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Inbox: Issue 986

“Not only can they [our children] handle more than we think, they have the potential to thrive far beyond our imagination”

Gives Us Hope [An Exile Like No Other / Issue 985]

Thank you so, so much for the absolutely beautiful article by Rav Ginzberg about Galus Yishmael. I had heard bits and pieces of these ideas before, but this was put together so well, and it also explained from where their possessiveness about Eretz Yisrael stems. I feel it really explains this whole time period, and truly gives us hope that Mashiach is at the door. It is well-written and also so inspiring.

Shoshana Esrig


Embrace, Don’t Reject [Inbox / Issue 985]

As one of thousands of psychologists in Israel who has had to scramble for techniques to help clients and community members deal with war-induced trauma, I’d like to share a helpful technique with those readers who wrote in to express their great difficulty functioning after being exposed to traumatic images (or image-free but troubling information — even those of us who filter our news have imaginations that create images in our brains).

We’re not always in control of our brains. To be human is to occasionally have a thought or an image or a memory pop up that you don’t want. Until now, I’ve used and advised a very helpful technique to deal with this phenomenon.

The mussar seforim and, l’havdil, psychological research teach that if a thought or an image pops up that you don’t want to make space for in your brain, don’t push it away, but gently turn your attention to something else. And when it pops up again, do that again.

If you actively push the disturbing or unwanted thought away, the wiring of your brain tends to ensure that it will just get stronger. If you acknowledge it, wave hi, but then turn away to something else, the thought loses its power and will eventually drift away.

The problem is that this tried-and-true technique — which I’ve used successfully with dozens of people with OCD or ruminations or postpartum anxiety — doesn’t work in our current reality. The images are too horrific, the stories are too personal to an am echad, and gently turning your attention away is just not sufficient. We try to shield ourselves by filtering news. When that doesn’t work, and the image or memory or snippet of info pops up again, we automatically try to push it away. Preferably with both hands, because how can a human brain contain such pain?

We psychologists are still finding our way in this resilient new world. Here’s one tool that has been helpful for those struggling to get rid of disturbing images. It comes from Fritz Perls’s Gestalt therapy and the original “chair work,” and was taught to me years ago by a deeply wise and experienced therapist, Chana Simmonds.

Instead of pushing away the horrific image or thought, talk to it. Is it a baby? A mother? A young man? Is it a statistic? A snippet of a story? Sit down with your eyes closed.  Imagine the person in the chair next to you, or just imagine them in your head. Or take a nice notebook and pen to a quiet corner. And let yourself talk (aloud, in your head, in your writing) directly to that image.

Tell the person or people in the image how you feel. Share your sorrow. Share your grief with them. Tell them how you long for their happiness. Don’t push them away. Gather them in with your shared humanity.

And after you weep for them, say goodbye, dry your tears, and begin living your life again. For them.

Peryl Agishtein, Ph.D.


Stronger Than We Think [Perspective / Issue 985]

Alexandra Fleksher’s insightful piece, “Back on the Home Front,” provided me not only with much food for thought, but also with much-needed chizuk. As someone navigating a similar stage of life, albeit while raising my family here in Eretz Yisrael, I deeply appreciate the quote from Dr. Aviva Goldstein on the remarkable emotional resilience our children possess.

In our generation, mothers often find themselves hyper-focused on the future in our subconscious approach to parenting. We are inundated with information about the lifelong negative effects of trauma, micro-traumas, childhood anxiety, and more. This constant stream of information sometimes compels us to parent in a way that seeks to mitigate or eliminate anything that could potentially impact our children’s future relationship with the values our community holds dear.

On some level we are all on a mission to provide the “perfect” childhood, while being flawless parents and fostering ideal friendships and providing a seamless, geshmak, exciting, educational experience for all of our children so that they will have no reason or desire to stray from the path we’ve set before them — all while poking fun at the stereotypical helicopter mom.

Yet at the same time, our fear of a buildup of mini-micro-traumas, with the potential to erupt into something more significant, influences our daily parenting choices. In a million little ways, we are overly focused on creating a perfectly smooth path for our kids.

Along comes a war, an event for which none of us was adequately prepared. Despite our desire to shield our teens from graphic details, they are exposed to descriptions and information that is beyond shocking, that may stay with them for the rest of their lives. Dr. Goldstein’s quote serves as a balm to the soul, not only during the current situation but as a timeless reminder.

Our children will inevitably face challenging times — sometimes very challenging times that may necessitate dealing with very challenging things, but they are stronger than we give them credit for. Not only can they handle more than we think, they have the potential to thrive far beyond our imagination.

Rachael Lavon


Derech Eretz Is the Answer [A Class of His Own / Double Take – Issue 985]

I would like to weigh in on the recent Double Take story on the gifted child. I am an educator, and I have taught language arts for 13 years, ten years in a girls’ school and three years in a boys’ cheder. The real problem with this story is something that was (sadly) overlooked and not discussed at all: derech eretz and middos. This is the crux of the issue at hand.

Over the years, I’ve had parents complain that their bright child is “not feeling challenged enough” or “bored.” The facts are, with class sizes so large these days (that is a separate issue) and literally half the class having learning and processing issues, I agree with the teacher who has to just get into a groove of what works for the majority of the class and go from there.

Unfortunately, we cannot tailor-make curriculums for 30 separate children (in my case it’s 75, since many afternoons in schools are departmentalized). What we can do, however, is teach our boys and girls life skills, which will carry them much further than the walls of our classroom. Further than any extra enrichment booklet ever will.

A boy who has all the answers must learn to sit quietly and have patience — even if his teacher has to repeat things a few times for the other students. What will happen when his wife repeats things a few times? He won’t know how to cope.

A boy who “knows it all” has to learn to slow down. It is wrong to consistently correct his peers or teacher. A boy who is “extraordinarily bright” can learn to do chesed, and help out others who struggle. He can learn compassion, listening skills, and respect. He can learn how to hold his tongue and think before he speaks. He can never learn that from a “more challenging” curriculum.

The list goes on. A bright fifth-grader doesn’t need more work and enrichment to solve his problems. What he needs to start doing is working on himself. There will be plenty more times in life when he will get “bored.” How is he going to act during those times?

To all my fellow teachers and educators, don’t give up! It’s really hard being in the classrooms of today, but our children, community, and world at large need you. We can never properly thank you enough for all that you do.

Ashira Mirsky

Baltimore, Maryland


There Are Options [A Class of His Own / Double Take – Issue 985]

The Double Take story “A Class of His Own,” although fiction, is an issue I see often as a coach in many of our yeshivos and day schools. The teachers ask for help with unruly students, and often, the unruly student is just a bored child who “gets it faster” than others in the class. The principal and Mr. Finestone should understand how many hours the child is sitting, bored, and have some rachmanus!

As a teacher myself for many years, I understand Mr. Finestone’s concern about extra marking. Teachers are already strapped for time. I also understand his distaste for giving Ezra busywork. If I were coaching Mr. Finestone, I would help him understand the options he could employ that would have Ezra using the brains Hashem gave him.

Mr. Finestone complains that Ezra could “take our class discussions to the next level” instead of having a bored attitude. Has he met with Ezra to explain that? He agrees with the parents that Ezra is socially behind, which means Ezra would not know how to do that appropriately without guidance. Meeting with Ezra and allowing him to be part of the solution is an idea Dr. Ross Green explains in The Highly Explosive Child and Lost at School. It not only solves problems but teaches the child to experience perspective-taking and advocate for his own solutions in an appropriate way!

The teacher could also set up a system in which Ezra brings the high-level books he is already reading at home to school to read when he shows proficiency in the work being taught in class. He could then create reports following a generic rubric, a one-time task for Mr. Finestone, and create a tangible report (cereal box report, Bloom Ball, diorama, cartoon strip… the ideas are endless) to present to Mr. Finestone for a grade. (I would hesitate to have Ezra present to the class, as socially that might bring kids to tease him.) The report could be worked on in school, and the creative part could be worked on at home. Alternatively, he could be challenged to do Sudoku or other brain-stimulating puzzles when finished with his work.

Perhaps the family and rebbi could build on these ideas as well. Having a chavrusa at home could stimulate Ezra. The chavrusa or rebbi could challenge Ezra to look further into topics learned at school and keep track of his findings in a notebook to be reviewed periodically by the chavrusa or rebbi, one-on-one.

I respectfully but forcefully state that the brightest children should not be pushed to become troublemakers, which they become when dismissed or bored. These gifted students could be our future leaders if we celebrate their intellectual acumen, and hone their skills now instead of labeling them “problems.”

Etti Siegel

Catapult Workshop Presenter, Teacher Mentor/Coach


Impossible Expectation [A Class of His Own / Double Take – Issue 985]

My mother was a teacher, and I always dreamed of being a teacher, too. I loved explaining materials to others, and I loved the idea of leading a classroom and being a role model for the students. My friends and I would play school for hours, and I’d spend my free time making worksheets for my friends, siblings, and dolls, when everyone got bored of doing them. I even remember making a spelling test for my grandmother, who, with her immigrant’s English, failed badly. (I’m so sorry, Bobby, for my self-centeredness there).

But my mother warned all us children against following in her path and going into chinuch. She said, “Today, the expectations on teachers are very high. You’re supposed to create lessons tailor-made for the smart kids, the average kids, and the struggling kids. It’s double and triple the work that teaching used to be.”

Yes, the inclusive nature of the classroom is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I just wonder, though. Do we realize the toll this takes on the teachers? They’re human beings, too, and they don’t get paid a lot, but are expected to prepare lessons, modify them for the weaker students, teach, manage classroom discipline, be available to speak to parents in the evenings….

Yes, we pay high school tuition, but maybe the culture of helicopter parenting is too much pressure on our teachers, and we need to lower our expectation that teachers will modify the classroom environment for so many individual students and instead encourage our children to deal with the challenge of managing in a classroom that caters to the average student? Maybe we need to feel less entitled just because we pay school fees and realize that a lot of the burden of catering for our children’s more individual needs should be on us rather than the teachers?

Because, as the teacher in the Double Take, Mr. Firestone, said, “Creating designer lesson plans for 30 students is impossible.”

Raizy Jotkowitz


While We Walked [Passing of a Prince / Issue 983]

I enjoyed the tribute to Rav Shimon Alster ztz”l. During the first few years of his shul’s existence, I used to walk with him from the shul in Flatbush to his home in Boro Park since I was and still am single, and I used to eat the seudah at his home.

As you mentioned in the article, he was close with Rav Chaim Epstein, a rosh yeshivah who is not well-known by many frum people and who was extremely close with Rav Aharon Kotler. I was told that Rav Epstein prepared the shiur with Rav Aharon — something only a select few were zocheh to.

Recently I was listening to a speech by Rav Uren Reich, in which he mentioned that Rav Meir Hershkowitz told him that Rav Chaim Epstein had a special kesher with Rav Aharon in certain areas, sometimes even more than his other talmidim.

Those walks with Rabbi Alster, filled with his memories of these gedolim, were very memorable. May they, along with Rabbi Alster, serve as melitzei yosher for Klal Yisrael.

Flatbush Ben Torah


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 986)

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