| Family First Feature |

My Best Question     

     Community leaders tell us the story behind their most memorable questions
Answers can educate, elucidate, enlighten. But sometimes a good question can tell us even more. Here, community leaders tell us the story behind their most memorable questions
Shalva Schneider

How do you protect your kids from outside influence?

WE bring it right in the front door! I’m (mostly) kidding. People often ask how I can host Jewessence girls in my home. Aren’t I afraid they’re going to influence my kids?

The question assumes my kids would be tempted by what the girls are exposing them to. Interestingly, my oldest daughter told me that she thinks she’s less tempted than many of her peers, because she’s seen the other side, and it’s not what she wants. My kids recognize that many of the girls aren’t comfortable where they’re at. It’s obvious to them they’re seeing someone who’s suffering, not a person who’s having the time of her life.

As colorful as the girls are, and they can be very colorful, they’ve always been respectful. No one has ever done anything b’davka to violate our values or offend us. People sometimes want to know if that includes the way they dress. They respect us because we respect them — and that includes respecting them no matter how they’re dressed. After years of being judged by the way they look, accepting them as they are, inviting them into our home and our Shabbos table is a big part of their healing.

Having these girls in our home helps my kids develop depth in their relationship with Hashem and Torah. They learn nuance; not all of Judaism is about externals like wearing tights. People can struggle with some mitzvos while working on others. Most important to me — my children learn to love and value every Jew. When one of my kids was asked by her teacher, “What is a value in your home that you would want to incorporate in your future home?” she answered, “Ahavas Yisrael, that we love and accept all Jews.”

My kids have learned that growth is a process.  For example, one time a girl showed up for Shabbos with a big bag of nosh — nuts and chewing gum and candy and popcorn. I asked her (jokingly), “Do you think I’m not going to serve dessert?” She said she’s been working on keeping Shabbos, and the hardest part is not smoking. She came prepared with her “goodie bag” so that her hands and mouth were busy when she was tempted. My kids saw how important this was to her and saw a commitment to keeping Shabbos even though it was incredibly hard for her. This is just one example of many where my kids are exposed repeatedly to young women who are trying to genuinely grow and heal, even when it’s difficult, which in turn encourages my own kids’ resiliency and teaches them to push past challenges to grow.

I believe when children have a strong foundation and there’s open and honest communication in the home, exposure to things that are different won’t shake our kids to their core. They might ask questions, which in my opinion is a good thing. We as parents need to be receptive to those questions and open to the dialogue that emerges from them.

The Jewessence girls and alumnae become part of our family. My kids have come to recognize the importance and the impact that has on the Jewessence girls, and my husband and I recognize the positive impact that the Jewessence girls bring to our home and family. In many ways our kids are wiser, more mature, more balanced, deeper thinkers, and more authentically connected to Hashem specifically because of their exposure to these beautiful neshamos.

Mrs. Shalva Schneider is the director of Jewessence, a program for girls who have left observance and are looking to reconnect to Judiasm.

Rav Sholem Fishbane

Can you certify my holy water as kosher?

WE get all sorts of requests for certification. Seventy percent of requests come from people who aren’t Jewish; they want the certification for marketing purposes. We usually don’t ask too many questions about why someone would want certification.

In this case, someone asked if he could get kosher certification for his eye wash. We started looking into the product, and it seemed kosher enough.

But the company’s marketing materials were all about Yoshke. Turned out a minister owned the company. And he was a big believer in the goyim helping to build the Third Beis Hamikdash. He was familiar with the concept of mikveh and knew that anyone building the Bayis Shlishi was going to need to go to a mikveh first. But people close their eyes under water, and he was concerned that this would invalidate their tevilah. He wanted to make sure people building such a special building were really “mehadrin,” so he created a product that would have the power to be metaher people’s eyes.

He got his water from a lake, and to make it “holy water” with the power to be metaher, he recited special prayers over it. We asked him to send us the text of the prayers and sat down with our av beis din to see if we could certify his eye wash as kosher. The rav said it was as if the minister had sat down with the Shulchan Aruch to make sure everything in his prayers met the criteria of avodah zarah. There were no loopholes, there was no way we could give kosher certification to his eye wash, it was mamash avodah zarah.

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane is Director of Kashrus for the Chicago Rabbinical Council.


Dr. Ilyssa Bass, PhD

I complimented my son on his block tower, and he threw a block at me! I’ve tried everything to get through to him. How can I keep from losing it?

Every parent needs to decode their child, figure out what makes this child tick, his or her likes and dislikes, strengths and sensitivities. I like to say that some kids are 100-piece puzzles and some are 5,000-piece puzzles. Some of our children are hard to figure out. Their behavior doesn’t intuitively make sense to us.

No child wakes up in the morning and says, “I really want to give my mom a hard time today.” Children always want to do the best they can. But they’re kids. Sometimes their nervous system’s response to stress is extreme — they totally lose it, melt down, say inappropriate things, hurt siblings, or throw things.

The famous psychologist and author Dr. Ross Greene says: Kids do well when they can. I also say parents do well when they can. Having a complex child is complex, and requires parents to have a unique toolbox.

We assume that a child will appreciate getting a compliment about the tower he’s been working on. When he doesn’t, we have to try to figure out why — what was he stressed about? What skill was he missing? Why was the compliment a trigger? Maybe he’s experiencing sensory overload and that compliment was just the extra sound that pushed him over the edge? Or he could perceive the compliment as an expectation to do well that he’s afraid he can’t meet, and his anxiety drove him to throw the block? Maybe he’s feeling frustrated that the tower isn’t coming out at all like he wanted it to, and your compliment shows you don’t understand him at all, like when you’ve tried on four different dresses to go out to a wedding and they all look terrible, and your husband walks in and tells you how nice you look.

If figuring that all out feels overwhelming, you don’t have to do it alone. There’s a whole community of parents of differently wired kids out there who get you. They’re all also trying to figure out their kids. Because the truth is, you’re never going to be able to change every challenging behavior. Instead, why not find where those quirks can be useful?

No parent wants to lose it when their child’s behavior is difficult or confusing. I think of not losing it with your child not as the goal itself, but rather the byproduct of doing the growth work we’re called to do as parents of these children.

“Losing it” shows us where our next growth point is. It’s an indicator showing us where Hashem expects us to be working.

Dr. Ilyssa Bass, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and parent educator who claims that her best credentials are her five unique and wonderful children. As a psychologist with clinical experience in education and a parent who’s raised a child with hidden differences, Dr. Bass is passionate about helping parents connect to their most difficult kids.


Meira Spevak

I worked so hard all Sunday to keep my kids off screens, but when I took a short nap, my husband kept them all busy with screens.

What makes this question so interesting is that I get it over and over in different forms. It’s practically universal. And always along the same lines: the mother being the one to want to limit screen time more than the father. I’ve found that mothers will talk about what their kids are being exposed to or the detriments of screen time, and the fathers will say if you don’t give it to them, they’ll get it elsewhere, there’s a limit to how much we can say no, and you can’t always say no to everything.

I don’t claim to know who’s right, but I advise women to choose shalom bayis over everything else. Your husband helped you out with the kids — say thank you and be less critical about how he did it. Or you could say to him, “Thank you so much, I made sure to occupy them all day with other things and saved their screen time for when you looked after them.”

I’m pretty sure discord between their parents will cause kids more harm than whatever you’re disagreeing about.

I have another answer. Not specifically for disagreeing with your husband about screen time, but it works for that, too.

Hashem knows.

You’re worried your husband is giving your kids too much screen time? Hashem knows. Hashem knows everything you want. Hashem knows your dreams. Hashem knows your pain. If you so badly want to be married and you’re not? Hashem knows. You’re married and you still feel alone? Hashem knows. Whatever the question, the answer begins with, “Hashem knows.”

You’re never alone in any struggle, no matter how big or small. Hashem is right there with you.

Mrs. Meira Spevak is a Community Rebbetzin and NCSY Director in Portland, Oregon.


Blimie Heller

What if your kids grow up and you realize that the parenting advice you followed wasn’t actually the best way to parent?

I’m a parenting coach/educator and I was asked this by someone who follows my parenting posts. I answered: No one is G-d, no one knows for sure what the best way to do things is. We’re all just human. There’s so much to learn from other people, but ultimately Hashem gave me my own personality, my own way of looking at the world, and He wants me to be me and to use my unique wisdom.

I believe in taking wisdom from others, but only if it resonates with me. I know that if I personally followed advice from someone else that didn’t feel right to me because I assumed they were the expert, and ended up causing my children harm, I’d think, “I didn’t even listen to myself,” and regret it so much more. There’s something very grounding in knowing that at least I didn’t betray myself.

The person who asked me was super-surprised by my response. “What do you mean by following yourself? It sounds like you think you’re a god!” she said.

I didn’t mean I have all the wisdom. I love hearing the wisdom that other people have and seeing how it resonates with me, but ultimately Hashem didn’t make me a unique person so that I could give up my own judgment and my own way of looking at things. When I say to follow myself, I don’t mean following my base desires, or thinking, “I feel this in the moment so I’m going to do it.” I mean tapping into my intuition, into the inner wisdom that Hashem has given each of us access to.

I’ve heard plenty of parents, especially from the older generation, express regret that they listened, against their better judgment, to professionals or people who were supposed to know the right way to do things. I think if a professional says something that doesn’t feel right to us, it’s important to explore what our inner wisdom is telling us. It doesn’t mean it’s all bad advice (although it can be). Maybe you need to add something from your own wisdom to what’s being said, or adjust the advice to your situation.

I don’t even know that there is a best way, and when I give my parenting classes, I tell other parents the same thing. Don’t follow me. Don’t just do something because Blimie Heller said to do it. Listen to your inner voice. Hashem gave you these children, and you’re the best parent for them. He gave you the wisdom you need to raise them.

Mrs. Blimie Heller is a wife and mom who is passionate about helping parents raise their children in the most gentle and respectful way possible.


Rabbi Shragie Myers

Does the challah bleed?

One Shabbos, a woman, let’s call her Samantha, was at our Shabbos table, as she had been many times over the years. This Shabbos, after Hamotzi, she asked, “Rabbi, why do you cut the challah a little bit before making the blessing?”

Before explaining the real reason I jokingly said, “I just want to see if the challah will bleed.”

Without much of a reaction, she replied “Oh.”

I said, “Samantha, I’m joking. The challah can’t bleed!”

She replied, “Well, it can’t get embarrassed either! But you still cover it when you make Kiddush!”

As ridiculous as a bleeding challah was to me, I suddenly realized just how foreign so many things I’ve explained sounded. It was an “Aha” moment. How many hundreds of young Jews, with relatively little exposure to Judaism had I explained things to without really realizing what these new concepts might sound like? That one eye-opening experience allowed me to better understand how new concepts might be misunderstood, and how critical it is to explain the meaning and background of our minhagim and halachos, to give context to things that might otherwise just sound random.

And so I explained to Samantha that we are minimizing time between the brachah and eating, while keeping the challah whole so that we have two shleimmim, and that challah cannot, in fact, bleed.

With that, Samantha was satisfied….Until Chanukah. When I first cut open a jelly doughnut…

Rabbi Shragie Myers is Executive Director of Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit.


Gvira Milworm

How can I motivate myself to work instead of going back to sleep?

I give an annual workshop to each of our networking groups. The year our story happened, I was giving a workshop to a group in Bnei Brak on the topic of motivation. Motivation is a topic close to my heart. I’ve researched it extensively, and I have 50 slides outlining a wide range of motivational techniques from nearly 100 years of researchers, starting with Abraham Maslow in 1953 and going up to Daniel Pink in the 21st century.

I opened the workshop by asking each woman to write down a motivational challenge she was facing. They all put their papers in a bowl, and I picked out two for us to work through together.

On the first paper, a woman had written, “I’m a freelance graphic artist. I need help motivating myself not to go back to sleep after I get the kids out to school.”

I was bubbling over with ideas and methods, all sorts of tips and tricks.

First, though, I asked if the woman was willing to identify herself. One of the participants raised her hand. I took a good look at her, and one thing was clear: This woman was deeply, overwhelmingly exhausted.

I knew in my gut that if I’d give her techniques to make herself work even harder, I’d be doing her a disservice. In fact, it would be downright cruel. I said a short, silent tefillah of “Hashem s’fasai tiftach” and said firmly, “You look so tired. Maybe you need to let yourself sleep for three mornings straight so that your body can recover. And it seems like you’re not getting enough sleep at night. We can brainstorm for ways to improve that. But if it’s not possible, maybe you do need to go to sleep after you get the kids out. Sleep for an hour and then tackle your work. If we keep pushing ourselves when we’re exhausted, we lose out on every end — we’re not getting sleep, and we’re also too tired to do good work.”

I remember this encounter so clearly because it showed me that if the right answer isn’t a good fit for the person asking it, then it’s actually the wrong answer. Often, people ask questions not for an answer, but to receive permission to do what they are afraid to do on their own.The lesson I learned is: Don’t answer the question, answer the questioner.

Mrs. Gvira Milworm is CEO of Temech, an organization promoting economic opportunities for chareidi women by chareidi women.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 897)

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