"There are three sources responsible for creating a child — I wonder if Hashem is ever consulted when divorced parents make unilateral decisions for their children"
Not What I Expected [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 907]
As a veteran shul rav, every word of the Pesach edition’s Voice in the Crowd resonated with me. The author isn’t a rav of a shul, so he has the freedom and liberty to express certain truths that we rabbanim can’t, lest we look kvetchy or bitter.
I am a rav in a prestigious, respected shul. When I got the job, old friends called to congratulate me on “making it big,” and I was proud, eager, and determined to inspire others. I would have never taken the job had I known what I know now.
Yes, the same people who hired me are still there, and they are as wonderful as they appeared. They like to learn, are sincere and generous with their money. I like them, and they like me, I think. But here’s the thing they didn’t tell me: People simply aren’t “there” anymore.
Pesach in Orlando isn’t the exception, but the rule. I already know that Shavuos, which coincides with the secular holiday weekend, will be upstate. Succos will be in Israel — baruch Hashem, it’s open again!
A shul isn’t made from sitting together at a chasunah or a shared email list, but from something much more basic. It’s being together on Shabbos and Yom Tov, sharing moments of spiritual potential to grow. We make things happen, together.
Now the problem is compounded. Because so many people aren’t around, the ones who stay are sort of left feeling like “losers,” so the whole atmosphere is affected. It’s not the many empty seats, it’s also the sense of “What, you couldn’t find a way to get out of here like everyone normal?”
The job isn’t what I expected because the contemporary shul in any wealthy Tristate area neighborhood isn’t what it looks like when you come for a prubbeh, and they make sure all the right people are there.
I end this letter with an appeal to the amazing people in the wonderful shuls across North America. You know that Simchas Torah as a guest in a minyan in a hotel shul isn’t especially meaningful, that Shavuos night learning in the bungalow colony is more relaxed than it should be, that the magic of a ne’ilas hachag after a Pesach spent in your regular seat in regular shul, tefillah after tefillah, can’t be found in a tent minyan in Florida. Forget what you’re doing to the people you leave behind every time you run, and ask yourselves this: What meaningful experience are you giving your own children?
Thanks for the article. Now I will go back to smiling and wishing mispallelim “A safe trip and enjoyable Yom Tov,” like I’m paid to do.
A shul rav who knows
Triply Honored [It Happened Here / Issue 907]
Kudos for a wonderful Pesach issue that certainly spoke to my litvishe heritage in myriad ways. The masterpieces by my dear friends Yehuda Geberer and Dovi Safier were once again refreshing and enlightening, as they cast new light and shared more poignant information on topics and the history of people, places, and things of which I shall never tire.
Of course, the eloquence of Reb Sruli Besser needs no accolades, especially from someone who was inspired by him to attempt to translate thoughts into keystrokes. But a yasher koyach is never remiss.
However, what was most exciting for me and my family, and most probably a record in the history of chareidi publications, with the mention of my father, Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky ztz”l, and some of his accomplishments, in not one, but in three separate articles!
He was mentioned and pictured on the steps of Yeshivas Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohein on South 9th Street, in Williamsburg, when he was a young talmid of Rav Dovid Leibowitz. He was mentioned as the successor of the Torah education maverick, his mentor, Rav Yitzchok Schmidman, in saving Yeshiva Toras Chaim of East New York and transplanting it to the South Shore of Long Island. The yeshivah now bears the name “Toras Chaim Bais Binyamin” at South Shore. Lastly, he was mentioned in his role as the shadchan of his first cousin’s son, Rav Dov Kreiswirth, to his sister-in-law’s sister, Leah Leifer.
I am sure these warm and highly complementary references and anecdotes mean so much to the greater Kamenetzky family, as my father’s yahrtzeit is this coming Tuesday, the 2nd of Iyar.
It is always an honor to be a part of the greater Mishpacha even in the most subtle of ways and most certainly in a way that brings honor to our great heritage.
The Source Is Within [Presents or Presence / Double Take – Issue 907]
In the Double Take story about the divorced parents arguing over sleepover camp, Chedva is insecure. Ms. Samet, please send her to a therapist who can help her accept her reality and see that most of her dislike for “the money, the gashmiyus, the stuff” is rooted in her dislike for her ex and insecure self.
She is quite, quite jealous and insecure. Her security lies with her “choshuve… real ben Torah” husband and “large family,” and not herself; it lies in the thank-yous she received from her husband’s grandparents at a bar mitzvah; her sister’s opinion on the sleepaway camp matter. If anyone is putting Chedva in a “difficult place,” it’s herself — and it’s all in her head.
“Your extravagant gifts are singling the kids out from their siblings and destroying the family I’m working so hard to build” is simply not a true statement. Her kids are not being singled out any more than they would be otherwise, and “destroy” is much too strong a word to describe some complaints about wanting to go to sleepaway camp.
Thank you for a wonderful column.
Unilateral Risks [Presents or Presence / Double Take – Issue 907]
This letter will probably paint me as someone who has not been in the situation of a messy divorce involving children, either as the parent or as the child. As such, if anyone who has been feels in any way strongly about my thoughts vis-à-vis their experience, I would gladly welcome their input. That being said:
Reuvy might be right, but he’s not correct. Let me explain.
True, the only children in the situation Reuvy should worry about at a base level are the children he shares with Chedva. If he wishes to send Chaya and Shmuli off to summer camp, so be it, and Chedva (from a purely baseline legal standpoint) can pound sand. After all, what obligations does Reuvy have to Tully and his children, either from their previous mother a”h or with Chedva? The fact that they can’t go to sleepaway camp is none of his concern.
And yet... should it be?
Reuvy, for the reasons listed above, would argue no, and thereby acted unilaterally — wherein lies the rub. The fact that he and Chedva have parted ways, however amicably that may be (or may not be, as it seems), does not absolve them from being partners in the raising of Chaya and Shmuli.
There may be some outside help on either side in the form of new spouses and siblings, but ultimately, Chedva and Reuvy have two children who need their help — together — in bringing them to be Torah u’mitzvos–observing adults, in whatever capacity that may be. And that means clear and open communication — regarding summer camp, yes, but also regarding other factors of life.
Reuvy acknowledges that his two kids aren’t treated as well monetarily by the other side. Does he know that Chedva is buckling under the weight of more children and less disposable income, and that the ripples of his treatment of Chaya and Shmuli might sow resentment among her other children with Tully? Perhaps new clothes are in order, but not as flashy or stylish; perhaps a fun day out on Chol Hamoed is a good idea, but make it a nature hike rather than an all-out extravaganza at American Dream. And, of course, if Reuvy doesn’t know this, then perhaps Chedva should be more forthcoming about it — not all the details, but enough for Reuvy to get the picture without needing ESP or telepathy.
Furthermore, there shouldn’t be any unilateral decisions. Would Chedva have outright shot down any conversation of summer camp? Perhaps. Or perhaps armed with the knowledge that Reuvy was highly considering it, she could have started looking into camp scholarships for her children with Tully, thereby softening — or even avoiding — any blowback about any child being jealous or missing out.
The situation, as Rochel Samet presents it, was already taut, and the summer camp bombshell fractured the already straining foundations further. But it’s not unsalvageable. Reuvy and Chedva just need to work at it, together.
Matthew / Matisyahu S.
What You Can’t Control [Presents or Presence / Double Take – Issue 907]
The Double Take in Issue 907 was, like many of the Double Takes, complicated. Sadly, divorce in the modern world — no matter what your hashkafah — is hard on everyone.
My response is based on my experience as a divorced woman with three children who has since remarried a divorced man with children. This story hit home on so many fronts.
Before responding on the divorce issue, Chedva should remember that no matter how much we shelter our children from the gashmiyus of the outside world, sometimes, they find out on their own. There are no guarantees in life, and we daven all the time that our children grow up to be ovdei Hashem.
That being said, the hashkafah issue comes to mind first. One of the many reasons my first husband and I divorced was a hashkafic issue. My children were entering their teens, and we did not share the same vision religiously. He and his family leaned more to the left and I more to the right.
I knew, though, that when the children were with my ex, there was the possibility that the activities they would engage in would not sit well with me. Through both therapy and spiritual guidance, I learned that I had no control over what they did with their father. I could control my environment while they were with me, but I could not and should not try to control them. For them to not completely reject my hashkafah, I needed to teach by example, but not judge their behavior.
I will admit: It was hard and it still is hard all these years later. However, something that a rabbi told me resonates until this day. Avraham went on his journey alone and found Hashem. The children are not alone; they have me, and they have my new husband, and, if they choose, we are always available to provide guidance for their own journey. Our behavior and how we communicated to them are the guideposts they need.
I have been divorced for over ten years and I can partially see the result of the wisdom. Each of my children has to date embraced Hashem in different ways. Hashkafically, you may say they run the gamut from right to left, but they all have a keen understanding of the necessity of the halachic structure. They are still young, and their journeys still continue.
I would advise Chedva to continue to show the love and the joy of the way you are raising your family. From experience, the memories the children will have with their step- and half-siblings are priceless, and the sense of family, blended or not, is so important to kids. You cannot control your ex-husband’s behavior on his time, and speaking negatively of him or taking the children away from him can only cause your children to resent you and be angry — none of which will allow them to see your hashkafic values in a positive light.
Regarding the children of a mixed marriage, I would tell Chedva that the responsibility lies on you and your new husband to educate your children about blended families. In my case our children get along and see each other as siblings, but they also know that they have a different parent. They know, as well, that the other parent may have a different perspective, different financial positions, and other variables that again, we cannot control or compete with.
That part is not easy — especially from the financial end — but it’s up to you and your husband to engage in conversation and do your best to explain these situations. It’s never easy to explain to a child why you cannot afford the same things as their friends, and as much as we want to give them everything, sometimes it just cannot happen. The choices we make in life sometimes dictate our financial situations, and it’s our job to educate our children as to why we made this choice.
Divorce is hard, and too many times parents pawn their children to hurt the other. Too many times parents attempt to “win” over their children to get back at the other. The story did not portray this, but part of being a mensch is for both parties to remind themselves that like it or not, the kids are both of theirs, and until they are old enough to make decisions on their own, the right thing to do when making decisions like summer camp, or vacations, or schools is to communicate with the ex. That does not mean that you will be in agreement, but too many times each side wants the control, and they forget what may truly be best for the child.
As I said, divorce is complicated, and in our world of varying hashkafos it gets even more complicated. There are three sources responsible for creating a child — I wonder if Hashem is ever consulted when divorced parents make unilateral decisions for their children.
Name Withheld, US
Some Lose, Some Gain [Race Against the Clock / Issue 905]
Thank you so much for your exceptional weekly publication.
As the debate about keeping daylight savings time goes on, there’s one point I think isn’t being discussed.
We keep talking about the people who need to travel to work, for whom the clock change will make davening so much harder. But on the other hand, more and more people work locally, and these men who start work locally at 11, along with kollel yungeleit who start at 10, now have another hour to ensure they don’t miss zeman Krias Shema and zeman tefillah. Since many simchahs and chasunahs end late (very late, if there’s a mitzvah tantz), zeman Krias Shema being at 9:10 instead of at 8:10 goes a long way and can help many people. I actually heard this point from a choshuve dayan as well.
Thanks again for your superb publication.
A fellow New Yorker
Zoom Is a Visit! [Principle of the Matter / Double Take – Issue 904]
I would like to take issue with Chava Berkowitz’s opinion that “Zoom is not a visit.” Surely, visiting in person is always best, but when that is not possible or practical, or will not otherwise happen 24-7, virtual visitation is certainly the next best thing.
How do I know? The pasuk in Bereishis 18:1, describing the Torah’s primary example of bikur cholim, actually uses the words “Hashem appeared to him.” The Maharal in Gur Aryeh literally says that the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to be “revealed” or “appear” in the room.
More directly, over 60 years ago, Dayan Weiss described a theoretical concept (a television-like device that enables two-way audio-video communication) that is very similar to Zoom. In Minchas Yitzchak, Vol. 2, siman 84, se’if 10, Dayan Weiss clearly writes that if the patient and visitor can hear and see each other, surely the visitor is fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim.
Nonetheless, this does not need to be such a difficult ethical dilemma, with Shaya having to choose between Zeidy and his principles. They should have simply called WellTab at 917-999-0102 to borrow a pair of dedicated virtual visitation devices.
WellTabs are a closed system in which the devices are continuously connected directly to each other and do not have any other functionality. Using WellTab is no more using the Internet than using a credit card at a store, talking on any phone, using any municipal utility, or doing almost anything that is connected to the broader world around us. They all use the Internet in the background, without the risk of a slippery slope to allowing screens for other purposes and/or the Internet in general.
WellTab devices are loaned free of charge and are designed for hospital settings, with features that meet the needs of patients and families, while adhering to hospital privacy procedures, protocols, and security concerns. Thousands of patients and their families have already experienced the amazing life-saving effects of not only keeping patients virtually connected to their families, but also of keeping patients connected to their home environments. With WellTab, patients are never alone!
WellTab Baltimore Volunteer
Like Treif Meat [Principle of the Matter / Double Take – Issue 904]
The Double Take story about the avreich who wouldn’t break his no-Internet boundary brought back a memory of a related experience.
A number of years ago, I visited Eretz Yisrael for medical purposes. It was summertime, during one of the notorious heat waves. I had an appointment scheduled in another city, and I planned on taking a bus to get to my appointment. However, as I stood waiting for the bus, it dawned on me that I may be standing at the wrong stop. I panicked, unsure what to do or where to go. I ran the few blocks to the next stop, searching for a person to ask for guidance. But the place was deserted and as the bus neared — I had no idea to which stop — I grew increasingly confused.
I tried calling the bus service, but my Hebrew wasn’t strong enough to understand the rapid Hebrew and navigate the prompts. I ran back and forth between the two stops, panting and sweating and feeling faint from thirst.
Finally, a young woman passed by. I quickly stopped her, and with my broken Hebrew, explained my predicament and asked if she could please help me clarify the bus schedule and pickup location. I would call the bus service number again and have her translate the information for me.
She kindly agreed, and I dialed. But as I handed over my phone to her, she stared at the device — a basic phone I’d rented for my stay that did not have Internet service.
“Selichah,” she told me, “I can’t use this phone. It’s not me’ushar, not rabbinically approved.”
I explained to her that the phone had no Internet service and that it was certainly kosher.
She shook her head apologetically. If the phone didn’t have a sticker with a hechsher, she wouldn’t touch it.
A few minutes later, I watched the bus I was meant to catch zoom by. I missed it.
After this incident, I naturally felt wronged. There was so much at stake with me missing that appointment, and I felt like it was all because of that woman with her “krum” frumkeiten.
And yet, I realized what a beautiful thing I’d just witnessed. I don’t own a smartphone and have limited Internet access in general. But to that woman, a phone that didn’t have a hechsher was like treif meat. You don’t touch it under any circumstances.
To this day, I wonder if the woman did the right thing or not. She’s part of a community that set this very strong boundary, so this wasn’t only a personal chumra.
Still, I’m curious how her rav would have paskened had he been standing with us and witnessed the entire story.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 908)
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