Posts Tagged ‘Lander College’
I once heard a story about a single man struggling to find a spouse. His main challenge was his insistence that a potential mate permanently welcome his widowed mother into their marital home. A friend suggested that he speak with the great authority, Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l. The man shared with the Rav his delicate predicament. The Rav validated the man’s approach as acceptable. Sometime later, the man met his bashert, the special woman willing to live with his mom. They returned to Rav Shlomo Zalman for his blessing. Surprisingly, the Rav called the man aside and told him that they cannot live with his mother anymore. The young man was shocked. After all, on the previous visit, the Rav had supported his desire to find a woman who would accept their living with his mother. Rav Shlomo Zalman explained that he supported the young man’s exceptional requirement as a test of sorts, to ensure that the young lady he would marry would be a woman of valor, a woman of kindness. But once he had in fact found such a woman, it was imperative, for the sake of the marriage, to exclude the mother from a permanent place in the home.
Most newly married couples don’t permanently invite parents into their private dwelling in a literal sense, but figuratively, they may bring their parents along for the ride. In the national bestseller The Good Marriage, Judith Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslee report that many marriage counselors tell their clients “there are at least six people in every marriage – the couple and both sets of parents.” A delicate balance must be struck between maintaining positive and meaningful connection with family of origin, while at the same time, not alienating the new spouse and the fledgling marital union. In his renowned work, The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm discusses object relations theory and the process of individuation from parents. He explains that ideally we physically separate from our parents while concurrently bringing them with us in our minds and hearts. In this way, our parents are a support and a significant and influential backdrop throughout our lives. This concept is highlighted in the episode in Parshas Vayeshev when Yosef is saved from eishet Potifar’s advances with the help of the image of his father Yaakov, “dmus dyukno shel aviv.” He is far away from his home, but yet able to marshal Yaakov’s values and spiritual strength when it was most needed.
I recall many years ago counseling a young couple immediately after their marriage. It seemed that the husband was looking forward to a honeymoon with his new bride. His wife wasn’t adverse to the honeymoon, but her family had planned their yearly family vacation and the young lady didn’t want to give up on this special time. I empathized with both the young man’s disappointment in potentially having his new in-laws intrude on his honeymoon time, and the young women’s deep desire to remain attached to her parents and siblings. These tensions and conflicts are rampant in many marriages and don’t always have easy solutions. Sometimes a young couple is placed in the unenviable position of having to erect boundaries, as the more “mature” parents are oblivious to these considerations and are grasping to hold onto a child. It’s a complex dance with competing interests and my purpose in this brief article is to try to articulate some foundational principles to protect the marriage and the formation and development of the couple.
Jewish couples stand under a chuppah or canopy during the marriage ceremony. This canopy has no walls just a roof. The chuppah symbolizes the home and the husband bringing the wife into his material and spiritual domain. The task of erecting walls for this edifice is left to the couple. They must, over the course of their lives together, fill-in those walls and thereby fortify their relationship. Wallerstein and Blakesley alluded to above, bring an anecdote about a mother sitting down with her future daughter-in-law and attempting to intimidate her. She tells the poor girl that her upcoming marriage is doomed to failure. The young girl is mortified and immediately calls her future husband. The husband says, “don’t worry about it. I’m going to call my mother right now and tell her she’s not invited to our wedding.” This is a beautiful illustration of communicating to a spouse that they are the absolute priority. They report that this uncomfortable episode ultimately helped launch the marriage.
Ohel is well known in the New York area for the foster care programming it has been providing for over 40 years, along with its mental health services to individuals and families, and its services to the developmentally disabled through its Bais Ezra programs. Ohel also provides substantial training to professionals, and workshops and seminars to the community at large.
Over the last few years, Ohel has been concentrating some of its efforts on a group of perfectly healthy adults – rabbis. “The rav of a community is often the first person who congregants approach,” said Ohel’s chief operating officer Manny Wertman, referring to a person with an emotional or psychological issue. “They are in a unique position to be successful in a sophisticated way.” Wertman explains the need for the Rabbinic Training programs currently being run for students of Yeshiva University (YU) and Lander College, as well as for the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI). Derek Saker, Ohel’s director of communications and marketing, goes further. “We want pulpit rabbis to have a good understanding [of mental illness], to at least know when there is a problem.”
Manny Wertman, COO of Ohel, delivering a lecture to pulpit rabbis as part of a 12- month health-training workshop series in pastoral counseling. The series was organized with the National Council of Young Israel and Touro College. (Photos courtesy of Ohel.)
The training seminars focus on teaching basic information about mental health topics. Post-partum depression, sexual abuse, and addiction are just some of the subjects covered. Rabbis are trained to identify these issues and how to react to their constituents when approached for help. While many rabbis are intelligent and talented when it comes to congregants seeking counsel, Ohel wants to be sure that they recognize the limitations of their counseling abilities. Wertman stresses that rabbis can be great resources for congregants but need to know “how far their own counseling should go, and when to call in a professional.” With tools learned through the training institute and other informational sessions, the hope is that rabbis will not mistakenly ignore a greater issue than what they think they’re observing.
Rabbi Binyamin Hammer, director of rabbinic services at the NCYI, has been organizing rabbinic training programs for close to 15 years. Each of the first 13 years of the training programs consisted of 16 classes. “A small percentage of the classes were given by the staff at Ohel. There was a need to run deeper programs on mental health training,” said Rabbi Hammer. He met with noted author, lecturer, and therapist Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, who gave his full support to the idea and told him that if they started the program, he would be a presenter.
In September 2008, Rabbi Hammer sent a letter inviting participation in this new program. “In today’s Torah leadership, the esteemed role of mara d’atra is increasingly challenged by the psychological and social issues of bale’batim. The pressures and demands of the mara d’atra require that the rav develop knowledge of counseling and an understanding of how to make proper referrals. The program will enhance the ability of a mara d’atra to understand the needs of his kehillah, and to enable him to make appropriate and helpful suggestions – whether halachic or personal.”
(L-R) Five YU semicha students attending mental health training session at Ohel; Rabbi Menachem Penner, director of Professional Rabbinic Education at YU; Manny Wertman, COO of Ohel; and Dr. Hindie Klein, director of Tikvah at Ohel.
The letter included a tentative schedule of topics to be covered, including two extended laylot iyun that were also open to rebbetzins. “We were hoping that 12-15 rabbis would participate,” said Rabbi Hammer, “but we consistently had 40 rabbanim at every session, and they usually kept the presenters for an extra hour after the seminar, asking them questions.”
Rabbi Dov Schreier, a Yeshiva University musmach and rabbi of the Young Israel of North Bellmore in New York, attended the yearlong training. “The speakers were top of the line in their fields,” he said. Although Rabbi Schreier has been a rabbi for almost 10 years, he explained that, “The topics being covered were items that I wished I had been able to handle differently in the past.”
Rabbi Hammer felt that although Yeshiva University-ordained rabbis received some mental health training in recent years, including some by Ohel, most other rabbinic students did not have any training. The NCYI program’s participants included rabbis from all walks of the yeshiva world, with only five from YU. Based on both this program’s success and the YU sessions, Ohel has recently launched a similar program for rabbinic students attending the Beis Medrash L’Talmud of Lander College, provided by The Mel and Phyllis Zachter Institute for Professional Training at Ohel.
Wertman also stresses that a goal of these programs is to help “remove the stigma of mental illness and other conditions,” as well as the stigma of receiving help from a mental health professional. “By training rabbis who can educate their communities, we can reach more people to the end of reaching this goal,” he said.
For more information about rabbinic training programs, or programs for parents and lay people, please visit www.ohelfamily.org.
Amy Dubitsky is a freelance writer in Phoenix, Arizona.