub-problems). When you’re ready to focus on solutions, you look at the problem with solution-oriented eyes, and you see something different.

Here’s step one for solutionizing here: Grow up, girls.

Fact #1: Worthwhile endeavors are not paved with a royal red carpet. They require us to work out our “struggle muscles” and overcome our insecurities. Yes, it’s awkward to approach someone of stature, who is very busy and sought-after. Yes, it’s awkward to wonder if they actually have time to listen to you. Yes, it takes effort and time to pick up the phone and  schedule in-person meetings (and not just text/email). Yes, the trial-and-error process of finding someone we respect and feel comfortable talking to is not always a linear process, and it can definitely be pretty uncomfortable.

To say, “There aren’t many mentors available,” is a total cop-out. It’s up to you to be proactive in the search. You daven, you pay attention, you ask around, you think about who you could connect to, even a tiny bit (without waiting for that picture-perfect individual to come strolling along). And then you ignore the feeling in the pit of your stomach, squeeze your eyes shut, hold your nose, and jump. You push yourself to pick up the phone that first time. And then again. And again. Without trying to cheshbon their time — that’s their business, not yours. You push yourself to confide and to ask, to speak honestly and to listen deeply. You internalize, you do the work, apply the advice. And then you go back to discuss some more.

True, cultivating the relationship has no step-by-step recipe. It’s an organic, gradual process for which there are no shortcuts. With experience, you get to know who to call for which type of issue (and you don’t rule out one mentor for a certain topic she might be good at, just because she’s not your go-to for all topics; that would be sadly closed-minded). The mentor — slowly — gets to know you and comes to understand you and your thought processes. And a relationship is born. Between all the small stuff and the occasional big stuff, too, the connection deepens over time — but note that it doesn’t always get easier to initiate.

Fact #2: Leaders in mentorship/rebbetzin positions are here on this Earth to serve Klal Yisrael. Whether they signed up for it or not, their life wisdom and ability to inspire were given to them to share and to dedicate to others.

No rav or rebbetzin is going to call you first and offer their services. But also, none of them are annoyed by your “silly” problems and questions. It’s up to us, the mentorees, to keep seeking the support. Building this muscle is something all good Jews (yes, men have to go through this, too) have to face, and we do it by tapping in to our courage — and to our desire to grow and do what’s right — even when it takes guts.

Leba Friedman


Finding My Mentor [The Conversation Continues / Issue 883]

I’m a typical frum woman with typical frum problems. I come from a good family with typical problems: My mother might be a drop too controlling, my father never made enough money, and my sisters were jealous of the attention I got over them. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I got into one of the three seminaries I applied to, had a successful year, and slowly shidduch suggestions came in. Two years after I came home from seminary, I married a wonderful man who sometimes does not live up to my expectations, had children who sometimes listen and sometimes don’t, and still do not have enough money for everything I want.

But my life on the whole is good. I never qualified for the organizations that help girls who are single for many years, or the ones that help couples struggling with infertility. I could never get help from the resources that help with postpartum depression or the countless families with children with special needs.

On the one hand, I was grateful that life was so typical and that my struggles were so boring, but on the other hand, I realized that if I don’t find someone to “help” me or give me advice or remind me that life has its typical ups and down, I would become one of the women who needed the big organizations.

The problem was that I had no idea who to reach out to. My husband went to three different shuls, so I had no relationship with a rebbetzin. I was so many years out of high school and seminary, I feared my teachers would not even remember who I was.

Then I learned that my sister’s kallah teacher texted her every Rosh Chodesh. My sister has been married for 12 years, yet once a month she got a message from her former kallah teacher just reaching out to say hello. I decided to try my luck and reach out to her.

This was literally the best decision I ever made. This woman (with whom I had no previous relationship) became my mentor and my lifeline. We have a standing coffee date once a month, and I reach out if there is time in between when I feel like we need to talk. I pay her for the time we speak;  because I know she is being compensated for her time, I never hesitate to reach out. She is not a therapist. She is a person for me to talk to, work out some problems, and give me advice — all judgment free. I encourage all women to find someone to talk to.

Chavy S.


No Justification [Melatonin: A Wakeup Call / Issue 883]

The article on melatonin did a good job of presenting objective data. But since I’m not a reporter, I can present an opinion. If a child has some condition that requires medical help sleeping, melatonin might be helpful and necessary. But for a parent to give healthy, normal children melatonin on a regular basis just to make bedtime easier — that is understandably tempting — but also quite horrifying.

There are no long-term studies on the safety of melatonin. It’s one thing for an adult to make the decision to take it themself. It’s quite another thing to give it to a child whose body and brain are in the process of developing. In general, introducing any foreign substance into a child’s body isn’t a great idea and should only be done when medically necessary.

From an objective perspective, there is really no way for a parent to justify giving typical children melatonin on a regular basis.

Sure, it’s tempting. But, as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.


Lakewood, NJ


Handover to Hashem [A Better You / Issue 882]

Abby Delouya wrote an excellent piece about coping with being in a state of limbo. While she used extreme examples such as a sick family member, Rachmana litzlan, or a couple considering separation or divorce, I think many of us have felt this way on small levels throughout our lives, such as when deciding which mesivta to send our child to,  where to move to, which job to accept, etc. Like Abby mentioned, I know I have definitely had times where I wished I had a navi in my life.

The tips Abby gave to cope with this feeling are great but I’d like to expand on her tip of emunah/bitachon and add what I have found extremely helpful. It can be very therapeutic to “hand over” the problem to Hashem. To speak to Hashem in your own words and tell Him, “I’m having this issue and I don’t know what the right decision is, but You’re capable of solving it for me, so I’m throwing my problem to You and asking for clarity and help solving it.”

Not only is this helpful because the tefillah alone helps, just connecting to Hashem and handing the problem over to Hashem can make you feel so much less alone and not in limbo.

Leah Stern

Chestnut Ridge, NY


Trip Down Memory Lane [Color Me Beautiful / Issue 882]

I greatly enjoyed Barbara Bensoussan’s article about Suzanne Dekel and her journey to becoming an expert on artisanal dyeing. Growing up in the 80s in Toronto, Canada, I attended Eitz Chaim Elementary School, well-known for its very exciting 8th-grade science fair. We students were expected to choose a topic in science and then research, experiment, record, and finally present our findings at an after-school event hosted for the younger students, parents, and faculty. The topics spanned a wide range of scientific phenomena, from the levels of vitamin C found in nature to the relationship between UV rays and sunscreen.

My friend Adina and I chose the topic of dyeing and how various foods are used to create the colors seen on our clothes. This was before the age of computers and the internet, and we began at the library, taking notes and making ten-cents-a-page photocopies of the important pages of the few books we could find on the topic. I remember us taking the subway downtown to purchase the raw fabrics and then back uptown to Loblaws supermarket, where we perused the produce aisle looking for the most vibrant fruits and vegetables. We stood in the kitchen and carefully boiled the beets, carrots, and broccoli, then dipped the materials into the solutions and laid them out to dry.

We carefully categorized them by fabric and color, recording which fabrics absorbed the dye most easily and which cloths looked the boldest after they had dried.

Thank you for taking me on a trip down memory lane, to a much simpler time in life, when two young girls smiled with delight as they watched their raw materials slowly transform to vibrant shades of the rainbow, and presented a wildly colorful and festive science project that year.

Hadassa J.

Lawrence, NY


There’s No Excuse [Out of Control / Issue 881]

Sara Bonchek wrote a striking article that is a very important read, but I humbly and respectfully think it gives too much leeway to the out-of-control parent. While it’s true that we’re not perfect despite our trying, there is never a good reason to abuse a child. There is never an excuse to yell at a child out of anger. Yelling at a child who is running into the street is extremely valid, but yelling at a child because you lack emotional regulation is immature, hurtful, and cruel.

I was raised by abusive parents, and all my life their behaviors were chalked up to emotional hardships (such as losing loved ones), “not having the proper tools,” and them not being as strong as I am. I have also cared for abused children in the hospital, and it’s absolutely horrific. I see my children as the greatest gift and parenting as the greatest privilege and zechus. How could anyone lose sight of this?

On Yom Kippur we daven and klap our chests al cheit for taking advantage of the weak, so how could we take advantage of our children, who are the ultimate example of weak? Who do we think we are? No alphabet soup diagnosis gives credence to hurting, yelling at, or abusing children. Period.

I know that we live in a world where people love diagnoses, and people want an excuse for their bad behavior to clear them up and give them permission for their poor choices. We know that hurt people hurt people, but that doesn’t excuse the hurt people from getting help so that the cycle breaks.

Since everyone loves a diagnosis, here’s a diagnosis: Abusive parenting is abusive. That’s right; bad parenting hurts children, and it’s 100 percent on the parents to fix things. Psych meds or not, it’s completely the parents’ responsibility to be good parents. There are so many Jewish organizations that can help when parents need it, as well as psychiatrists, social workers, etc. Utilize the help available — there’s no shame in that!

Look at your children through rose-colored glasses, and just love your children and treat them with the ultimate gratitude, love, and respect. When you give love and respect, you’ll all be happier. Children are people, and the best ones at that.

Stop the violence and the lame excuses. It’s hurting our children. It’s hurting us. It’s hurting our future.


Clifton, NJ


The Hardest Job in the World [Out of Control / Issue 881]

The article on rage in parenting is such an important article! Anger is often a surprising emotion that comes up for mothers. It comes along with a lot of shame. I wish I can say that most mothers seek out the right help like Nechamie so bravely did. It’s important for mothers to realize that being a mother is the hardest job in the world! Children have an uncanny way of poking away at our unresolved issues and childhood wounds.

In my work as a parenting educator and therapist, I often come across mothers who are at a loss with their parenting skills. They come to me believing that I can give them the answers as to why their child is not listening or why they feel overwhelmed and angry all the time — or why they have trouble connecting with their child or children. Sometimes we work together over a number of sessions and they walk away with a toolbox full of skills that they implement successfully.

Other times I have to tell a mother that I cannot help her target her parenting goals before she enrolls in trauma informed therapy, to help her heal from a trauma. I have also had to tell mothers to take care of their mental health needs first — whether that means medication or working with a licensed therapist to address issues around depression, anxiety, OCD, and other problems.

Thank you for this very well-written article. It’s very validating for other mothers out there who are struggling.

Leah Davidowitz LCSW


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 885)

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