"An understanding of nuance comes from the home, from parents who show their children what it means to be frum, to have yiras Shamayim, to be tzanuah"
Home-Schooled in Nuance [Text Messages / Issue 874]
Thank you, Eytan Kobre, for providing such a thought-provoking column each week.
I especially appreciated the point made at the end of last week’s article, that smartphone usage, while difficult to completely eliminate, can be limited to certain functions so that a phone is an accessory and not a necessity.
It is a refreshing way of looking at an issue, one that is not black-and-white (pun intended) or muttar versus assur. It allows for individual decision-making, with a commitment to adhering to a certain communal standard. And unfortunately, it’s not a perspective we hear often enough.
Being nuanced, learning how to make decisions for your personal circumstance is not something that can be taught in schools. Schools have standards and rules and need to cater to an audience as a whole. Individuality can be encouraged but exceptions are hard to make. An understanding of nuance comes from the home, from parents who show their children what it means to be frum, to have yiras Shamayim, to be tzanuah — not because they follow a specific rule but because they live the value.
When a father pulls out a sefer during a long airplane ride, he shows his kids that no matter where the family goes, they value Torah. When a mom takes her kids back to the supermarket to return an item they took by mistake, she shows them that honesty trumps convenience. And when a kid sees that his parents have a smartphone that they use when they need it, not when they want it, the kids learn that technology can be in my life without being my life.
I’ve seen countless examples of parents who brought their children up in many kinds of communities — yeshivish, modern, out of town — and I watched these parents make nuanced decisions about how to raise their children in their individual circumstances. Today their kids are wholesome individuals who themselves are able to build Torah homes on the values they saw growing up.
Their schools may have taught them what was assur, or their communities may actually have exposed them to what was assur. What mattered most was that their homes were places of warmth, communication, and nuance.
I recall that a relative of mine, a choshuve talmid chacham and rosh yeshivah, once allowed one of his kids to spend time with me and my friends on a Motzaei Shabbos. We were more modern than his family, but we were a good group of girls. This girl, who might have been considered somewhat on the fringe by her community’s standards, called up her father after Shabbos and said, “Hi, Abba, I’m with my friends and I want to stay and watch a movie [it was a cartoon] with them.”
I could tell that from the other end, all he said was, “Okay, what time should I pick you up?”
I’m sure this was not easy for her father, but that it was also not a one-time occurrence. She learned great lessons in her home, which contributed to the fact that today she is married to a wonderful ben Torah and is a shining eishes chayil. But for me, an impressionable teenager, that was a lifetime lesson.
Thank you to the people — my parents above all — who taught me and others I know how to really be frum.
A mechaneches of some very nuanced students
The Help Your Child Needs [Counterpoint / Issue 874]
Once again Mishpacha has brought to the forefront a much-needed conversation. Unfortunately, it is not a new one.
Rabbi Kahane and Rabbi Russell were on the mark. During my 44 years in chinuch, including 39 years as educational director of PTACH, I have watched with frustration as the secular community establishes schools for children with learning challenges that have waiting-list-only enrollment. Yet, as Rabbi Kahane so poignantly points out, our wonderful parents keep pushing their children into schools that do not have the resources or skills to service their children, rather than into schools that can actually “build” a child.
The frequent calls we get are heartbreaking: We receive referrals for children who are three, four, or even five years below grade level and we try to understand how this happened. The “blame chain,” as Rabbi Kahane describes, is a sad cycle: Parents blame the school, then the school blame the parents, and our learning-challenged children are left years behind their peers, often developing serious secondary problems that are much harder to treat.
The statistics have clearly been out there in the secular community for decades — our community is not immune. A frighteningly high percentage of children who are “at risk” experienced some sort of educational trauma in their past. Having a learning disability or challenge only ups the stakes.
This “es past nisht” stance so well described by Rabbi Kahane permeates many levels of intervention our children often need. Basic requests to have a child professionally evaluated or referred for counseling is often met with fierce resistance. And how many times have we been told that if only we’d would change our name, more parents would be willing to enroll their children. Who are we fooling?
Parents are even more amenable to have their children tutored “privately” many, many times per week or pulled out of class “privately” several times per day, over-burdening the child, often denying them equally important down time from a rigorous yeshivah program. And yet, with all the help, children with more severe learning challenges (those two to three years below grade level) cannot keep up with their peers and remain at the bottom 20 percent of the class. Year after year this wears terribly on our children, and the only ones who seem to feel better are the parents who are able to keep their children in a school or class that is clearly above their level.
If our children can’t feel good in their school setting, we know how easy society makes it for them to find something that will make them feel good! What hurts even more is that children with learning challenges also have remarkable strengths that can be nurtured and recognized, in appropriate settings with trained professional educators.
PTACH was the first program to offer a center-based, mainstream model for children with learning challenges, and baruch Hashem, for over 40 years we have enabled these students to succeed and become productive and upstanding members of our community.
If there is one thing we have learned over these many years, it is that the less resistance we have — i.e., the more support we get from parents — the better chance we have of being successful in our mission.
Judah Weller Ed.D.
Broader Thinking [Counterpoint / Issue 874]
Thank you for continuing the conversation around children leaving the fold. What fascinates me is how I can read both sides and agree each time. It’s time we acknowledge that there isn’t one cause and consequently, we need more than one approach to addressing this issue.
As an early childhood professional, I am sometimes amazed how some colleagues see only one problem. The child either has autism… or not. Some always assume it’s PANDAS and yes, to some, trauma is always suspect. We need broader thinking. We need to be knowledgeable of all possibilities in order to help an individual child, or the community as a whole.
Also, I wonder at the lack of actual data in our community. Each organization will confidently state numbers and statistics, but I question the accuracy and the ability of these groups to ensure these numbers are accurate. We need resources to do actual studies to better understand trends and the needs of community without the bias built in by each organization’s mission statement.
Let’s keep up the conversation!
Home as Haven [Counterpoint / Issue 874]
Rabbi Gershon Schaffel is exactly correct that the “pushouts” are usually the results of damaged “attachments” or relationships with parents, school, and the important connections in their lives.
Often it is the case of the school complaining and the parents seconding the scolding that makes a child’s day totally intolerable. To alleviate the pain, the child will seek the company of others who will not judge him and instead make him feel good. Sometimes this also translates into addiction.
A wise father once said, “If you ask of your child what he cannot give you, he will not give you what he can.”
It is important that a bad school experience not be compounded with additional hounding and complaints at home. If a parent can accept his child’s level of learning and behavior early on, he can avoid the total meltdown.
Sure, a parent tries to find fixes, but never at the price of a damaged relationship. Every child is a gift, and with patience and unconditional love, there is much nachas to be had at the end of all the trials and tribulations.
Two Requests [Counterpoint / Issue 874]
While reading Rabbi Shimon Russell’s eloquent plea for empathy and unconditional love for the traumatized teens, I was moved by his sincerity and idealism. His call to Klal Yisrael is a reflection of a person who truly feels and cares for its struggles and suffering.
But somehow I felt that there was a missing piece. The parents and rebbeim who are open to change are already trying so hard. And too many of the teens are unresponsive, ungrateful, and irresponsible. So many of us, as parents, have already given far beyond our means. And so many of the teens are taking whatever they can get and running. There has to be another piece to this agonizing puzzle.
Lo and behold, I turned one page in Mishpacha, and there was Gedalia Guttentag with a piece entitled: “Pain Is Only Part of the Picture.” And as I read on, I realized I was facing an incredible contrast of two intelligent caring human beings. Rabbi Russell is saying that their pain is so great, they can’t stay in the system. And Rabbi Guttentag is saying, the temptation is so inviting, that they are opting to go for pleasure.
Rabbi Russell is saying that we, as a society of bnei Torah, have failed with our children, as he puts it, it’s “a disaster of epic proportions.” Rabbi Guttentag is saying that every society — ultra, modern, and assimilated alike — are witnessing a common trend of teens themselves choosing pleasure over value. Most significantly, he adds an element of responsibility to their life choices: They are using bechirah, choosing one way rather than another.
By juxtaposing these two contrasting themes, one alongside the other, Mishpacha has provided its readers with a brilliant combination of idealism along with a sense of moral conscience and responsibility. Thank you, Mishpacha.
I have two requests. One of Gedalia, and one of Rabbi Russell.
Gedalia, when you refer to fun, cool, indulgence, or the like, just give the nisayon its real name: the yetzer hara. The moment we identify the parameters of the perfect storm of our generation and give it a name, we can redefine new goals. The core of denial lies in resisting the age-old truth that Chazal attested to: The only antidote to the yetzer hara is Torah study, on any level. All searches revolve around that reality: What can we do, or what do we have to stop doing, in order to bring the neshamah to Torah study, thus neutralizing the storm of desire?
And Rabbi Russell, I am sure that in your practice, you’ve had the rewarding experience of soothing a client and then watching as he or she goes home and uses that positive energy to lift an entire family to a better place. How about we work on soothing the parents who are trying so hard and who are suffering perhaps more trauma than the children, thus enabling them to return to their families with renewed love and strength.
And when it comes to our yeshivos, we, as rebbeim, are not perfect or even close. But we are all trying. Please also try to not criticize our yeshivos in a public forum. Yeshivos are our lifeline, a miracle of epic proportions. Glorify them. Support them. Encourage and sooth those who work in them. They represent the most powerful antidote that we have: Torah study.
With new awareness and determination, we can help ourselves, each other, and all of our children to take responsibility and choose the right path.
A parent and rebbi who cares
A Place for Them All [Counterpoint / Issue 874]
The recent discussion regarding understanding the reasons why kids are leaving our community is both heartrending and confusing. The role of trauma and mental health versus personal decision-making is important in understanding the phenomenon. More important, though, is finding a place in our community where these children can in fact feel welcome.
When the standards of education and behavior in our community are so specific, we risk alienating those children who do not fit those standards. If the basis of being “successful” in our community is rooted in learning and rule-following, then inevitably a certain segment of the population will be excluded.
What of a child who is artistically or mechanically talented? What of a child who has been mistreated or bullied? What about a child who yearns to run and frolic in the fields and whose self-esteem has been crushed by being told that “good kids” sit quietly and listen to their teacher?
If we are interested in all of our children having a part in our precious mesorah, we must make a place for all of them in our community. For the past three years, the Work At It organization has been working tirelessly to create such a space for these young people. Understanding that the education system does not work for many of our young people, they meet people where they are and help them chart a path forward; helping them discover their strengths and utilize them in the workplace or alternative educational options. Community members become mentors and guides, and these children are told that no matter your history, you always have a place in our community.
I personally serve as an educational advocate for Work At It, and have seen the fruits of this labor in welcoming young people back into our community, despite the fact that they do not fit into the “system.”
This model is one that we all need to take part in. Can you offer a job or mentorship to a child who is struggling? Can you share a talent or skill of yours with a young person who would really appreciate it? It can be awkward and uncomfortable to reach out to a struggling youth — but it is up to every member of our community to help them feel that the door is open to all of our children.
Yaakov Mintz, Passaic, NJ
Planning Is Key [Special Circumstances / Double Take — Issue 873]
I am a special education teacher and sibling of someone with special needs who has dealt with many inclusion scenarios, and I was perplexed by the Inbox responses that sided with the mother of the daughter with special needs.
Anyone who works in inclusion knows that the key to successful inclusion and integration is preparation and education. This whole nightmare situation could have been avoided if the mother had taken a few minutes to call the mechuteneste to say, “Hi, I want to let you know that my daughter looks typical but she struggles with social cues, and this is what to expect. I am excited to have her join the simchah and I am wondering if I can answer any questions about her behaviors in advance.”
Instead, she threw her daughter (and the unsuspecting, unprepared children) into a situation that they were not equipped to handle, and it is no wonder that everyone walked away upset.
If we want to successfully integrate people with disabilities into social situations, then we can’t throw them into the wild and assume people will know how to handle them, especially children.
And the mechuteneste was not wrong. Smack in the middle of a simchah is not an appropriate time to start educating children. Acceptance is important, but it is not a one-way street.
Inclusion as a Priority [Special Circumstances / Double Take — Issue 873]
As a parent of a special-needs child, I read last week’s Double Take with interest.
Both sides were right: every baal simchah deserves to have their simchah go seamlessly and smoothly. When my child with special needs goes to a simchah, it’s on me to make sure that all the preparations have been done ahead of time to make sure my child functions at the optimal behavioral and social level.
This includes but is not limited to social story training, play-acting scenarios, designating specific family members to “buddy” with the special-needs child, and various other social, behavioral, and emotional preparations ahead of time to make the situation work as best as possible. Putting in a lot of preparation, even before a simchah is scheduled, can yield great dividends down the line.
We hope and pray that we and our child will be invited to simchahs along the course of a lifetime — so we take it upon ourselves to do what is necessary to make these situations more optimal. It is unreasonable for parents of special-needs children to think that every baal simchah needs to accommodate their child’s different needs if they will negatively impact the simchah, when with some forethought, organization, and careful planning — which are very hard work — you can alleviate some of the issues. Not all, but some. Parents of special-needs children can also collaborate to work on suitable preparations for a simchah with their children’s behaviorists, special ed teachers, and the phenomenal staff that is generally available in most special-needs schools.
The baal simchah’s response in the story is a sad reflection of the mosdos hachinuch, the shul, the shul rav, and other communal entities and leaders that this family was a part of, where the children just “weren’t used to this” and never had exposure to a child like this.
Of course, the baal simchah’s children didn’t know how to respond at the simchah if they’d never encountered this before. A tremendous debt of gratitude goes out to the menahalim and shul rabbanim who have made inclusion of special-needs children a true priority in their mosdos. (This doesn’t necessarily mean creating special divisions or expensive programs for them. It simply means creating a truly welcome environment.)
And to those who have not yet done that, please reach out to someone who has, so that you can create shuls and schools that find some way to include special-needs children. You’ll see that you are helping not only the individual special-needs children in your school, shul, or community, but ultimately you will be helping the special-needs children who may be born into your family or extended family at some point. Simultaneously, you’ll be providing the mainstream children important life skills that will yield success down the line: the ability to connect with those who are different, the ability to persevere in a challenging situation, and the creativity and ingenuity needed to navigate a new and unfamiliar social situation.
Simchahs by all of Klal Yisrael,
A parent of a special-needs child
In Lieu of a Package [The Kichels / Issue 873]
I am so grateful to the Kichels for their piece on camp packages. First thing after Shabbos I put the comic in an envelope, sealed and addressed it, and noted on the envelope that I was sending this in lieu of a package. It is on its way to my daughters in camp, so thanks for saving me all that money and hassle.
I would love to sign my name, but those daughters will need to be married off in a few years, and we can’t have the future mechutanim thinking I’ll send a Kichels satire to the chassan instead of the full complement of gifts. On the plus side, though, they’ll know my kids can be mistapek b’muat, so I’m not sure... but better safe than sorry.
A packageless mother
Lessons We Cherish [Sing to Hashem / EndNote — Issue 870]
As a family, we are appreciative and loyal readers of Mishpacha since your early days. Thank you.
While reading last week’s haftarah and the prophecy of “Mah navu al he’harim,” my instinct urged me to enhance a usual Shabbos “Yigal visit” with a small ensemble to sing in his home this masterpiece from his first album. These memories repeated themselves during Krias HaTorah this week with another popular oldie, “Ki yikarei kan tzippor.”
I am privileged to have sung at performances in London, Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, and more during Yigal’s golden era in the ’70s. Aside from providing our audiences with novel kosher musical entertainment, the choirs, trips, and events created a worldwide family of both musically talented individuals and local hosts and baalei chesed around the world.
The homes of the legendary Yisrael and Shoshana Lefkowitz, the Parnes family, and others in New York were open doors to the Calek troupe and choir, teaching us all how to provide and care for others. Camp Sdei Chemed ’72, ’73, and ’75 were amazing experiences, and also platforms for many successful communal careers.
After his yeshivah years, Yigal taught kodesh in junior schools. Our paths first crossed some 50 years ago at Pardes House in a musical production. Yigal’s natural talent and creativity led to his pioneering and masterful career in the world of sincere Jewish music.
A teacher he was back then, and a teacher he remains. His musical legacy still pulses with us and all the listeners, but just as valuable are the friendships, warmth, and values that we learned outside the formal setting of the classroom in our formative years. We cherish those lessons every day.
One of Yigal’s many “choir children,”
Shaul Bodner, London, UK
She Gets Us [“Light Years Away” Serial]
Thank you for your outstanding publication.
While Tovi in Ruti Kepler’s serial may be the “girl without an ear,” our brother takes the title of the “boy without an ear.”
Last year, our brother was born with microtia: His right ear has perfect hearing, while his left ear is missing. Though this was the first time our family had seen this facial defect, it is actually not an uncommon condition. This is advantageous, since there are widespread studies on effective treatment and surgery.
We are blessed with super technologies with which a surgeon can create and shape an ear using cartilage from the patient’s chest. This procedure is performed only once the child has enough cartilage, at approximately age ten. Currently, our brother has a BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid) worn on a band (like Tovi and her friend), to enable him to accustom himself to using a hearing device.
Right from the start of Chapter 1, Ruti Kepler has expertly woven humor into this saga, enabling our family to gain chizuk. We have held onto Chapter 1 (“Where’s the ear without a girl?”) and read it often.
Whenever we introduce our brother, we always ask, “Are you familiar with Tovi from the Mishpacha serial?” It definitely breaks the ice, and makes it easier for all of us to discuss our brother’s missing ear.
In addition, we feel connected to Tovi, and her inner world reveals what our brother (who is still too young to talk) may be thinking or feeling. This is talented writing!
We eagerly anticipate reading Light Years Away each week, and hope Tovi receives her new ear soon!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 875)
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