“You ask, where is aveilus? It’s been watered down to unseen levels. It is collateral damage, a victim of 2023”
Not Looking for Loopholes [Whatever Happened to Aveilus? / Issue 972]
I could so relate to Dena Mason’s article on “Whatever Happened to Aveilus.”
Firstly, to you, Dena, HaMakom Yenacheim es’chem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tzion v’Yerushalayim. May you know of no more tzaar.
I couldn’t agree with you more with so many of your points. I, too, lost my father many years ago, as well as my mother two years ago. When I sat shivah for my beloved parents, people said I was too strict with myself. Like you, I wasn’t looking for loopholes.
People also suggested different ways for me to be able to join in their simchah. I really wasn’t in the frame of mind for simchahs and wanted to do the right thing for my parents.
People mean well. Especially if they never sat shivah, they don’t really understand that the avel isn’t looking for ways out. I think your article was necessary for bringing awareness to this issue.
May we be zocheh to the coming of Mashiach bimheirah v’yameinu.
Whatever Happened to “No”? [Whatever Happened to Aveilus? / Issue 972]
In her article, Dena Mason asks, “Whatever happened to aveilus?” I add: “Whatever happened to halachah? Whatever happened to saying no?”
In a generation in which parents and mechanchim are cautioned to never use the “no” word, the trickle-down effect is now impacting how our generation approaches halachah.
When we were young, halachah was halachah. In most cases, halachah was an absolute, but there was an awareness that there might be room for leniency or compromises — depending on the circumstances and who it was that was asking the sh’eilah.
Now, however, the tide is turning, and the approach to halachah is sadly becoming more in tune with the “never say no” movement. Are we so weak that we can’t accept a no anymore? A frightening thought.
You ask, where is aveilus? It’s been watered down to unseen levels. It is collateral damage, a victim of 2023. Back in the day, if someone was an avel, they were just that. Everyone knew they couldn’t attend simchahs, and if they were still sitting shivah, it was unheard of to attend any simchah — even for the closest relatives.
Today, everything goes. It’s pikuach nefesh, simchas chassan v’kallah, or whatever else is the flavor of the day. Bottom line: People are being put into awful situations where they are pressured to attend simchahs during aveilus.
Aveilus is hard and painful. It’s difficult enough not to be able to attend simchahs. But that’s death. Hashem gets to choose how convenient or inconvenient the timing is, and it’s our role to understand that Hashem has the right and ability to tell us, “No.”
No, your aunt cannot attend your chuppah; no, your grandmother who is sitting shivah for her brother cannot attend your son’s bar mitzvah; and no, your mother-in-law who lost her mother cannot attend your daughter’s bas-mitzvah party during the shloshim.
I mean, maybe she can attend — because if you or the kallah or bar mitzvah bochur beg hard enough or cry loud enough, the rabbanim may render a heter. But remember: Sometimes the avel actually doesn’t want to attend. They are okay with aveilus and want to respect the departed by keeping the full halachah.
So in answer to Ms. Mason: People are asking you to partake in simchahs because they are sure you’ll somehow figure it out. The inability to accept a straight “no” is so prevalent that many people find it hard to believe that there are people out there who are okay with accepting halachah, “no” and all.
I do not judge. We are victims of our times. But let’s not forget that we’re Yidden. The Torah has no qualms about saying “no” (think of the Aseres Hadibros and all the lo saasehs), so clearly, we are strong. We have the strength to prevail, right through the ages. For Torah is eternal.
Permission to Mourn [Whatever Happened to Aveilus? / Issue 972]
The phenomenon that Dena Mason describes is not unique to our own community. According to Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK, society at large is “anti-grief” and “pain averse.” We are uncomfortable with discomfort.
However, as Rabbi Reuven Leuchter wrote in this very magazine, “To help a mourner, don’t distract him from his pain.” Some may think the “solution” to grief can be found in the loopholes for aveilus: Don’t worry, you can still come to my simchah and be happy!
But what if I’m not happy right now, and don’t want to be happy? What if the rules of aveilus aren’t mere restrictions, but permission for the mourner to mourn?
If any of us lives long enough, at some point we experience grief and loss. Avoiding those feelings does not make them disappear.
I recently read an essay by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks a”h that has comforted me in my own grief. He explains that chronologically, what occurred right before Moshe hit the rock was that Miriam died. At that point, Moshe was in the throes of grief.
Our ancestors loved, and they lost. That is the reality of life as we know it.
The Rush Connection [For the Record / Issue 972]
Here is another Jewish connection with Dr. Benjamin Rush.
As your article mentions, he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. All the streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are named after the Declaration’s signers. I grew up on Rush Street with many American Jews, and later many chassidim. There was a tzitzis factory on the same block. But as part of urban renewal, all the homes on my block were torn down and replaced with Roberto Clemente Towers, and Rush Street is no longer in existence.
Thank you for your excellent articles. Keep up the good work.
The Power of One [The Moment / Issue 969]
I read with interest your recent “Happening in the US” item describing the influence of the SEED talmidim in Hartford, Connecticut, on many boys, and the lasting impact it had on their lives.
I too was zocheh to be part of SEED in the ’70s, both in Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona. I remember feeling so clearly that while we were going to these communities to inspire others, we were the ones who were inspired. My chaveirim and I look back on those years, having gained so much from learning with adults and children of all backgrounds, creating programs to help instill an appreciation of Torah and Yiddishkeit, and giving communities a glimpse of the yeshivah world.
I think it is appropriate as we look back at the success of SEED to recall the visionary who, together with Torah Umesorah, created a summer revolution that impacted communities nationwide.
Rav Gavriel Ginsberg a”h was the menahel of Mesivta Chofetz Chaim during the ’70s. He was one of the chashuvei talmidei Telz, a sought-after speaker who spoke with passion and fire throughout the country about Torah ideals. Rav Ginsberg later became the rosh yeshivah of Ner Israel in Toronto, a position he held for many years. I remember when I was in Rav Ginsberg’s 12th-grade shiur, he would tell us about his dream — to plant seeds in communities across the country, bringing communities the eternal message of Torah. What a novel idea — bnei Torah from across the country, representing all the yeshivos, participating in harbatzas Torah during bein hazmanim.
At the time, we thought it was just another idea. But looking back, after more than a generation of summer SEED, we can appreciate the koach haTorah, the receptivity of the Yiddishe neshamah, and “the power of one idea.”
Yehi zichro baruch.
Rabbi Yosef Singer
Menahel, Mesivta Chofetz Chaim
A Gift Turned Nightmare [Warning Bells / Issue 968]
I read your article “Warning Bells,” and I have read the letters that have been sent in since. I know who the article and letters were about because I was in the same group at the very beginning.
It began in 2006 as a parenting group. We were a group of young mothers looking to infuse our parenting with inspiration and kedushah and get some practical tips along the way. “Esther” was an intelligent, articulate, frum and engaging rebbetzin who worked in a more modern girls’ high school. She also claimed to have a PhD in psychology, which I later learned was a patent lie. (She had gone for some PhD classes but she never got a degree.)
She seemed at the time like a perfect candidate to help each of us to become better people through the challenges of mothering our precious children. We discussed our parenting, and we also discussed our own emotional blocks to being as present for our children as we’d liked to have been. It was a special class and a special group of women and we all cherished it as the gift that it was.
Slowly, over a number of years, the philosophy and atmosphere in the group began to change. We began talking about our husbands and other people in our lives. And then very slowly, a culture of “better than” began hovering over our group. Looking back, I realize that our teacher, who we now referred to as the “group leader,” had begun to change. We all wanted to stay in the special sisterhood we had created, but the rules of the game were becoming toxic.
Slowly, we were taught to look down upon anyone not privileged enough to be a group member, and to constantly question and criticize ourselves for whatever emotional blocks we might have. On top of this, we found ourselves searching for emotional blocks to talk about, so we would be considered higher in the “hierarchy” of the group on any given week.
We began focusing on the negative in ourselves, our children and our husbands who were not doing “the work.” Any struggle a child was having was directly attributable to our deep-seated emotional issues and “Esther’s” wisdom, and our self- judgment and “work” would save us and our families from ourselves.
This attitude ultimately became the vise that held the group members emotionally captive.
Baruch Hashem, I began to feel very uncomfortable with the changes in the group, and after a few tear-filled agonizing days of soul-searching, I left. I thank Hashem every day for the courage and clarity to do so.
What I’m shocked about, as I look back on this amazing gift-turned-nightmare, is how hard it was for me to decide to leave! I knew it didn’t feel right, but my mind had been so influenced that I doubted myself, despite a strong chinuch by parents who were role models of seeing the best in others.
Funnily enough, I remember telling my husband soon after I left how I noticed that I had “permission” again to look well upon others, to accept other people in my life, however imperfect they may be. (Including him, unfortunately. He was one of the victims of my temporary “better than thou” new attitude. I am so grateful for his good middos because he accepted me wholeheartedly as soon as I left this foolish frame of mind.)
And much to my surprise, I continued being a growing person even outside the group! I was finally able to focus on myself and my relationships with a positivity and a generosity that benefited me and everyone in my life — an ayin tovah combined with respect for others’ humanity, their struggles and their strengths.
In the years since I left this group, I’ve heard snippets of stories about divorces and family alienation concerning group members. I thought it was strange, but now that I’ve read “Warning Bells,” and I have reached out to a few people who are more familiar with what’s going on in the groups today, it all makes sense. I realize I should probably make a brachah every time I pass the patch of road I was driving through when I made the ultimate decision to leave the group. (It was such a painful decision that I actually remember exactly where I was, while I decided among much tears and begging Hashem for clarity, once and for all, that I need to leave.)
I must say, with hindsight, that I am a far better person — eved Hashem, mother, wife and friend — than I was when I was part of “Esther’s” parenting group. I am grateful for this forum and hope and pray that the women who have since joined can get the brainwashing out of their system and leave too.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 974)
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