“I was a bully back in my yeshiva days and I was probably the biggest instigator in the school,” he began. “There was this kid in class who was a bit awkward and I would be the one to start the chants of ‘Nerd, nerd, nerd!’ I was pretty ruthless, so much so that the rabbi took me to a meeting with the kid’s father who asked me why his son was constantly being harassed. I had nothing to say and just sat there in silence. In retrospect, it was unfair to ask a kid in 5th grade this question. But I guess I would have answered, ‘I don’t know. Why does your son have to be so different? Why does he bring such a weird lunch to school every day?’ I could have gone on and on.”
For the record, this former bully is one of the nicest people I know and I was totally shocked when he divulged to me his abusive past. So I asked him, “Now, as a 30-year-old father, how would you have answered the question?”
My client thoughtfully replied, “You know, at the time, it just made me feel better about myself. I knew it hurt the kid’s feelings. But that fact just wasn’t at the top of my mind.”
Is feeling better about one’s self and not caring about the feelings of others the reasons why bullies exist in the frum world? After all, most bullies certainly aren’t sociopaths like the one in the aforementioned sexual abuse case. Could it be so simple?
I would humbly submit that the reason for bullying is a bit more complex than that. In our community bullying stems from, or is allowed to grow in, an environment created by the following:
1. The inability or widespread apathy of yeshiva administrations and rebbeim to deal with the problem.
2. Denial and/or apathy by both the bully’s parents and the bully him/herself.
3. The victim’s parents’ refusal to deal with the problem. This can be accomplished by bringing the situation to the attention of someone who can do something about it.
4. Most of our children are weak and unable to protect themselves. Despite our tremendous meilos, our community doesn’t value athleticism or even good health. We should teach our children self-defense, even at the back end of their education.
So how do we fix the bullying problem? By educating our children and offering incentives to them.
All children should exercise, with elements of self-defense training mixed in. But one child standing up to a bully is not enough to solve this problem. The majority of bullying occurs in a public environment where a bully can draw strength from vocal spectators or a crowd’s silent approval. Yeshivas should have a program in place that rewards students for helping prevent bullying when they witness it. The children will thus fix the problem themselves.
Captain Even-Esh’s Torah-true mission is to establish a healthy sense of confidence, self- esteem and empowerment in children and adults. As someone said of him, “He embodies discipline, kindness, middos and chesed.” He gives our community’s bnei Torah the tools to deal with almost any situation that they might face.
If anyone can benefit (or knows someone who can) from Captain Even-Esh’s unique ability to help others, he can be reached at 917-376-3637. He is available for private and group sessions.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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