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Inbox: Issue 981

“Beware the snobbery that makes a person believe they have the only knowledgeable eye in the room”

Sefer Torah for the Kibbutz [The Tefillin Wars of Tel Aviv / Issue 980]

Gedalia Guttentag’s article about the tefillin wars of Tel Aviv makes a valid point and brings out what is happening in Israel today.

I would like to tell your readers how I experienced this about nine years ago. As the person in charge of the Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach, I was contacted by the shaliach who lives in the Southern area of Tiberias. He had requested a Torah for Kibbutz Deganya Alef.

This kibbutz was the first kibbutz established in Israel and is affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair. They wanted a kosher Torah to be placed in the kibbutz for bar mitzvahs, etc., and are coming back to Yiddishkeit. The Torah was placed and is presently being used on a regular basis.

The interesting thing about this is that the shaliach’s family name is Blau, from the Neturei Karta lineage. This is also where Moshe Dayan was born. It can’t get better than this! Let’s see what time will bring.

Say Tehillim, my brothers!

Bentzion Chanowitz

Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach


Stretched Too Thin [Breaking Point / Double Take — Issue 980]

Anyone who has dealt with a very challenging family nisayon knows this: If you are coping with a difficult situation 24 hours a day for weeks on end, your discretion isn’t at its best.

If Nechi would have had a good night’s sleep even once since Temima came down with anxiety, she would have planned ahead. Had she called Baruch and Leeba right after Purim, explained the situation, and asked them to help out, they would know that Baruch’s parents are exhausted after caring for Temima day after day.

Baruch and Leeba would know they are not coming for an enjoyable family visit. They are coming to shoulder a tough responsibility. With that knowledge, their expectations would change accordingly. They would arrive with an organized plan on how to juggle kibbud horim and keeping their children happy.

Nobody can blame Nechi for not thinking about it. Obviously her coping capabilities were stretched thin.

May we all be blessed with health. If someone knows a family coping with a problem like Temima’s, maybe this story will encourage awareness of how much help they can use.



My Heart is Breaking [The Final Kindness / Issue 979]

Thank you for your superb magazine, which I relish reading. Your article, “The Final Kindness” by Fruma Krakowski in Issue 979, really hit home.

I became religious over 50 years ago, as did my parents. (Thank you NCSY!) Sadly, my brother not only refrained from becoming religious — he “married out.”

When he met Kathy, she was a divorcee with two very young children, so he promised my mom they would have no more children so she could be assured he wouldn’t become a father to non-Jews.

Yisrael (his Hebrew name) is my only brother. He and his wife are closer to being Buddhists than anything else. He’s mentioned several times that they both wish to be cremated after death. This absolutely breaks my heart.

In the beginning, I didn’t realize this decision was made because of their involvement with Buddhism. Hence, I emailed him several articles about how cremation wastes energy and other issues. He remains stalwart in his decision and my heart is breaking.

One of my closest childhood friends is praying (along with me) that he change his mind, but I fear nothing short of a miracle will affect his decision to be cremated. I truly hope you publish this letter because I’m certain there are many other people among your readership who feel as devastated as I do by a relative’s insistence on cremation.

Name Withheld


Did We Scratch the Surface? [How the West Was Won / Issue 979]

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the exceptional article you published about my father, Rabbi Yochanan Stepen. It was written with care, precision, and professionalism.

Although it was a masterful piece, one article just cannot encapsulate the entirety of a person. When speaking with my brothers Chaim and Eli, and sisters Sarah and Rivkie, we couldn’t help but say, “Oh, we didn’t mention this…” or “we forgot to tell the story of….” Did we even scratch the surface of his essence?

So my hope is, dear readers, when reading the beautiful tribute written about my father, you recognize that this article is but a glimpse of a truly larger-than-life figure, who had an impact on so many people’s lives.

He was learned, kind, and insightful. A people person, smart and introspective. He always wanted to do the will of Hashem. He was adventurous, charming, open to learning new things. He had a strong character. He was a fantastic teacher.

He was a man who cannot be defined in one article, but truly someone to learn innumerable things from.

Missing him,

Mirie Stepen Lazar


Once Upon a Time [How the West Was Won / Issue 979]

Thank you so much for your much needed and well-deserved article on Rabbi Yochanan Stepen. The shivah was very short since he was niftar on Erev Yom Kippur, and I thought it a bit unfair to have “Rabbi Stepen” leave this world with just a flicker of light, when his impact in this world was a far brighter burst of glowing energy.

I know I am by far not the only student with very fond memories. I’d like to share with the family a small part of that light to enable the generations of his own family to carry on and continue the special qualities, thus keeping Rabbi Stepen very much alive for many future generations.

“Mr.” Stepen was our fifth-grade teacher in 1964-5 in Hillel. He had just come to Los Angeles, and was living in the home of Rabbi Menachem Gottesman. He was full of energy and enthusiasm, with a sincere zest for Yiddishkeit.

I was only ten years old at the time, but I won’t forget how he told me that I have potential inside me, and I have to make sure that I maximize that potential. His warm smile and sincerity helped me to absorb his words and pay heed, full throttle. He made me believe in myself, giving me the confidence to accept challenges and to succeed.

Baruch Hashem, I’ve reflected on that many, many years later. At my chasunah (12 years later), when I was asked who I wanted to sign my kesubah — (i.e., who impacted my life) — I chose Rabbi Stepen to be a witness.

Whether it was in the playground during sports, in the classroom for Mishnah, or in the classroom for math, he exemplified a well-rounded Yid in the eyes of his talmidim. He was always a yerei Shamayim, not because he talked about it all the time, but because he exemplified it. He represented young, vibrant Yiddishkeit. He lived and breathed it. This was so important for students to experience, and it’s a lesson that is retained more than any course of higher institutions.

He practiced what he preached — maximizing his own potential, climbing the ladder in chinuch, impacting the futures of thousands of students who themselves were just the beginning of many generations of Yiddishe kinder. These days I sit down with my children and grandchildren and tell them, “Once upon a time, when I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher who….”

Yehi zichro baruch.

Malca (Twersky) Weiss


The Real Difference [Inbox / Issue 979]

I am very grateful to Pessy Sampson for her clear explanation of what quality art really is. I’ve been mulling over this question for some time and have been wondering about what defines real art vs. decorative or amateur art.

I think that just as there is a huge difference between what we used to call “literature” and today’s “content” writing, there is also a major difference between quality art and amateur art. It’s the indefinable something that makes art alive, and it requires both skill, acquired through study with other artists, and “talent,” which, in my opinion, is simply an affinity for the task and a creative mindset.

It might be possible to acquire the skill through many years of solo learning and experimentation, but even a world-class artist like Van Gogh benefited from training with other artists. His Paris years transformed his use of colors and textures from somber to the colorful paintings he is famous for today. I agree with Pessy that learning art on a higher level has value and would help budding artists.

Thank you, Mishpacha, for publishing articles and letters that push us to think.

Leah Krieger


A Different View [Inbox / Issue 979]

It was interesting to read Pessy Samson’s critique of the frum art world. She brings up many valid points. Emerging artists in our community would gain from sophisticated classes.

As an interior designer who guides some of these purchases, I have a different view on some points.

True, some frum artists have lower-level art skills and excellent marketing skills, resulting in overvalued sales. But this is an issue in the secular world, too, where modern art rotates around the biggest spectacle.

True, professional art lessons will give a person a leg up. But I have seen, in art and design, that continuous learning and work ethic take a person further than formal education.

Lastly, interior designers with degrees will have taken many hours of art history. Decorators without degrees develop an educated eye through time and exposure. Unlike artists and gallery owners, we have no skin in the game. We guide our clients toward quality art, not just art that has a well-advertised name.

Beware the snobbery that makes a person believe they have the only knowledgeable eye in the room.

Z. Naimark


Amazing Women [Still, Small Voices / Issue 978]

Thank you for issue 978. My boys especially enjoyed the article about Reb Michel Zilber. I, on the other hand, appreciated Tzipora Weinberg’s article, “Still, Small Voices.” It changed my Yom Tov.

As a litvishe lady myself, for the first time, I felt truly connected to my past and proud of my heritage. I was moved to tears when I read the heartrending account of Ella Shmuelevitz’s final moments. I can’t believe her story was never heard before. It’s a real shame they don’t teach our girls about these amazing forgotten women.

Chedva W., Lakewood, NJ


A Message Passed Along [What My Teacher Taught Me / Issue 976]

When I read “Sharing is Caring” in Issue 976, where the writer describes schlepping chairs, and the head counselor Rabbi Simcha Kaufman said, “If you carry one chair for yourself, you’re just a schlepper, but if you carry two chairs and give one to the other guy, you’re a tzaddik,” I thought — isn’t this story told about my great-grandfather, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz?

Indeed, I found it in the ArtScroll biography, on page 252, where it says he noticed two talmidim carrying chairs to a classroom. He asked one of them, “For whom are you bringing this chair?” The boy said, “For myself.” He asked the same question to the other boy and the answer was the same. Rav Shraga Feivel chided, “You brought a chair for yourself, and you brought a chair for yourself, so you’re both just schleppers. If each of you had brought a chair for the other, each of you would have done a chesed.”

No doubt, Rabbi Kaufman heard this story about Rav Shraga Feivel and passed its message along.

Mrs. Yehudis Homnick


Meaningful and Present Life [“Connected” Series]

As I read Aliza Feder’s “Connected” series in Mishpacha, I got the feeling that Hashem had sent it directly to me, because it’s been an inner struggle I’ve been having since I came home from seminary.

Many of my mentors in seminary had flip phones, and I was able to see such a difference in their relationship with friends, kids, their ability to actually be present, and to just be happier people. For two years, I’ve been saying that I want to make the change — and here I still am with my iPhone. My yetzer hara keeps saying that it’s just not realistic to make the switch — how will I get places without Waze, how will I keep in touch with friends without WhatsApp, etc.

I know when the time comes that I get married and have children, I want to be that mother who can sit with her kids and listen without being distracted by my phone. And I also know the change needs to be made now.

Seeing your article reminded me that there are other people who feel the same way and want to have that positive change in their life. It inspired me to make this change — as hard as it may be, it’s the best investment for a more meaningful and present life.

Thank you for sharing this in Mishpacha because it inspired me, and I’m sure many other people who feel the same way.

Hoping to Change


Rife with Enmeshment [Trust Fund Serial]

I was so excited to see another serial by Ariella Schiller. I know that anything she writes will be an engaging read with compelling, multifaceted characters. And so far, “Trust Fund” has been holding true to its promise.

I can’t wait to see where Akiva and Libby end up. Akiva’s relationship with his family is definitely not a healthy one, and I hope the two of them can find their own path and forge their family’s future.

When I discuss this serial with friends, everyone blames the Frankels’ enmeshment in their wealth. Perhaps that exacerbates the issue (I wouldn’t know; I don’t have much experience in being related to billionaires), but I don’t think it’s the sole factor. Our community is frankly rife with enmeshment, and it crosses the socioeconomic spectrum.

We all know families where the parents expect to have a say in where their married kids live, what they do professionally (or whether they pursue a profession at all), and where they send their kids to school. For many people, it’s a given that Yamim Tovim are to be spent with their parents and extended family, and woe betide the married man (who can be a 35-year-old father of six kids) who decides to start pursuing a different (even if equally stringent) derech in avodas Hashem, change a minhag, or find a new shul.

Some might argue that it’s harder for people like Akiva and Libby to forge their own path when it means cutting those golden purse strings, but I think breaking free from enmeshment is equally hard for anyone from our community, which values family, respects its elders, and in which every Yom Tov and family simchah are occasions for extended family get-togethers. And of course, all of these values are important and beautiful things. But how can we determine where togetherness ends, and enmeshment and control begin?

Rikki M., Monsey, NY


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 981)

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