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Posts Tagged ‘Limudei Kodesh’

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 .

Celebrating Two Decades Of Special Education At YESS!

Friday, August 17th, 2012

What began twenty years ago as a support group for parents of six learning disabled children in Queens who could not find a yeshiva capable of accommodating their educational needs, has evolved into a full scale institution that not only works with its students to master academic challenges, but provides them with a Torah education as well.

The Yeshiva Education for Special Students (YESS!) is a full-scale program for children diagnosed with language processing disorders, attention difficulties and learning disabilities, including auditory or visual processing issues. Currently located in space rented from Yeshiva of Central Queens (YCQ) in the Kew Gardens Hills section of Queens, YESS! has an enrollment of thirty children ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. Annual tuition is $24,000, with considerable fundraising done by the school’s board of trustees in order to subsidize tuition costs for all students.

“Until YESS! was started twenty years ago, there were no Jewish programs for kids with disabilities,” explained YESS! director for the last eleven years, Rabbi Yaakov Lustig, M.S. “These kids had no choice but to attend public schools, because there were no yeshivas that could provide appropriately for them. While maybe the kids could learn some skills in the public schools they attended, they were lacking normal healthy social interaction with other Jewish children.”

Neva Goldstein, one of the founding parents at YESS!, and current school president, recalls the difficulties she faced when her son Avishai was just five and relegated to public school because there was no yeshiva program that could accommodate his developmental language based disabilities.

“The only yeshiva program at the time was in New Jersey and because they had to accommodate the local parent body first we couldn’t get a placement there,” recalled Mrs. Goldstein. “The public school program tried to be accommodating of my son’s religious needs but there were still mishaps. Even though I made sure to keep him out of school on days like Halloween, they still took the kids to see Santa Claus at Kings Plaza. One day they called me, telling me they were going to McDonalds and they wanted to know what my son could eat. I was there in just five minutes to pick him up and bring him home. Just imagine. My son, in his blue velvet yarmulke with little ducks on it and his tzitzis, was going to go to McDonalds.”

Mrs. Goldstein still gets emotional when she recalls a heartbreaking conversation that took place with her son the night before he was scheduled to start kindergarten in a public school.

“Avishai was crying and I asked him what was wrong. He said to me, ‘There is no Shabbat in my school. I want to go to yeshiva.’ I promised him that if I had to turn the world upside down, he was going to a yeshiva. It is the pain in his eyes that has driven me all these years.”

The original YESS! program was housed for ten years in the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, located just across the street from the yeshiva’s current location. Today YESS!’ self-contained program offers a full range of services, with therapists providing speech, occupational and physical therapy on site, in addition to providing a complete Limudei Kodesh and General Studies curriculum. YESS! is endorsed by the Vaad Harabonim of Queens and has a permanent charter from the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, thereby incorporating it under New York State Education Law.

“We spend two to three weeks at the beginning of the school year tailoring an individual program for each student,” said Rabbi Lustig. “We use that as our bible, with individualized programs for each of our students so that we can help them develop the skills they need in order to foster independence and help them become independent learners.”

Each class at YESS! encompasses a three year age range and has anywhere from four to eight students, with a teacher to student ratio that is no greater than four to one. Students, who are high functioning, both socially and emotionally, come from all five boroughs of New York City as well as nearby Westchester, Nassau and Rockland counties. The school’s faculty includes New York State certified special educators with master’s degrees in special education and assistant teachers who are currently working on master’s degrees in special education or other related fields.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

From the Hearts of (Grand) Mothers…

Dear Rachel,

You recently printed a letter from a mother whose 10-year old daughter experienced difficulty falling asleep (Chronicles 5-4). In your reply you suggested some likely causes for the young girl’s insomnia, among them the pressure of keeping her school grades up.

Within a mere couple of days of reading that column, I got a call from my 15-year old granddaughter who sounded like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. When I asked her why she was so down in the dumps, she replied, “I’m studying for a biology test and it’s so hard, and I need to go study Navi now because we’re having a Navi test as well… and we have 12 exams coming up and so much studying to do…”

Rachel, she sounded so sad and so tired at the same time, like she hardly had the strength to speak. This is a girl who is usually lighthearted and happy, and I felt terrible for her. By the time we concluded our chat, it was close to 11 pm. Her parents and siblings were already asleep, yet she was planning on studying until the wee hours of the morning. She conceded that she was woefully short on sleep but had no choice.

So yes, I can see where the burdens placed on our young children can create sleeplessness — not only on account of time allotted for studying and cramming for exams, but also in worrying about making the grade. Might our schools be overdoing it a bit? Seems a bit unfair, if you ask me. There was no biology class offered back in my high school days, and frankly I don’t see that I’ve been deprived an iota.

A Sympathetic Bubby

Dear Sympathetic,

The reality is that our children have quite a load on their minds, what with a demanding curriculum that incorporates both English and Limudei Kodesh studies.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if schools could adapt a system whereby students could leave all of their school work behind when they come home, instead of being burdened by it for practically the better part of their waking hours? Wishful thinking, I know. There aren’t enough hours in the day as is. As our Sages say, hayom katzar ve’hamelacha merubah – the day is short and the task is great.

In case you missed them, several columns in the past half a year or so were devoted to the positive and negative effects and fallout of a girl’s Bais Yaakov high school education. (See Chronicles of 12-23-11, 1-13-12, 2-17-12, and 3-2-12 for readers’ various takes.)

In the meantime, Bubby, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over your granddaughter’s moody blues; she will overcome, as we all do, and will in all likelihood benefit in the long run. Moreover, if I were in your shoes I’d go to sleep with a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart knowing that my granddaughter thought to turn to me for some respite.

Confidential to Crying for my little one:

Your heart-rending letter took me back some years to a more innocent time (or so it seems), to when my gentle-natured firstborn learned, firsthand, of the existence of cruelty in our world. Mind you, he was not yet three years old. It was on a sweltering summer day when a neighbor and I decided to pack lunch and head with our toddlers to Coney Island by train, to enjoy some sun and sand in the ocean breeze.

Her little girl was about four then, and, as I’d soon discover, not as mild-mannered as her younger playmate. After some playtime, she decided for some reason to toss a handful of sand in my little boy’s face. I was almost as shocked as he was, and my heart ached for him — not only for the physical irritation he suffered from the gritty grains of sand trapped in his eyes, but for having his cocoon of innocence so callously peeled away.

As it turned out, her mother’s insipid “we don’t do such things” was wasted on the bully who wasn’t at all apprehensive about a repeat performance the second she thought she could get away with it. And she had that right: this time around her mom didn’t even bother with voicing her disapproval.

If You Belittle Your Kids They Will Be Little

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The new school year is starting and parents across the board are busy getting their children ready for school.  New clothing, books and study aids like calculators have been bought and bus service and car pools organized.  As the year progresses parents will do whatever it takes to help ensure their offspring do well in their Limudei Kodesh and secular studies, including helping with homework or even enlisting a tutor.

 

            Unfortunately for some, they will unwittingly sabotage the one crucial tool all children – and adults  - must have in order to maximize their potential in all aspects of their lives, whether academic, social or spiritual. In two words: self-esteem.

 

            Tragically, some parents not only abstain from nurturing a positive self-image in their child, but in fact decimate whatever innate sense of value their son or daughter might have already. What is even more tragic is that these mothers and fathers truly love their children and want them to have happy, successful lives but are oblivious to the fact that their behavior towards their kids might seriously undermine the chance of that happening.       

 

            The parents I am describing are  either chronically critical of their children, or are physically or emotionally absent – even when they are home. 

 

 By being overtly critical or withholding deserved praise, parents can unwittingly impart the damaging message to their child that he/she does not measure up; that they are inadequate or incompetent.

 

“Absent” parents are often preoccupied with their own needs or wants, and while their kids are very special to them  they are not the priority in their life. Both these behaviors  can leave the child with a growing sense of worthlessness and feeling unvalued.

 

These  loving parents are usually clueless as to the psychologically-crippling impact their words, actions, or lack of them have on their children and would be shocked  to hear  that they  are  being overly critical or  emotionally unavailable.

 

For  example, a young child loses his favorite teddy or blanket and is inconsolable.  Some parents, because they don’t know better, will not validate his  grief and sense of deep loss but brush it off and tell the heart-broken child, “Stop crying, it was just an old, torn teddy, I’ll get you a new one!”  If that happens often enough, the child might get the message that his feelings aren’t important – and therefore he isn’t. Or as he grows up, he will question his ability to “read” emotional situations or will mistrust his reactions and perhaps shy away from social involvements – to the extent of not getting married.

 

 Another example is when a child comes home with “big news”: she went down the “big kids” slide in the playground. Her father mutters a “that’s nice” as he continues watching TV or reading his newspaper.  Kids, and of course adults, have an ingrained need to be validated, to have the “ups and downs” in their life acknowledged – especially by the people who count in their lives, whose reactions matter the most to them, their parents.  Lacking that, as they grow older,  they may look for validation elsewhere – in the wrong places.

 

 Likewise, people who are belittled on a regular basis by parents who are chronically critical (either because they have unrealistic expectations or project their own sense of inadequacy onto their children) become “little” in their own minds and end up being fearful of taking risks in their professional and personal lives. 

 

Hence, some live their lives alone, convinced that they will not be competent spouses or parents or end up with critical or emotionally abusive spouses because that is “familiar” to them (as in family).

 

Or  they stay in “safe” but boring jobs that do not challenge them. How can they do  otherwise when they have been told since childhood that they are stupid, or incompetent. A  friend of mine spends a tremendous amount of money on dry cleaning her clothes, linens  and other machine washable items. When I asked her why, she said that whenever she would do laundry, her mother would tell her that she wasn’t folding the sheets, shirts, even her undergarments properly.  When she would try to iron her  blouses,  every “wrinkle” she missed was pointed out.  Convinced she was useless, in that area, she gave up trying.

 

Another friend, a bubby many times over, dutifully visits her ailing mother and   has lunch with her, only to be told each and every time that she looks fat and should cut down on her eating.  And even though her husband and friends assure her she looks  just fine, her mother’s words carry more “weight” them everyone else’s.  She does not enjoy going out to social events because she is convinced she looks “gross.”

 

            I am not a psychologist nor  trained in mental health issues, and what I described above does not necessarily mean children who are criticized or “ignored” will grow up  with self-esteem issues that will result in them becoming unfulfilled and unsuccessful adults. There are many contributing factors. But I do feel that it is crucial that parents be aware of their reactions – both negative and positive – towards their children and act in a way that will imbue them with the confidence and self-esteem that will help them reach their G-d-given potential.


 


  (Dear Readers, all future On Our Own columns will be printed in the Magazine section.)

Appreciate Life By Saying ‘Thank You’

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

          One of the subjects  I was taught as a young child in the excellent day school I attended in Toronto (at the time called Associated Hebrew Day Schools) was Tefillah. Since we spoke only Hebrew during our Limudei Kodesh and secular Hebrew studies, such as Hebrew literature, creative writing and Jewish history, we understood quite well what the words we were davening actually meant.


 

         I thus became aware at an early age that a great majority of our prayers involved thanking Hashem, and praising Him for the multitude of kindnesses and benefits that we experienced on a daily basis.

 

         It seemed that we were thanking Him constantly, all the time, nonstop. Every action, like eating or even hearing thunder – came connected to a “Baruch Ata Hashem.” And if, without thought, we popped a raisin in our mouth without saying a brachah or ran out of the bathroom forgetting to say “Asher Yatzar” in our eagerness to get to recess, we felt so mortified, guilty and blemished – and afraid of Divine retribution.

 

         Now human nature is such that nobody likes to feel guilty or scared or ashamed about something they did or did not do, and as I got older I began to wonder why G-d needed so much praise and thanks in the first place. After all, I thought to myself, He isn’t human – why does he seemingly need to have His “ego stroked”- so to speak – why the constant “pats on the back” and verbal affirmation about how great and kind He is – especially from non-entities like us.

 

        Hashem is the Master of the Universe and the Creator of everything. We however are mortal, finite, limited creatures whose lives come and go like a blink of an eye in time. Why this requirement to bless and thank Him every minute?

 

         Wouldn’t it be enough to say one brachah in the morning to the effect of “Thank you for everything” and be covered for the rest of the day? Why a brachah every time we eat a fruit or vegetable or sandwich? (I’ve actually heard of busy young mothers who wash in the morning and constantly nibble so they end up benching once – after they eat their last evening snack.)

 

         Why the seemingly endless buffet of required praise and tributes and expresses of appreciation and not just one daily, all-encompassing Baruch Hashem?

 

         I came to realize that Hashem truly does not need our adulation. But we need to express it. It is to our great benefit that demonstrating hakarat ha’tov becomes second nature to us. Because awareness and gratitude to someone or something that enriches our lives is the calcium that build and fortifies and maintains our relationships, whether in the personal, professional, social, communal – even international realms.

 

         Most people are willing to go the extra mile and do something that benefits someone, be it a woman making meals for her family, or an employee staying past quitting time to do work that needs to be completed. But it is crucial that there is an acknowledgment from the recipient of the effort. Often, a simple “thank you” is enough for it does what really matters – recognizes and validates.

 

      Hakarat ha’tov makes the “giver” feel valuable and gives him/her self-esteem. These are the nutrients that nourish a relationship through the best of times and the worst of times. A lack of hakarat ha’tov causes acidic resentment, anger, hurt and bitterness that gradually eats away at the relationship and rots it.

 

         By having us constantly thank Hashem, we get into the habit of thanking the people in our lives -family members, friends and even strangers – and that is the key ingredient for shalom bayis – at home, in the workplace, and everywhere else.

 

         But there is yet another component to hakarat ha’tov – one that is internal, rather than external.  By thanking Hashemfor such habitual everyday occurrences like going to the bathroom, eating, walking, seeing – we learn to appreciate all the good in our lives – and in doing so we realize that our chelek - our “lot” in life is actually pretty good.

 

         So many people are excessively wrapped up in what they are lacking – or even worse, they are so consumed by what others have, they cannot enjoy what they do have. Pirkei Avot states, “Who is rich? – the one who is happy with his lot.”

 

         If you reverse that thought, one who is not satisfied with his lot – is poor. Being poor is likened in the Torah as being dead. So the inevitable conclusion – those who are unhappy with their lot can be viewed as being dead.

 

         By constantly thanking and blessing Hashem with our tefillot, we constantly remind ourselves of all that we do have – which leads to being “satisfied”  - and feeling very much alive. 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/appreciate-life-by-saying-thank-you/2008/02/20/

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