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October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘GPS’

GPS To The Rescue

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

These days, even people with a bad sense of direction can travel with ease. Since the invention of the GPS, people have confidence that they will find their way.

Recently, my husband and a group of men from his shul drove up to Canada to attend a wedding. It was not easy, as they had to take off from work and drive for many hours, attend the wedding for a few hours, and then drive back so as to get to work on time the next morning. The onset of the drive was a little unnerving, as the car overheated even before they left. They switched cars and took my husband’s car. Since he had not planned to take his car, the group had to stop for gas before leaving Brooklyn.

The trip was pleasant, and the men took turns driving. After about eight hours, they arrived at their destination. They thoroughly enjoyed the simcha and were glad to bring joy to the hosting family. When they prepared to go home, they had to once again fill up with gas. Determining that the price of gas in Canada was outrageous, they decided to stop on the highway to fill up. As it was the middle of the night, many gas stations were already closed.

Thank God for the GPS, as it enumerated locations of gas stations. The gas gauge indicated that they only had enough gas for three more miles. What if the next gas station was also closed? It was located two miles off the highway and, if it was closed, they would only be left with one mile of gas – not even enough to get them back to the highway.

To follow or not follow the GPS – that was the question!

The men began saying Tehillim, hoping that the GPS was not leading them to a closed gas station. After two miles, they arrived at a gas station that was still open. They were able to fill up and drive home uneventfully. GPS to the rescue!

Did you ever ask yourself what those three letters stood for?

How about God Provides Security?

And that is exactly what happened.

Name Withheld Upon Request

Dealing With The Explosive Child

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

“Tatty, this isn’t the way we usually go home.”

“I know Mendy. I just thought we’d go a different way this time.”

“But Ta, this isn’t the right way!”

“It’s okay Mendy. This way might even be faster.”


“Mendy, it’s okay to go a different way once in a while.”


Kaboom! That’s what we experience when there is an explosion. And that’s exactly what we feel like when we are dealing with an “explosive” child. For those of you who don’t understand what I’m talking about, consider yourselves blessed. But those who know exactly what it means for a child to “explode” for no apparent reason understand what a tremendous challenge this is. It’s like living inside a simmering volcano. As one frustrated mother put it, “We are in a perpetual state of crisis.”

First of all, how do we define “explosive” children? After all, most children will throw a temper tantrum or “act out” once in a while. Hasn’t everyone experienced the irrational youngster screaming for no reason in shul or at the supermarket? Chances are that you, as the adult, were cringing with embarrassment. You couldn’t wait to get home.

Now consider the “explosive” child who acts this way on a consistent basis. Explosive children are easily frustrated, demanding and inflexible. When things don’t go their way, they react with violence and rage. Their siblings are afraid of them. Their parents are terrified of setting off the next outburst. They have an impossible time holding on to friends. And, like Mendy, they can erupt in tantrums, kicking, screaming, sudden outbursts, verbal and physical aggression, in response to relatively benign situations.

It makes a parent feel both helpless and angry at the same time – helpless at the thought of having no control whatsoever over the situation and angry that their child insists on behaving irrationally and well beyond acceptable modes of behavior.

So, what’s a parent to do? First of all, we must understand that this is nobody’s fault. And just as you’re not in control of what’s going on, neither is your child. Children are explosive because of a variety of reasons having to do with their brain chemistry, their inability to absorb levels of frustration and their inability to react in a certain manner. Living with an explosive child is not a pleasant situation, to be sure. But if we try to understand what makes this happen, we can begin to work on minimizing the eruptions and helping the child behave more like a normal kid.

Dr. Ross W. Greene PhD wrote the classic parenting guide to dealing with explosive children. He offers a new approach to understanding and parenting easily frustrated and chronically inflexible children like Mendy. His work is important for parents of explosive children who want to help their child. But it’s also filled with good ideas for parents of any child who is sometimes stubborn, unyielding and prone to frustration.

Dr. Greene understands the pain of parents who are actually fearful that an explosion will erupt at any moment. “Mental health professionals,” he says, “have bestowed myriad diagnoses on these children. However, a simple label doesn’t begin to explain the upheaval, turmoil and trauma that these outbursts cause.”

Imagine that you were planning a pleasant outing with your family. You were going to have a picnic in the park, but when you woke up that morning it was raining and you just couldn’t go. Your children would be disappointed, to be sure, but they would probably eventually adapt to the situation and agree on a different activity.

The explosive child can’t do that. He lacks the skills needed to process the information and handle the disappointment. Instead, he breaks into a tantrum and begins to scream. It’s not making him happy. He just doesn’t know what else to do.

Of course, most of us would become frustrated ourselves when dealing with this behavior. We start reasoning with the child, but that doesn’t work. Then we raise our voice, we set down rules, we threaten and sometimes we even engage in a shouting match with the child. All of these methods are self-destructive. They simply don’t work.

Dr. Greene suggests a refreshingly different approach. He lays down two important rules. One — think clearly. Two — stay calm. Sounds easy, right? But when you’re caught in the middle of an explosion that’s out of control, especially when you’re in public, it’s not easy at all. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things that we, as parents, can do.

Now here’s what we shouldn’t do. One — never turn the explosive situation into a power struggle.

Consider the story of Mendy and his father. It could have gone something like this:

“Tatty, this isn’t the way we usually go home.”

“I know, Mendy. I just thought we’d go a different way this time.”

“But Ta, this isn’t the right way!”

“It’s okay Mendy. This way might even be faster.”

“We can’t go this way! It’s not the same! I don’t know this way!”

“Mendy, I’m the driver, and what I say goes. This is the way we’re going home and I don’t want to hear any more about it!”


“Mendy, I command you to stop this right now! I’m counting to three and if you don’t stop screaming, you will be severely punished! 1… 2… 3…! Mendy, stop it right now!!”

Clearly, this method of controlling Mendy’s behavior is going nowhere fast. If anything, it’s just escalating the tension and making an impossible situation even worse.

Now let’s consider the other option that many parents use. And that’s no-no number two — never give in to all of the explosive child’s unreasonable expectations. Back to Mendy —

“We can’t go this way Ta! It’s not the right way!”

“Okay, Mendy, calm down. See? I’m making a U-turn right now and getting us back on the other road. We’ll go the regular way, just like you want to.”

Giving in to Mendy might relieve the tension for a short while. It may even avoid a really ugly temper tantrum. But it won’t solve a thing. It’s only a matter of time until some other situation comes up, one which may be impossible to give in to, and you’ll be back at square one in no time.

So what’s the proper way to deal with this type of behavior? First we have to understand what’s causing it. If we can recognize that Mendy can’t respond properly to the cognitive demands being made, we can try to “walk him through” the situation and help him formulate a better response. It’s like his brain is “locked” and he can’t think things through logically. So we’re going to have to unlock his brain and do the thinking for him.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say Sureleh wants an ice cream, but there aren’t any left in the freezer. The scenario might go something like this:

“I want my ice cream NOW! I want to have it! I have to have it!”

“Okay, Sureleh. You want your ice cream. I understand that. Why? What’s up?”

“I’m very hungry!!”

“I see. You’re hungry and you want ice cream. But you can’t have any because the freezer is empty. And that’s making you angry. I think I know what we can do. Maybe we can call the store and see if they’re open late tonight. Or maybe we can eat a different snack instead of ice cream. Do you have any other ideas, Sureleh?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just call the store already before it’s too late.”

Notice how Sureleh’s mother empathized with her daughter and “walked her through” the thinking process. She validated Sureleh’s disappointment by verbalizing it. Then she offered alternatives to eating the ice cream. This technique works well for kids like Sureleh because they don’t have the emotional maturity to come up with these alternatives themselves. Yet, when a parent offers the solutions, it calms them down considerably to the point where the explosion is very often completely avoided.

Sureleh’s mother’s solution might sound simplistic, but it isn’t. It also may sound easy to adapt, but believe me when I tell you that it is not. Once the explosion is well under way, these children are already out of control and kicking and screaming. Parents feel a little silly repeating the child’s request and offering solutions like some kind of a robot while this emotional outburst is going on. It doesn’t matter. If we persevere by putting in the effort and continuing to follow this plan, in the end chances are good that the explosions will decrease dramatically. The goal is for him or her to eventually be able to process the solutions s/he needs to handle difficult situations all by himself.

I’ve seen explosive children benefit greatly from this type of intervention and I’m a tremendous advocate of Dr. Greene’s approach. Using this technique can bring wonderful results. What’s really nice about it is that it’s not uniquely effective with explosive children. I’ve seen successful results when it’s utilized with any child who decides to throw a tantrum or become generally irrational and uncooperative. I welcome any parent who wants help in using this technique to contact me. I’d be happy to explain it in detail.

Living with an explosive child is frightening, frustrating and overwhelming. But when we stop and think that the child is pretty unhappy, and probably plenty scared, about what’s happening to him, we see things differently. If we understand the issues involved and deal with them correctly in a consistent manner, half the battle is won. Now back to our friend Mendy —

“Ta, we can’t go this way! It’s not the same! I don’t know this way!”

“Okay Mendy. You want to go the other way. I understand that. You don’t know how to go this way and I can see that it’s making you angry. I think I know what we can do. We can continue to go this way, because it’s faster, and you can see how it gets us home on the GPS system. Or you can call Uncle Moish on the cell phone and ask him if he knows how to get home this way. That way you won’t be so angry. Do you want me to set up the GPS for you now? Or do you have any other ideas?”

“Oh never mind. Let’s just get home already!”

An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net.

Rifka Schonfeld

Protecting Our Children

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I wait at the airport for the arrival of my youngest son, along with his wife and baby. Upon arrival, they will rent a car and make their way in an unfamiliar city to his oldest brother’s house.

I took two connecting trains to get here. I have no idea how to travel by car from the airport to my son’s house, as I am also a visitor.

But I’d rather pace at the airport than in my son’s living room. I’d rather wait here and greet them, and sit with them in their rental car as their GPS guides (or as often happens misguides) them to our destination. This is better than tossing and turning in bed while fighting the temptation to call every few minutes, asking, “Where are you?” – and annoying and distracting them to no end.

Why the worry and anxiety? After all, my son and daughter-in-law are intelligent, competent young adults. The answer is obvious. Age, ability and brains aren’t guarantees against disasters.

Years of traveling – mostly between Canada and the U.S., with some overseas travel – and of hearing too many stomach-churning stories about accidents to and from the airport, missed or canceled flights, and “interrogations” by overzealous, possibly anti-Semitic border guards and security personnel, have made me very wary and uneasy. So to keep my blood pressure at a safe level, I make it my business to be informed of my traveling kids’ whereabouts.

Summer goes hand in hand with traveling. Young people especially are on the move, and many go backpacking through Europe or Asia, or tour on their way to Israel during their post-high school yeshiva or seminary year. Although the great majority travels safely and with no hassles, mishaps can and do happen. Thus I suggest the following travel rule:

If the traveler is going alone to the airport, he should let someone know that he arrived safely. If he is going on an international flight, he should call after clearing security, perhaps after he has boarded.

The reason: If, chas v’shalom, he does not show up at his destination, those concerned will have an idea of where to start looking – and where not to look.

It is not unheard of for travelers, especially young people, to be subjected to extra questioning while crossing a border. This once happened to my son in Turkey, and to me years ago when I flew from Toronto to the U.S. I was taken to a private room and asked if I was from Jamaica. My guess is that a driver’s license that I had lost a year earlier had somehow surfaced there in the wrong hands.

Here are the facts: identity theft is on the rise, or due to a name similar to someone on a criminal/terrorist watch list, you can be detained. This might be why I was held for over an hour, almost missing my flight.

Several years ago one of my sons flew in from Israel for his older brother’s wedding. He was taking a cab from Yerushalayim to Ben-Gurion airport, and arriving at dawn on Sunday. I urged him to call and leave a message once he was at the boarding gate. It was still Shabbos in North America and I would not be able to call his cell phone.

To my great relief he called from the plane after boarding, saving my mental health because the next morning, while waiting at the airport, he did not exit – at least not with the rest of the flight. I waited and waited, and started worrying when passengers from a later flight began exiting from the restricted area.

But because of his call I knew that he had safely arrived at Ben-Gurion, and that he had made it through security.

So despite being a no-show more than an hour after landing, I knew that he made the flight and I would not have to look for him in an Israeli hospital or detention cell. He was in New York, and possibly being delayed by immigration/customs at JFK. I could deal with that. As it turned out, he had been searching for the missing bag that carried his brother’s wedding present. Apparently, it did not make it onto the plane.

Without the phone call letting me know he was boarding his flight, I would have – for a horrendous long hour – imagined the worst.

The kids might think you are overreacting by asking them to check in. But the world isn’t perfect, and bad things happen to the best and smartest people. It’s in both their best interest to call, and your own peace of mind for them to invest in that 10- second call. It’s a win-win situation.

It’s also a must for anyone leaving their house, even for a short while, to carry ID with an emergency contact number or two. If there are babies or non-verbal toddlers involved, it is crucial that family members be immediately found and notified so that the already traumatized children can be quickly placed with soothing, familiar faces.

A little foresight and thoughtfulness can go a long way in preventing needless emotional distress.

Cheryl Kupfer

Image And Preparation: Two Critical Keys To Success

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Now that you know how to research companies before an interview, the next step in the process is to present the proper image and be fully prepared for the face-to-face meeting.

Based on your winning resume, the people you’re scheduled to meet have a mental image of how great and professional you are – so don’t disappoint them. In my years of interviewing men and women for all types of jobs, if a candidate’s appearance showed me they did not take themselves seriously, I would interview them more stringently and never give them the benefit of the doubt. Most interviewers I know feel the same way.

I am a firm believer in the adage, “dress for success.” For some frum people (especially men) this is a new concept that needs to be taken seriously, especially if you are interviewing with a company in the outside world. Therefore I suggest you ask the person who set up the interview (your recruiter, the person in your network who referred you, or a company HR contact) what the appropriate dress for an interview is, and if they know how the people who will interview you will be dressed.

No matter what the job is, and whatever they tell you, I suggest that you dress like a professional. People will not lose respect for you if you overdress for the occasion, but they will if you are sloppy, dress too casually, or too ethnically.

If you don’t have an outfit that creates a professional image, buy some new clothes and look at it as an investment for your future. Or you can borrow clothes from someone who is your size.

For men this would be a dark suit or a coordinated sports jacket and slacks, with a solid-colored white or blue shirt and matching tie that is not too dull or too loud. This holds true even if the company dress code is business casual, unless you are specifically told what to wear. I stress wearing a tie even if you’re unaccustomed to wearing one.

For women this advice is even more important, since there is a perceived inequality between you and a man applying for the same job. It is important that you wear an outfit that fits well, looks good on you, and makes you feel good about yourself. Avoid open-toe shoes and high heels (even if you are short) and do not over-accessorize your outfit. Also tone down the use of makeup, hair spray and jewelry.

Men should get a haircut if needed, and take a clean shave or beard trim the morning of the interview. Women should make sure their hair or sheitel is cleaned, cut and styled for the interview. This should be done one or two days in advance, as grooming should not be left for the last minute.

I suggest caution for both men and women when it comes to perfume or cologne. Remember that quite a number of people are allergic to perfume, so I suggest not wearing any or putting it on a few hours before the interview. Whatever you do, don’t apply it right before the interview.

Here’s an image checklist for the night before your interview:


1: Check that your outfit still fits you and that it is clean, freshly pressed, and has no rips, stains or frays.


2: Make sure your shoes are polished. This may seem trivial but it is essential, since interviewers put a premium on how your shoes look.


3: Men should ensure that their socks match, while women should make certain that their hose has no runs. They should carry a spare pair – just in case.


One thing that is inexcusable for an interview is not arriving at least 10 minutes early. This is why I implore you to know exactly where you’re going and how you will get there. If it is by public transportation, know which train or bus goes there and at which stop to get off. Plan one or more alternate routes in the event of an unforeseen problem.


If driving, use MapQuest and have an alternate route in case of unforeseen traffic or construction delays. Inquire about parking upon arrival, and its cost – if any. If you are not 100 percent sure how to get there, and how long it takes, make a prior test at the same time of day.


Make sure your GPS and cell phone are fully charged, and that you have the phone number and extension of the contact person programmed into your phone in the event you are unavoidably delayed.  Most important, if you schedule two or more interviews for the same day, make sure you leave enough time between them in case the first one runs longer than expected.


Perry Newman, CPC is president/CEO of First Impressions Resumes in Brooklyn, and has over 30 years experience as a resume writer, career coach and executive recruiter. If you would like him to review your resume and offer free recommendations, e-mail it to perry@jewishpress.com. You can also call 646-894-4101 and request a free copy of his updated 2009 edition of Job Hunting in the 21st Century, compliments of The Jewish Press. This comprehensive handbook covers resume writing, networking and other key topics on how to conduct a successful job search in greater detail.

Perry Newman

Helping Our Children Deal With Tragedy (Conclusion)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

We are all aware of the terrible churban that recently took place in Yerushalayim’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, where eight precious neshamas were taken from us.

How can I explain and respond to my children when they ask why Hashem has punished these young innocent bachurim, who were the “cream of the crop?” What is going on in Eretz Yisrael (and in Sderot and Ashkelon in particular) is very frightening to kids, especially when young children are suffering so much.

How can we explain the right hashkafah to children who are questioning Hashem’s ways?


Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Perhaps the simplest way of explaining “tzaddik v’ra lo” (loosely translated as, “Why bad things seemingly happen to good people”) is to frame things as many sifrei machshavah do in terms of a linear timeline. The underlying theme is that one cannot properly comprehend events unless they can view the entire time frame associated with that occurrence. There are many variations of a common mashal (analogy) used by our chachamim to drive home this concept.

A well-known one tells the story of a city dweller who needed to spend time in the fresh-air environment of a farm while convalescing from an illness. As he had no understanding of the farming cycle, he was shocked and distraught to see a beautiful field plowed. “Why are you making this grass into mud?” he asked. The farmer told him to be patient if he wants to understand things. Things really turned south when he saw the farmer throwing wheat seeds into the ground. More waste and insanity, he thought. Again, the farmer told him to be patient. The city dweller felt better when he saw beautiful sheaves growing, but that quickly dissipated when he saw the threshing and grinding. On and on the story goes until the city dweller finally saw freshly baked bread. At that point, it all made sense to him.

The nimshal is simple but profound. In order to understand things, we need to see a full story. In the case of the farmer, it was a six-month event. In the case of making a scrambled egg, it is a five-minute timeline (Why did you break those perfectly good eggs?) However, Hashem’s world is timeless and mere humans cannot understand events in this world – as the timeline of our lives is so short compared to Hashem’s eternity.

This would explain the dialogue between Moshe and Hashem after the sin of the egel (Golden Calf). Moshe asked Hashem, “Hodi’eini na es derachecha – Please make your ways known to me” (Shemos 33:13). The Gemara (Berachos 7a) explains that Moshe wanted to understand the age-old question of why so many righteous people suffer while it often seems that the wicked are prospering. This understanding was the “derech” of Hashem that Moshe wanted to understand. Hashem informed him, “Lo suchal lir’os es pa’nai – You shall not be able to see My face” (Shemos 33:20).

Several pesukim later, Hashem informed Moshe that He would permit him to see the “back” of Hashem. To see one’s face is to examine every detail of their being. Moshe wanted a clear understanding of what transpires in this world. Hashem denied his request, not because He did not wish to grant it to Moshe, but rather because it is simply impossible for a human to understand all the details of Hashem’s world.

Hashem was explaining to Moshe that humans have a limited life span, and cannot always understand Hashem’s world. We cannot see the “face” of Hashem, as we are unable to see the larger picture. Just as flying in an airplane affords people a different view of the earth, so too Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and global view, sees things in a way that we humans cannot. Hashem, however, did grant Moshe the ability to see things in retrospect – to see the “back” of Hashem.

It is still extremely difficult to make sense of such a terrible tragedy even with this insight. Therefore, it may be helpful to offer another thought that many sifrei machshavah expand on. This relates to the concept of an exemplary person fulfilling his or her life mission in a shorter period of time. Once that mission is completed, Hashem calls that neshamah back to the heavens.

Whatever twists and turns this discussion takes, one theme that parents should stress to their children is that after all is said and done, we must have emunah (faith) in Hashem. I do not think that we ought to tell our children that we can explain everything – because we cannot.

While writing this column, a mashal was dropped on me by my son. He asked for some driving directions. It turned out that my directions were in conflict with both GPS and MapQuest (gasp!) I told my son, “Trust me.” And since I have given him good driving directions over a period of 10 years, he did.

Ultimately, it all boils down to bitachon. And it may be helpful to explain to our children that, just like we trust our parents because we have a reservoir of good faith, so too we need to place our faith in Hashem – who provides for our every need.

The tragic event in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva is really a microcosm of the history of our people. From the initial sale of Yosef that was so hard to understand when it occurred (but eventually resulted in the salvation of Yaakov’s children) and throughout the many generations, we have gone through very difficult times filled with seemingly inexplicable tragedies. And what sustained us though all those difficult times was our faith in Hashem.

It is interesting to note that when Hashem informed Moshe that he cannot see His “face,” chazal tell us that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of the tefillin. I would like to suggest that the image of a kesher is one of two individual straps joining together to form a knot. What happens is that the two straps become hidden from view at times, and actually reverse direction at times. But both straps emerge as a stronger and firmer unit. Perhaps this was the deep understanding that Hashem shared with Moshe; that although humans cannot understand why bad things seemingly happen to good people, eventually we become stronger as a result of these events.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

The Truth About RCA Geirus

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

         There is a sign hanging in my office that should be standard in the office of every rabbi, communal leader, worker for Klal Yisrael or activist of any sort. It reads: “For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.” And so goes the overheated, misleading, and at times blatantly false reaction by several of my distinguished RCA colleagues to the RCA’s recent promulgation of the Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS).
         Let us sort through the myths and the facts.
         Myth: The Jewish Week headlined its report “RCA Seen as Caving in on Conversions”  (to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel). That headline is a contemptible untruth. Having served from its inception on the GPS Committee that formulated the standards, I can state that the reality is the Rabbanut never once suggested an approach to conversion in America, a change in any of our standards, or the adoption of any of their standards.
         Myth: The GPS calls for the re-evaluation of all conversions done in the past by RCA rabbis. This is an especially despicable falsehood, as it serves only to make generations of converts in the Jewish community anxious about their status and acceptance in the community at large. The reality is that not one past geirus is being reviewed by the RCA or its Beth Din of America, and such was never contemplated. To even suggest otherwise is to blatantly violate the Torah’s numerous admonitions against tormenting the ger.
         Myth: The RCA is shifting “to the right” (whatever that means) and has now adopted a series of harsh and restrictive regulations that will hinder the ability of non-Jews to convert. The reality is that these standards are not new, but an expression of the majority opinion in halacha as interpreted through the ages and historically applied by the overwhelming majority of RCA rabbis involved in geirus.
         The proximate cause of the promulgation of the GPS was the sense – here and in Israel – that some rabbis, both inside and outside the RCA, were not adhering to any reasonable benchmark by which geirus has traditionally been executed. This situation had to be rectified in order to protect the integrity of geirus in America and to facilitate a convert’s acceptance in Israel should he or she choose to make aliyah.
         Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will sit in judgment of each American geirus – past, present and future. Well, there is a kernel of truth in every bushel of lies. But this point is nothing new. Certainly the Rabbanut has no standing (or interest) to review the geirus that occurs outside Israel until and unless there is some Israel nexus, such as when the convert makes aliyah. But this has always been the case.
         As a pulpit rabbi, I have provided dozens of affidavits to the Rabbanut attesting to the Jewishness of my members who were born Jews or who converted according to halacha andwho wished to make aliyah or marry in Israel. And this is justly the province and domain of the Chief Rabbinate, and its legal authority under Israeli law. In this instance, the GPS makes the process easier, as participating regional batei din in the network of the RCA, under the auspices of the Beth Din of America, are pre-certified to have their conversions accepted by the Rabbanut.
         A convert who (sadly) never contemplates aliyah or does not marry in the State of Israel will never have any contact with the Rabbanut on these matters.
         Myth: The Chief Rabbinate will not recognize any conversion performed outside the GPS framework. This is also completely false. Any rabbi – RCA or otherwise – can continue to perform conversions on his own and apply to the Rabbanut for acceptance. The considerations the Rabbanut will use are its alone, and completely within its purview. I suspect that some conversions will be accepted, and others rejected – as it has always been.
         Beyond the myths, there is a bigger picture that needs to be considered. One of the most joyous moments in the rabbinate, for me, has been presiding over the conversion process. In a single instant, a non-Jew accepts upon himself not only the laws and customs that regulate Jewish life but also the history and destiny of our covenantal people. A conversion properly conducted and performed is fraught with solemnity, consequence and elation. The process should require intense study, a steadily increasing commitment to halachic practice, and climaxing in a complete acceptance of the mitzvos while standing in the mikveh.
         Nevertheless, it has long been an open secret in the United States (filtered over time to rabbinic authorities in Israel) that there were some American rabbis – again, both members and non-members of the RCA – who officiated at conversions that lacked these prerequisites. Apparently there were rabbis who took substantial sums of money for conversions, turning this sublime process into a lucrative business. There were rabbis who were forced to convert non-Jews under duress, as in the (hypothetical) shul president stating: “Convert my future daughter-in-law or find another job.”
         There were rabbis who were lax in applying the appropriate halachic standards and not insisting, expecting or even contemplating that there would be kabbalas hamitzvos in any realistic way – conversions without a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, taharas hamishpacha and other staples of Jewish life.
         They asked questions with a wink and received the appropriate answers by the candidates, as if they were reading from a script. (And in almost every such case the conversions were performed for the purpose of marriage. Why else would a rabbi even think of converting a non-Jew who does not wish to observe Jewish law, except for some pressing ulterior concern that itself undermines the very fabric of geirus?)
         There were rabbis who were negligent even in the technical performance of the act of geirus, including a failure to observe the immersion in the mikveh. There were rabbis who converted non-Jewish women knowing they would marry kohanim in violation of Torah law. There were some who availed themselves of every leniency and loophole, ensuring that pro forma conversions would take place that would satisfy the needs of the member in question but not necessarily the letter or spirit of the law.
         (Lest the reader think there was pervasive chaos, the “rabbis” referred to in the examples above were usually the very same small number of people.)
         The GPS Committee performed a vital public service in formulating and disseminating these standards. The formation of regional batei din across the United States – and the ban on the sponsoring or teaching rabbi from serving as a dayan for someone he himself taught or guided – ensure that the individual rabbi is shielded from undue pressure to perform a conversion that is unsatisfactory and lacking in halachic substance.
         These dozen batei din, and the more than forty rabbanim who serve on them, have the full backing of the Chief Rabbinate, ensuring that converts who are potential olim receive a royal welcome home. And, I suspect, the existence of these batei din will sharply reduce the number of non-Jews who convert solely for marriage or some other inducement. Further, the GPS deals sensitively with gerim who are contemplating marriage but wish to convert sincerely, with intermarried couples that want to re-enter the community of committed Jews, and with infertile couples who wish to adopt a non-Jewish child and confer merit upon him under the wings of the Divine Presence.
         With all due respect, I must strongly object to my colleagues’ demagoguery, which serves only to alarm true and sincere converts as well as promote these esteemed rabbis’ own private, political agenda. The GPS Committee – comprised of a geographic and hashkaficcross-section of the RCA – labored over 18 months to produce an appropriate formula that universalizes standards for geirus but that nonetheless allows for the flexibility needed in evaluating something as subjective as another person’s commitment and sincerity. It has, perhaps, the support of 97% of the RCA membership. It is fair, honorable, sensitive, just and moral.
         Its opponents, rather than talk in flowery generalities, must answer the following:
         Do you require from prospective converts a genuine commitment to observance of Shabbos, kashrus, and other fundamental areas of Jewish law? If not, please state so openly.
         Do you perform conversions in which there is willful blindness to reality in order to accommodate those whose commitment is lacking, and have you ever officiated at a conversion in which you were doubtful of the candidate’s sincere commitment to Torah and mitzvos? If so, please state so openly.
         Do you feel you are performing a public service in adding to the ranks of the Jewish people those who do not share our value system, our lifestyle or our destiny – thereby transforming good and decent non-Jews into sinning Jews? If so, please state precisely the nature of that public service, explain the reasoning behind that disservice to non-Jews as well as the justification that underlies the unbridled attack on the sincere efforts of your colleagues.

         Certainly, for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism – if only the criticism would be reasonable, measured, truthful and justified.

         With the GPS system in place, a stumbling block has been removed from the process of conversion and the process itself simplified; the honor of righteous converts has been redeemed; the privilege of joining the Jewish people given its proper credence; and, most important, the Torah has been magnified and glorified.

         Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, treasurer of the Rabbinical Council of America, a member of the Geirus Policies and Standards Committee, and the rosh beit din of the Beit Din L’Giyur in Bergen County where, he reports, GPS guidelines are already in place and functioning superbly.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Miracle Of Marriage

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

       With the Sefiras HaOmer period behind us, the wedding season is in full swing. Invitations to engagement parties, aufrufs and chasunahs will soon be stuffing many a mailbox.


         This leads me to a speech I heard years ago in Pittsburgh, during which the speaker repeated a comment he had heard from his rav years earlier when he was a bochur. The rav pointed out that based on statistics (at that time), 50 percent of all marriages ended in divorce. That was not surprising to him, he stated. What was surprising to him was that half of all marriages didnot succumb to divorce;they actually succeeded! When you factor in human nature, with its tendency to be selfish, stubborn and easily bored, one’s logical expectation was that long-term unions would be rather rare.


         Think about it. What does marriage entail? You have two relative strangers (in fact, they likely were unaware of each other’s existence months earlier) who suddenly must surrender their habit of living their daily lives “my way” in favor of “our way.”


         Both members of the twosome were raised in a unique environment, and thus experienced the same life situations in a unique way. After years (from infancy through adulthood) of being exposed on a daily basis to their particular family’s “culture,” and being influenced by its way of assessing and reacting to what they see, hear, feel, etc., a newlywed is expected to accommodate his/her spouse’s perspective of how their lives should be lived.


         It can be as simple a matter as one growing up on spicy food, with lots of garlic, paprika and pepper, while the other was raised on blander food. Or something a bit more complicated as one wanting to have lots of company every Friday night, and the other desiring a more quite, relaxing evening. It goes without saying that when a couple does not see eye to eye on major issues (i.e., only one partner wants a materialistic lifestyle, or only one is set on living in a particular geographical area), they are in an at-risk marriage.


         And that is the greatest challenge to a lasting union – the mutual willingness/ability to set aside individual views and find a common path that is acceptable to both.


         Even those couples that have been raised with identical values and hashkafahs,and basically agree on major issues (i.e., both want to make aliyah or both want a learning-based lifestyle) will find themselves at odds over how some things should be done.


         On the road of life, to use a rather common metaphor, I feel that husbands and wives are in parallel cars that are side by side on a four-lane highway, committed to heading in the same direction. However there are times when one will insist that one must turn left or right in order to get to where they should be going. The only way their journey will work is if they take turns yielding to the other’s “navigation,” whereby each must compromise and follow the other’s direction.


         Yet one cannot always be yielding to what the other wants, nor expect the other to do the same. In a healthy matrimonial journey both must respect the other’s point of view, if not necessarily agree or even understand it. Remember, each human being has a unique way of assessing things that may or may not be on the same page as his/her partner’s.


         It is very common for a police officer, for example, to interview several witnesses to an accident and get conflicting accounts of what happened. All saw the same thing, yet their perceptions of the very same scenario vary, influenced by their unique life experiences. What counts is that each validates the other’s feelings and opinion on how to go about that particular stretch of road, and work out something both can live with.


         It’s OK for either to make “lane changes” since they are still headed in the same direction. Say one likes to watch baseball games while the other enjoys hiking; each should have the freedom to pursue what they enjoy. It’s healthy from time to time to be a “me” and not an “us.” A bit of space between the cars is a good thing – or there is risk of collision.


         The goal is to head in the same direction. If both cannot agree on the road, there is a danger that their paths will diverge – that they will lose sight of each other and ultimately drift apart – for good.


        Understanding that no two people are going to think alike 100 percent of the time, mutual respect, and the willingness to compromise, combine to be the GPS on the long road of life.

Cheryl Kupfer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/the-miracle-of-marriage/2007/05/30/

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