"Those opening their mesivtas for struggling boys in the middle of our small communities will have a lot to account for after 120"
Just Trying to Protect Its Citizens [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
I was shocked by your article about Israel’s closed borders. Until the spread of the Omicron variant, anyone with a first-degree relative in Israel could receive an ishur to come. My husband has gotten an ishur to visit our two single children there. We have friends who go because of grandchildren being born.
Israel is a small country trying to protect its citizens from this pandemic the best way it knows how.
As for Michal Cotler-Wunsh’s quote that “Canada allows anyone in who can prove a first-degree relationship with a citizen” — our son is a lone soldier serving in the IDF. He is not a citizen, but they allow us to come in. We are expats from the US currently living in Canada, and until Canada eased the restrictions a few months ago, our children could not come to visit. One child was turned away by Air Canada because he only had a US passport.
Do not blame Israel for protecting the people of Israel. This too will pass, and we’ll all enjoy returning to Eretz Yisrael.
R. P., Canada
I Wasn’t There [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
Several years ago I published a personal essay in Family First about my off-the-derech brother titled “She Was There.” The main point of the essay was that I was there, watching my brother struggle, but seeing his whole neshamah underneath.
Baruch Hashem, after years of struggling, my brother became frum and made aliyah. Baruch Hashem, he got engaged there less than a year after making aliyah —but guess what? I wasn’t there for the wedding.
After reading your article about people denied entrance to Israel, I thought that maybe I should write a follow-up essay to my first one titled “She Wasn’t There.” It would describe how I watched my brother’s wedding on Zoom, crying.
I couldn’t believe it. My brother who I grew up with, my brother who I watched struggle for so many years, my brother who I wasn’t sure at some points if he would even marry a Jewish girl — and I couldn’t attend his wedding. I couldn’t meet my new sister-in-law. (I still can’t!) I couldn’t enjoy the nachas of seeing my brother settle down.
She wasn’t there.
Push at Your Own Risk [Perspective / Issue 891]
Thank you so much for printing the beautiful piece by Rav Lopiansky. The multiple layers of points he made are nuanced and deep and really touched me.
Rav Lopiansky discusses the danger of choosing yeshivos for our children with social status in mind. As the wife of a high school menahel, I see this problem play itself out regularly, though differently, in regard to elementary school and yeshivah high school.
It’s tricky business deciding what’s the best place for a five-year-old child, with limited knowledge of his traits and tendencies. Families tend to choose elementary schools based on their family values and the direction they hope their children will follow. So far so good. Here’s where things get sticky.
It is important to note that as frum parents, we are the consumers in our children’s yeshivah system, and our desires and values do in some way shape the direction our schools take.
Do I mean that our roshei yeshivah change their principles based on what parents want? Definitely not. But based on my observations, it seems to me that they may make certain school-shaping policies based on what the parents want. And here’s where things get dicey — because what we say we want is not always consistent with what we truly want for our children, and not always in line with logic.
For example, when asked what type of chinuch they want for their children, most parents will agree that they are looking for a balanced approach, with an emphasis on Yiddishkeit blended with positivity and just the right amount of pressure or lack of. But then, when it comes to actually choosing a school for our children, we don’t vote that way. We instead go for the “frummest,” most intense place we can get ourselves into. If all goes well, we’re thrilled and keep pressuring our mosdos to do more, intense, and often superficial frum programming.
Then — inevitably, because every family has at least one — you have a kid who does not march to the beat with the exact dance moves required of him. The child who tells us with his actions that the standards at our school of choice are too intense, not developmentally appropriate, and too superficial.
In response, we freak out that the school is not built to address these kids’ needs, forgetting that we, the consumers, pushed our schools to be structured this way. We asked the schools to be created as places for “alef only” children, and then unfairly expect them to pivot smoothly for our children who are not.
Regarding our yeshivah high school boys, Rav Lopiansky described precisely the reality I see: Parents pushing their children into yeshivos that look good on the résumé but are not necessarily the right fit for them. There are unfortunately also some (not all!) elementary menahalim and eighth-grade rebbeim pushing boys to go places that are not conducive for their growth, because it makes their institution look good if their boys make it into “top tier” yeshivos.
And here’s my insider’s take: By the middle of tenth grade, when these boys just can’t hold it together anymore, the inappropriately placed boys start falling apart fast. And that’s when the phone calls begin.
My husband is inundated with parents begging him to accept their child into his alef-minus / beis-plus yeshivah known for helping bochurim connect to Torah, their rebbeim, and mussar. If the damage is not too severe, he will gladly take the boy, and the results are, Baruch Hashem, generally good. But too often, after meeting with the boy, my husband sadly must tell the parents no. Had they applied back in ninth grade, he would have been able to help. But it’s too late, and now the correct place for their son is one of the yeshivos structured for struggling boys (hats off to them and their amazing avodas hakodesh — such complicated work).
Another heartbreaking step in this pattern takes place when the next boy in the family needs to find a mesivta. Of course all children are different, but often the parents once again go for “the best place we can get him into” rather than the correct fit. We all need to go to sleep in our bodies at night and possibly rather than agree to the fact that perhaps they made a poor choice last time around, parents chalk up the previous failure to the “bad apple” phenomenon.
Rav Lopiansky does not need my haskamah, but for all it’s worth, as someone who sees the fallout daily, I beg you, please listen to him. Your children will thank you one day, and more importantly, Hashem will give you a kiss on the head one day and say: “Well done.”
A Concerned Eim B’Yisrael
Give a Warm Welcome [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
Firstly, I’d like to extend kudos and huge yasher koach to Zalman Zann for his care and love for these struggling teens at risk.
Secondly, to the Fried family who lives next door, open your eyes and look at each of these teens as a tzelem Elokim. Running away and sheltering your kids doesn’t last forever. If they want to explore and be “out there” and cooler, they will find ways, no matter what.
There was definitely a nicer way to express your concerns about the cool new neighbors. Perhaps if the community were to welcome these boys and give them a warm hello with a smile, things would turn around for them. The lack of a warm reception is probably part of the reason they are like this in the first place.
I think you owe them a huge apology. Maybe sit down and have a meaningful peaceful discussion how to make things work, not just try to shut them out of a small, close-knit community whose members are running away from the outside world to be sheltered.
I hope they stay just where they are and find happiness with the new move.
J. L. from Brooklyn
The Price We Paid [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
Normally when I read a Double Take story, I can agree with both sides to some extent. In this week’s Double Take, though, at least in my humble opinion, one side was right and one was wrong.
I live in a community that started as a place to raise your children out-of-town in a Torahdig way. Several years after we moved here, an institution here became a magnet for OTD boys. At first, it was just boys who were struggling a little at home or emotionally. Soon after this, it was boys who had been roaming the streets and boys on drugs.
As our community grew, these boys were a part of it. We would daven in a shul with them and interact with them on a regular basis. Our children saw what they were doing and were a little confused by it, but seemed to accept that was how it was. One thing they realized was that these boys had no rules and so much fun and freedom, unlike in real mesivtas. They were no longer just struggling — they were Jewish boys basically given permission to turn into juvenile delinquents. They would light matches and throw them around, they would run around the community drunk and had many interactions with the local cops.
Fast-forward about 15 or 20 years later, and many of our children are far from where they should be. Ironically enough, a large number of them have ended up in the OTD category. Over the years our boys had noticed the freedom and the lack of rules and were enamored of their ski trips, frequent concerts, and many perks. We realized the impact — but we realized too late.
A small community is not the right location for institutions for struggling kids. They can be in a larger community, where their effect is not as easily absorbed. Better yet, these boys belong in a separate enclosed campus — somewhere where they are not influencing our boys and making them think a place with no rules, so much fun, and drugs is the best place to be.
No one says to do kiruv kerovim at the expense of your own children. Those who are opening their mesivtas for struggling boys in the middle of our small communities will have a lot to account for after 120. Think about these loving parents who cry themselves to sleep as they watch what their innocent sons have become, and keep these struggling boys away from our boys!
Who’s Righter? [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
I read this past week’s Double Take about the conflict between the guy running the OTD program and the other families living in the sheltered neighborhood. Though usually when reading these stories I’m able to decide that one side is “righter,” this one has stuck with me all through Shabbos and into Sunday. I keep reading and rereading it — and I’m still conflicted.
On the one hand, Zalman (the “rosh”) is right. The work he’s doing bringing at-risk young men back into Judaism is amazing and fragile, and any ridicule or scorn from the community could shatter that work in an instant. I would know — I come from a family of baalei teshuvah. I saw and continue to see my parents’ religious growth, which would never have happened had the community disparaged them at the very beginning of their journey, while they were still driving on Shabbos and weaning off eating out non-kosher dairy. Kicking out Zalman and his boys will unravel everything they’ve worked toward and do irreparable harm.
But. There’s always the “but.”
If it were just that Dov gave the group the stink eye, it would be easy to disregard his argument. He’s looking down on young men who are trying to come back into the fold. What complicates it is the effect that the boys, still in their rough state, are having on Dov’s children.
While I have my thoughts about how insular a child’s upbringing should be and what influences should be allowed, I do believe that this exposure to drug and smoking culture and (especially, probably) the foul language on Dov’s young children is just as damaging as anything the community could do to those boys.
Zalman does have to somewhat rein in the boys’ interaction with the community. Certain words and activities cannot and should not leave the daled amos of the yeshivah walls. If he wants to present himself as the menahel of this group, he has to put forth boundaries and consequences — lines in the sand that the boys must not cross, in order to stay in the community.
Those kinds of boundaries should (in theory) solve it. Will they? I don’t know; I presume this is a fictional story presented to spur discussion, and if it is (though I don’t doubt that similar situations crop up every day), then I applaud Mrs. Samet for coming up with one of the most interesting and thought-provoking plots in a while.
Matthew / Matisyahu S.
The Voice Not Yet in the Crowd [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 890]
I appreciated Rabbi Besser’s article about those who aren’t married yet, and the letter from “a former older single.” Living through a situation doesn’t compare to viewing it from the outside, so here are examples of how people, or “singles,” experience society.
Not being married makes girls and women feel lesser-than to the degree that friends have expressed that they’d prefer to be divorced, and have the “privilege” of wearing a sheitel, than to have never been married and be looked down upon.
Since there isn’t a community to which older singles belong without feeling pitied or uncomfortable, we’re discouraged from becoming involved in mainstream society such as going to shul or joining an organization. (I can only speak from a woman’s perspective, but I wonder what it’s like for guys who aren’t married but who are careful to engage in communal activities such as going to minyan, etc.) We’ve all heard that “being involved” in the community is important at this stage of life, but why would we, when it comes with such self-consciousness?
Some unmarried women feel that they can excel in their jobs or professions since it’s the “only” possible setting in which to be viewed as an equal to married women. At times, I prefer working with non-Jews instead of the frum community, because I know and feel that they don’t subconsciously consider one’s marriage status.
Another area where the stigma is clear is Shabbos plans. Married people encourage unmarried people to invite themselves over for Shabbos meals. It’s nice to know that there’s always an open invite. However, that’s incomparable to being formally invited. Social etiquette teaches to wait for an invitation and to not invite oneself to others’ homes. Being invited makes people feel good, so it would be nice to have specific invitations in addition to open ones.
We value family as much as you do — possibly even more, since we don’t have it — and agree it’s a fundamental aspect of living a Torah lifestyle. Girls’ schools, at least, often focus on the family being the main tafkid in a woman’s life. Although this is true, many women have other parts to their tafkid as well.
For example, Sara Schenirer was married for a short period of time, got divorced, and then began the Bais Yaakov movement. Her contribution was vastly different from the classic family-first messages that are taught in most of our girls’ schools today. What would have happened if she hadn’t had the strength to go against what society expected and open a girls’ school? Her inner conviction revolutionized Klal Yisrael.
What would happen if schools followed her example to strengthen students in their avodas Hashem, regardless of how it materializes? Some girls’ avodas Hashem involves getting married young and starting a family soon thereafter, while for others it looks different. Much would change if schools primarily focused on emunah, bitachon, and self-growth, instead of reaching milestones over which we have no control.
What Date Night Can Never Create [Made in Heaven / Issue 890]
Rabbi Shafier is spot-on for labeling that early post-dating / engagement relationship as “infatuation,” rather than the deep ahavah that exists between a couple who have already begun to travel together through life.
Infatuation can only exist when there is a very superficial knowledge of the other person, and it can never be recreated once you know them well, warts and all. That is why a date night of bowling or some high-end restaurant can be totally useless.
The main foundation for a deeply rooted marriage has not yet been touched on at all in Rabbi Shafier’s excellent column and that is: a sense of purpose. Purpose in the home they establish, the children they raise, the part that they personally play in Hashem’s world.
There were many unlikely yet very successful postwar marriages for exactly that reason. Their deep sense of purpose in rebuilding a shattered Klal Yisrael was the focus of their lives. Today, when a couple lives with a strong understanding that each neshamah is sent down to this world with a purpose, a tachlis, and they therefore have a joint tachlis, there is a depth of commitment and emotion that no date night can create.
Our couples today do spend a lot of time making sure they are on the same page: they will take walks (or drives) together, spend a quiet supper together (somehow), learn something inspiring together (even for a few minutes a week). And they constantly check in with each other, so they don’t just know what the other has been doing all day, but what they’ve been feeling all day.
A couple that has lost this sense of purpose and is living the very superficial life of a Western world citizen — who happens to keep Shabbos — will have nothing to talk to each other about, even in the most glamorous restaurant. No amount of bowling will fix that, and they can easily join the marriage statistics of our Western society.
A Health Problem, Not a Behavioral Flaw [Made in Heaven / Issue 888]
We enjoy reading Rabbi Shafier’s weekly advice on shalom bayis issues, but we believe that he missed the boat in his article on snoring.
Rabbi Shafier identified the root of the problem as one of accepting the other spouse’s flaws. That is entirely irrelevant. Snoring is not a flaw at all. The problem is far more serious and dangerous than that. Snoring is not a behavioral issue that can be corrected with training, practice, or patience. It is also not something that the other spouse must accept.
We write because we have gone through this together.
Snoring is a serious health problem. It is frequently caused by sleep apnea, which is a dangerous medical condition that often leads to cardiac disease and atrial fibrillation.
Although the husband in our case initially resisted, he ultimately had a consultation with a sleep doctor who diagnosed the problem as sleep apnea. According to the results of the sleep study, the husband stopped breathing 29 times per hour. The norm is about two to three times per hour. This is what was causing his snoring.
The cure to the snoring problem was a CPAP device, which eliminated the snoring problem and served to maintain our shalom bayis.
A Husband Who Used to Snore and a Wife Who Refused to Accept It
Don’t Expose Our Kids [Made in Heaven]
I’m an avid Mishpacha reader, and I value the practical guidance in the pages of your magazine. Something has to be said without beating around the bush. The column Made in Heaven is completely inappropriate for a public forum.
The column has generated a tremendous amount of feedback, demonstrating how necessary and refreshing Rabbi Shafier’s advice is. Nonetheless it is an extreme breach of sensitivities to write about love, romance, and other words of closeness and affection in a magazine that’s not specifically geared toward the married sector.
This column has come up in conversations with family or friends, and the consensus is unanimous — the guidance is great, but not for a forum where our children will be exposed unnecessarily.
Y. M., Lakewood, NJ
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 892)
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