Dear Dr. Yael:
Unfortunately, for the last several years our beloved son (we will call him Shmuel) has become estranged from us. This occurred immediately after his wedding in Israel.
Before he got married, we were all very close. We had no concerns regarding his emotional state, and he was a professional success. Regrettably that all changed several years ago when our 25-year-old son married a foreign-born woman (we will call her Chana) who had converted to Judaism and had no family involvement. This shidduch was arranged through a rabbi/teacher who knew both of them. Everything seemed to be fine except for the aforementioned issue of Chana having no family connections.
We, with our other children’s help, tried to welcome Chana into our family as a daughter. But Shmuel and Chana made every effort to keep us at a distance, cutting ties with all of us, including Shmuel’s grandmother. Despite contacting his rebbeim, our rabbi, his friends, and anyone else we could think of, no one seemed able to help us. Many told us that they just need their space and independence. Sadly, this was inaccurate.
They eventually left Israel and settled in a city far away from us here in the United States. We did not know where they lived until our son brought litigation against us to prevent us from continuing to find them. The lawsuit was thrown out of court, but at that point we could not see or speak to him. He also legally changed his name.
We did, however, find out where he worked. So we called him there, blocked our number, and were able to hear his voice without having a conversation with him. We also knew, with the help of connections, that he was not involved with the Orthodox community. Additionally, our youngest child sent Shmuel a letter to his workplace over a year ago to inform him of his upcoming marriage. This overture was rebuffed, with Shmuel writing back that he does not want anything to do with us and that we should not contact him – even regarding deaths in the family.
Less than a month ago, our close relatives vacationed in the city where Shmuel lives and bumped into him in a shul there. Upon seeing them Shmuel began leaving shul but stayed, as he was the 10th man for the minyan. He left shul immediately after the davening. Prior to that, when the shul’s rebbetzin told him that our relatives said that they are part of his family, he denied it.
Moreover, his long hair and beard, reactions, and facial expressions indicate that he has some emotional or psychological problems. Some good news, though: our son returned to the shul the following week. And we are now in contact with the shul’s rabbi and rebbetzin, unbeknownst to him, offering to help him anonymously in any possible way.
For their part, the rabbi and rebbetzin have helped Shmuel find a small apartment near their shul and have had him over for Shabbos seudos. They’ve informed us that Shmuel only works part-time and that his wife left him and no longer lives in that city.
Friends in the psychiatric field have told us that there is nothing we can do to force our son to accept our help. We acknowledge that if we try to contact him directly right now, he would react negatively to our gesture and, as a result, we might lose the connection we’ve recently made. We are also aware that since he is an adult and has not hurt himself or others, we cannot forcibly become his legal guardians. Further, we know that we cannot force him to take medicine even though this could possibly help him.
Our son-in-law suggested that we have someone from Shmuel’s past – a friend or rabbi – find a way to run into him, establishing contact. The person would make an effort to coax him back into our family. We understand that this would take time. While our psychiatrist friends both said that, in their views, this would not work, a friend who is a behavioral counselor was more optimistic. But the counselor suggests that we not implement this idea right now because Shmuel recently saw our close relatives (as we described earlier).
Dr. Yael, can our son-in-law’s idea work? We know that going this route is no guarantee for success, but at this point we are desperate to try anything.
We are heartbroken parents who love our son and daven daily for his refuah.
Thank you in advance for any help you can offer us.
Brokenhearted and Devastated
My heart goes out to you.
The biggest red flag when your son’s shidduch was arranged should have been the poor relationship his wife had with her family. I question why his rebbeim would suggest such a shidduch, considering the pair’s cultural differences and the fact that this match appears to have had severe detrimental effects on your son’s mental health.
Other questions: Did your son present himself in a way that this shidduch seemed like a good match? Where were you at this point in his life? Did he marry this girl as an act of rebellion? Did he have mental health issues before his marriage? Did he feel unloved in some way, or did he feel that you favored his siblings over him? Answers to these questions may help me get a better feel on how to respond to your challenging dilemma. Until I have these answers, I feel uncomfortable advising you with concrete counsel. But the ultimate issue is why he has chosen to be estranged from his family.
Also, did the psychiatrists with whom you’ve consulted know him before giving you such a gloomy prognosis? Since you have described the behavioral counselor as a friend, he may have more insight on this situation since he once knew your son.
Please supply me with answers to these questions so I can be more helpful to you. I will say, though, that it is important to maintain contact with the rabbi and rebbetzin who are in touch with him. Also, send them a cash gift or a useful present (e.g. a case of quality wine) as a show of hakaras hatov for assisting you. Keep in mind that many rabbanim who reach out to those like your son are in financially difficult straits; thus your gratitude may make them try even harder to help your son and you. Right now, the rabbi and rebbetzin seem to be in the best position to help you.
Once again, please respond to my questions. Your answers will afford me the opportunity to better guide you. I await your response. Hatzlachah!Dr. Yael Respler
About the Author: Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.
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