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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘family’

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

He Murdered his Daughter

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Guest Post by Suzzane Handler

Mental Illness is one of those subjects that is still pretty much taboo to talk about in the Orthodox Jewish community. And that can lead to tragic consequences. No more tragic than what happened in Cheyenne, Wyoming almost 80 years ago.

I think it is high time we start the conversation. I can think of no better time to do so than during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The following was sent to me by Catherine Goldberg whose opening words introduce Suzzane Handler. She wrote a book about her Orthodox grandfather – a man who murdered his own daughter.

My name is Catherine Goldberg. I’m a big fan of Emes Ve-Emunah and look forward to learning something new everyday every time you post. It always makes me think. I just wanted to share something I’m working on and I thought your community may be interested in.

I found this book called The Secrets They Kept. (It is) about an Orthodox Jew who murdered his youngest daughter who was schizophrenic instead of having her committed.

I got in touch with the author (whose) name is Suzanne Handler and she’s fabulous. We talked about how there’s a big stigma in the Jewish community that bad stuff like schizophrenia or abuse doesn’t happen to us. We both agreed this is not a safe way to think. There’s a lot of guilt and shame associated it with and when that’s internalized that can be really dangerous.

Secret keeping, especially throughout generations is devastating. (T)his book… says it’s OK to talk about this, and by sharing your story we can begin to move forward.

We also talked about what this has to do with forgiveness and Yom Kippur. Suzanne had to forgive her family for keeping this horrible secret from her. I think once she did forgive her family her quality of life improved significantly.

Maybe Yom Kippur is a good time to talk about this and how it relates to mental illness in the Jewish community.

In hopes of raising awareness, Suzanne sent me a little piece that she wrote about her story. She’s hoping that her story will get people talking.

The reason why I was so drawn to this is because a good friend of mine was schizophrenic and committed suicide during our senior year of college. He was Jewish too and I was really torn between this idea that Jewish law says you can’t mourn a suicide and realizing this kid was sick. We’ve made a lot of progress on how we approach mental illness but not enough. It would be amazing if by spreading Suzanne’s story I could raise awareness and money for schizophrenia research or something.

The following was written by Suzzane Handler:

What would compel a devout Jewish father to take the life of his own child?

On June 28th of this year, The Intermountain Jewish News (IJN) ran a feature article detailing the dramatic events contained in my book, The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family. For your convenience, I have provided the link to that piece below. Chris Leppek, assistant editor of the IJN and the person who wrote the article, has granted permission for his story to be reprinted, with the caveat that his name and that of the paper be appropriately cited. He does so in the hope that thoughtful discussions regarding the stigma of mental illness in our society will follow.

Here is a brief summary of the story: In 1937, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, my maternal grandfather, Sam Levin, shot and killed his 16 year-old daughter. The girl, Sally, had been diagnosed with dementia praecox (mid-century term for schizophrenia) and was to be sent to an insane asylum, presumably for the rest of her life. Declared incurable and a danger to herself and others, Sally begged her father to end her life, as well as his own, in a joint murder/suicide pact. On August 16,th of that year, my grandfather, exhausted and desperate from grief and indecision, finally agreed to Sally’s last wish. The girl died within the hour; my grandfather lived and carried the burden of his shame and sorrow to his grave.

Due to the stigma of mental illness then, as well as now, and the nature of my grandfather’s unimaginable crime, this story remained a secret in our family for over 70 decades. Following years of research and soul searching, I have now, at long last, come to the place where understanding meets forgiveness.

I am humbled that The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family, has sold over 8,000 copies and is currently #1 in Mental Health and #7 in Jewish Interest in the Amazon Virtual Book Store.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Honoring our Parents: Can We Learn from China?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It is well known that millions of elderly Americans are neglected at their most vulnerable time. Jewish law, however, requires multiple times and in multiple ways that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:11, Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 19:3, Deuteronomy 27:16).

The ancient exhortations to honor one’s parents endure into our age. As of July 1, 2013, China has required that adult children take care of their parents. The amended Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly states that adult children must visit their elderly relatives, and they are prohibited from insulting, mistreating, or abandoning them under pain of lawsuit. Wu Ming, the deputy department head in China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said, “Family members should not ignore and isolate the elderly. And they should come often to visit.” Today, millions of Chinese workers live thousands of miles away from their parents, families are limited to one child per family, and the tradition values of filial piety have become more challenging to put into practice. But those who fail to take care of their parents will now be fined. This act may be in recognition of the aging of the Chinese population: There will be 221 million elderly (age 60 and older) in the country in 2015, and the percentage will reach about a third by 2050.

In Japan, another country with the longstanding value of filial piety, modern legislation assists families in paying for hired caregivers (although they cannot be family members). Elsewhere, many nations mandate some level of care for the elderly. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, some of its policies survive in the areas it used to control. For example, in much of the former Soviet bloc, the elderly can sue their children for child support, and siblings can sue each other to make sure the money is raised and the burden shared. In Western Europe, eldercare is typically ensured through social insurance programs. The most inclusive policy for the elderly can be found in Norway, where all of the elderly are guaranteed long-term care.

How does the United States, which has traditionally been reluctant in implementing social welfare policies taken for granted in Europe, compare with rest of the industrial world? Currently, nearly 10 million adults age 50 and older care for elderly parents, with little governmental assistance. This number has tripled in 15 years, so now about 1 in 4 adult children provide personal or financial care for their parents. A study conducted by a group of insurance, caregiving, and policy think tanks concluded that, taking into account wages and Social Security and pension money, the average adult who becomes a caregiver for an aging parent spends nearly $304,000. In addition, caregivers undergo tremendous stress, and suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease and alcohol abuse, among other illnesses. On top of this, Social Security benefits here do not increase when personal care costs rise, as they do in some European nations.

One bright spot is that many adults can now take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for an ill parent (or any other family member) without losing their job under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Unfortunately, this does not go far enough, because this leave is without pay and therefore an unaffordable option for nearly all working Americans. Medicare may help pay for some short-term care, and Medicaid can cover expenses for those with in adequate resources, although these are dependent on individual state requirements, which are constantly under attack today. Currently, as the Medicare website notes, private funds are used for eldercare: “About half of all nursing home residents pay nursing home costs out of their own savings. After these savings and other resources are spent, many people who stay in nursing homes for long periods eventually become eligible for Medicaid.” In other words, if you want nursing care as an elderly person, be prepared to lose all your resources. Other programs, such as Meals on Wheels, are also dependent on state funding (with some federal aid that is also under attack), and we cannot assume that it will continue as is in the current atmosphere of austerity. Other options usually rely on independent insurance or health plans that require additional payments.

While the United States remains a wealthy nation, and many can afford their own care, we should heed Jewish law and truly honor our parents. The rabbis tell a story which is codified as law (Shulkhan Arukh YD 240:3).

They inquired of Rav Ula: “How far does honoring/dignifying parents extend?”

He said to them: “Go out and see what one [non-Jew] did in Ashkelon. His name was Dama ben Netinah. Once the Sages sought merchandise for a price of sixty myriads, but the key was resting under his father’s head, and he did not disturb him…. When Rav Dimi came, he said: Once he was wearing a gold diadem and sitting among the greats of Rome, when his mother came and tore it off him, and hit him over the head and spit in his face, but he did not humiliate her” (Kiddushin 31a).

Even when mistreated and shamed by a parent, many demands to honor parents still remain. To be sure, there are limits too!

One whose mother or father breaks down mentally – He must make the effort to behave with them in accordance with their condition until [Hashem] has mercy on them; but if he it is not possible for him to stand it, because they have become greatly insane – he may go and leave them behind, so long as he commands others to treat them properly (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:10).

Jewish law wisely and prophetically notes the mental and physical strain that an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have on a family. However, the law also mandates that we provide some degree of proper care for them. We should not force families to go into bankruptcy in order to avoid placing their parents in virtual warehouses where their parents will be neglected and mistreated.

The thing is that this is not only an ossified, unrealistic demand based on an idealized or no longer extant religious society. We see models for contemporary implementation around the world today, in China, Norway, and beyond. Our parents sacrificed so much for our well-being throughout their lives, when we were not able to fend for ourselves. As a society, we must recognize this and provide for them when they are no longer physically independent themselves.

Roger Waters Open Letter Calls on Musicians to Boycott Israel

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

British rocker Roger Waters published an open letter calling on fellow musicians to join a boycott of Israel.

“I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel,” Waters wrote in the letter dated Aug. 18. The letter was previously drafted in July.

The former Pink Floyd front man said he was inspired to release the letter after British violinist Nigel Kennedy at a recent promenade concert at the Albert Hall in London called Israel an apartheid state. The BBC said it would remove his remarks in rebroadcasts of the concert.

Waters, who has been active in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement for at least seven years, referred to the boycott of apartheid South Africa, saying that first a trickle of artists refused to play there, leading to a “flood.”

He singled out Stevie Wonder’s canceling of a performance for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces as a recent success story. Wonder quit his participation in the December fundraiser at the last minute under pressure from many corners.

“Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of Apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights,” Waters wrote.

Waters recently came under fire for using at in his concerts a huge inflated balloon in the shape of a wild boar with a prominently visible Star of David, as well as a hammer and sickle, crosses and a dollar sign, among other symbols. It is a gimmick he has used for several years.

Trading In Maryland for the Mediterranean

Monday, August 19th, 2013

When Sergeant Brandon Berry made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), he did not come looking for the easy life. If he wanted that, he would not have left his hometown of Potomac, Maryland to serve in the army of a foreign country half a world away from his family.

Sgt. Berry also was not looking for an easy job in the IDF – he wanted to serve wherever he was most needed. He wanted to take his talent and drive with him to contribute one hundred percent.

Sgt. Berry passed all the tests to serve in the prestigious Paratroopers Brigade. Instead the American immigrant took to the sea as a member of the Israel Navy’s Dvora-class patrol boat squadron.

It is not everyday that a young man from Potomac, Maryland travels for tens of thousands of miles to join the Israel Navy. “It was clear to me that I was destined to serve in the Navy,” he said. Sgt. Berry, stationed on a base overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is able to indulge his love for wide-open spaces every day of his service.

Aside from his thick American accent, Sgt. Berry is indistinguishable from the other soldiers at his base – completely at home on a boat with a tan to match. He credits the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers for helping him through the entire enlistment process.

“The work the association does is a blessing,” he says. AWIS helps soldiers in a number of ways, which included providing assistance to lone soldiers, running soldier homes and recreation centers, and providing support for bereaved families.

Sgt. Berry says that even though he grew up with a strong Jewish identity and attended a Jewish day school, he always felt like something was missing. Now, as a soldier for Israel, it seems he has truly come home.

Visit IDF Blog.

A Woman of Courage and Strength

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

When I was little, my parents didn’t have much money so family vacations were non-existent. But somehow, for years if I remember correctly, my uncle and aunt invited me to spend a week at their house. These are the memories of a child – perhaps it was only a few days. For all I know, it could have been only one night – but the memory I carry with me was that I spent days and days with my Uncle Woodie and my Aunt Pia.

Pia was an accomplished artist – she filled her house with color and brightness. She was a wonderful mother…housewife…teacher. She was always dressed so beautifully, so elegantly. I have so many memories of her as I was growing up.

Seven years ago, Pia was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told she had months, maybe even just weeks, to live. She redefined courage as she fought back the disease time and time again.

When a doctor told her there was no hope… she decided not to listen. She went experimental treatments, was declared cancer free and continued to fight even after the disease re-appeared. She became a symbol for many as she launched campaigns to raise money and awareness for a disease that leaves devastation and shock in its wake.

Through it all, she continued to smile, continued to cherish her family. I saw her a bit over a year ago when she came to Israel to celebrate the bar mitzvah of her oldest grandson. There was such pride in her as she stood on Masada and watched her daughter’s family gather around.

We all knew the disease was still there and we knew she would continue to fight it for as long as she could. She never gave up; she never gave in.

She lost her battle with cancer on Friday (Shabbat in Israel).

There are many heroes in the world – perhaps the greatest are those who simply struggle to live their lives with dignity, respect, and love.

I always knew Pia was a woman of grace, beauty, talent and love. I have learned over the last few years, that she was also a woman of incredible courage and strength. May God bless her memory.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

When Good Children Go OTD

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The problem seems to be far worse than anyone thinks. We may even be at an epidemic level. Everywhere I turn these days it seems, I find a family where at least one child has gone OTD (Off the Derech–away from the religious path). Or at least does not follow the Hashkafic path laid out by their parents.

Many of them are all from fine families. Exemplars of great parenting. Nothing dysfunctional about them. The parents have many children all the rest of which are the obvious results child rearing by 2 great parents. Most of their children do fine in the Hashkafic milieu in which they were raised and in which they live. And yet it seem to be increasingly the case that at least one child has no interest in towing the family religious line.

In the families that I know about it seems the problems tend to begin in mid to late elementary school or early high school.

The question is why is this happening? What is it that is driving this OTD phenomenon in good families? It is very understandable when this happens in dysfunctional families where physical or mental abuse exists either between parents; between a parent and child; or both. It does not take rocket science to see why a child associates their strife their parent’s lifestyle. If they are a religious family, then religion is associated with that strife.

But what about the good families with good children where one of them does not want to have anything to do with their family’s religious way of life? Unfortunately I know of far too many situations like these. Hashkafos don’t seem to matter that much. I know families with an OTD child that are very right wing, moderate Charedi, and right wing Modern Orthodox. None of them are so strict as to warrant the kind of rebellion they have experienced from at least one child.

I have no real explanation. But I suspect it has something to do with the current pressure that schools and thereby parents put on their children to excel in their religiosity, Limudei Kodesh or Limudei Chol. I am constantly hearing about how schools of all Hashkafos are ‘rasining’ their standards. That is impacted negatively by the times in which we live. By that I mean the great distractions that now exists that did not exist in the past. Distractions that expose children to a much easier lifestyle than their parents insist upon. Distractions that take away from their study time. Distractions that cause them to question matters of faith. These are distractions that those of us over the age of 30 never had when we were growing up.

The internet, its ease of use and availability, and the ability to easily hide one’s involvement with it puts pressure on young people now – as never before. No matter how much we try to discourage it, limit it, or ban it, it is so pervasive that it is impossible to avoid the influence it has on children. Children can access anything they want as quickly as they can delete it from a screen. A child now has an unprecedented and unfettered window to the entire world. A little curiosity about a taboo subject will beget websites and images that can easily pull a child away from their parents’ influences. It is amazing that there aren’t even more OTD children than there are.

Coupled with this is the increased pressure put upon children in our day to be more religious and be better students than ever before.

The pressure to excel and adopt ever increasing Churmos into our lives has become so ingrained that not conform to these new standards is unacceptable.For example violating a Chumra is as painful to a family as violating a Halacha. I know one family that feels great pain that a child now uses non Chalav Yisroel products. I hasten to add that they are a very loving family – accepting of that child and allowing her to bring non Chalav Yisroel products into the home and use them freely. But it still pains them internally.

And how can any self respecting parent not want their child to excel in school? So with every increase in the amount of material to be mastered, there is a parental motive to see to it that their child measures up. Whether it is the Charedi standard of Limudei Kodesh or the MO academic standard. And in many cases – both.

If you combine the two phenomenon of increased pressure (whether religious or in the level of study)in the home and in school with the ubiquity of the internet – I think one can understand why the OTD phenomenon even in good homes might be near epidemic levels.

I would add that the fact that as the religious population increases, so too do the number of children going OTD – even if the percentages may be the same. But if I had to guess the percentages have increases too and not only the numbers.

I don’t know how to solve any of these problems. But I do have a few thoughts about it. First we ought to be aware of the problems and to recognize that we live in unprecedented times. One cannot for example ignore the internet. Nor can it be successfully banned. But one should do the best they can to set up parental controls, rules, and guidelines about its use. And avoid giving very young children hand held devices.

Of course the most important factor is to love our children unconditionally. Even – and perhaps especially – if they are at risk or OTD. They must know that they will always be loved; part of the family; and welcomed in the homes. Even if they are Mechalel Shabbos, and eat Treif. A bare headed son or daughter whose modesty does not measure up to family or community standards must be accepted. No matter what others in your community think! That may not bring them back. But it will for sure not push them away should they ever want to come back.

Another much harder thing to accomplish is to change the current penchant of religious schools to demand ever increasing religious standards for – not only their students but their parents.

The same thing is to be said with the ever increasing academic standards; or Torah study standards. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be top schools in an area of study in either Limudei Kodesh or Limudei Chol. But they should be special schools reserved for the very best, brightest and most highly motivated students among us. Putting a child that does not have those qualifications into schools like those will almost certainly set up them up for failure. And failure should never be an option.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Meet a 19-Year-Old Explosives Expert

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Growing up, it was uncommon for students from Corporal Dylan Ostrin’s International school to join the IDF, let alone stay in Israel. However, she had a specific vision for herself: she wanted to be in the Combat Engineering Corps.

Corporal Dylan Ostrin made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from the US at the age of seven with her family. After moving from Texas and California, Cpl. Ostrin spent much of her school years at an international school where the students were children of foreign residents, such as diplomats, who did not have a connection to the land, history or culture and did not plan on making their lives in Israel. Tailoring to this crowd, her school provided an education devoid of Israeli identity, including the idea of joining the IDF. “My school’s point of view was to graduate and go as far away from Israel as possible for college,” said Cpl. Ostrin.

For her, joining the army was not the norm, unlike most people who grow up in Israel. “I see it as a privilege to be able to serve my country and I was not prepared to give that privilege up.”

Today, Cpl. Ostrin is an explosives instructor in the Combat Engineering Corps. She teaches all things explosive: from how to handle the explosives themselves to utilizing them in operations, such as gaining access to buildings. The soldiers she leads are mainly reservists who come back for their annual duty, ranging in age from 22 to 40 and sometimes more. Cpl. Ostrin loves working with reservists because it is satisfying to see reservists relearn things they might not have done in years.

“[Reservists] come out of their everyday life to do this, [leaving] their family, their work,” she explained. “They don’t have anyone to force them to listen. So I really have to show them how much I know in order to keep their attention.”

Though she loves her job, Cpl. Ostrin has dealt with hardships during her service. First, due to a filing error, she was placed in the wrong course for several months. She fought for what she wanted, including writing letters, making phone calls, begging her higher ups and even spending a whole day trying to convince different placement officers. They finally agreed to correct the situation.

After all the stress of trying to get into the right training track, Cpl. Ostrin received some hard news that would affect every aspect of her life. Due to a job promotion, her parents were leaving Israel and moving to the U.K. When her mother presented the situation to her and her brother, Cpl. Ostrin at first told them they should not leave. However, she later realized she is independent enough to thrive on her own, thanks to the new sense of independence she learned from serving in the IDF.

“If my parents would have told me they were leaving before I entered the army, I don’t know how I would have dealt with it. But the army teaches you certain skills that force you to become your own person and be independent,” she said.

Since her parents moved, Cpl. Ostrin has been getting by as a lone soldier, especially thanks to her fellow soldiers. She said have become more like family than just friends. They have invited Cpl. Ostrin and her brother over holidays, weekends, and when she was sick, her fellow soldiers picked her up from to take her to doctor appointments.

Now that things have settled down, Cpl Ostrin is enjoying every minute of her job. She has already begun receiving job offers to work on bomb squads and similar security-related teams both in Israel and abroad, but is focusing on the present. “Serving in the army, in a job I wanted to do, is more rewarding than anything else. I’m doing it for the good of the people around me and the good of the country.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/idf-blog-blogs/meet-a-19-year-old-explosives-expert/2013/08/08/

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