| Family First Inbox |

Inbox: Issue 725

"I understand that you were out to give your daughter the best shot at getting married. What about my son who was so hurt in the process?"
Money’s Not the Problem (Touch Base / Issue 724)

I love Batya Weinberg’s columns; they are a welcome breath of fresh air in a murky world, clarifying hashkafic concepts with a plethora of sources, a great combination of wit and passion, and a deep understanding of people. But I found this week’s discussion of money to be less satisfying than her previous pieces.

I would venture to say that the entire target of the discussion was off. Yes, there are some people in our community who have become obsessed with accruing money and luxury. But the vast majority of us are struggling — not for money as its own goal, but struggling to provide our families with all the things that frum society has deemed “necessary.” The obsessive focus does not revolve around money per se; it revolves around the need to pay for housing, tuition, therapies and tutoring, clothing, camp, simchahs… all at a standard that presents the right “look” or “tone,” even if we see ourselves as far from wealthy.

Interestingly enough, and probably unhealthily enough, these days you can get so much of the “right type” of stuff for cheaper than in the past. Between knockoffs, Aliexpress, friendly frum sites and apps giving us heads-up about sales, it is now within everyone’s reach to be on trend. Simchah-prop gemachs and cheaper-but-stylish options for sheitels and the like just exacerbate the issue.

People whose income bracket 20 years ago would have meant making peace with less clothing, less home décor, less vacations — now they spend just as much (or even more time) than their wealthier counterparts scouring the Internet for more deals. Not because they aren’t honest about how much money they do or don’t have — but because having less money is no longer an excuse not to look right or present right. Having a husband who learns in kollel or who works as klei kodesh is no longer a valid reason not to keep up with the crowds.

The article’s suggestion of moving 15 minutes away from a higher-class area to lower the standard of living— whether that means from Lakewood to Jackson or from Lawrence to Far Rockaway — felt a bit glib. This is so much bigger than a neighborhood issue. I know people who live in both of those “simpler” areas; cutting down their work hours is a very distant dream. They are just working harder and harder trying to pay the basics of frum life.

We desperately need to have a discussion about our lifestyle and about what frum society sees as “givens.” But the target of this discussion should not have been money. That’s really not the focus and not the culprit. It would have been more accurate to talk about the unspoken but undeniable standards for fitting into frum society, which it seems no one these days can circumvent, regardless of income.

Adina Hershkowitz

Today’s Biggest Test (Touch Base / Issue 724)

Thank you for publishing Batya Weinberg’s thoughtful article, On the Money. For generations, new ideas such as the Enlightenment, Communism, and socialism, as well as abject poverty, were the challenges facing the Torah-observant community.

Today it is money and “stuff.” We talk about kollel, tzniyus, and lashon hara constantly in our educational institutions, but not about what might be the biggest nisayon of our times. Thanks for raising the issue.

Hadassah Gefen, Edison, NJ

Linked by His Learning (Door of Opportunity / Issue 724)

Sometimes I come across a piece that touches me on an entirely differently level — it’s that moment when words and sentences suddenly become that oft-desired-but-rarely-found sustenance for the soul. That’s how I felt reading Elana Moskowitz’s description of her father, Dr. Bashevkin, and his dedication to his daily learning schedule despite an exhausting day of work, the creak of a garage door before dawn encapsulating the reason the Jewish People are still here and still thriving. While I don’t know either one of them, I immediately felt that spark of unity that exists between all of us, a feeling of this is what keeps Klal Yisrael together. That mesirus nefesh exhibited by a father, passed down to his children — that mesorah that keeps us alive.

I’m pretty sure most of us can’t follow anything close to Dr. Bashevkin’s schedule, but I think every reader can take a little something from the portrayal of his mesirus nefesh for Torah, even if it’s just the sense of pride in being part of this special nation.

Rachael Lavon

Why Out of Town? (Inbox/ Issue 723)

I laughed out loud when I read the Blumberg Family’s letter, “In Defense of Queens.” A half century has passed, and some things stay the same.

The letter reminded me of the time I helped organize a surprise party for a friend. When I called a few of her friends from camp who lived in Boro Park, a couple of them reacted with, “All the way to Queens?! But that’s so far.” I pointed out that we managed to get to Brooklyn every once in a while and that the distance from Brooklyn to Queens was not greater than that from Queens to Brooklyn.

And while Queens 50 years ago was nothing like it is now in terms of Yiddishkeit, even then we had a few strong communities, with several shuls in each. It was never as far out of town as Boro Parkers made it out to be. I even remember one Boro Parker uncle commenting at how pleasantly surprised he was to see that I was making brachos before eating. Considering that I was attending Bais Yaakov, I could only look at him in astonishment.

On a more serious note: Considering that being “in town” seems to include often an insular view and a condescending attitude to others, why aim for the label? Actually, why not just do away with the labels altogether?

Srif Cohen, Yerushalayim

We’re Busy Treating Patients (Inbox / Issue 723)

In last week’s inbox, R.S. wonders why “despite several articles pointing the finger at physicians who were too harried or arrogant or busy to give their patient the proper care, you haven’t received any letters from doctors protesting the series.”

As an ER doctor practicing in Yerushalayim, I think I can propose a reason that doctors have not been furiously sending responses to the Medical Mysteries to protest the portrayal as arrogant and uncaring. Instead of writing letters, they are busy running to their clinics and hospitals, caring for COVID patients and regular patients, putting on and taking off oppressive protective gear multiple times a day, performing procedures, formulating complex plans for very sick patients, holding patients’ hands and reassuring them that they are okay when they are, making multiple calls for them to arrange follow up care and diagnostic tests, and staying way later than their shifts to see “just one more patient.”

I am sorry that there are a minority of doctors who provide suboptimal care and I sympathize with patients who have had negative experiences. However, this column has no relationship with the reality of most doctors who give their expertise and their hearts to their patients.

I only hope that patients who require medical care are not discouraged by this column from pursuing and receiving the care that they truly need.

Batya Zuckerman, MD

Mothers, Use Your Voice (Inbox / Issue 723)

I am writing in response to the letter by R.S commenting on the article “Healthy at Last.” The article is written by a mother of a child who was constantly getting UTIs, and took years to finally get a diagnosis. Maybe there is a strong difference between the medical care in Europe, where the story took place, and the US, but a story like this never would have happened under the care of my pediatrician, Dr. Max Bulmash, or his partner, Dr. Saul Feldman.

During one of my pregnancies, they saw on my sonogram that my baby had hydronephrosis (fluid in his kidney). After birth, the hospital did a sonogram and determined that the hydro was very minimal and they did not recommend treatment or follow up. However, my pediatrician did not want to take any chances, and still sent me to a urologist who did a sonogram and other testing to make sure my baby did not have kidney reflux. I also have family members and friends whose children have had multiple UTIs and they were always sent for testing. So if your child has had more than one UTI and your doctor has not sent you for further testing, it is time to either use your voice or to switch doctors.

To answer the question of the letter writer, why Family First hasn’t received any letters from doctors protesting the series, the many competent doctors that I know are confident in their abilities, and don’t feel the need to defend the “exceptions” to the norm. But mostly they are too busy treating patients.

M.C., Brooklyn, NY

Tried-and-True Shabbos (Tastes Like Shabbos: Always With Joy / Issue ??)

I read with great interest and happiness the article about Rebetzin Zahava Braunstein,a”h. She was my favorite high school teacher at BYA many years ago, and the only teacher who lovingly called me Malky, instead of Malka. She encouraged me always and was always the sincerest of all my teachers.

My daughters both got to know her, while attending Camp Shira for many years and can attest to her “gitskeit” and leadership with love and caring for all the campers. I am quite sure the community feels her absence till today.

It was so nice to hear from her daughter about how she prepared a regular normal Shabbos fare for her guests and family. This should prove to the public at large that one need not indulge in fancy recipes and simchah-type food to feed and show caring to one’s own family and Shabbos guests. The tried-and-true old time favorite Shabbos food recipes are always winners. Even though both of my daughters are great cooks, my potato kigel is still a winner in my family, and when I go to them for Shabbos, I always make sure to bring at least one along.

Thank you for a wonderful glimpse into the life of a truly beautiful and sorely missed lady.

Malky Green, Far Rockaway

What About My Son? (Words Unspoken / Issue 723)

I read the Words Unspoken that a mother wrote to the bochur her daughter had been dating, who ended the shidduch after learning of her daughter’s struggles with depression. My son recently had a similar experience with a girl he was dating. I understand that in your eyes your daughter’s depression is no big deal. I agree that no one knows what the future will bring.

I still think most people want their children to start out with a clean slate. My son invested much time and energy into dating the girl. He was excited and flying high. The medical condition that she told him about abruptly ended the relationship. It’s difficult to watch my son get over a relationship that never should have started to begin with. I understand that you were out to give your daughter the best shot at getting married. What about my son who was so hurt in the process?

Mother of a hurt son

I Say Perfect (Words Unspoken / Issue 723)

The letter to the bochur shone a light on this very important topic of mental illness. But I’m confused about the signoff to the letter — you call yourself a mother of a “perfectly imperfect” daughter. Hey, your daughter is wonderful, productive, energetic. I say she’s perfect. Mental illness is a medical illness.

I would ask this wonderful girl’s mom: If your daughter in shidduchim was taking medication for migraine headaches, would you label her as “perfectly imperfect’?

Avigail Rothenberg

Torah Come Alive (Timeless Song / Issue 723)

I would like to commend Gitty Meyerowitz on her absolutely stunning piece, “Timeless Song,” the story of Serach bas Asher. As someone who struggles to learn “inside”, classes on Chumash and Nach were always a challenge for me to enjoy. I found the stories to be abstract, incoherent, and hard to appreciate. It takes talent to make a Torah story come alive, in a tangible, relatable way, but still keep it true to form. This storyline, with all of its detailed dialogue, was such a seamless and surprisingly gripping read, and it helped me feel more connected to Torah (something not always easily attained for women). I would love to see more pieces like this in the future.

Leba Friedman

Emotional Overthinking (Family Reflections / Issue 720)

This advice from Sarah Chana Radcliffe has saved my life... and I don’t say this lightly. I’m a very emotional person but also very intellectual and have been suffering from severe overthinking recently (perhaps OCD). I had a difficult day with a student and began thinking about whether teaching was indeed the right job for me. Except that I couldn’t stop thinking about it, weighing all the pros and cons endlessly, to the point I couldn’t function.

This lasted almost two days, until I remembered Mrs. Radcliffe’s advice. I immediately tuned into my feelings and realized that I was in distress and started crying. After that release, I was better and the overthinking stopped! This made me realize that I use overthinking as a means to avoid facing emotions, such as anxiety and distress. Once I faced the emotion, the overthinking/OCD went away. I thought this would be interesting for any readers who have mental/emotional issues to hear.

A Thankful Reader

Super Relevant Serial (Dream On)

We’d like to give a shout out to Gila Arnold and her stunning portrayal of the seminary experience in her weekly serial Dream On. As insiders to this unique reality, we can testify to the accuracy of her well researched details — from Katzefet smoothies to Shabbos chavayahs in Shomron. Even in a challenging year like ours, the experiences relayed are super relevant.

We love the representation of our peer group in the Family First! We look forward to reading Dream On each week out loud together, taking turns acting out each character. We almost don’t need the script, it’s that accurate!

Regards from the Holy Land,

A.B. and C.L.

P.S. Message to all older teachers: On behalf of ourselves and our seminary friends we want you to know that you are dearly appreciated and not in any way “irrelevant” as may be implied by a certain high-strung character in Dream On.


Correction: In last week’s issue, the essay “Door of Opportunity” had the wrong byline. It was written by Elana Moskowitz. We deeply regret the error.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 725)

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