"Once we understand that abuse is not only an aveirah, but retzichah, perhaps we can begin to comprehend the pain"
Why We Are Silent [For This We Weep / Issue 893]
Maybe I’m just too close to the issue that I can’t see the other side. I’m willing to entertain, even acknowledge that fact.
I was molested as a child. It went on for years. When, years later, I finally told someone about it, her first question was, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
I told her that I had looked around the world I lived in — the society, the expectations, the rules written and unspoken — and realized that I had more to lose than gain by speaking up. As a child, I understood that I would be the one further shamed, and questioned, and cast aside. That I, not the perpetrator, would be the one viewed as the damaged goods. And so I stayed silent.
My husband bore the entire weight of my broken worldview, skewed self-perception, my irrational fears. It was a lot. It is a lot.
It took many years, a lot of crying, more crumpled tissues, a bit of therapy and unwavering support from my husband that I no longer think of myself as a victim or even a survivor.
And I know I’m one of the lucky ones.
I recently disclosed my history to our rav. He cried. He told my husband that he should stand up for me. That I’d gone through my own personal holocaust and I’m still frum and healthy. And then he commended my husband for supporting me.
At first, I thought that the word “holocaust” was a bit much to describe my experience. But I realized that if I access how I thought and how I felt and how I moved through the world most of my life, then yes, it was a holocaust.
You cannot understand the balm it was to see someone of that stature acknowledge the depth of the pain I suffered.
Recent events plunge me back into those emotions. I think of the devastating calculation of silence I made as a child, and realize I’d make the same choice today. The world cannot bear to witness the victims, to hold space for them, to embrace them, and cherish them and support them, or even just to stand next to us and hold our hands.
That is the problem that keeps me up at night. Not that bad happens. But that our world questions, shames, belittles and denies that it ever did — and then we punish the one who is suffering the most.
My Shattered Vase [For This We Weep / Issue 893]
Rav Aaron Lopiansky’s heartfelt article in this week’s Mishpacha included such a powerful line: “A core problem of the issue is that people put abuse into the aveirah folder, as a crime. But it should in fact be put into the retzichah folder.”
An aveirah is a personal matter, bein adam l’Makom, and yes, often includes rectification toward another. However, once we understand that abuse is not only an aveirah, but retzichah, perhaps we can begin to comprehend the pain. Those who are in it, live it every day. Those who are lucky not to know firsthand have a difficult time truly understanding this.
Take an exquisite, ornate crystal vase. It’s one of a kind, truly cherished, and has been in your family for over ten generations. Take it off the table, lift it high in the air, and let it come down, smashing on the floor. Thousands of sparking fragments scattered everywhere. Leave it all there. People will come and go, unwittingly walking over the fragments. Dirt and dust might accumulate around the shards, and many will be dragged all over the house.
After a few months, try gathering all those jagged remnants, and carefully attempt a futile task: piecing it back together, one by one.
And then tell me it’s not retzichah.
Those living the aftermath of abuse struggle painstakingly to try to rebuild, bit by bit, with the help of some incredible people out there who are truly malachim from Hashem. Their sechar is unfathomable. They are the heroes.
Yet many of us look ahead to the future and often wonder if there’s even a point to this brutal work of rebuilding trust and self. Even if all the bits of vase are found and somehow cobbled together, what an ugly final piece it will be, with glue marring its once-beautiful surface. Hopefully, surrounded by beautiful people, we’ll keep struggling and try to rebuild, day by day.
But, you might wonder, why don’t we tell? Why do we stay silent so long? I don’t speak for everyone, but I know these feelings are echoed silently by many.
First, we are afraid you won’t believe us. Since the source of our pain is often a person trusted by many, you can’t imagine that we’re telling the truth. The person may have a prestigious image in the community, while I’m just one small person saying something outrageous. I surely won’t be believed. I’d better just be quiet.
The second is the fear of judgment. Whether you’ll say it aloud or we’ll just feel it through your actions and tone, the implications are clear. In some way, to some degree, you fault us for the atrocity. Why did it happen to you and not to others? You must be partially guilty as well.
Third, we know that what we carry is highly uncomfortable to all. Our stories and their ramifications are very discomfiting, and understandably difficult to hear. We know you’d perhaps rather not know that such thing has happened. That’s a hallmark of Klal Yisrael — our incredible modestly and purity. Yet we don’t want publicity; we just need to be listened to and believed.
Is it any wonder we suffer silently?
For those who are struggling every day to rebuild their shattered vase: When you look to the future, it may seem hopeless. Know that your neshamah is absolutely untouchable. Know that you are still the same good person you always were, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu has the infinite ability to make your vase as beautiful as it once was, and perhaps even more exquisite. Don’t give up.
Struggling to rebuild my vase
A License Isn’t Enough [A Place of Healing / Issue 893]
Thank you for printing Sara Rivkah Kohn’s “Ditch the Dangers” sidebar, which delineated some warning signs of unqualified therapists.
I am one of those who was hurt deeply by a licensed therapist who dropped supervision and let her own personal issues get in the way of quality therapy.
When I asked her how much longer it would take till my panic attacks got better, she said three to four sessions max — if I listened to her every word. And if it took longer, I was the reason for the failure.
I thought that since she was licensed, she was right.
A few years later when I ended up at a quality licensed therapist, I learned that a license doesn’t remove human flaws and therapists can be flawed humans, as any person can.
Thank you for raising awareness!
C.F., Lakewood, NJ
Not Necessarily the Source [A Place of Healing / Issue 893]
I appreciated the recent article allowing different mental health professionals and helpers within the community to reflect on various aspects of supporting a survivor of abuse.
I would like to piggyback onto Sarah Rivkah Kohn’s comprehensive outline regarding therapy education and red flags and highlight another potential referral source: an educator or mentor who knows you and your circumstances well.
It can be reassuring to receive a referral from someone you know and trust; however, caution is warranted here as well. As a high school teacher, kallah teacher, and relationship educator, I’m often asked for referrals for both individuals and couples. However, this skill is not generally taught in initial teacher or kallah teacher trainings (although the CORE program ran a virtual session last spring for kallah teachers outlining exactly this process, hopefully the first of many such presentations).
Before asking your trusted teacher or mentor for a referral, gauge whether they have the wherewithal to responsibly refer. Even if they do, you may feel more comfortable using a community referral resource in tandem with them; asking them to help you choose from a few suggested names or running through the different pros and cons with them. Many educators are fortunate to be well-connected in the field of mental health and can be an excellent referral source, but we generally do not have the breadth of a large database or we may not have connections in your current city. We also have likely not interviewed each clinician extensively the way an organization has.
I find myself taken aback when asked for a referral listing just a specialty and a zip code, as if no other information is relevant. Gender, presenting problem, modality, insurance, pay scale, and personality and style are all vital considerations when recommending a therapist.
It is my hope that networking opportunities between educators and clinicians continue to grow and the ability to collaborate increases, allowing us to further capitalize on the existing resource of educators and mentors in a responsible and effective manner.
Shevi Samet, Chestnut Ridge, NY
Missing Facet [Remnant of a Generation / Issue 893]
Y. Esral’s article on Rav Shmaryahu Shulman did a wonderful job in capturing his character, history, and greatness in Torah. However, one important facet was omitted.
Rabbi Shulman served as the rav of the hashkamah minyan of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills for about two decades. His weekly derashos and shiurim were appreciated by many who cherished his gadlus in Torah and middos. He was a close personal friend of my father, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld ztz”l, who had a relationship with him for about 60 years.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld
Kew Gardens Hills, NY
We Need Many Approaches [Fight to the Finish / Issue 892]
I shared the excitement that many readers expressed after the publications of the recent article on Yossie Strickman and Project TRUST, as well as the subsequent letter by Mrs. Feder, who is equally renowned as a leader in the field of technology education in the frum world. My goal in writing is not to share the views of an individual, but is simply a desperate attempt to keep the conversation going for at least one more week.
The accurate response to both the article and letter is that Eilu V’Eilu — many approaches are needed and appropriate. There are many talented and dedicated individuals involved in national organizations, including TAG (Technology Awareness Group), MUST (Mothers United to Stall Technology), the Digital Citizenship Project, Mokaid, Project Focus, Guard Your Eyes, SmartConnections, and others. All have devoted tremendous resources, thought, and time to address this ubiquitous challenge.
Books such as Techtalk, Positive Vision, and The Evolving Digital Challenge are excellent products of frum writers. (Contact information for many resources is available at www.smartconnectionsny.com, a website for the frum community with the haskamah of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita).
It has long been obvious that there is no sole approach or single magic bullet that will “solve” the problem. The common denominator of all efforts to help our community address what is clearly recognized as the nisayon hador from which no individual can completely escape is that ongoing self-assessment, conversation, and action are required.
There is an endless list of universal challenges inherent in every text, email, website, WhatsApp, and online game. A comprehensive approach combines implementation of practical, individualized use of technology that is guided by fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit, self-control, and responsibility to one’s employer, spouse, children, and self.
The only chance that we have to properly navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology challenges is by encouraging the conversation on all levels — in schools, shuls, homes, and popular frum family magazines.
Please keep it going.
Dr. Akiva Bergman
Far Rockaway, NY
Smart Giving [Give and Gain / Issue 891]
A couple of weeks ago, you ran a feature on charitable giving, including some information on donor-advised funds (DAF). I feel that you left out some of the most important and beneficial features of these funds.
To me, the biggest advantage of using a DAF is that you can donate appreciated assets (e.g., stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, etc). When doing so, if the gains are long-term capital gains, you get the tax deduction of the full amount, and if short-term gains, you get the cost basis instead — but either way, you pay no taxes on the appreciation.
With the frum community giving as much tzedakah as it does, DAFs are extremely underutilized. We’re giving the tzedakah anyway, why not get the maximum tax benefits (which can also allow us to give even more tzedakah)?
The advantages here are many: 1) If there’s a stock you want to exit, you can donate it without any tax hit; 2) You get the full tax benefit of the asset’s current value (when there are long-term capital gains); 3) if there’s an asset that you want to keep, you can transfer the asset to the DAF, and then buy the same number of shares again, with the result being that you have the same asset, but with a higher cost basis. In effect, if you’re giving tzedakah, and you have any investments, all your tzedakah can also help you raise the cost basis of your investments.
In addition, there’s another huge advantage — many people may simply take the standard deduction, so regular charity donations offer no tax benefit. When using a DAF, even though there’s no tax deduction, you’re still able to avoid the tax hit of selling appreciated assets, or increase the cost basis of assets you own.
Any discussion of charitable giving and donor-advised funds must include this information to be considered even close to complete.
So Much Worse [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
To the letter writer who wrote that Israel is just trying to protect its citizens from the pandemic, I wonder, whom exactly Israel is trying to protect itself from? From triple-vaccinated people who get three negative tests in a week? From people who don’t have the money or political connections to get the elusive ishur? Certainly not from Miss Universe contestants...
I know of several cases of citizens returning from the US and testing positive upon arrival, so what is the difference between citizen or non-citizen? The draconian rules and the bureaucracy behind them make no sense!
We cannot wait for this all to pass to enjoy coming to Eretz Yisrael again. Simchahs cannot be postponed indefinitely. Can you imagine the agony of a mother who has to watch her daughter’s l’chayim on Zoom and misses out on the most basic of mother-daughter activities — shopping for a wedding dress together? Can you understand the disappointment of a bar mitzvah boy whose grandparents can’t come for his simchah? And what about the stress and uncertainty of trying to plan simchahs without knowing who can come or if they will be able to get to Eretz Yisrael?
The agmas nefesh these draconian rules has created for thousands of people whose families are on two continents is so much worse than the miniscule threat of a possible positive test possibly ending up in tragedy. (Not to minimize tragedy, but most people recover from this virus.)
If you substitute “omicron” with “flu” or “virus,” would people be afraid to leave their house? Would countries close down?
Hashem is in control of the world. Let’s not pin all of our fear and focus on a microscopic virus that is just like the emperor’s clothes.
An American citizen who just wants to share simchahs with family in Eretz Yisrael
Keep Our Country Shut [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
Every story has two sides, but in “Closed Borders, Closed Ears,” Mishpacha presents only the side of Israel’s critics. Adding insult to injury is the loaded language used in the article (restrictions are “draconian,” changes made in them to adapt to changing circumstances are a “carousel,” and borders “slam shut” as we return to the “dark days” of limited entry).
Missing a family simchah, or being unable to have a last bedside visit with a near relative whose passing is imminent, naturally causes great distress. But with all due respect, it is nothing compared to the distress caused by having to struggle for each and every breath you take, or by losing a near relative because an overwhelmed health care system has been forced to turn them away. And these are the dangers that Israel’s government is trying to avert with its tight restrictions on incoming travelers.
The article’s harsh indictment of Israel’s border-control policies, and its failure to carry them out with more empathy, is comparable to excoriating the fire fighters for being rude and rough while they are trying to save people trapped in a burning building.
Thankfully, most people infected with Covid survive without hospitalization, but for some of us, it is life-threatening. The Omicron variant is far more contagious than those we have dealt with until now, and, as of this writing, it is not clear how effective the current vaccines are at containing it.
As a resident of Israel who is over 60, and has a near relative in a high-risk group, I am very glad that the government is taking a conservative approach. Perhaps it could be executed more humanely, but remember that criticism is easy when you are standing on the sidelines. Could the critics handle the job better if they were required to do it themselves? I am doubtful.
As for the claim that special consideration should be given to the families of olim, it is worth remembering that, under the Law of Return, there are two circumstances in which a Jew can be turned away: (1) if he is a criminal, or (2) if he carries a contagious disease that would endanger the public. If the health and safety of the public take precedence over the right to make aliyah, as they should, then surely they outweigh any “unspoken contract” that allows olim to be visited by family members who are still abroad.
David Hoffman, Alon Shvut
Simple and Safe [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
I think that most of the responses to the article on Israel’s closed borders missed the point.
The question isn’t whether Covid is real or fake, dangerous or not. It’s whether the government can establish a clear protocol that ensures everyone entering the country meets a basic standard of safety — be they citizens, tourists, visitors, or beauty contestants.
It makes total sense for the government to ask anyone boarding a plane to Israel to take a Covid test beforehand.
Anything beyond that is unnecessary. There’s no need for proof of three, or two, or even one vaccine (especially because vaccines don’t seem to prevent transmission anyway). There’s no need to limit entry to certain age groups or “types.” There’s no need to prioritize citizens over tourists. There’s no need for different types or lengths of quarantine for different people. There’s no need for an Exceptions Committee or any committee at all.
Keep it simple, keep it safe, and keep the country open.
Of Brooms and Fellow Jews [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
About 15 years ago, a young mother criticized my father’s kiruv work with the statement, “The broom that sweeps the floor gets dirty.” I thought of that sentiment when reading the Double Take story about the kiruv yeshivah.
I’m a senior in high school, and my father has been doing college kiruv at the local university my entire life. In the Double Take story, Dov claims that he would be happy to learn with the boys if the yeshivah were located elsewhere, but not if it is located in the neighborhood — as that would presumably risk his family’s hard-earned purity. He’s broadcasting to his children his belief that in order to maintain a standard of purity, you must keep different kinds of Jews at a distance.
As someone who is “exposed” to various kinds of Jews, I can attest that not only has my spiritual growth not been compromised, but it has been enhanced from seeing so many types of Jews come together for a meaningful purpose.
Clearly there is an entire subset of people who would prefer to separate themselves from “impurity,” thereby sending the message to their children that, “they’re nice to look at from afar, but don’t come close or you’ll get negatively influenced; just let others who can afford to be tarnished take care of them.”
How can this message be more appropriate than making sure our children don’t know what “weeds’’ are?
R.K., Silver Spring
What’s Missing Here [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
I was extremely disturbed by the recent Double Take story about an OTD yeshivah moving in to an out-of-town frum neighborhood. This story was missing a crucial element, something that must be an integral part of our lives as yirei Shamayim: daas Torah.
Maybe it could have been okay for the yeshivah to move to a more sheltered out-of-town environment, or maybe the neighbors were really right to be upset and tell the yeshivah to leave. But can he decide to move a yeshivah out of town after just talking it over with his wife?
And who decides to just sit and complain while their kids are being influenced by troubled kids and not ask a chinuch sh’eilah? And to go to a community askan to deal with it when you decide enough is enough? And what “askan” decides to just kick a yeshivah out of the neighborhood on their own initiative? Where is the rav in this city?
There is a total lack of daas Torah in this story. It is just a bunch of random people doing whatever they see fit, leading to inevitable conflict.
This story is a false dichotomy. While it’s framed as an “accepting troubled kids versus protecting your own kids” issue, it is really just a symptom of Torah without yiras Shamayim. As yirei Shamayim, we have to realize that we aren’t the arbiters of truth, and we have to turn to people whose daas comes from the Torah for consequential decisions. Without yiras Shamayim, though, we might make the flawed and foolish mistake that we ourselves can decide the proper course of action according to the Torah.
Torah and yiras Shamayim are inextricably linked, and we need them both. The said situation in the Double Take story is what happens when a person (or a whole neighborhood, it seems) lacks yiras Shamayim and therefore has no concept of deferring to daas Torah.
Ask and Listen [Made in Heaven]
I enjoyed Rabbi Shafier’s excellent article regarding a woman “giving in” to her husband and I would like to add two more crucial points.
The relationship between husband and wife is that of mashpia and mekabel; he is the provider, spiritually and emotionally. As explained in sefer Ohel Rachel, “Koach ha’ishah al maaseh ha’ish — she wants to receive, and that is what causes life in the house to move. She should ask for what she wants, not what she doesn’t want. And it’s a mistake not to want anything.” This passage highlights a man’s natural desire to provide and give to his wife.
A woman taps into that dynamic when she learns to express her own desires as a way that her husband can make her happy. When a woman instructs, complains, criticizes, or demands, she conveys the message that he should listen to her because “everyone does it” or “this is the right way” or “this is what you should do.” If, however, she expresses her request as something that would make her happy — and expresses appreciation when he does it! — she sets the stage for a reciprocal relationship in which husband and wife form a continuously deeper connection, as she receives from him and he feels fulfilled knowing that he can provide for her.
While this of course does not mean that she will always get what she wants, it does grant an additional perspective on the value of expressing her desires rather than automatically deferring to her husband.
Regarding conflict resolution, the article mentioned several times that the couple should “talk things out,” and resolve issues by taking turns or compromising. Unfortunately, most couples have never learned the steps to peaceful and productive problem solving, and “discussions” frequently degenerate into arguments at worst, or at best a tennis match of “why my side is right.” And, as mentioned in the article, compromise often ends up creating a lose-lose situation where both spouses give up what they want and neither is happy.
Productive problem solving consists of first listening fully to the other person’s perspective (without interrupting, judging, or interpreting — even mentally). Even if you don’t agree with your spouse (which is most likely, having come from disparate backgrounds and differing personalities), you can do your best to “accept and allow” his perspective, genuinely trying to see the situation from his point of view. Only then should the second spouse present her side — again, not with the intention of proving she is right, but simply explaining where she is coming from (and of course he should grant her the same courtesy of listening fully).
Once this crucial stage is complete, the couple is now ready to move on to problem solving. One technique that frequently works well is brainstorming, where each side throws out possible ideas (no matter how far-fetched), with the rule that the other cannot reject any proposal out of hand. Frequently couples will find that in this open and accepting environment, a mutually agreeable solution emerges that neither side could have anticipated on their own. Even if this does not happen, the couple will be better positioned to come to an agreement that balances each spouse’s immediate needs and the general relationship.
Thank you for continuing to focus on strengthening marriages.
The Secret Spark marriage workshop
Most Appropriate Context [Made in Heaven]
I am writing in response to the letter complaining about Rabbi Shafier’s column, titled “Don’t Expose our Kids.” I disagree that it is a breach of sensitivities to write about love, romance, or the other ideas that the letter writer finds inappropriate. On the contrary, this is where it is the most appropriate to be using such words!
Is it inappropriate for our children to learn “Vaye’ehav Yaakov es Rachel”? I believe the only reason these concepts are being deemed inappropriate is because of the way they’re used in the outside world. By showing our children that these words should be used about the relationship between their parents, it is giving them the proper understanding of what love and romance should be. I wish I grew up associating romance with my parents’ relationship and not with what I see on the streets!
Yes, it may not be necessary for them to be reading marriage advice at this point in their lives. However, unless your child is so sheltered that he has never seen some of these terms being applied to relationships that are actually inappropriate, I think this can help maintain a proper perspective.
From what I’ve seen, Rabbi Shafier has not included anything that an unmarried person should not know about.
A. Cohen, Lakewood, NJ
Don’t Water It Down [Made in Heaven]
I was very surprised at the letter saying that Rabbi Shafier’s excellent column was only appropriate for married people. Actually, unmarried adults can benefit from his wisdom as well. Why wait until they are another statistic stuck in the drudgery of a tired marriage, when they can learn some refreshing ideas ahead of time?
And if I see even one more letter complaining about kids being exposed to inappropriate material… You may hear me groaning already. In case you haven’t noticed — this isn’t a children’s magazine, please see Mishpacha Jr. for the kids’ content.
Yes, we are all aware that sometimes children may be skimming or reading parts of the main magazine, but dumbing or watering down the content of an adult magazine so it can be suitable for kids is insulting to the adult readership, who enjoy sophisticated and mature content.
The Perfect Place [Made in Heaven]
I have been following the different perspectives on Rabbi Shafier’s column, and read with disbelief the letter from a reader who feels that this has no place in a frum magazine, where teenagers may see it. On the contrary — this is exactly the place for it!
Rabbi Shafier’s open, honest, and clear approaches are so important for our next generations to hear. Preparation for marriage should not start with chassan and kallah classes; the seeds can, and should, be sown years before. Not everyone has the chance to see this in their home environment — and even for those who do, we can open the discussion of what a respectful, loving relationship includes and entails. Let our teenagers see real-life examples and perspectives for a frum marriage, and have the opportunity to hear the wise guidance and hugely relevant responses of Rabbi Shafier. These are a gift.
With appreciation for an outstanding column,
They Still Need a Miracle [In the Arms of Rabi Shimon]
This past Lag B’omer, Klal Yisrael lost 45 precious neshamos in Meron. But the story is not yet over.
Yossi and Elazar are two young boys who were miraculously resuscitated, and remain in a precarious state. While they are alive and stable, they have yet to regain full consciousness.
All over the world, people have been saying Tehillim and beseeching Hashem to reignite these tiny flames into brilliant meduros. We ask of Klal Yisrael — especially tinokos shel beis rabban — to add your tefillos for a speedy and complete recovery for Yossi and Elazar. Their names for Tehillim are Yosef Ezriel ben Chaya Michal, and Elazar ben Re’umah.
The Grossman family
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 894)
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