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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘matter’

Credible Suspicion

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Note from Harry Maryles: Yet again I am going to dispense with my usual pre Yom Tov D’var Torah and cross post this important message from Rabbi Yakov Horowtiz’s website. I’m sorry to have to post on such a sad subject on the eve of one of our most joyous holidays. But the urgency of this matter compels me to do so.

Rabbi Necheyia Weberman is about to begin his trial on charges of sexually abusing of a young girl. One may recall the massive fundraising event held on Rabbi Weberman’s behalf. One may also recall that that some of his supporters were caught by authorities trying to bribe the chief witness (the victim) in this case to drop the charges. I think we can be sure that his community will continue to do everything they can to get him acquitted.

To put it the way Rabbi Horowitz did, Rabbi Nechemia Weberman deserves his day in court. Let us do what we can to make sure that on that “day” justice will indeed be served. His words follow:

After many delays and much legal wrangling, Nechemia Weberman will finally stand trial in Brooklyn Criminal Court on October 30th for allegedly abusing a young girl in the Williamsburg community over a period of three years — beginning when she was 12-years old.

Mr. Weberman is entitled to his day in court and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Having said that, quoting the Halachic terms employed in the Teshuva of Rav Elyashiv zt”l, there is clearly far more than raglayim l’davar (credible suspicion) in this case. In fact, all indications point to the inescapable conclusion that something is very, very wrong here.

What Parents Need to Know

One of the most important things frum parents – especially those in the “heimish” community – ought to be developing is a deep understanding of the norms and accepted practice in the mental health profession. Gaining this would allow devoted and caring parents the ability to obtain suitable professional help for their children who need it, and avoid the trauma associated with following the recommendations made by untrained, well-meaning folks (unfortunately, an all too frequent occurrence, one which sometimes creates horrific results).

Moreover, it would help undo the denial and cognitive dissonance of those who defend Weberman — by pointing out how disturbing were the circumstances of his “treatment” of the young girls referred to him.

Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs

Think of it this way. Wouldn’t alarm bells go off in your mind if a doctor performed an invasive procedure without using latex gloves or if he/she picked up a used syringe to give you an injection? Wouldn’t you think it strange if you were a single mother and were requested to meet with your son’s Rebbe or principal at 9 p.m. one evening in a deserted Yeshiva building to discuss your son’s progress?

What Went Wrong

Well, those of us familiar with the do’s and don’ts of accepted practice in the mental health profession saw similar blaring warning lights in our minds, as should have occurred when the facts were made public that Weberman:

(1) Had unregulated access to many girls over a number of years in his inappropriate and illegal role as their unlicensed “therapist.”

(2) Had these young girls referred to him for counseling by very Chassidish schools, whose general level of gender separation far exceeds those of the typical “Bais Yakov” (and it would be exceedingly rare for non-Chassidish girls’ schools to regularly refer their Talmidos to a male therapist)

(3) Engaged in private, unsupervised counseling sessions with young girls — often in an office/apartment that contained a working bedroom — violating all norms of yichud and tzniyus.

In addition to all these disturbing facts, it has become clear that these serious allegations are in fact not isolated ones. In fact, since Mr. Weberman’s arrest, I was personally contacted by immediate family members of four additional alleged victims of his who are afraid to come forward, and those of us close to the community have heard similar reports from others as well.

All the victims – none of whom know each other and all of whom are terrified to go to the authorities because of fear of backlash from the community – report striking similarities in the MO of Weberman (his manner of working), fueling suspicion that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

What is most chilling is that each and every one of his victims who came to us is currently married; meaning that (1) this has been going on for a very long time and (2) if there are current victims who are single, they are even more terrified than the married women of coming forward, for fear that going public will ruin their chances of doing a decent shidduch.

Weberman’s case may very well be our community’s most important abuse trial during our lifetimes. It is imperative that we have a huge turnout in support of this courageous young lady who, may she be gezunt andge’bentched, is determined to see this through to the end so others won’t suffer like she did. Unbearable pressure is being brought to bear against her and her family to drop the case, which is one of the reasons that a show of support is so important.

Now That You Know

Those of us who work with abuse survivors respectfully implore you to please, please stand with this victim on October 30th and with the other silent and silenced victims who are watching this case unfold very carefully and with all survivors of abuse and molestation.

Please pass this on to your friends and family members and I hope to see you at the trial, heeding the timeless charge of Yeshayahu (Isaiah) (1:16) to “Seek justice [and] strengthen the victim.”

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Postcard from Israel – Mazkeret Batya

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

There are not many places in the Middle East (or in Britain, for that matter) in which one can still find an old fashioned British red telephone box with a working phone. In Mazkeret Batya, south-east of Rehovot, there is exactly that – a remnant from the days of the British Mandate – on the main street of the moshava, next to the museum.

Originally named Ekron after the Biblical city, the agricultural community was established in November 1883 by ten immigrant families from Russia who were joined the next year by eight other families. The moshava changed its name to Mazkeret Batya in 1887 in honour of the mother of Baron Rothschild who, at the request of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever of ‘Hovevei Tzion,’ had purchased the land upon which the community was built.

Now a fast-growing  town, Mazkeret Batya retains many of its delightful original buildings, some still with the terracotta roof tiles and original timbers imported from Europe, including the ‘new’ synagogue built in 1927, the original well from 1883, the Rothschild farm building (now a community centre), the smithy, the pharmacy and original cow sheds since converted into cafes or houses. A feature exclusive to Mazkeret Batya is the ‘Kazramot,’ or dwellings built with a cow shed on the ground floor and accommodation for the farmers above – in order to get round the Ottoman prohibition of the time on house building for Jewish immigrants.

During the war of Independence, Mazkeret Batya served as the site of a field hospital for the injured from battles at Latrun and a starting point for convoys to besieged Jerusalem. One of the old armoured vehicles takes pride of place at the end of ‘Route of the Convoys Street.’

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Looking Up

Friday, September 28th, 2012

In the hustle and bustle of New York City, it’s nearly impossible to stop and slow down – even for a second. The gulps of coffee, swish of a lipstick, and the tying of your shoelaces need to be accomplished in a matter of minutes. The clock is ticking. Everyone is perpetually on the go, not appreciating the present because the future is waiting impatiently. Though I am a New Yorker through and through, I’ve never stopped to ponder this hasty way of living.

A planned trip to an unexpected destination gave me an opportunity to experience another route to living. I’ve inadvertently popped the insular bubble that has enveloped me during my 22 years of existence and stepped into another perspective. A cruise to Alaska shed light on a world that may be worth investing time in. Alaska has a beauty that doesn’t shout for attention; it speaks for itself with its quiet and calm aura. The majestic mountains and turquoise waters are serene and contagiously tranquil. I automatically felt a wave of peacefulness, a rare feeling in New York City. It was as if my senses had been longing for this, gulping a glass of what Alaska had to offer me.

I imagined myself waking up to an Alaskan view, drinking my ritual coffee, and enjoying the sights. I envisioned a day where rushing wasn’t part of the schedule. In Alaska, life is calm, as if the environment commanded it to be. While the typical Alaskan individual works to make a living, there seems to be an ease that is indigenous to them. A New Yorker needs to be fast-paced in order to stay in the game called life. It would be nice to slow down once in a while. While a destination is the sole reason for a journey, why don’t we appreciate the road taken? Can’t we enjoy life for just a moment? We might miss out if we don’t look up and face the world.

After returning to my home turf, it’s hard to conjure up the same tranquility I experienced in Alaska. However, maybe I can take some of what I experienced and give back to my hometown. We should all try and enjoy the nature and beauty around us. G-d has given us a precious gift that we all need to appreciate. People have their eyes open, yet aren’t really looking. We need to stop and realize where we’re going. Is this the path we want to go? Are we haphazardly making our way to a place we’re not happy in? If we pause for just a moment, we may reroute ourselves to a place that may be greener on the other side and the journey is just as fulfilling as the destination.

‘Did You Add Salt to a Wound?’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Just days ago on Yom Kipper, The Day of Judgment, Jews gathered as one in shuls, shteibels and temples and desperately and profusely promised Hashem that we would reform our ways and improve our behaviors and actions towards Him, our Father and Creator, as well as towards our fellow man, who, being made in His image, is deserving of our respect and compassion, and of being treated as an equal, no matter their social or financial status, age or gender.

Our prayers were saturated with sincerity, our pleas- passionate and pure. This time, we would amend our not so pleasant ways. Nothing motivates the determination to improve oneself than the fear of Divine Retribution. The knowledge that teshuvah – repentance and remorse and regret for less than stellar behaviors, attitudes and activities – can postpone, even cancel a stern, life-altering judgment is the best fuel to ignite an unwavering commitment to change.

And many of us are making a conscientious effort to keep our promise to be kinder, more ethical and more tolerant, both as Jews and human beings. But within weeks, ingrained bad habits will free themselves from the restraints we so self-righteously encased them in, and reclaim their turf in our flawed personalities.

So how do we prevent that regression? How do we fortify our resolve to self-tikkun in a way that will help ensure that on the final Day of Judgment in the Heavenly Court, our neshama will be headed “north” not “south?”

It is generally accepted that one of the questions people will be asked on That Day will revolve around business ethics. We will be asked if we were honest in our financial dealings with others.

Perhaps one question that we should expect to be asked of us is, “Did you rub salt into a wound?”

“Rubbing salt into a wound” is an expression that has come to mean adding tzaar – emotional hurt – to someone who already is in great pain and distress. It actually is based on a practice centuries ago when slaves, captured enemies or prisoners of war were lashed either as punishment or as a way of making them talk. Many were further tormented by having salt rubbed into their open, bleeding wounds, causing excruciating pain on top of the pain they were experiencing from the whipping.

(Baby-boomers no doubt remember all too clearly the intense pain that would have us howling and jumping out of our skin when iodine was dabbed onto a skinned knee or cut or scrape to prevent infection. The cure was worse than the sickness. Only much later did soothing, antibiotic ointments become available.)

Of all the “bad” behaviors we indulge in, whether through misguided “kindness” or deliberate maliciousness, enhancing the pain, grief or hopelessness of someone who is hurting mentally, emotionally or spiritually is especially harmful to the recipient – it is like rubbing salt in an open wound.

When I say,” kindness,” it is because there were times when salt was rubbed into an open wound to prevent infection and promote healing. Nonetheless, the resultant agony was just as horrific as when it was done out of pure cruelty.

So many people are what I call the “walking wounded.” Young and old, wealthy or poor, married or single; pillars of their community or barely visible in the crowd, no one is spared from torment, loss, loneliness, fear, self-doubt or the inevitable emotional battering and trauma that comes from being a breathing, sentient human being.

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, teachers, rebbeim, acquaintances, friends, bosses, colleagues, even strangers like a bus driver or store clerk can deliberately or inadvertently, via “good” intentions, salt a wound.

This is clearly evident in the story of Penina and Chana, who became the mother of Shmuel Hanavi. In Shmuel 1 chapter I, verse 7, we are told that a man, Ephraim, had two wives, Penina who had many children, and Chana, who was infertile. Penina would torment Chana about being childless, but the Midrash says she did so out of kindness, to spur Chana to daven with more kavanah, and garner Hashem’s sympathy – but all it did was make Chana feel worse, so she did not even want to eat.

The Curse Of Family Breakdowns

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Several weeks ago I shared a letter from a heartbroken mother whose children had shut the door in her face. Time and again she tried to open that door, but despite all her attempts she did not succeed. No matter how she humbled herself and begged, no matter how many people interceded on her behalf, it was to no avail.

Subsequently, I received many e-mails from people who, to one extent or another, found themselves in similar predicaments. The question we must ask is this: How can such tragedy befall the Jewish people, who throughout the millennia were renowned for their exemplary family life?

As I write this column, we are in the closing parshiot of the Torah. In Ki Savo, a litany of curses is proclaimed. Is that the way to bid farewell to the past year of Torah readings? It does seem odd, but those familiar with Torah study know that every word, dot and syllable is a blessing, even if at first glance it appears to be a terrifying proclamation. One of the curses pertinent to our subject is “Cursed be the one who curses his father and mother.”

How are we to understand this? The answer is simple and should give us all pause. The alienation between parents and children that shuts doors is in and of itself a terrible curse. It is a curse that is self-inflicted and does not require an outside force. Can there be anything more painful for parents than to have children and yet not have them? For children to have living mothers and fathers and yet feel like orphans? If that is not a curse, what is?

Surely that should serve as a wake-up call for families who have built walls of animosity, contempt and hatred in their homes. In short, that is the catastrophe we too often see nowadays.

So now perhaps we can understand why the Torah speaks of all these horrific situations as the curtain comes down on another cycle of Torah readings. Paradoxically, through these curses G-d offers us a blessing: “Leave behind the nightmare; consign it to oblivion; bring an end to your splintered, dysfunctional family. Start a new life and open a fresh, clean page in your book of life.”

But how we are to go about this? Perhaps our first step should be to attempt to comprehend the complexity of human nature.

“The heart of man is wicked from its very start,” we read in Bereishis. Contrary to what most believe, humans are not born good, compassionate, kind, giving or respectful. These are traits that must be learned and developed from early childhood.

When Hashem proclaimed the Fifth Commandment – “Honor your father and mother” – He provided us with the tools to enact it. In contrast to animals, who soon after birth are able to go off and fend for themselves, humans many years need the loving care, devotion and commitment of their parents. This is in order that a sense of gratitude, of indebtedness, might forever be engraved in the hearts of children.

As we noted above, these traits do not come automatically. They are not spontaneous. They have to be taught, and that is an education that can only be imparted in the home. It is something that even the finest schools or universities cannot teach. Tragically, however, in our 21st century culture this is a teaching that escapes most parents. Children’s obnoxious behavior is indulged and even considered “natural.”

Just contrast the manner of child rearing of years gone by with what we see today. Yesterday, we were taught to rise for our parents and our elders; to share our goodies with relatives and friends; to speak respectfully to one and all. Expressions such as “thank you,” “please,” “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” were all a part of our vocabulary. Even as we learned to speak we were taught these words; they weren’t just token phrases.

When a parent would come home, we rose in greeting. When grandparents came to visit, we ran to the door and kissed and hugged them, and when they departed we accompanied them to the door.

It goes without saying that curse words were foreign to us, as was violent and hostile behavior. On a personal level, I would like to share with you that in our family, every Shabbos eve when our parents blessed us we kissed their hands with reverence and love – a tradition that in our generation is unheard of.

How Bais Yaakov Almost Ruined my Life

Friday, August 31st, 2012

It started when I was in first grade. I was an active kid with bright orange curls, and I’d never sit in one place long enough for my mother to even attempt to brush my hair. I was six years old, the youngest in my class, when my teacher called me to the front of the room. “This”, she informed the rest of the class, “is what a Bas Yisrael does NOT look like.” She then proceeded to braid my hair in front of everyone else as I did my best to hold back my tears.

That was the first time I realized that I was not going to fit in. That there was an “us” and a “them”, and “they” were not to be trusted.

I attended Bais Yaakov for ten years. I participated in their day camp every summer. All of my friends were from school. This was my whole world, and I was prepared to be an outsider for a long, long time.

As we got older, we were split into two classes. The “high” class and the “low” class. Premeditated or not, the “high” class all had fathers in Kollel and lived in the same religiously insulated community. My daddy was a doctor, and it didn’t matter that he finished all of Shas and had a chavrusah every night. My house was a mere ten minute walk from the neighborhood the other girls lived in, but that didn’t make a difference. I wasn’t “Bais Yaakov” and that was it. I pretended to own it – yeah, I was a rebel – but the truth is that everyone just wants to be accepted. I tried, but it was clear that I was never going to be. I wasn’t a bad kid. I never did drugs and I didn’t drink, I hardly talked to boys and I dressed more or less the way I was supposed to. It was other things. It was the fact that I’d go bike riding with my family, that we listened to the radio in the car, that I was a dramatic, sensitive kid who just couldn’t accept religion the way it was given to me. I always needed to understand why, why I had to keep Shabbat, why the boys had to put on tefillin but I didn’t, why saying Shema at night would protect me from all the evil in the world. I needed to know why, and the only answer I ever received from my teachers was “because Hashem said so”. I would get frustrated and angry every time I hit that wall, and at some point they stopped calling on me and I stopped caring. Clearly, I was too dumb and too unconnected to understand what everyone else seemed to accept. Clearly, I was just bad at being religious.

I have ADD to an insane degree, and davening was basically impossible for me. I had a system with my friends where we would all leave at different points and meet up in the bathroom until it was over. We got caught a few times, but no one ever spoke to me to find out why I was skipping it. I just got in trouble over and over, reinforcing in my mind the idea that there was something wrong with me. I just wasn’t ever going to be good at being religious.

In Bais Yaakov, you were either they way they wanted you to be, or you were wrong. Until I left the school – until I was sixteen years old – I actually thought that wearing short sleeves meant that you were irreligious. I thought that by skipping davening, I was “off the derech”. The girls who were wearing nail polish, jeans, even sandals – they were either already a lost cause or close to it. It took me a long long time to break out of that mindset, to realize all of the colors and shades and layers there are in Judaism.

Now, thank God, I’ve left that world behind me. The only valuable lessons I’ve taken from those years are memories of all of the things that I will never tell my children, memories of feelings I will never allow them to feel.

Whose SImcha Is It Really?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Everyone loves a wedding. Really what is there not to love? You gather together with family and friends, all dressed up in your nicest clothing and jewelry, are treated to a sumptuous meal, and then get to enjoy wonderful music and even some dancing. And dancing at a wedding is unique in its own right – women of all backgrounds, at every stage of life, twirling and clapping all for one person – the kallah. What could be nicer?

At some weddings you even get to see elderly grandparents sharing in the simcha. Sometimes they are there with canes, sometimes in wheelchairs, sometimes accompanied by an aide or another relative. They too are dressed up and smiling, they too want to participate and rejoice with the chassan and kallah. But how does one rejoice, express their personal simcha, when they are infirm and can no longer dance, clap or twirl around?

The focus of a wedding and its source of simcha changes as one ages. When you are young, you think that the one with the most simcha, the one experiencing the most joy must be the kallah. She’s the one in the white dress, nervously anticipating the exciting moment the band will boom out “Od Yeshama” and she will see her chassan come proudly striding towards her. Everyone cranes their necks to see the expression on his face.  But as we mature and our perspective widens to identify with the parents of the young couple, our thought process changes.  Here they are, marrying off a child, a child who just a blink of an eye ago was a toddler, a youngster.  “Why, just a short while ago she was still a baby,” they marvel, along with all their friends.

Then time passes and we have traveled a little bit further down the road of life and watched ever younger kallahs get married (and don’t they seem younger and younger to you all the time now?) and you look again. Now you notice the older generation; the grandparents, and sometimes even great-grandparents, the survivors of the past, the ones who put so much effort into getting everyone to this day.  Often they cannot stand on their own and it can seem as if they have been relegated to the sidelines.  Yes, they are there for pictures, snapped for eternity for that all-important album, to show that they were there at this simcha. But sometimes they do feel somewhat pushed aside.

It should not be that way.  Our elders are our crowns – ateres rosheinu.  It is a tremendous zechus – even if the younger generation doesn’t always appreciate it – to have them alive and able to participate in our simchas.  They are the symbols of what was, what is, and what can continue to be. They are really the apex of the multi-generational event that culminates at every wedding.

Just recently I was baruch Hashem able to return home for my youngest sister’s wedding.  And it was everything it should be – the beautiful kallah, the makeup, dresses, gowns, sisters, cousins, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews; the rush to prepare, the incessant shopping around to find “just the right outfit,” organizing everything so that all the overseas children could come, the hall, the food, the caterer…all of it. There was the pre-wedding Shabbos together with even more cousins and family members; the time spent together, the cleanup.

Then the day of the wedding dawned. We all got up early, nervous and excited. Each one of us got dressed in all the finery we had been preparing for so many weeks.

And my grandparents, now in their nineties, bli ayin hara, got ready too.

Bubby looked great. She walked with difficulty – but she walked, mostly on her own, sometimes with one of us. She looked magnificent. Zeidy could no longer make it to a wedding completely on his own, and needed a wheelchair. But even in his wheelchair, he looked so good. With his cane in his hands for when he would get out of the wheelchair, we set off.  As the elders of the family they had been anticipating this wedding for a long time, but for Zeidy there was an added dimension to this special simcha.

This sister had been born when my parents were running a business and both needed to be there full-time.  They would never have left her with just a sitter, but someone needed to watch her.  Zeidy, who was retired, needed a job, something he could do well and would make him feel needed…a perfect shidduch. Zeidy became my sister’s prime babysitter. And oh, how those two loved each other.  He looked forward to each day – talking to her, holding her, proudly pushing her around in her stroller, playing with her and even occasionally changing her diaper.  Zeidy loves each of his grandchildren, but for this particular grandchild, he has a special place in his heart.

This special relationship continued throughout the years. My sister often went over to visit – they lived just a short two blocks from our home.  She would stop by to just say hello, eat some of my Bubby’s famous chocolate chip banana cake, (her favorite!), and play some cards with Zeidy. He always lit up when he’d see her. And as she went through the turbulent teenage years, she would still remember to call and visit, in between being with her friends, going on outings and stays in summer camp. Bubby and Zeidy’s house was one of her favorite places to be.

As Zeidy aged, many family members tried to find ways to help him. It wasn’t easy and became even more so as he began to lose most of his eyesight.  It was my sister who came up with a great idea. Every Friday, she would go over to their home to learn with Zeidy. He loved those learning sessions. This went on for years, and he looked forward to it all week long. When she graduated high school and went out of town, it was very hard for him. But even then she made sure to keep it up – every week, she’d call him long distance, and when she was in the city, she would come over in person to learn something with him. Zeidy loved it.

As the kabbalas panim got underway, my sister was busy with all the guests coming over to greet her. The photographer placed us, her older sisters, in a row behind the dais, and seated the two mothers, as well as my grandmother and her sister on the dais next to her. My uncles wheeled Zeidy into the room to be near the dais so he could somehow be part of the badeken.

Then the music started, and my father, the chassan and his father, along with all his exuberant friends, came marching into the room. The electricity was palpable. Of course the women had tears in their eyes. My Bubby sat up straight in her chair, proud to be with us. Zeidy was still there, waiting expectantly, but quietly near the front of the dais.

As the chassan badeked her and my father bentched her, it seemed as if everything was happening so fast.  Taking off her jewelry, handing her the appropriate tefillos to say, and of course, the ubiquitous photographer needing “just another shot, & smile,” made it all very hectic. But then suddenly, to the utter astonishment of everyone present, the kallah jumped out of her chair and sprinted towards the edge of the dais, gown, veil, flowers and all. It happened so fast the photographer actually missed it!

She ran the few paces to where Zeidy was sitting in his wheelchair, bent down all the way so he could hear her and screamed, “Zeidy! I want you to bentch me!” She had shouted twice until her heard her.  Those of us standing around stopped in our tracks.  The band may have still been blaring away, but for us, that moment froze in time. Crying, Zeidy lifted his shaky hands, unsure of where to put them with all her hairdo, veil and headpiece in the way. Undeterred, my sister put his hands directly on her head, headpiece and expensive hairdo notwithstanding, and bent down more so he could bentch her.

None of us could hear what he actually said, but it doesn’t matter. Hearts talk too and that is the best language.

Sometimes, despite the best intentions, the elderly are inadvertently left out of the most important parts of a large simcha. Often unavoidable, but this scene with my sister says volumes. Even when our elderly are “too old to participate,” their mere presence at such a life event is a simcha all in itself! And by giving Zeidy that honor she showed him more than with words, hugs or anything else, that he was never too old to matter in her life, no matter how he looks, no matter what he can or cannot do.

This is the ultimate hakaras hatov. This is the greatest kavod we can give to those who matter to us.

Ironically, it was only after this touching scene was over, that the photographer heard something special had happened — and he had missed it! He came running back in and asked my sister to “do it again” so he could get his picture of it…which she gladly did…and even the second time around, Zeidy cried.

But don’t worry. My eleven-year-old daughter caught the first time, the real thing, on her digital camera to share with everyone again and again, after the wedding was over…

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/whose-simcha-is-it-really/2012/08/21/

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