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May 31, 2016 / 23 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Can a Therapist Destroy a Marriage?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

According to an article on the OU website by Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, the answer to the question asked in the title of this post is yes. The specific culprit according to Rabbi Slatkin is individual therapy. A therapist will counsel only one spouse in a marriage. That – he says ends up becoming an advocacy for that spouse instead of a balanced approach to finding solutions to a troubled marriage.

While I think that is an oversimplification (as I think would Rabbi Slatkin) there is merit to his argument. But if one is to read the comments to his article one would think that this internationally renowned relationship therapist was guilty of professional heresy.

Most of those commenting on this article are themselves professionals. But I think they mostly missed his point. He did not say that individual therapy is never effective or beneficial. What he said is that it can and often does leads to erroneous conclusions about the client’s spouse… and that the marriage could be saved if both husband and wife were counseled together. And as a result divorce is encouraged when in fact that marriage might be saved.

Of course it isn’t individual therapy alone that is the problem. A lot depends on the cultural biases of the therapist. For example, if a couple begins their marriage committed to a specific religious way of life and later one of them decides to alter their commitment in ways that contradicts what they agreed upon, a therapist with a cultural bias against the pressures of religion may support that spouse’s desire to break the bonds of that religion in favor of self actualization. This also breaks the commitment made at the beginning of the marriage. If this is done without any input from the other spouse – it rises to the level of professional malpractice.

Not that there aren’t often other problems pressuring a troubled marriage. But a therapist that focuses too much on the personal autonomy of a client may inadvertently be destroying a salvageable marriage. That is much more likely to happen when there is no input from the other side.

This does not mean that every therapist that practices individual therapy in troubled marriages will make bad decisions. Nor does it mean that in some cases freedom from some of those strictures isn’t warranted. But without full input from both sides – a fair and unbiased evaluation of a marriage is impossible. It is therefore easy to understand why Rabbi Slatkin feels so strongly about it.

It is also true that there are incompetent therapists who give bad counsel a couple when treated together. So the bottom line for me is competence. But I also share Rabbi Slatkin’s concern.

Tangentially there is something else I find troubling. Often when a Rav is consulted about getting therapy he will recommend that only a religious therapist be consulted. Being religious is nice but it should not be the primary concern. Again, competence should be. As long as a therapist has respect for the ways of others and is not judgmental about the strictures of their religion – the therapist’s religion or level of observance should not be a concern. I know some pretty bad frum therapists and some top notch secular therapists. The suggestion that a therapist be first and foremost a religious Jew is bad advice.

Getting back to Rabbi Slatkin – his goal is keeping marriages together. And for good reason. Divorce can be devastating on children in so many ways. Including but not limited to their Yiddishkeit. It can also permanently affect the way their children see marriage… as a negative state of being. It can also cause them to go OTD. It can affect their progress in school and their social skills.

Rabbi Slatkin is therefore very upset that divorce is so often the solution recommended by individual therapists who urge their clients to free themselves from the bonds of marriage.

The fact is that a good marriage does take a lot of work. It takes a lot of compromise and sacrifice. There is a lot less me-ism and a lot more we-ism. When two worlds collide in a marriage it can cause a giant explosion. And there are always two worlds. No two people are exactly alike. They each bring their own baggage to a marriage. And often when two people get married they do not always look for the most important qualities in each other that will make the marriage work. Like temperament and the ability to compromise. Or compatibility of ideals.

Harry Maryles

Bill Clinton as Father of the Year

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

The news that Bill Clinton was chosen as father of the year by The National Father’s Day Council has brought for the scoffers. Really, the dude with Monica Lewinsky? The man who humiliated his wife?

They’re wrong. A man can be an imperfect husband and still be a great Dad. In fact, it’s become something of a national crisis. There are way too many men who love their kids more than their wives when, in truth, a healthy marriage dictates that the relationship between the parents always has to come first.

Countless wives who have come to me for counseling complain that they are married to indifferent, unromantic, selfish husbands. Yet, when I ask them, “Does he neglect his kids the way he neglects you?,” the majority of the time they say, “Actually, no. He’s a great Dad.” Even women who have divorced their husbands and told me what miserable marriages they were in will then tell me that, remarkably, their ex continues to be an engaged and loving Dad.

I’m reading The Patriarch, David Nasaw’s magisterial book about Joseph Kennedy. What the biography shows is that Kennedy was a deeply anti-Semitic, compulsively adulterous, misogynist. But boy did he love his kids. A man who put making money before almost all else, the exception was dropping everything whenever his kids were ill. To be sure, there were horror stories like the lobotomy of his daughter Rosemarie. But by and large, though he was an awful, philandering husband who  his wife with endless affairs, he was extremely attached to his kids.

Which brings us to Bubba.

A few months ago, while I was sitting at the JCC in Manhattan at a lecture that featured my friend Rabbi Marc Schneier of Westhampton and was moderated by Chelsea Clinton, I was suddenly disturbed by a rush of men with noodles coming out of their ears. Bill Clinton came in and sat in the seat right in front of me. His daughter was on stage and he wanted to see her. He arrived very quietly and was clearly there to show his daughter support. Then, this past Summer, Clinton toured a country very close to my heart, Rwanda, for his Clinton Global Initiative. In so many of the pictures he is walking around with one hand on his daughter’s shoulder. Not even his biggest critics deny that he is a loving and involved father who has given his daughter great confidence in herself as a woman, even as he has, most assuredly, caused her pain by acts of unfaithfulness that hurt her mother, all the more so because they were so public.

The two are not incongruous. You can be a great father even if you’re not exactly the greatest spouse.

Of course, it’s best to try and be both.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

The Dangers of Favoring One Child Over Another

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I’ve always seen Jacob as characterized by two central yet seemingly contradictory facets. On the one hand he is the patriarch who is always around his kids. He is a father and a husband first and foremost. A really family man. On the other hand, his family appears to be deeply dysfunctional, with strife, bitterness, and jealousy rending the family asunder.

Beginning with the time he was as boy Jacob witnessed his father Isaac’s favoritism toward Esau. When he gets older Jacob repeats this error by favoring Joseph. It’s unbelievable that the Torah actually says, “And Jacob (Israel) loved his son Joseph more than all his other sons.” Which father does that, or is so blatant about it?

This leads, of course, to enormous, almost deadly resentment toward Joseph from his elder siblings. But in this past Shabbat’s Torah reading, just when you think that the family is finally united and things are healed, Jacob does it again. In Egypt, in his dying moment, after Joseph has forgiven his brothers their attempt and fratricide and brought everyone together, saving them from famine, Jacob first seeks to bless Joseph’s children, but not necessarily the children of his other sons. And second, he gives the first-born blessing to Efraim, and not Menashe, who is the older son.

What is it about Jacob that he seemingly can’t stop the favoritism? When Joseph objects and essentially says, “Please father, bless Menashe first, for he is the firstborn,” Jacob responds, within earshot of the older boy, “I know, my son. I know. And while he will grow to be a great man, he will be outdone by his brother.” Surely Menashe didn’t feel good hearing this.

Is this simply a case of family dysfunction becoming a family heirloom, passed from generation to generation? I have seen this hundreds of times with families I have counseled. The same toxic patterns are repeated from parent to child to parent to child. Studies show, for example, the high prevalence of repetitive adultery in families. If your parents cheated, there is a likelihood that you will cheat as well. The same is true of divorce. Children of divorce have a far higher rate than the national average.

Is that what this is about? Abraham favored one son, Isaac, and cast off Ishmael, albeit with Sarah’s prodding and even God’s acquiescence. Isaac repeats the favoritism with Esau, thereby scarring Jacob deeply. And Jacob repeats it first with Joseph, then with Joseph’s children, and then with just one of Joseph’s son. Seemingly unable to break free of the pattern, Jacob’s family remains divided by bitter jealousies.

This might explain why Jacob, in last week’s Torah reading, makes one of the more startling statements of the Torah. When introduced to Pharaoh and asked how old he is, presumably because he looks older than his years, Jacob responds, “I am 147 years old. My life has been short and bitter, and has not reached the length of my ancestors.” Whoa. Talk about a downer.

But there are few things in life that can cause greater pain than family dysfunction and continual fighting. No parent likes watching their children assail each other.  Jacob was worn down by the constant strife. But he also seems challenged to rise above its basic causes.

Amid the Bible’s descriptions of his paternal shortcomings, I have always identified with Jacob more than any other Biblical personality, with the exception possibly of King David (whose humanity is so vividly detailed in the Bible). The reason: Jacob is so lifelike, complex, and real. He is a man whose righteousness is defined not by perfection but by a constant striving to live by the will of God amid the scarring he has endured and the human limitations that tie the hands of us all. He is the father of his nation, named for that constant wrestling and striving, “Israel, he who wrestles with God.”

To use a modern example, Abraham would be like George Washington, seemingly perfect and inscrutable. The marble man. One, the father of monotheism. The other, the father of his nation. But Jacob would be Jefferson. Jefferson, the quintessential American. The man of great complexity and even greater contradictions. But the true author of our independence. The man who, is his multifaceted, intricate nature captures the true spirit of America in all its glory, its virtue, its inconsistencies, and its shortcomings.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Desperately Craving Normal

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Note: This article was written on Friday, December 7th, 2012.

Normal is that status where life just is. Normal is when you don’t hear sirens in your head, listen for ambulances, imagine the phone ringing. When your country is at war, when your son is a soldier, when you have friends and family living in areas where rockets are falling, you crave normal to a level that I doubt most normal people can understand.

Normal.

There are so many things that aren’t normal about life here. Having a pile of gas masks in a corner of the room isn’t normal. Buying 12 bottles of water to take to your son’s unit isn’t normal and when you end up not delivering them so they are in your house – normal would be to drink them. Not normal is to take six of them and put them in a room that has been specially built to withstand missiles and explosions.

No, having a bomb shelter in your home isn’t normal either.

Normal is a day like today – and they come so rarely here. The sun is shining. The sweet challah dough is rising on the counter. I made a blueberry pie and soon I’ll be making a spinach/broccoli casserole and a carrot casserole. That’s normal. The soup is boiling on the stove and the house is filled with the scent of that and the finished chicken cooling on the table.

Normal.

Tonight my daughter and her husband and baby will be staying over – Elie and Lauren will come over, along with Lauren’s cousin, who is a soldier. Technically, he’s a lone soldier because his parents live in the States, but he’s got Lauren, who is as close as any sister could be; he’s got an adopted family near Jerusalem, another nearer to the center of the company.

Davidi is home this weekend, though right now he’s taking a shift on the ambulance squad. Chanukah is coming Saturday night – we’ll light the first candle.

I’ll make the potato pancakes my mother-in-law taught me to make. We’ll sit around and talk and be a family and somewhere in all that normal, I’ll push away the thought that we have to work so hard to reach normal, it just isn’t normal.

Aliza told me that when the siren went off, she cried. The children went running to shelter and she was frightened. I don’t remember what we were talking about, why she mentioned it but we all have this poison inside ourselves that we have to release.

On Sunday, I’m going with a group of women to Netivot. It’s a closed group from all over Israel and we share our mornings and our thoughts and meet a few times a year. I missed the last meeting, decided I really wanted to go to this one and so we are stealing a day and traveling to Netivot, so close to Gaza. There, we’ll go shopping to help the local community.

I don’t know what I’ll buy – I don’t usually go shopping on Sundays…I’ll find something. I’ll go there to that beautiful city and I’ll buy something and most of all, I’ll crave normal. I won’t listen for a siren or an announcement that there’s an incoming missile.

It’s too soon, anyway. The Arabs still have what to get from this short period of quiet. They are sitting back and letting the world condemn Israel for whatever the latest complaint is about. That’s okay – that’s kind of normal too. What would a week be without some nation somewhere finding fault in what we do – ignoring all that others do?

Syria is about to fire chemical weapons at its own people; Egypt is hounding demonstrators in the street. There is unease in so many places – perhaps, perhaps I’m wrong and Israel is the most normal country in the world.

At least we find islands of peace each week; at least we find ways to simulate normal. Yes, I have a bomb shelter in my house – but it’s also got a bed in there and an extra freezer, some bookshelves, tons of books. It looks like a normal room – it’s even painted pink. The only sign that it isn’t a normal room comes from the door as you enter, and the second metal window outside.

I haven’t managed to open the metal yet. Elie and his father quickly ran to slam it closed when the first siren went off and it has been closed since then. Maybe I’ll know normal is back when one of us opens those metal shutters?

Tonight, I’ll light the Shabbat candles; tomorrow we’ll begin lighting the Chanukah candles. I guess that is the normal that is Israel.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Paula R. Stern

US President Barack Obama Issues a Statement for Hanukkah

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

President Barack Obama’s statement for Hanukkah:

Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Hanukkah around the world.

This Hanukkah season we remember the powerful story of the Maccabees who rose up to liberate their people from oppression. Upon discovering the desecration of their Temple, the believers found only enough oil to light the lamp for one night. And yet it lasted for eight.

Hanukkah is a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but it is also an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize the common aspirations we share. This holiday season, let us give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, and remain mindful of those who are suffering. And let us reaffirm our commitment to building a better, more complete world for all.

From our family to the Jewish Community around the world, Chag Sameach.

Malkah Fleisher

Rama Burshtein: A Window Into Her World

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

“Fill the Void” is the title of Rama Burshtein’s film that played to critical acclaim at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and earned seven Ophir Awards — the Israeli Oscars — including one for best film and best director, and has become Israel’s entry into the 2012 Oscars’ foreign language category.

What is this film that has generated so much professional interest?

Amazingly, it’s the story of an average family in a strictly religious, charedi, community in Tel Aviv. It focuses on the family’s 18 year-old-daughter Shira who is in the throws of her first attempts at arranged dating. In the process, unbeknownst to him, Shira spots her intended in the dairy section of the supermarket and a spark is ignited, setting off preparations for the wedding. Then tragedy strikes: Shira’s older sister Esther dies in childbirth, and the family, crushed by grief, delays the wedding. As Esther’s husband, Yochai, is encouraged to remarry a widow living in Belgium, Shira’s mother, desperate to keep her only grandchild in the country, pleads with Shira to marry Yochai instead, and become mother to her older sister’s child.

It is a moving but simple story whose uniqueness lies in that it is a film about charedi life directed by a charedi woman, exposing the true nature of that world for a secular audience. “I felt it was time to tell a story from within, and say something that comes from really living the life,” Rama Burshtein, member of the Tel Aviv charedi community, said. “That’s what I felt was important: to just tell a story that has no connection with the regular subjects that you deal with when you talk about the Orthodox world. People don’t know much about this world, so it’s not a question of celebration or criticism, it’s a window into this world.”

The film offers a rare glimpse into the Orthodox way of life, its customs and traditions, but also deals with the wider themes of relationships and family pressures.

Mrs. Burshtein, a native New Yorker who grew up in Tel Aviv, became religious

at age 25, shortly after graduating from Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School.

“I love this world, I chose it, I was not born in it,” she told reporters.

In preparation for the filming, she spoke with members of her own community – women who had married their sisters’ widowers – and found a surprising phenomenon: the marriages contracted for the sake of fulfilling religious and family obligations evolved into relationships of love.

“At the beginning of the research, it sounded like it was impossible to understand how it works,” Burshtein said. “And then at the end of it, it was like the natural thing to do, to marry within the family.”

With the backing of her rabbi, Ms.Burshtein began production in January 2011 in a tiny Tel Aviv apartment, not far from the home she shares with her husband and four children. Her three sons and daughter, all in their teens, are enthusiastic supporters of her work. On all occasions Rama takes time to express her thanks to them and to her loyal husband, a highly respected public figure in the charedi world.

By opening a window to the charedi world I believe Rama Burshtein, even without the predicted Academic Award, has done a great benefit for Jewish life in Israel which is in dire need in improvement.

Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson

The Story Of Chanukah: ‘I Think I Can’

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Chanukah is just about upon us and Jews across the planet are looking forward to family gatherings, delicious food (you can’t feel too guilty eating oily latkes and high carb donuts on the chag – hey, it’s practically a mitzvah to do so); giving and receiving gifts and in general celebrating our survival – our spiritual continuance as God-fearing Jews. (Our physical survival is an event we acknowledge on Purim.)

Chanukah commemorates two unlikely events – the triumph of the Jews over the Greeks and their pagan culture, and the lasting of a small jar of kosher oil – meant to burn in the Temple menorah just a day – for an extra seven days until more kosher oil could be produced.

Anyone betting on a rag-tag of Jews, led not by a trained warrior, but by a Kohen, a peaceful cleric, to defeat a vastly superior armed Greek forces would have been viewed as crazy.

So too, anyone betting the Temple oil would burn longer than 24 hours.

But, despite the mind-boggling odds of either event happening, the Jews were not deterred and went ahead with their plans. They had faith, both in themselves and in Hashem.

It is said that God helps those who helps themselves. But the person has to take the initiative, that first crucial step.

Many of us are familiar with the popular children’s story of the little engine that takes on an undertaking that bigger, stronger, more “qualified” engines refuse to accept. They are realistic in their refusal to attempt something they feel is extremely difficult, if not impossible to do. They are convinced they will fail, so why bother?

The little engine, however, despite the fact he was not designed to pull a large train, thinks he just might be able to do so. At the very least, he will attempt this formidable challenge. If he doesn’t try, then for sure he won’t succeed.

Fuelled by a positive attitude and great optimism, he is willing to give it his best shot – even if the laws of physics are not in his favour.

There is a life-enhancing lesson here that we should take to heart: Do not let the facts on the ground ever deter you from trying to reach a goal.

It might be amusing for some to discover (like I did) that this message of “going for it,” despite the “facts” staring you in the face, was often brought forth decades ago in the very popular science-fiction series, “Star Trek.” Frequently, the chief engineer of the spaceship exploring the galaxy would be ordered by the captain “to get us out of here.” Depending on the theme of the episode, the spaceship would be in imminent danger of being destroyed by an exploding asteroid; swallowed up by a space monster the size of a planet; about to be blown up to smithereens by alien forces or trapped forever in another dimension – unless it immediately went to warp speed and high-tailed it out of there.

Often the captain would tell the chief engineer that he had several minutes to repair the disabled warp drive. And the chief engineer, in a reproachful voice, would tell the captain that he needed at least a few minutes to do so – that he “couldn’t change the laws of physics.” But he would always try, and he always succeeded.

Of course this was television, and a happy ending was necessary for the show to continue. But the lesson to be gleaned here, as exemplified by the story of Chanukah, is that you can’t let pessimism stop you from taking on a difficult challenge, you can’t admit defeat before you even attempt what seems likely to be futile.

You may be faced with seemingly insurmountable odds: you are an older single; you have a physical handicap; you have learning disabilities; you have kids off the derech; you have severe shalom bayit issues, you have been out of work for a long time. There is no shortage of problems to tackle and goals to achieve. But it is crucial to make the effort to “fix” the situation.

Often multiple attempts to resolve your issues end in failure. You want to give up – no more putting yourself in an uncomfortable, even demeaning situation, like continuing to ask friend and casual acquaintance alike if they can think of a shidduch for you or a job. Or going for marital counselling- again, or for yet another invasive, costly fertility treatment.

Cheryl Kupfer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/on-our-own/the-story-of-chanukah-i-think-i-can/2012/12/06/

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