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Inbox: Issue 856

"Just like putting on your own oxygen mask first isn’t something to feel guilty about, neither is proper self-care"



Peace and Unity [Five-Star Standard / Issue 855]

Your article on Rabbi Moshe Heinemann and the Star-K was a pleasure to read. I am always impressed with the quality of writing in Mishpacha. Many years ago, when the Upper Park Heights neighborhood was “going downhill,” the establishment of the Agudah shul under Rabbi Heinemann saved the neighborhood. It was a magnet for heimishe families. The unification of kashrus has contributed greatly to the shalom in our community. Everyone can eat at any event.

Your article concludes with a description of the unified response to the COVID pandemic. It bears mentioning that the president of the Vaad Harabbanim of Baltimore is Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer. The respect he is shown by all members of the Vaad, which includes rabbis from across the spectrum, is a major factor in the Vaad’s success. Rabbi Heinemann and Rabbi Hopfer show each other much kavod and after discussion and even voting, whatever is decided is unanimously followed, even by those who may have had a different approach.

Of course, this communal peace is the heritage of Rabbi Herman Naftoli Neuberger. He always stressed shalom and it is part of the DNA of our community.

May Rabbi Heinemann continue to set a high standard in all areas for many years to come.

Rabbi Elchonon Oberstein

Better Than the Experts [Five-Star Standard / Issue 855]

What a beautiful article about Rabbi Heinemann! As a longtime Baltimore resident, I have some stories of my own to add.

Many years ago I was under the hood of my car in the parking lot behind our store. Just then Rabbi Heinemann walked by and asked me what the problem was. I told him I had mistakenly put oil in my transmission, and my mechanic told me it would have to be emptied and cleaned.

“When you put in the oil, did you use a funnel?” Rabbi Heinemann asked. No, I hadn’t. “Then you could not have put it there,” he said. “Show me where you put it.”

When I pointed where I had put the oil, he told me it was where the steering fluid goes. The mechanic had not “diagnosed” my problem properly, but Rabbi Heinemann did so right away.

I davened in the Agudah for over 40 years. When I wanted to kasher my stainless-steel sink for Pesach, I came up with the idea to fill the sink with water and place a heavy-duty immersion heater inside, and bring the water to a boil. But Rabbi Heinemann told me I couldn’t kasher it that way for halachic reasons.

A few years ago, my son moved to a different neighborhood and asked his rav there what he thought about kashering the sink that way. No problem, he said. In the middle of kashering the sink, there was a tremendous boom and his brand-new quartzite countertop cracked. I guess Rabbi Heinemann was right….

When the Heinemanns moved out of their Yeshiva Lane apartment, the person who moved in told Rebbetzin Heinemann, “We feel like we moved into the Beis Hamikdash!”

To which she answered, “The only comparison between our apartment and the Beis Hamikdash is that they are both a churban.”

Baltimore is very gebentshed to have Rabbi (and Rebbetzin) Heinemann among our many chashuveh leaders.

Name Withheld

So Many Questions [Money Talks / Double Take — Issue 854]

Words cannot express my disbelief at the Double Take story “Money Talks,” and then the follow-up letter written by P.R. in the Inbox. I have so many questions!

First, what’s the point of having an avreich spend time in learning if his parents and in-laws are fighting? Doesn’t it say “deracheha darchei noam”? Fighting over the amount of money given to a kollel couple is not a derech of shalom.

Furthermore, what would’ve happened if the wealthy mechutan had gone bankrupt? Would the parents demand a get because he can no longer support the couple?

And I guess I understand that the parents want the wealthy in-laws to give more money so the kids can live more comfortably, but that sounds like a terrible case of entitlement! If the young kollel family needs more money, then they can do like the rest of the world and work. Learning in kollel is beautiful and I’m all for it if it doesn’t bring with it feelings of resentment, entitlement, anger, and hatred.

Our kids are still young and we aren’t people of means at all, but I daven so hard that when the time comes for us to make shidduchim, we look out for and search for what really matters — not money, but good middos.

R. H., Baltimore, MD

Nothing to Feel Guilty About [Who Cares / Calligraphy Fiction Supplement]

The story “Who Cares” by Esty Heller depicted an overwhelmed woman in crisis who decided to abandon most of her responsibilities. She also spent a lot of money under the guise of “self-care.” The story ends with the realization that her self-care has been selfish.

The only problem was that this fictional woman was not engaging in proper self-care.

Self-care is ensuring that one’s own needs are being met so we do not enter crisis mode or feel constantly overwhelmed. These needs are different for everyone, and may be as basic as a homemade tuna fish sandwich for breakfast. If eating that sandwich means your son’s shirt isn’t ironed, so be it. He needs a stable mother more than an ironed shirt.

Many women ignore their own need to eat and sleep and have physical rest while taking care of their loved ones’ needs and desires. Just like putting on your own oxygen mask first isn’t something to feel guilty about, neither is proper self-care.

E.S., Devoted Mother

Practical and Possible [Who Cares / Calligraphy Fiction Supplement]

The well-written and engaging story “Who Cares” made a valid point — that self-care, when taken to the extreme, can consume time and financial resources that we frum women can ill afford. Unfortunately, I fear that your audience will throw the baby out with the bath water, absorbing the story’s more subtle message that self-care is entirely unrealistic, unnecessary, and — ultimately — selfish, for a frum woman who truly wants to fulfill her obligations to her family.

In my coaching of married women of all ages, we discuss the importance of self-care as it relates to marriage. Women are often astonished to find what a difference it makes in their relationships when they are able to be more present, more cheerful, and more receptive — all because they put some time and energy into (gasp!) taking care of themselves. Because a happy wife is an attractive wife — and, not coincidentally, a calmer, happier, and more effective mother.

Of course, we would all love to have a cleaning lady, takeout lunch, and a long nap every day. But just because these are not practical for most does not mean that self-care is unnecessary — or impossible.

With a little bit of time-management, organization, and priority-setting, Raizy could have found a measure of sanity and calm by:

  • investing in a coffee maker (with a timer) and thermos
  • taking a few minutes to make herself a simple healthy lunch (for extra credit, one for her husband too!)
  • spending five to ten minutes doing yoga, practicing mindfulness, or doing deep breathing while listening to music — all in the comfort of her own home
  • taking a 10- to 15-minute power nap
  • Learning some kid-friendly quick-prep one-pan dinner recipes

Will this make her as calm and well-rested as her original ill-informed self-care routine? No, of course not. Will it take her a long way toward being a calmer and happier wife and mother for her family? Most certainly.

Alisa Avruch, The Secret Spark marriage workshop

Tied to Giving [Who Cares / Calligraphy Fiction Supplement]

I enjoyed Esty Heller’s short story; it brought home a great message: True satisfaction in life only comes from growing toward a giving mindset. I also enjoyed the letter sent in response, but one statement felt “off” to me. The statement was “self-care means taking what you need in order to be able to give.”

When people, especially mothers and women, hear this statement, they might conclude, “Oh, so I’m only deserving of receiving exactly how much I need in order to give to my family. My inherent value as a person stems from being a giver; I am not allowed to have anything in life simply because it gives me pleasure.”

One should not be an aimless pleasure seeker, but when someone suffocates their desires (material or spiritual) because they serve no function other than to provide pleasure for the person, this can distance a person from herself, others, and ultimately, Hashem. They will feel undeserving and unworthy since they haven’t “earned” whatever is it they desire.

Instead of denying ourselves pleasures or convincing ourselves that we don’t deserve those that we do experience, I would suggest that we can become vulnerable with Hashem, telling Him about what we want and desire and the pleasures we are thinking about (as long as it is something muttar!) and ask Him that He help us, without demanding it or expecting it, and perhaps doing appropriate hishtadlus.

We can also daven that Hashem gradually help us to channel our desires in a more spiritual direction.

Just some thoughts…

Name Withheld

Money or Values? [Text Messages / Issue 854]

In “Unexpected Emissary,” Eytan Kobre praises Senator Schumer, “a proudly identifiable Jew,” for promoting and delivering what “represents perhaps the largest federal funding allocation to the frum community in history” with regard to the huge monetary allocations for private school funding (along with other provisions benefiting our communities) in the most recent $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue law.

It is of course wonderful that our community is on the receiving end of all this largesse. However, it seems to be a perpetuation of a long-standing trend in our community. Senator Schumer is up for reelection in 2022 and knows that, just as in the past, our community’s votes can be purchased — at the expense of standing firmly behind our family and community values.

I agree with Mr. Kobre that our G-d-given mesorah values should not be equated with any particular party or politico. But we need to be very aware that currently we are engaged in a societal culture war where the Democrat party (Schumer’s party) is clearly aligned with undermining and obliterating traditional and family values, as evidenced by some of the first actions of this Congress and presidency pushing values antithetical to our frum values and our religious freedom (i.e., the Equality Act).

These times call for our voting our values! And yet we Yidden, sadly, keep voting for the money.

Rucie Akerman, Brooklyn, New York

The Show Must Go On [Role Play / Issue 854]

I was blown away by Mishpacha’s brilliant, creative, and provocative idea of dressing up an actor as a Yerushalmi and having him walk around Tel Aviv, and then dressing him up as a police officer and having him enter the shuls and stores of Bnei Brak. It was a powerful way to hold up a mirror for us to see how we are perceived by the people around us.

We need to be concerned about perceptions, and we need to know the repercussions of our actions. We need to know whether we are in line with our ultimate mission of kiddush Hashem. Are we succeeding in our objective of increasing kavod Shamayim? And if not, we need to know why and what can we do better.

What now? My vote is keep it going. Keep sending actors to have conversations to glean pure, unadulterated information that can provide clear feedback.

I also hope and believe strongly that if you sent an actor dressed as a chiloni into many of our communities, he would be welcomed and embraced with warmth and love.

Rabbi Shraga Freedman

Author, Sefer Mekadshei Shemecha and Living Kiddush Hashem

The Right Professional [Off the Couch / Issue 854]

Thank you for your excellent column Off the Couch. The last series, “A Pill Could Kill,” is frightening but so needed. There is sadly so much stigma surrounding going to a psychiatrist that there are those who seek any other way to get pills, with devastating effects.

I do want to bring up another danger that I’m encountering more and more. There are some excellent pediatricians and internists who are legally allowed to prescribe various medications — but since they are not specialists in psychiatry, they often miss some crucial pieces in terms of dosages and follow up.

Some parents want to avoid the “stigma” of mental illness and instead tell a pediatrician about their child’s anxiety or ADHD and get medication. Some adults tell their internists about their own anxiety or depression and get prescriptions for medication that way. Anything to avoid seeing a mental health clinician.

Over Yom Tov I dealt with two episodes related to prescriptions for wrong dosages — due to issues internists would not necessarily be aware of.

There is no shame in going to a cardiologist for a heart condition, a dermatologist for a skin condition, a reproductive endocrinologist for infertility, or an orthodontist for braces. There is no shame in going to a psychiatrist for any mental health medical matters. There is safety in going to a specialist who hopefully will carefully monitor and follow professional protocol to see how medication is or isn’t working.

Mrs. Sarah Rivkah Kohn

Founder & Director, Links

Too Extreme to Be True? [Off the Couch / Issue 854]

Dr. Jacob Freedman’s latest articles on “Reb Ruvy” read straight out of the “town of Chelm” jokes. I have a hard time believing that a rebbe, his gabbai, and his followers can be so naive and stupid. It does not make any sense and seems to fit into the stereotype of “extremist” chassidim who are stupid, dumb, and unworldly. I bet any secular Jew reading this would have what to laugh about.

Of course, I know that there are plenty people who can behave this way, but this story sounds too extreme. I hope I am correct, and that Dr. Freedman exaggerated.

L. Rosenberg

Dr. Freedman responds:

Thanks for being in touch and for the positive feedback. You raise some fantastic points that I’d love to address.

To begin with, unfortunately, people like Reb Ruvy and his team of “Chelmniks” are still out there causing all sorts of ridiculous, illegal, and heinous problems. They can be well-meaning individuals who have semichah, yichus, and more than enough reasons for all sorts of chashuveh people to trust them to “deal with mental health in the community.” This happens in an ongoing fashion even when the results of their involvement are quite disastrous.

In Israel, the media recently reported that an unlicensed therapist gave psychedelic drugs to a client who subsequently became psychotic and murdered his child. I do not have any more information, but I have seen enough bad things over the course of my time here to believe this story could be 100 percent true.

This is not to say that a license automatically confers brilliance, honesty, and reliability. Prominent, licensed psychologists have been accused of inappropriate conduct, or of inappropriately recommending marijuana, psychedelic drugs, and other unproved treatments to their patients. Having a license and proper professional training doesn’t make one infallible. Only Hashem is perfect.

That being said, proper training as a social worker, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist involves thousands of hours seeing patients under professional supervision. The experience one gets seeing large numbers of patients and the mentoring one receives from senior clinicians (in addition to rigorous licensing exams in most cases) all help to ensure that the finished product is a solid one. Similarly, licensed mental health clinicians are theoretically bound by a code of conduct, professional ethics, and periodic review by professional licensure boards to ensure that they are providing high-quality and evidence-based care.

Lexicon of Connection [Text Messages / Issue 853]

It is always gratifying to have one’s work discussed seriously in public. For it to be addressed by a man of faith concerned for the Jewish People in the pages of America’s best-read Orthodox publication doubles the blessing.

I sense no deep dispute between Eytan Kobre and myself. “Those giving drashos and shiurim in shuls,” he writes, “should be cognizant of who’s listening.” Well put, sir, and permit me to sharpen the point: Anyone speaking to the Jewish community should use language that all members of the community can understand. Religious fraternity and basic courtesy demand no less.

Mr. Kobre adds that nonobservant Jews are sometimes “turned off by hearing the way their coreligionists speak condescendingly or worse about non-Jews and racial minorities.” Mr. Kobre has adverted us to one of the saddest facts about contemporary Orthodoxy. To paraphrase a teacher of mine: If at kiddush someone uses a racial slur, it’s awkward, but if someone says something salacious, it’s a scandal. Racial slurs insult the image of G-d in their targets and desecrate the image of G-d in their speakers. They do not properly occur in the speech of men and women of faith.

Mr. Kobre invites discussion about whether Orthodoxy has cordoned itself off from non-Orthodox Jews. Let me tell you a bit about myself. The Tanach, Hebrew, the Jewish calendar, prayer, and the Jewish state were all part of my (non-Orthodox) Jewish day school’s curriculum. Some very talented Orthodox teachers imparted whatever they thought students would receive about how to observe Jewish holidays and how to lead Jewish marriages. But the thick whole of Torah life was foreign. Few around me practiced it. Few, even at a Jewish school with Modern Orthodox students, talked to me about it.

I eventually came round, and proudly count myself a member of the Torah world. I’ve learned that Orthodoxy rightly understood is a joy. But my main senses while looking in and upon joining up were of trepidation, inadequacy, and vertigo. When I decided to commit to halachic life, because my faith left me no choice, I sacrificed what I had to sacrifice and started doing what I had to do. But after five years of Orthodox life following 12 years of day school education, I spend a lot of my time feeling forged, as though I’m wearing borrowed clothes over grafted skin. I grew up without feeling watched, and now a religious conscience makes a coward of me. I grew up thinking all this ends in oblivion. Now, I have eternity to hope for or to fear. I grew up loving America above all communities. It’s been replaced by an older, everlasting family.

Orthodoxy is true, but it’s also very stiff medicine. Given how severe, strange, fundamental, and astounding the claim of Orthodoxy seems to non-Orthodox Jews, I’m proposing that we should reconsider those parts of Orthodox culture that fortify our identity but repel Jews outside our world. Are these cultural markers of much religious value? Even if the answer is yes, do they conflict with, are they even perhaps outweighed by, other religious values — premier among them, restoring non-Orthodox Jews to full harmony with the covenantal community?

For instance, on yeshivish: Blessed are the teachers who can recruit non-Orthodox Jews though divided from them by language. For many non-Orthodox people, I assure you, it is a deterrent, a constant reminder of the foreignness of the whole enterprise.

There are other things I think Orthodox Jews ought to do, like disperse from the orbit of New York City. Perhaps someday you and I will meet in Bethesda, Maryland, and help some wandering Jews return to their ancient faith. I expect they’re already waiting, if only we could make ourselves understood.

Cole S. Aronson

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 856)

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