Note from Harry Maryles: I usually take this time on the eve of the New Year to reflect on what kind if a year this was for me. The sudden death of my grandson Reuven who suffered from cancer was unexpected. Although his prognosis was never great, he had defied the odds by living as long as he did. People all over the world davened for him and for that I am still grateful. But it was not meant to be.
Posts Tagged ‘chesed’
“Is it possible for my disabled child to get married?” This is a question that parents often ask. Their son or daughter may often convey the sentiment, “I also want to get married, just like my sister or my brother or my friend.”
It is painful for persons of disabilities to see others get married while they are left behind. At the same time, there are naturally, additional challenges in marriage amongst those with disabilities.
How can we navigate the best path?
Everyone needs hope. People with disabilities need to feel that it is possible for them to achieve and accomplish their life goals, up to and including enjoying the companionship of a relationship and marriage.
Considering how to help a child with disabilities prepare for marriage, there are many challenges that parents and adults face. Sometimes parents have difficulty learning to let go and allow their child to make their own decisions. Since they have been managing their child’s life for so long it is hard for parents to envision their child functioning without their assistance. Dealing with one crisis after another for many years, has accustomed them to constantly being on alert. It is understandable that it can be very difficult to view such a “child” differently. Often, someone from outside the family, such as a mentor or coach can see things more objectively. A dating mentor can make an assessment as to whether the child is capable of learning the socialization skills necessary to have a relationship and get married. A dating mentor can coach the individual in skills that are basic to having a strong foundation in a relationship, such as how to communicate, solve problems, compromise, show and give respect and how to have empathy.
Of course, there are serious concerns and obstacles. Many such couples will require ongoing supervision and support in order to maintain a stable relationship. Furthermore, while most marriages include an expectation of establishing a family, these couples in consultation with a posek and mental health professional may need to think along different lines. In the short and long term, there are no “one-size fits all” solutions.
Recently, David Mandel, CEO of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services invited some of OHEL’s married couples for dinner to talk about how to help more individuals inside OHEL and in the larger community improve their chances for having meaningful relationships, and possibly getting married.
The couples had the opportunity to share what helped them get married and what helps them successfully remain married. Their case managers and resident managers were also present at the dinner.
Many shared how the support of their case managers has been helpful to them in addressing problems before they escalate, as well as their assistance with being connected to appropriate resources, such as marital counseling in order to deal with the typical and not so typical stresses of married life.
Some participants shared their joys and struggles, making the listeners laugh and cry with them. One couple invites friends every Shabbos in order to increase their chances for finding someone to befriend. Stigma is still an issue many struggle with, especially when trying to find a shadchan to set them up. Their experiences have been that many shadchanim are unfortunately very dismissive of individuals who seek to marry and who are effectively managing their mental illness – an understandable disposition that requires much more community education. One person offered to be a shadchan in order to fill that void. Another suggested joining online websites and having a special section for individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. Such discussions are important to break down the barriers that prevent individuals from pursuing their goals for establishing meaningful relationships and getting married.
Chesed is a cornerstone of the Torah, and the chesed of helping Adam find his mate was the first recorded chesed in the Torah – performed by none other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy as much of life as typically developing people do, and it is great chesed to help those who need the extra support and guidance to achieve their goals. We are embarking on a new frontier to give individuals with disabilities some of the same opportunities the mainstream population appreciates. There are no easy answers and the road can be long and bumpy; however, we need to join together and ask, “what are the obstacles that we need to overcome” until we reach our goal.Sarah Kahan
I just finished trying on all my pre-nine day clothes. You know the drill: Wash your clothing but leave enough time to parade around in what will be worn for the next nine days. This way, it will not be freshly laundered. What amazes me is that each year I am sure it will be a very easy activity, since I have nothing to wear! Yet, somehow I find it very time-consuming.
There are other challenges an out-of-town Jewish woman faces, besides the usual length of her skirt and which top to wear. At the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I were in a Yeshiva kehilla (community). This meant that the interaction between men and women was much more segregated and constrained. It was what I had became accustomed to, that is until our first move out-of-town.
My husband and I arrived in our new city and were guests of honor at a welcome barbeque held in someone‘s backyard. My husband was eagerly greeted by a mom who was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. After living in a Yeshiva atmosphere for a while, I cringed. How could she come over dressed like that and initiate a conversation with my husband? Before I had a chance to recover, a dad, also clad in leisurely summer attire, lumbered over to greet me. I left the barbeque deep in thought. It seemed we were now in place with informal boundaries. Could I ever be comfortable here and how was this atmosphere going to affect my own children?
Time helped me acclimate to our new environment. There were some hairy moments, like the time one well-meaning and appreciative father thanked me for teaching his daughter. He grasped my hand and, before I had a chance to withdraw it, kissed it! Another mortifying moment was when a father spotted me at dismissal and rushed over for a bear hug! It’s hard to be gracious when one feels embarrassed and uncomfortable.
How my children dress has also evolved. I had originally expected my children to want to dress like those in the yeshivish community we had lived in, never imagining them wanting to look any other way. After all, I reasoned, I had come to live out-of-town to impact others, not to be influenced by that environment. But a funny thing happened. We all evolved – my children, and my expectations of them.
On a visit to another city, our sons begged to wear black suede yarmulkas like their friends instead of their black velvet ones. My husband allowed them to buy the suede yarmulkas in the bookstore and I wept. I believed that all my hopes and dreams for them were dashed. My husband laughed. “What does it matter, as long as they cover their heads?”
When my first white-shirted son came of age we were thrilled that he was accepted to a prestigious yeshiva. Black hats and white shirts dotted the campus. I was beaming. This is perfect, I thought. We will send all our sons to this wonderful yeshiva and they will love being yeshivish.
I was unprepared for the bump on the road to this utopian dream. Our son noticed some un-yeshivish behavior at this school and told me about it. I was concerned, and also a little naïve. I called the administration, expecting the matter to be resolved quietly. Instead, our son was taken from the dorm that very night in full view of the other boys and asked what he had seen. When my son returned from the interrogation, the boys believed him to be an informer and ostracized him. They vandalized his belongings and threatened him. One Erev Shabbos, my son called to wish us a quick good Shabbos. “I’m not sure if I will survive over Shabbos,“ he whispered and hung up the phone. What an anxious Shabbos that was! My fourteen-year-old could not understand why the boys were acting menacingly to him and was very unhappy.
A few months later, we transferred our son to a different yeshiva. The new yeshiva had wonderful rabbeim, and students from a variety of backgrounds. It was a warm and safe environment; but it was not exclusively filled with white shirts, dark pants, and black hats.Penina Scheiner
A major sociological characteristic and consequence of modernity is the tendency for people to join together in associations that express a common goal or interest or a shared experience. The United States has been a nation of joiners from day one and perhaps even before independence was declared. Alexis de Tocqueville described this tendency in Democracy in America, the epic prophetic work published a century and three-quarters ago.
The impulse to join is dynamic, meaning that the instinct feeds on itself, so that the number of organizations continues to grow. This instinct is further fed by the extraordinary complexity of our society and the expanded involvement by government into nearly all aspects of contemporary life. More government means more organizations that attempt to influence what governments do. By now, we have hundreds of thousands of organizations, nearly all of them identified as nonprofit, a description that doubtlessly defines their status under the tax code but often does not appropriately describe how these entities function, as in many instances well-paid officials with matching benefits and expense accounts go about their self-important work.
We Jews have known for a long while that what happens outside of our four cubits in the societies where we dwell powerfully affects how we conduct our lives, the upshot being that we are no slouches at organization building. To the contrary, we seem to outdo everyone else, so that there may be more Jewish organizations in the U.S. than there are for any combination of several or more other major ethnic groups.
Years ago I posited that while there are fewer Jews on American soil when the sun goes down each day than there were when the sun rose, each day when the sun sets there are more Jewish organizations than there were when the day began.
The situation hasn’t improved, although it is my impression that the severe recession we have experienced since 2008 has put a damper on organization building. In fact, some nonprofits have closed their doors. Even so, it’s a good bet that the long list of American Jewish organizations includes more than a few nonprofits that have come into being during the past half-decade.
Many of our organizations focus on chesed activities, helping the poor or those who are otherwise needy. They rely mainly or entirely on voluntary work and they deserve our gratitude and support. These organizations are in sharp contrast to the mountain of organizations with high-salaried executives who have a remarkable penchant for travel, conferencing and sundry activities that invariably take place in luxurious settings and do not strike me as being invested with much altruism. They are, for sure, invested with strong doses of public relations.
I shall continue to speak out against this phenomenon as long as God grants me the ability to do so, although I recognize that the winds continue to blow strongly in the other direction and that our chosen people will continue to choose to create additional organizations. They are our false gods.
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There are, inevitably, organizations whose mission involves Jewish education. Whatever we may think of their particular orientation, as, for example, whether they promote a diluted brand of what they generously refer to as Jewish education, a case can be made that they are functional. They have work to do, a role to play in curriculum development and the training and recruitment of faculty, as well as much else that directly relates to what occurs inside schools and classrooms.
Just the same, all organizations tend to have a life of their own and even with a legitimate sense of mission there are always the seeds of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. As time goes on, often the primary mission of a group is relegated to the background. Keeping the organization in business, including marketing and fundraising, becomes the activity that receives the greatest attention and a large share of the available resources. This is a slow process that may reach maturity before the organization or people associated with it recognize what has happened. By then it is too late.
From my observation point, the Jewish day school world long avoided this tendency, perhaps because day schools have not been much favored in our community and funding was scarcely available for schools and certainly not for organizational activities. There were just a handful of Jewish educational organizations, apart from the boards of education attached to local Federations, and the organizations that existed had plenty on their plate as they attempted to assist the schools with which they were associated. This was evident in the important work of the National Society of Hebrew Day Schools – Torah Umesorah, by far the largest day school organization.Marvin Schick
Dear Dr. Yael:
I am convinced that my mother is clinically depressed, but she refuses to seek help or even admit that she has this problem. Instead, she blames all of her sorrows on outside sources.
My mother has never been a “glass is half full” kind of person but she has gotten much worse since menopause. She makes every Yom Tov, family affair or get-together a nightmare by displaying a sour face throughout and always complaining about everything. Every conversation is laden with negativity, and she can never take any enjoyment from anything or anyone in her life. It’s almost like she wants and expects something bad to happen, and when it does she obsesses over it. But when good things happen to her, she neglects to notice.
While she complains that her life has no purpose, she refuses to do anything about it. She recently retired, making things worse; now she just sits on her porch all day sulking. She refuses to make friends, travel, seek a hobby or find some type of stimulation – not to mention refusing to seek a therapist’s help or to discuss hormonal changes with her doctor. We have tried taking her out, calling her multiple times a day and visiting her with the grandchildren as much as possible – but all she does is kill the joy. It has come to the point where the grandkids hate going to her house and we, the children, get migraines after every encounter. We try to be sensitive to her needs and discuss them with her, but our attempts are draining.
How can we help a person that refuses to be helped?
A Frustrated Child
Dear Frustrated Child:
I feel for you and your family, as it cannot be easy to deal with so much negativity when you spend time with your mother. Nevertheless, the person suffering the most is your mother. People who tend to focus on life’s negatives never enjoy the “trip.” Life’s journey is filled with ups and downs. We all have nisyonos and it is the way we cope with these challenges that makes all the difference.
It appears that your mother has many good things in her life. She seems to have married children and grandchildren who try to love her and make her happy. However, due to what you’ve described as her negative attitude and depressed state, she is missing out on the joys of life.
We all know both people with difficult lives who manage to smile and focus on the berachos and positive things in their lives, and others who appear to have everything – good health (for them and their children and grandchildren), nachas, money, etc. – but are likely to focus only on the negative thing.
Happiness is really about our attitudes in life. I very often see people who cope with difficult and tragic situations in an exemplary manner, while others with basically good lives who focus on every little problem and blow every issue out of proportion.
The old adage, “When you smile the world smiles with you, and when you cry you cry alone,” is so true. It is those positive, bubbly people who seem to have friends despite life’s adversities.
I have treated beautiful-looking clients who on the outside seem to have everything going for them, but feel miserable inside and exude negative energy wherever they go. These people do not understand why people do not gravitate to them, why they do not have many friends, and why their married children never seem to want to spend time with them. I try to teach them how to look at the positives in their lives, how to value life’s berachos, and learn how to compliment and show appreciation to others in their lives.
Baruch Hashem, many of my clients have learned to change their attitudes. In doing so, they make new friends and notice that the people in their inner circle (spouses, children, grandchildren, etc.) become more interested in spending time with them.
Here’s a suggestion: Consider getting your mother involved in YMHA classes or in an organization near her home. Maybe she can develop a hobby and meet people with whom she can enjoy it. The hobby can be art, painting, learning a musical instrument, joining a theater club, or becoming involved in exercise or swimming at a local facility. As an avid swimmer, I can say that through swimming I have developed new friends. It’s also good for her wellbeing.Dr. Yael Respler
I am in shock.
A friend of mine was visiting the United States and his ride to the airport for his return flight to Israel fell through. At the last minute he needed to find a ride to a terminal that was 50 minutes away in order to catch a bus to New York City where he would then take a shuttle to the airport.
A young man, fresh off a year of Torah study in a top hesder yeshiva and looking forward to his second year of learning in Israel, offered to drive this visiting rabbi. This boy would appear to be a yeshiva high school success story – religious and learning Torah. Of course, he was told, the rabbi will pay something to offset gas expenses and for his time.
They arrived at the bus terminal and my friend decided he would give the boy more than what he thought the effort was worth since he appreciated the gesture. He offered the young man $50. The boy said it was not enough. My friend offered $60. The boy said, “You have to pay me double because I now have to drive back.”
My friend was taken by surprise and said $60 for 90 minutes of driving was certainly fair. The boy insisted on asking a cab driver what he would charge. The cabbie answered $60. The boy would not accept that. He demanded $100. The rabbi said he needed cash for more buses and for food. The boy responded that this was “taking away time from Torah learning” and he needed to be compensated accordingly. My friend managed to find $84 only to be met with the boy saying, “This is just not right.” And with that they parted ways.
My friend related how just that morning during Shacharit he was thinking about how “off target” we are as he watched rabbis barking at children to stand during “vayevareich Dovid” and the “vihu rachum,” part of Tachanun at a youth minyan. He was not suggesting we shouldn’t find ways to encourage our children to stand when our custom dictates standing during prayers. But the degree to which the kids were being scolded for not standing struck a chord that led him to reflect upon what we teach as important and what is not important.
When this yeshiva boy then squeezed him for money, it all came together in his mind and I could not agree more.
There is no doubt the horrifying actions of this young man are not mainstream. However, sometimes reaching a new low can shock the system and prompt introspection. A yeshiva high-school graduate – after a year in shana aleph and preparing for shana bet – acting in this manner is certainly a significant low and brings issues I have been thinking about for years to the fore.
Let’s take a step back and see where the average yeshiva high school boy stands upon graduation from high school. Is he fluent in Hebrew? No. Can he prepare a Gemara on his own? No. Does he enjoy studying Gemara? No. Does he know Tanach? No. Does he enjoy davening? No. Does he understand basic Jewish philosophy about God, the purpose of creation, and why we do the things we do? No. Does he stand head and shoulders above the rest of society in terms of his dedication to acts of loving-kindness and basic human decency? No.
The time has come for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and work to make change.
What can be done? I would begin by following the advice of my teacher and mentor, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, and teach Hebrew. Twelve years of school is more than enough to produce students who are completely fluent in Hebrew and capable of opening both prayer books and classic Jewish texts and having a basic understanding of the meaning of the words.
Another one of my teachers pointed out the shame that if every Book of Chabakuk were to be removed from all our schools and study halls, no one would even notice. The Written Torah contains God’s eternal messages to us and therefore we should shift away from our focus on Gemara and produce students who are proficient in Tanach and Mishnah.Rabbi Dov Lipman
They say that one mother can take care of five children, but five children cannot take care of one mother. One of the most challenging situations, and perhaps the most unnatural, is when children need to take care of aging or infirm parents. Why is this so difficult and why do so many of us fail at caring for our parents when they need us most?
As I put pen to paper, it is my father’s yahrzeit and I contemplate my continued responsibility to act on his behalf, to learn and do chesed to uplift his neshama. With Hashem’s help, these words should be an aliya for the neshama of Rav Yekusiel ben Dovid. I often think of how I am unable to fulfill the amazing mitzvah of kibbud Av, and I regret not doing more while I had the opportunity. When my father was niftar, a rav told me that I still have the opportunity to honor my father by respecting my mother, since that would be his wish. Additionally one can continue to show respect by doing good deeds and learning Torah in a parent’s memory. Chazal tell us that children are the feet of their parents in Heaven, and when the children grow in Torah their parents grow as well.
Over the years, I have encountered many men and women who have deep regret at not having shown respect for their parents during their lifetimes or for not having taken care of their needs during their final years. At a levaya of a parent we request mechila, forgiveness, in two different ways. We ask forgiveness for anything we may have done while they were alive and did not properly atone for. These are sins of commission that all children do, but most don’t get the opportunity to properly atone for. The harder form of mechila is for sins of omission, requesting forgiveness for all the things we should have done, but either did not get the chance to or did not do because of our skewed priorities. If the Torah places such importance on our respect for and fear of our parents, again I must wonder why it is such a hard mitzvah to fulfill properly? Besides for the reward of a long life for those who fulfill the mitzvah, it clearly seems to be the logical and correct thing to do.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin tells us that parents will give up anything for their children. “A man can be jealous of anyone, except for his child or student” (Sanhedrin 105b). The theory is that giving to a child is in essence giving to oneself as children are extensions of ourselves. Giving to a child is natural. I was once famished and about to eat a slice of pizza. My children came home from school and eyed my small feast. When they asked for some pizza, I told them that their mother had made them a delicious supper and it was waiting for them in the kitchen. I was hoping to divert their attention for long enough to enable me to eat the pizza. When they predictably responded that they still wanted my pizza, I allowed them to take some… until there was none left for me. At that moment, I was happier making my children happy than I would have been had I eaten the pizza myself, and I realized that I love my children more than they could ever love me. I asked myself–if a parent loves a child so much and gives a child so much, then why isn’t it natural for the feelings to be equally reciprocated?
Chazal tell us that the way we treat our parents is the way our children will treat us. They relate a parable of a man whose elderly father lives with him. The father slurps loudly and makes a mess when he eats, so the son makes a large wooden bowl and spoon for his father to use and has him eat in the kitchen. After many months, the adult son sees his own son carving something out of wood and asks what he was making. His young child responds that he is making a bowl and spoon so his own father would have something from which to eat when he aged.Rabbi Gil Frieman