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Your Choice, Your Life

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        I recently received an e-mail from a woman who, based on her skillful command of English, is surely a North American living in Israel. She took issue with a statement I made in an earlier column (June 23) in which I wrote, “In many households when a child, especially a daughter, enters the shidduch parsha, apprehension and a gnawing anxiety fill the household – a situation that can almost be likened to the just-below-the surface angst an Israeli family experiences when their son is drafted.” The writer let me know in no uncertain terms that the worry Israelis feel is not below the surface – it’s real and palpable and as far as she knew, “No American parent needed to care for an injured chassan or kallah as a result of the shidduch parsha or bury their children because of it.” She concluded with what she felt was a lack of appreciation for “our children’s sacrifices – that Americans could go shopping, get manicures and surround themselves with gashmius because “our children” were risking their lives to protect the Jewish state.

 

         There are two issues here that I want to address – validation, and taking responsibility for one’s choices.

 

         The writer was aghast how I could compare the anxiety experienced by parents over their children’s shidduch experiences to the anxiety racking Israeli parents whose children are in the army. Of course the situations are not on the same level in terms of being life-threatening, but the worry and concern is just as real and heart- wrenching for both sets of parents. It is extremely important for people to validate a person’s feelings – even if they think the situation is trivial and the feelings or reactions unjustified.

 

         For example, a two-year-old child has a favorite blanket that falls off the stroller one day and he is inconsolable. His mother pooh poohs the loss saying, ” It was only an old rag of a blanket, frayed, torn and faded. Yet to the child his loss and grief is just as strong and consuming as the grief and loss experienced by a widow who lost the engagement ring her late husband gave to her decades ago.

 

         On a casual level the situations don’t compare, but in terms of the emotions that surface, they are on the same level. And it is crucial to validate these feelings. The wise mother will commiserate with her child and console him for his loss. If she doesn’t, and this lack of validation continues as he grows up, he will get two ego-crippling messages – his feelings don’t count; therefore, he is not of any value. Ultimately he may grow up not trusting his judgment, very likely rendering him unable to make a decision, and tragically make him ripe to one day fall into the clutches of controlling, possibly abusive persons. People need validation for their emotional well-being. Couples who don’t validate each other’s feelings often have a severe lack of shalom bayis.

 

         To the woman in Israel I say that, of course, there is a big difference between sending a child to the army (although I remember when it was once an extreme source of pride for the parents, something to brag about if he got into an elite unit) and having a child in the shidduch parsha, but the anxiety, fear and despair is just as potent. Many may feel it is not justified, but like a boy whose beloved dog is killed, his heartbreak and loss is as strong as someone who (G-d forbid) loses a child. Everyone’s reality is relative, but one should not diminish or minimize the other person’s view of his/her world.

 

         I also want to address what I feel is her anger and resentment towards North Americans Jews who she feels, ” don’t appreciate our children’s sacrifice.” Firstly, I want to reassure her that Jews everywhere totally are aware of and deeply appreciate and admire the misirat nefesh of the Jews of Israel, and every loss of life is deeply felt and mourned.

 

         But part of making choices is taking responsibility for the outcome of these choices and not resenting those who made different ones or feel that anything is owed to them by virtue of their choices. For example, a girl who chooses a kollel life style, and has to work and make do with less, has no right to resent her sister who married an “earner” who can afford a more affluent lifestyle. Likewise, the wife of the earner should not envy her sister for having a husband who is more learned and respected in the community as a talmid chacham.

 

         My guess, based on the letter writer’s mastery of English is that she or her parents were North Americans who made aliyah, and as such she has American or Canadian citizenship. She chose to either move to or stay in Israel. She must take responsibility for the outcome of her choices – the good and the bad – for with all choices, there are pros and cons. By choosing to live in Israel, her children will eventually serve in the Israeli military and must deal with the risks of doing so. At the same time, she and her family are living a life that on a daily basis is imbued with spirituality and meaningfulness that is beyond the experience of Diaspora Jews.

 

         One should enjoy the benefits of one’s choices and deal with the drawbacks, but not resent those who took a different path for they too must deal with the good and the bad that is the outcome of their choice. To do otherwise leads to sinat chinam – to everyone’s detriment.

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