| Family First Feature |

Watch Us Grow

Five popular speakers share the challenges and beauty they see within our community — and within each of us

Mrs. Esther  Wein is an internationally recognized educator and lecturer for over 30 years. She teaches in Elyon seminary, Shulamith high school, the Jewish Renaissance Center, and Juniversity.co.

 

What are the most common challenges frum women are dealing with today?

Many women today live in “survivor mode.” They’ve been brought up with the message: Be good, do what Hashem says so you don’t go to Gehinnom. This attitude leads to many negative states of mind: jealousy, anger, depression, self-pity, and feelings of abandonment.

In a lecture I recently gave to 200 female principals, I asked them to draw a picture of themselves and Hashem in space. Typically, most people will draw a picture placing Hashem at the top and themselves at the bottom. When asked to describe this relationship, the answer was that Hashem is the Big Boss in the sky, and I’m a tiny speck.

Taking it a step further, it means I need to keep Hashem happy so horrible things won’t happen to me. This is a relationship driven by fear and the desire for what I need. “I’ll give money to Camp Simcha, so You don’t give my child cancer.” It’s like avodah zarah — how can I keep the sun god happy so he won’t zap me? In addition, praising Hashem is taught as a way of buttering Him up to get what we want. This attitude is irrational and self-serving because it turns mitzvos into methods of manipulation.

The more accurate model would be a drawing of a fetus in the womb, us within Hashem, since in reality, there’s nothing outside of Hashem. Furthermore, Hashem created man in His image. That means we’re like Him in the sense that we, too, are here to create. Understanding this shifts us into “creator mode.” The mitzvos form us into co-creators; they’re for us and not for Him. Tefillah is about evaluating how we’re doing as Hashem’s partners, as opposed to a deal-making mechanism to net us the best chance at getting what we want and avoiding what we fear.

We’re meant to partner with Him in the unfolding of the story of mankind. His desire is to run the world through us. The Purim story is referred to as Megillas Esther because the events unfolded through her. We all have the ability to put our fingerprints on G-d’s plan. And we have no idea how far reaching our fingerprints can be.


How are the challenges different than those we face 10, 20, 30 years ago?

It seems like we’re increasingly hijacking the resources Hashem gave us for the purpose of partnering with Him, and instead using them to ensure and enhance our survival.

Often, in an attempt to feel relevant, we work on achieving success in order to gain value in peoples’ eyes. This is distorted. We’re creating ourselves through how people view us, rather than through how Hashem views us. An example is when we recruit our creative energy to make a simchah where the focus is gaining stature in others’ eyes instead of it being an opportunity to include the forgotten members of our community. This is “survivor mode” masquerading as “creator mode.”

At best, we’re wasting our G-d-given creative energies and we feel empty. At worst, we turn to self-destructive, soothing mechanisms.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

Mrs. Lori Palatnik is the Founding Director of Momentum (formerly called The JWRP), a year of learning, growth, and inspiration for Jewish mothers that begins with a transformational eight-day trip to Israel.

What are the most common challenges frum women are dealing with today?

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t seems to me they are: 1. Marital challenges, 2. Their children’s spiritual struggles, and 3. The challenge of staying inspired themselves with all the pressures around them.

How are the challenges different than those we faced 10, 20, 30 years ago?

While the Internet is an incredible tool for connection, wisdom, and information, unfortunately, somebody whom in the past would have to don dark glasses and a cap and sneak to town to seek immorality, can now access everything with one click of a button. This reality is affecting marriages.

Children are affected by the Internet. I believe the rise of drug addiction and death in our youth is a result of its accessibility. Base and degrading visuals cannot be erased from the hard drive of anyone’s mind.

Divorce has become more prevalent. I think one of the reasons is because we’re telling our girls that there is a shidduch “crisis.” When people think they’re in crisis, they panic and make bad choices. I told my daughters that they’re not in a “crisis” because they’re not yet married. This is the biggest decision of their lives; don’t make it out of panic and fear.

Young people today also have no idea of what a healthy Jewish marriage looks like. Some come from dysfunctional homes. Between the panic, societal pressure to get married, lack of role models, and lack of understanding of what marriage is supposed to look like, we’re seeing a rise in the divorce rate.

There’s also a foundational lack of understanding of what marriage is. When a couple comes to me for counseling, I will sometimes hand each a piece of paper and ask them to write down their definition of marriage and love. What do I see? Two different definitions. How can they possibly create a loving marriage if they don’t even have a mutual definition of what love and marriage is?

What was the most painful question you were ever asked? How did you respond?

More than one nonobservant woman on one of our trips to Israel asked me, “Why don’t religious people look happy?” At first, I was taken aback, but then I looked around and saw she was right. Everybody looked so stern and serious.

I asked Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l this question. What he did next was something I will never forget. He put his head in his hands, looked up, and said to me, “If frum people only knew how much Hashem loved them, they’d be walking around in a state of bliss. They don’t even know.”

He also told me that the fact that they don’t know is the tragedy of our school system across the board. A child can go to school day and night and learn many things, but one thing he doesn’t learn is that Hashem loves him.

Rav Noach would often say, “The Torah is not a cure for insanity,” and “Don’t judge the Torah by the Jews.” Hashem gave us the commandments for our pleasure. So many of us are doing all the things you’re supposed to do, but forget about taking pleasure. Hashem doesn’t want a bunch of miserable people doing His mitzvos.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

Rebbetzin Miryam Swerdlov  is a Jewish History teacher at Beis Rivkah high school and camp director for Chabad teens in the Ukraine and Eretz Yisrael.

What are the most common challenges frum women are dealing with today? How are they different than those we faced 10, 20, 30 years ago?

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s a Lubavitcher, I can speak about Chabad women with more knowledge than other women. The woman on shlichus, whether it’s in India, Cambodia, Dallas, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is changing the world, and she’s doing it alone. Okay, with her husband, but no family, no real friends, no one to share things with face to face.

Since I travel to speak, I see these heroines, I see their constant mesirus nefesh. They homeschool their kids, or have (yay!) three hours a day of online school… I’m in awe of these young heroines.

The challenges I see in our society in general is that too much of the secular world has infiltrated our world. There are too many things to grab, the world is too open.

Thirty years ago, we were a lot more insular. We knew a lot more about who we were. What was going on in the outside world didn’t concern us much. Now everything can be found in the little box in my hand. With one push of a button, I know that Lakie got a new chandelier. How do I know? She posted it on Instagram. You have to be a tzadeikes today not to be even a little jealous of Lakie, not to be resentful that my Moshe can’t buy me that sheitel.

In what areas do you see the most significant growth?

I see Torah and Yiddishkeit growing all around me. You can listen to shiurim 24 hours a day. The thirst is tremendous. Again, because I know the Chabad world more, I can tell you that there are more than 4000 Chabad houses all over the world. A new one opened in Rwanda, Africa.

I’m speaking to you from Dnipro, Ukraine, the biggest Chabad Center in the world. In addition to the shiurim and minyanim and a gorgeous mikveh, there are three magnificent restaurants. I went on a cruise recently with Satmar mothers of special needs children. They’re so knowledgeable. They know what’s out there to help their children, they’re familiar with all the latest techniques. These courageous women learn whatever they can and move ahead.

I see growth in the non-religious world as well. I arrive at a town to speak where there’s no Yiddishkeit and 300 women come to hear my lecture because it’s a Torah lecture. People are searching. They’ve done everything and they see it means nothing.

What was the most painful question you were ever asked?

A woman told me that although her husband still wore the levush, she didn’t think he was religious anymore. He wasn’t there for their children either. She asked me, “What should I do?” My response was that as long as he wasn’t abusing her or the children, she should stay in the marriage and do the best she can.

She said, “He loves me and financially supports me. He just doesn’t want to be with the program,” I said, “If you can live with it, don’t see what you don’t need to see and don’t ask questions.” I don’t know if I was right, but I believe that if she stays with him, he will return.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

Mrs. Chaya Kalazan teaches at Ohr Naava, the Jewish Renaissance Center, The New Seminary, Masores High School, Elyon Seminary, and TBY.

What are the most common challenges frum women are dealing with today? How are they different than those we faced 10, 20, 30 years ago?

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he phenomenon of kids and spouses struggling and going off the derech.

I think technology has alienated people from one another. There’s less of a parent/child relationship because of it. There are expectations created by it that we never had before.

Also, 20 years ago, it was assumed that if parents were religious, their children would be religious. Belief in Hashem was not discussed among frum people. Women today are looking to find answers to emunah questions and for guidance on how to deal with a relative who is faltering in his faith.

The question 25 years ago was, “Should I go to the movies or not? Should I talk to a boy or not?” The question today is, “Do I believe altogether?” Today we have to address the issues of an alternate lifestyle. We have to explain why the Torah calls it a “to’evah.”

Also, I find that while women, in general, are learning Torah more and getting closer to Hashem, more men in the business world are being negatively influenced by the liberal agenda and the secular environment.

Finally, mental health issues like anxiety, OCD, and depression are more prevalent among women and/or their family members. In classes, I have to address topics such as: How does Torah integrate the emotional side of the self, can bitachon combat depression, do the laws of taharas hamishpachah support or challenge marital health?

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

Mrs. Yael Kaisman is an educator and kiruv professional who counsels individuals and couples in Lakewood, NJ.

What are the most common challenges frum women are dealing with today? How are they different than those we faced 10, 20, 30 years ago?

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ver the past 30 years, the frum community has been blessed with financial prosperity and phenomenal population growth. But here are new challenges that come along with both.

With prosperity, a high standard of living becomes more of a norm — lavish vacations, expensive wines, the best cuts of meat. And, inevitably perhaps, as material success increases, we begin to focus more on superficiality, even as we try to maintain higher spiritual ideals.

There’s a tremendous push today to succeed both externally and internally. Years ago, for example, nobody worried about having a large family and staying skinny. Today we must do both, otherwise we feel like failures.

Vulnerability is out. We have to be perfect on every level. When I, as a speaker, reveal my vulnerabilities, I feel palpable relief from my audience — a feeling of oh, really, you’re allowed to feel that? I’m not the only one who does?

Today, the goal seems to be “Torah U’gedulah,” people strive to be wealthy and a talmid chacham, to run a successful business and be a rosh chaburah. Of course, there are wonderful individuals who have been blessed to have success in both areas, but generally, aiming for both is an oxymoron. Focusing your primary aspirations on one goal diminishes the likelihood of achieving the highest levels in other goals.

Another outgrowth of our brachah of demographic growth has engendered a greater sense of self-doubt in young people. They feel they aren’t needed, that they’re insignificant. Thirty years ago, when the community was smaller, we understood we had an important role to play in the growth of Yiddishkeit. If I would say to my students today that they’re the future of Klal Yisrael, they’d roll their eyes and say, “Oh yeah, so why can’t I get accepted to seminary? Why is there a shidduch crisis?”

This dilemma leaves individuals desperate to prove their value by achieving some kind of exceptional external status, which can range from being part of a “choshuve” community to being an influencer on Instagram. The real truth is that each of us has a vital — although perhaps less glamorous — role to play in This World by working on our personal growth and avodas Hashem. That’s a contribution that nobody before us or after us has ever or will ever make.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

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