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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Benzion Twerski’

Deal With It: Becoming Part Of The Solution

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

One of the positive outcomes of the brouhaha regarding the harassment of Dr. Benzion Twerski – which led to his resignation from Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s panel on child abuse – was the realization on the part of many members of our community that they cannot afford to sit on the sidelines any longer. However, the question arises: “What can I do to become part of the solution?”

Last week, someone posted a comment on my website that sums up that sentiment pretty well in a short, but-to-the-point comment. Referring to Dr. Twerski’s treatment, she writes, “This is an outrage! This is horrible! But what can I, as an individual, do about this?”

Well, al regel achas (on one foot), here are some thoughts:

For starters, we should resist the knee-jerk reaction of blaming “the gedolim” for everything. These attacks are not constructive and will not save the fingernail of even one child. If you are disappointed or even upset with the response of rabbinic leadership to the abuse issue, “Deal With It,” as the kids say. And do something constructive with your passion and energy.

In the early 1990s, I was an eighth-grade rebbi and frustrated to tears at what “the system” was doing to the weaker talmidim I was teaching. I wrote a column, “An Ounce of Prevention,” submitted it to a mainstream publication, The Jewish Observer, which ran it, despite the fact that it pointed out fundamental flaws in our chinuch system.

At the age of 36, I was given an open microphone by Rabbi Moshe Sherer, zt”l – with no scripting whatsoever – at the 2006 Agudah Convention at a plenary session with 4,000 delegates, hundreds of rabbonim and several members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah present.

I have proudly served as a department head of Agudath Israel for 12 years now in my capacity as director of Project Y.E.S. and never once have any of the gedolim, shlita, even suggested to me that I tone down my writings or remarks despite the fact that I am, well, outspoken at times (okay – often).

I was invited to several meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Rabbinic Board of Torah U’Mesorah to share feedback with our roshei yeshivos, shlita, about the at-risk-kids and their parents. And whenever I have the zechus of spending time with our gedolim, shlita, they thank me for my efforts to improve things for our children and offer their assistance.

So, if you want to make positive change in the arena of abuse prevention – and we all know that much change is sorely needed – roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution instead of complaining or just hoping that things will improve on their own.

· Organize lectures in your community to train parents and educators how to speak to their children about safety, privacy and personal space. These are very easily done in a Torah-appropriate manner. Awareness saves lives. It is just that simple. You cannot follow your children around for the rest of their lives, but you can teach them to have the self-confidence to ward off predators. My experience has shown me that pedophiles have a twisted sixth sense that immediately lets them know which kids are “safe” to molest and which are not. The ignorant and unaware ones are always the “safest.” To quote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

· Reward and support the moderate, progressive educators. It is so frustrating to watch child-friendly programs get shot down time and again by judgmental communal attitudes. Principals who give children sufficient playtime get their schools branded as shvache (weak) mosdos. Schools that are tolerant in their admission policies or with the misdeeds of their students are often shunned and relegated to second-hand status. The result is that there are lots and lots of really great people in our chinuch system whose hands are frozen on the wheel – afraid to do reasonable things for the kids because they rightfully assume that it will be the “kiss of death” for their schools. I keep seeing this time and again – and I keep listening to such educators complaining to me that their hands are tied by parental pressure. “They” (our gedolim) didn’t create this mindset. We did. And we must stop this self-destructive behavior if we would like to see our schools initiate much-needed abuse-prevention programs.

· Do your homework and see what you can do to support organizations whose mission it is to prevent abuse and treat its victims. There are quite a number of established organizations that have programs for abuse prevention and/or treatment and several, which have been created over the past few years to address this issue.

One such effort is “Project Innocent Heart” (innocentheart.org, mail@innocentheart.org) founded by my dear friend, Dr. Sam Lupin and his wife Lynda, in memory of their beloved daughter Lois, a”h, who tragically passed away after a long bout with cancer. Innocent Heart is a visionary project looking to train therapists, help parents and educators teach their children about safety, and provide abuse victims with professional therapy on a sliding-scale payment basis.

Dr. Lupin prepared a budget that would allow for the treatment of 10 abused children in the first year – a number he felt was far more than a new, unadvertised program would attract. Well, six months later there are 25 children receiving help, and whenever I see Dr. Lupin in shul or around town, he tells me how he takes calls from parents of victims that leave him sickened and heartbroken, and he wonders how he will continue to fund this program.

So drop him a line and offer your support. Contact your local bikur cholim or other communal agencies and ask if they are providing services for abuse victims – and then offer to give your time and some of your charity funds to support their efforts.

To quote the Mishnah, “The day is short and there is much work to do.” We all know what the problems and challenges are regarding the abused and molested children in our community.

Let’s finally, “Deal With It.”

Parenting Matters

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Note to readers: This continuing series of op-ed and parenting columns addresses matters related to what is taking place in the Catskills. Should you have any parenting questions on these topics, or if you would like me to address a specific aspect of raising at-risk teens, please e-mail me at comments@rabbihorowitz.com.

You see a small plastic bottle of Visine or other brands of eye drops in the room of your teen son or daughter. He/she seems to have lingering colds and reddish eyes. You must have misplaced some cash in the house (several times, in fact) over the past few months. Your adolescent son or daughter begs off family simchahs, and his/her last report card was a disaster. Obviously, any one or two of these factors could be completely harmless. But in the aggregate, they are often signs of impending substance abuse issues. Parents of at-risk adolescents need to become more knowledgeable about these symptoms.

Your parents didn’t know any of this? You are offended at the notion that you need to think in these terms? Deal with it, as the kids would say. But become a knowledgeable and hands-on parent, as it is by far your best shot at guiding your at-risk child through this stormy phase in his/her life. Your involvement in your child’s life is perhaps the greatest predetermining factor as to your child riding out the storm and getting back on track to a productive future.

What are some of the symptoms of kids addicted to drugs? I asked Dr. Benzion Twerski, an outstanding mental health professional specializing in substance abuse treatment, to prepare a list of symptoms. Here are the symptoms he suggested parents should look for:

While other factors can cause many of these symptoms, these are behaviors and activities typical of individuals who are substance abusers:

• Sudden changes in mood, attitudes, or vocabulary – impulsive behavior.

• Sudden and continuing decline in attendance or performance at work or in school.

• Sudden and continuing resistance to discipline at home or in school.

• Impaired relationships with family members or friends.

• Unusual flares of temper.

• Increased amount and frequency of borrowing money from family and friends.

• Stealing from the home, at school, or in the workplace.

• Denial of having a drug problem.

• Heightened secrecy about actions and possessions.

• Association with a new group of friends, especially with those who use drugs or exhibit similar lifestyles.

• Having physical symptoms of drug abuse – such as red eyes, dilated pupils, constricted pupils, sleepiness, chronic runny nose, scars, or needle marks.

• Keeping long hours away from home, especially at night and on weekends.

• Neglecting personal health, and unexplained medical symptoms – such as weight loss and pallor.

• Sudden and continuing change in appearance and manner of dress, especially when contrasting to family patterns.

• Experiencing trouble in the handling of responsibilities.

So what now?

If you are starting to connect the dots, and feel that you may have signs of potential substance abuse with your teenager, it is important for you to proceed slowly and with much reflection. Please don’t overreact or impulsively attempt to “get your child back on track.” The circumstances that created this situation did not occur overnight, nor will they magically disappear. Seek professional guidance as to the steps you should take, and the pace in which you should take them.

I strongly believe that any teenager who is addicted to drugs is a choleh sheyesh bosakanah (one who has a potentially life-threatening illness). A child like this needs a professional drug rehabilitation center, not a yeshiva. You would not consider removing a stage-four cancer patient (G-d forbid) from a hospital in order to send him to a yeshiva. To quote Dr. Twerski, “Alcohol and drug abuse is a disease. It is a fatal illness that begins with casual or experimental use of a chemical for its mind-altering effects. It rapidly becomes an addiction, which involves loss of control over the substance or behavior, and eventually leads to self-destructiveness.”

It is important to understand that drug use also follows a continuum, from experimentation to regular use to dependency and addiction. Not everyone who smokes marijuana is a hard-core addict. But if your child is addicted to drugs, please seek professional help immediately. And seek the help of people who are trained specifically in the field of substance abuse addiction. A rabbi has a crucial and significant role in assisting an addicted child or adult. He can offer moral support, spiritual guidance, and answer any halachic questions that will inevitably arise as a result of the treatment of the addiction. Rabbis (this writer included), however, and yeshivas are not professionally equipped to deal with or heal people who are addicts. If you are not sure if your child falls into the category of a hard-core user, please go to a trained professional for his or her advice.

The YATZKAN Center, founded by Debbie Jonas, recently relocated to Brooklyn, NY under the auspices of FEGS. They offer inpatient and outpatient treatment for addicted teens – with a fully kosher program. Their clinical director, Lew Abrams, LCSW, CASAC, is highly trained in the arena of treating drug addiction. I am familiar with their work, and highly recommend their services for teens and adults who have addiction problems.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, if your child is addicted to drugs, this is a life-or-death matter. Too many of our precious children have died of drug overdoses for you to worry about what the neighbors will think or just hope things will improve. If you even suspect that your child has a substance abuse problem, please contact YATZKAN immediately and find out what you can do to save his/her life – before it’s too late!

Contact information: YATZKAN Center: 718-282-2504; www.yatzkan.org. Dr. Benzion Twerski: 718-437-4118; btwerski@gmail.com. Lew Abrams: LAbrams@fegs.org.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/parenting-matters/2007/08/22/

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