A terribly sad version of the expression, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” often comes to mind whenever I am approached by single parents (usually mothers) asking me to assist them in finding a caring, responsible adult to take their child or children (usually their son or sons) to shul on Shabbos and/or Yom Tov.
I am very well aware that many of our decent, caring readers may find it incredulous that people in our vibrant, bustling communities are struggling with this dilemma. Trust me, though, when I say that this is a very real challenge for many of the brave and frightened single parents in our kehillos. I’ve lost track of the number of times in the 11 years since Project Y.E.S. was founded that I was approached by single mothers who requested that I help make arrangements for someone to take their son(s) to shul. Countless others have asked me for an eitzah regarding the appropriate response to their son who categorically refuses to go to shul alone.
I am fully aware that the data may be skewed upward in my particular instance due to my family background. My father passed away shortly before my fourth birthday and my amazing, resilient mother raised my two siblings and me as a single parent for two years before remarrying. And since I have mentioned this in my lectures and writings, I assume that many single parents may feel more comfortable discussing these issues with me – as they suppose I will be more sensitive to their reality. But even factoring in that information, there are still far too many children in our communities who fall into the subset for whom Shabbasos and especially Yomim Tovim are very challenging times.
From my vantage point, there are a number of societal factors that contribute to this growing phenomenon. Our communities have, Baruch Hashem, expanded, as has the size of our families. The divorce rate is rising and there at least seems to be a spike in the number of people who are, r”l, passing away and leaving younger children behind.
Another significant sociological factor is that a far greater percentage of frum people nowadays (especially younger couples) are abandoning smaller communities and deciding to live in metropolitan areas with large Jewish populations. Lost in the anonymity of big-city life, many individuals in our community who need a personal, nurturing touch are finding that it is an elusive quest in the bustling setting that is big-city life.
There is much you can do to help single parents and their children:
· Invite a single parent and his/her children for a Shabbos/Yom Tov meal or two.
· Offer to take the boys (and perhaps girls) to shul, and have them sit with you.
· Before or during Yom Tov, please consider offering childcare for a single parent so that she/he can unwind, go for a walk, or just have some precious quiet time. With school out, single parents are on call literally 24/7.
· Please afford single parents and their children privacy and dignity by doing your best to avoid asking them uncomfortable questions. After my father passed away, b’shem tov, all I ever heard during my formative years was people telling me what a wonderful person he was. Nevertheless, all these years later, I still remember my discomfort and the feeling of what-in-the-world-am-I-supposed-to-say listening to all sorts of comments made by well-intentioned people.
I cannot even begin imagining what it is like to be a child whose parents are in the middle of a messy divorce. Our rich and timeless tradition mandates that we begin the Seder by inviting guests to join us at our Seder table. I suggest that we broaden that concept this year, and as we approach the child-centered holiday of Pesach, we look around our neighborhoods and see what we can do to ensure that all our children experience true simchas Yom Tov in the welcoming embrace of our communities.
A recurring theme in the stirring words of our nevi’im (Yeshaya 1; Yirmiyahu 9) is that the Jews of those times were concentrating far too much on spiritual trappings (bringing karbanos) and not enough on the essence of Hashem’s Torah (honesty, integrity and kindness). It was certainly a great mitzvah to purchase and bring karbanos to the Beis HaMikdash. But as the navi relates, those mitzvos were mere adornments to the core values of our Torah. And the navi clearly describes what the Jews needed to do in order to redeem themselves. “Strengthen the victim, and take up the cause of the yasom/almanah” (Yeshaya 1:16-17). After all, supporting those among us who are weak and who find it challenging to conduct their lives with simchas hachayim is the very essence of Hashem’s Torah.
In these troubling times, we ought to strive to fulfill the timeless charge of Yirmiyahu, “Become wise and [get to] know Me [contemplate how to better emulate the ways of Hashem], for I am Hashem who does kindness, justice and righteousness” (Yirmiyahu 9:23).
In the zechus of our efforts to comfort Hashem’s children, may He comfort us with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash – where we can participate in the korban Pesach in all its glory.