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Confessions Of a Jewish Bride

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

I try to make it a point to work things into my life – including insane schedules, impossible goals and conflicting priorities – in the most upbeat way I can. OK, so it doesn’t always work. What surprises me is how shocked people are when I tell them I just can’t handle everything.

I’ve discovered that people who know my story expect me to be Superwoman. If you’re not familiar with my tale, let me clue you in: Three years ago I went public, confessing that when I got married I was the Bride Who Knew Nothing – I didn’t know a spatula from a saucepan and that I didn’t really care. I wrote unabashedly about how I was raised on takeout and never expected to use anything more than the phone to get dinner on the table.

Then I committed to my full Jewish heritage and got married. As a newlywed, I needed a map to find the stove and detailed directions on using it. As a ba’alas teshuvah, I needed a crash course in kosher cooking. I found that nobody – absolutely nobody – could give me recipes that would meet my one main requirement: get me out of that kitchen fast!

I had two excellent reasons for that criterion. First, my professional life in television meant constant pressure, long hours and crazy deadlines. Second, I didn’t like cooking and the less I could do of it, the better. But Hubby was expecting home-cooked cuisine like Mommy used to make, so I flung myself headlong into learning all I could about cooking.

What emerged from that effort shocked even me. I wound up as the author of a bestselling cookbook, Quick & Kosher: Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing. Now I’m the Chief Foodie Officer at Kosher.com (an online kosher delivery service), I produce an online kosher cooking show and food magazine at blog.kosher.com, and my second book, Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes, was just released.

So I must have figured it all out, right? Wrong. As unprepared as I was as a bride, I was equally clueless about being a wife, mother and career woman in the space of a 24-hour day. Unless you join the circus, nobody teaches you how to juggle.

I mean, this is the stuff they never teach in kallah class. My life is a circus, but I’ve had to manage with on-the-job training. And I can’t get away from Jewish Mother’s Guilt, which just keeps gnawing away at me. You don’t have to be raised as a frum balabusta to have it. It’s passed down from mother to daughter like a great family recipe. JMG is simply the feeling – no, the certainty – that you’re not able to do it all. Moreover, you’re convinced that everybody else is getting it just right. Especially Jamie Geller. She’s done it all, gone beyond the average Jewish woman’s turf, so she must have everything in hand.

So let me put my cards on the table. I’m obsessed with easy cooking because I find so much else in life challenging. And it only gets more complicated.

Listen, two and a half months after I first met my husband, I was Mrs. Geller. Five years later, we have four kids, a mortgage, tuitions, babysitters – and I’m still running around the country on book tours. (I’m not complaining, just explaining.) “Quick & Kosher” is not just the name of my book; it’s a metaphor for my entire life. It’s hectic, and I have my days when the place is a mess, no dinner is cooked, and everyone is crying, including me. As Alice remarked in Wonderland, I have to run just as fast as I can to stay in the same place.

So while it is wonderful, challenging and rewarding, my life is no fairy tale and neither is yours. If your bio reads anything like mine, you’re on the same treadmill. A 21st century Jewish woman is likely to be working hard, in her home and out of it. And more often than not, it’s because she has to. I actually enjoy my work but don’t be fooled: it’s work. It means stress, time away from my family, and preoccupation with office problems. I have to remember to turn off my Blackberry when I put my children to bed. It means not whining after staying up until 2 a.m. working on a project and then being woken up by the baby at 4.

* * * * *

 

Today’s Jewish woman has to watch her behavior in the workplace – her tznius, her decorum, lashon hara – while ensuring that she is heard and taken seriously. When she darts home, she carries the burden of having forgotten to make the pediatrician appointment – or worse, having made the appointment and forgotten it. She races to carpool, rehearsing excuses in her head for why she’s late this time. And like every mommy, she wants her children to mature spiritually, mentally and physically; she worries if they don’t have a best friend, whether or not this year’s morah fully understands her little one, and if the school bus is a fun place and not a scary one. It all swirls around in her head – constantly.

And then some magazine article tells her she should be taking better care of herself, going to the gym every day, or that she’s poisoning her children with food additives.

I’m not saying they’re wrong, but give me a break! Some days I’m glad if I can carve out the time to give the baby a bath. I really do want to do it all – and perfectly. We all want that. Whether you are the momtrepreneur of your own media empire or the CEO of your own home, you have to figure out a way to be successful, happy, and have rewarding relationships with your family, with friends and with Hashem.

I’m in the same boat, but I’m wearing a lifejacket I fashioned myself. It’s made of things I’ve learned in the past few years, and I want to share them with you. Actually, beyond the recipes and menus, that kind of help is the point of my new Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes cookbook.

So here are a few of my solutions, or, more accurately, life principles that should be engraved on your mind.

Delegate: We’re talking about delegating on a daily basis as well as for special occasions. Don’t be a martyr. Involve your family in age-appropriate household chores. Children grow up more independent if they contribute to the family, so let them dust, vacuum, set tables, even do their own laundry, once they’re old enough. (I know some people think that kids doing laundry is unthinkable, but you have to ask yourself if you really need to be the sole Queen of Bleach in your house. And don’t worry that they’ll ruin it. They’re smart enough to play those computer games, program a phone, and memorize mishnayos. Don’t tell me they can’t figure out a washing machine.)

Depending on your husband’s schedule and inclination – dare I say it? – let him make dinner once in a while, or do the shopping, run errands or bathe the children. Some husbands have been raised to do this from childhood; others need to be, shall we say, coaxed. The truth is that if you are feeling overwhelmed, a quiet discussion about how he might be able to alleviate at least some of the pressure usually will be taken seriously.

Parties, Yomim Tovim and family events mean you’re the captain of a team, not the whole team by yourself. Involve as many people as possible, without having them step all over each other. You friends and relatives will welcome your invitation to bring a dessert, or shop for paper goods, or shlep the soda. In families that are really big, it is customary for each household to bring at least one of the dishes on the menu, a side or even a second main course. But that means you’ll have to coordinate who’s bringing what, so you don’t have to make a meal of six Caesar salads. But it’s worth it. It’s a lot easier to make up a list on paper, place an order at kosher.com, followed by e-mails or phone calls to the family cooks, than to undertake the whole banquet in your kitchen.

And at the end of the meal, don’t be too proud to let them help you clean up.

I must modify the above suggestion with one caveat. It’s something learned the hard way, so I’ll tell you one of our classic family stories.

When my husband was single, he liked to hang out at his brother and sister-in-law’s house, often staying for dinner, including Shabbos meals. On Thursday nights, he was gallant enough to call his sister-in-law to ask what to bring for Shabbos. It was “the usual” most of the time – a mile-high heimish challah (from Williamsburg, where he worked), a babka, and wine. But one blistery cold Thursday, she gave him a whole supermarket list. He dutifully ran to the store and bought everything.

Now, it happens that his voice and his brother’s are nearly identical, so when he called his sister-in-law on the phone on Friday, she mistook him for her husband. No sooner had he said, “Hi, how are you?” when she yelled, “How am I? Terrible! You brother totally messed up. I told him to buy tomato sauce and he brought me tomato paste; I told him olive oil and he brought canola oil; I told him sugar and he brought confectioners sugar. Shabbos is in two hours, the baby is sleeping so I can’t leave the house, and I have no time to cook anything. This is a disaster!”

After all the apologies, it’s taken ten years but now we can laugh. So the amendment to rule 1 is always make sure who is on the other end of the phone, before and after you delegate.

Fix Your Attitude: You are not going to hit every ball out of the park – even if you’ve written two cookbooks and sound like you know what you’re doing. The sooner you realize that everything will not be exactly perfect – and that it’s OK – the sooner your life will be simpler and more pleasurable.

I’m one of those “I can do it!” people. It’s a good thing, mainly, but it sometimes leads me into phenomenal blunders on a grand scale. Take Hubby’s Birthday Surprise. As a loving and thoughtful wife, I decided to make my husband a birthday cake. The trouble was that it didn’t occur to me until after he left for minyan the morning of his birthday. But I thought it through. It would take about 50 minutes for him to daven. Add a half hour for him to do his Sunday errands. No problem!

Just a few days before, he had been reminiscing about the terrific “snowman cake” his grandmother always baked for his birthday parties. Just talking about it put such a happy, boyish grin on his face that I resolved to recreate that cake. How hard could it be?

It’s a rainy morning, too close to 7 a.m. I load my sleepy toddlers into the minivan and we tootle over to the supermarket. We race through the aisles looking for the essential ingredients, at least the ones I can remember. After three clerks and a manager tell me they don’t stock specialty items like snowman cake molds, I strap the kids back into the car and dash home.

Back in the house, I decide to improvise the snowman using circular challah pans. I whip up the batter, pour it into the pans, and throw them in the oven. I change the kids out of their pajamas, feed them breakfast, and smell the cakes burning. The canned white icing I bought covers only half of this singed, drooping, 20-pound monster, so I make some chocolate cupcake frosting and slap it all over the rest. It already looks terrible – what can I lose? So I give the kids sprinkles, chocolate chips, Twizzlers, and potato chips and they throw the stuff all over the cake with wild abandon.

I manage to lug the Snowthing to the table just as Hubby walks in the door. The kids are giggling and jumping up and down. I’m covered with sweat and flour, but I try to smile as we lead him to our masterpiece. Singing Happy Birthday in our party hats, we watch Abba try to figure out what the monstrosity on the table is supposed to be. “It’s a snowman cake, Abba, just like Great-grandma used to make!” they shout.

Birthday Boy gives me a quizzical look then manfully takes a cake server in hand. Next, he tries a chef’s knife (another option would be a chainsaw) to hack through the hard, crusty shell of the cake. The batter inside oozes out, totally raw, onto the table. He doesn’t even take a lick of the icing. Instead, he runs for his camera. Staring after him, my eyes are a bit teary. And that’s when my daughter climbs on my lap and whispers, “I told you, Mommy, we should have bought a cake from the bakery.”

And she was right. If I didn’t think I had to do it all myself, and perfectly, the fiasco never would have happened. But the best result of this experience is that I learned to let go. Everything doesn’t have to be the very best it can be all the time. Accepting the second-best alternative can be a lifesaver.

Find Help and Use It: There are tons of how-to books and articles out there; lots of household management gurus and even more cookbooks. Don’t be shy. Seek out the ones that make sense to you and use them. I’d like to think that among all the options, mine will rate high on your list. So park yourself at my blog, make me your homepage (blog.kosher.com) – from there you can watch my cooking videos, participate in “Ask Jamie,” read my Confessions of a Jewish Bride and, yes, buy my books, if you want.

I don’t mean this as a shameless plug. I truly feel I can make your life easier; that’s why I write my books and why I made my blog as interactive as possible. At the very least, you will realize you are not alone – ever. We share our insights, our failures, and our successes with a camaraderie that will lift your day and brighten your smile.

Now who can’t use that?

Jamie Geller is chief marketing officer at Kosher.com and author of the newly released “Quick & Kosher Meals in Minutes” as well as “Quick & Kosher: Recipes From The Bride Who Knew Nothing.” For more than 1,000 recipes and to watch Jamie’s Quick & Kosher cooking show, visit her online at blog.kosher.com.

Online Infidelity: A New Challenge For The Frum Community

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Online infidelity may be the next upcoming challenge facing the Orthodox world. In the last 12 months, I have seen 11 Orthodox couples where one spouse has reported an online affair that has caused serious distress in their marriage. I now believe that an epidemic of online infidelity may be causing the breakup of countless Jewish marriages.

 

There’s no question that online relationships are the new trend in infidelity and extramarital affairs. Unfortunately, in the Orthodox community, online affairs provide a convenient and inconspicuous cover, whereby someone who would not usually be seen in public committing an aveira will now do so in the privacy of their office or on their cell phone.  Worse, I have heard of cases where an Internet or cyber affair was easily initiated and conducted from the privacy of the cheater’s home, with their unsuspecting spouse in the same room, oblivious to what was going on.

 

But the fact that a physical relationship hasn’t occurred does not mean that cyber affairs are not “real affairs.” I believe that they pose even more of a threat to a marriage or relationship than physical infidelity, because emotions are involved.

 

But what really is online infidelity?

 

Online cheating occurs when two people participate in online communication that is outside the scope of appropriate behavior, even if they haven’t met in real life. According to recent studies, it doesn’t necessarily involve physical relationship but it usually leads to physical cheating. Communicating intimately with someone other than your spouse is considered betrayal.

 

Online affairs should be treated as seriously as physical affairs, because that’s how many of them eventually end up. In fact, according to a recent survey, at least half of the people who engage in Internet chats have made phone contact with someone with whom they have chatted with online. The survey also found that:

 

*Only 46% of men believe that online affairs are adultery.

 

*80% think it’s OK to talk with a stranger identified as the opposite sex.

 

*Approximately 70% of time on-line is spent in chat rooms or sending e-mail; of these interactions, the vast majority are romantic in nature.

 

Divorce attorneys are also reporting that the number of divorces and separations resulting from online infidelity has grown significantly.

 

Regardless of the concealed nature of online affairs, these should be considered a serious threat to the institution of Jewish marriage.

 

In the Orthodox Jewish world the kedusha of marriage has always been the basic unit of the community. Our leaders have worked hard to guard the safety of the family against infidelity. Yet, currently, we find that the family unit is under more attack than at any time, and the safeguards, which had up until now served to defend it, are weakening.

 

How Can We Safeguard Marriage From Online Affairs?

 

There are many people who believe that the affairs are the root cause of divorce. According to the latest research, it’s actually the other way around.  Problems in the marriage that send the couple on a trajectory to divorce also send one or both of them looking for intimate connection outside the marriage.  Most marriage therapists who write about extramarital affairs find that these trysts are usually not about physical relationships but about seeking friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring, and concern – the kind of things that marriage is supposed to offer.

 

What I’m trying to say is that infidelity is not a cause, but rather a symptom. As a marriage and family therapist helping Orthodox couples save their marriages, I believe that most of the time infidelity happens to people who want to satisfy some basic needs that are not met in their marriages. If some of these basic emotional needs are not met, people will turn elsewhere.

 

Over the last five years I have counseled hundreds of frum couples who are struggling with relationship and commitment issues. Not a day passes when I don’t hear about a marriage issue or a divorce in the community. Remember, divorce used to be something that happened to “other” people; not “our” family, “our” friends and even “our” community leaders. Today, it could be a cousin, friend or someone you know from shul. Divorce has become all too common.  These are signs that relationships are becoming harder to solidify and more difficult to maintain.

 

Take the latest studies on divorce. A recent study called “The Effects of Divorce In America” showed a significant increase in divorce over the last seven decades. The report found that: “In 1935, there were 16 divorces for each 100 marriages. By 1998, the number had risen to 51 divorces per 100 marriages.”

 

In addition, “over a twenty year period the number of divorced Americans rose from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996.” It is true that the Torah community does not share these same statistics; our marriages tend to last longer and the viability of Jewish marriage is one of the great examples of the power and the wisdom of the Torah. However, over the last few years, we are beginning to see a new trend – one that may be difficult to reverse.

 

Why Do Couples Get Divorced?

 

Take Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, who were married for six years when they came to ask me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels – and both were pleasantly extroverted. Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that Mordechai and Chani didn’t get along very well. Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion.

 

The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six years had passed since their chuppah and they were beginning to feel  unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues. Eventually, Chani also discovered that Mordechai was spending time accessing inappropriate websites and chatting with other women.

 

What was causing their marital stress? Did they share some deeply-rooted negative patterns? Was it a question of personality differences? Did they have trouble managing their anger? Before I offered them some emotional first aid, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. My feeling was that if they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

 

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics appearing about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

 

A 1995 survey examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon. Specifically, the survey asked couples who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.” The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

 

Lack of commitment: 87%Too much conflict and arguing: 48%Financial problems or economic hardship: 31%Lack of support from family members: 21%Little or no helpful premarital education: 19%Domestic violence: 22%

 

The findings of the survey revealed what couples who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces. Commitment often involves making one’s spouse and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage and having a long-term view of the relationship.

 

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship. Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner and was now facing the detrimental effects of internet infidelity. Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

 

So if you’re concerned about your relationship, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

 

1. Do you view building the relationship a central principle of your marriage?

2. Do you set aside time each day to nurture your relationship?

3. Do you look for the good qualities in your spouse?

4. Do you appreciate the small, kind acts your spouse does for you on a daily basis?

5. Do you spend time thinking about the good moments, and limit time and energy spent focusing on the bad ones?

 

Most couples who evaluate their relationship find that the biggest hole in their marriage is the fact that they don’t spend time and effort building their relationship. They allowed themselves to become complacent. Complacency in marriage allows emotional weeds to grow out of control. It’s catching and it spreads, silently and invisibly, and by the time you realize what is happening, much damage has been done.

 

However, in a case where online infidelity is detected it is a sign that couples need to deal with their underlying problems and seek advice and guidance from a marital therapist. With proper guidance, many more marriages could be saved.

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages”. For a free parenting book or to make an appointment call 646-428-4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com

The Unbearable Lightness Of Larry King

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
             Larry King will host his last edition of “Larry King Live” on CNN next week, and the Monitor can only say Good Riddance. King built a reputation and made a fortune as the master of the soft toss interview, which was fine for doing Frank Sinatra retrospectives but made for cringe-inducing television whenever the subject at hand required a tad more seriousness.
            Back in 2000, King perfectly described the airy, passionless approach he brought to his job to Tucker Carlson, a young colleague at CNN who would go on to co-host the network’s “Crossfire” program.
“Let me tell you something about this business,” King told Carlson. “The trick is to care, but not too much. Give a [expletive] – but not really.”
One of the Monitor’s favorite examples of King’s unparalleled insipidness is the following exchange he had in January 2002 with the famously iconoclastic comedian Bill Maher.
No doubt surprisingly for those unacquainted with his views on the Middle East, Maher, whose politics generally lean left, made a case for Israel rarely heard in the mainstream media. Larry King, alas, was Larry King: a genial simpleton asking the most pedestrian questions and then abruptly – inanely – changing subjects the moment it became obvious his store of knowledge had been depleted.

   King: What do you think of the Israeli situation, the Palestinian .

   Maher: This again, you know, I’m like the only guy on TV who defends Israel. The media is so biased.

   King: You think they’re anti-Israel?

   Maher: Of course they are. They don’t – because they don’t understand what happened in that area of the world throughout the last century. They’re “occupied.” That’s a term that’s just used on all newscasts. That territory is not occupied, OK? The term “occupied” refers to a country that used to be a country. There was no Palestinian Arab country, ever.

   King: There was a Palestine, though.

   Maher: Palestine. Do you know that at the 1939 World’s Fair, there was a Palestinian exhibit? It was Jewish. It was a Zionist exhibit. The term Palestinian only refers to people who live in that part of the world. They are both Arab and Jew….

   King: They are cousins, too.

   Maher: They are cousins…. But when that land was partitioned in 1947 and the UN said, OK, fellows, you are going to have to share it. The Jews said OK, and the Arabs said, “No, we’d rather try to wipe you out.” And right now, we live in a situation where the Jews could wipe out the Arabs in two seconds if they wanted. They have the means…. Do you think if the Arabs, you think if they had the atom bomb, that the state of Israel would last? How long would it last?

   King: But America should try to broker something here, right?

   Maher: They should. And it’s not that Israel is blameless. They shouldn’t be building settlements and lots of stuff. But basically, that situation is not presented in the American media.

   King: Why do you think the media would be anti-Israel?

   Maher: They’re not anti-Israel, they just don’t know what happened there. And it’s a lot easier to take the side of the underdog. You know? I saw a report on the news just the other day, a Palestinian girl who said, you know, “I can’t get through the checkpoint, and I only have my books, and the Israeli soldiers are so mean.” Well, yeah, but that’s because a lot of your brothers are blowing up their pizza parlors.

   King: So you think – because for a long time, Israel and the media in the United States had a relationship like they were intertwined. Palestinians had almost no voice in American media in the ’60s and ’70s.

   Maher: Well…

   King: It changed.

   Maher: It changed. It changed. And what I think people forget is that it is also the only democracy…. It’s a democracy, Israel, it’s the only one in that part of the world, by the way. And we’ve never sent a soldier to defend Israel. We’ve sent our troops and our planes and our bombs to defend Muslims in Bosnia and in Somalia, and we certainly freed a country called Afghanistan recently.

   King: Couple of other quick things. Where is Al Gore, do you think?

 

 

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

How To Combat Classroom Bullying

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Two months into the school year, Shonnie’s enthusiasm for school inexplicably took a nose dive. Her morning routines seemed to take her forever. The 7 year-old reacted to her mother’s exasperation by turning sulky and tearful. With increasing frequency she missed the bus and needed to be driven to school.

When Shonnie began feigning illness in order to stay home, her baffled parents contacted the teacher. Shonnie’s teacher confirmed that their daughter’s zest for learning had waned and she was not finishing class assignments. Once a top student, she had now been grouped with a lower-level reading group.

Her parents met with the school psychologist who had several sessions with Shonnie. Gradually, the mystery unraveled. It turned out that a girl from an older class was consistently harassing Shonnie on the school bus. The girl would tease her, call her names and block her from getting off the bus at her stop. She threatened to “teach her a lesson” if Shonnie “tattled.”

A timid child by nature, Shonnie’s “escape tactic” was to avoid the school bus, and eventually, school itself. She was too afraid of retaliation to divulge the true source of her trouble.

Unlike many cases of school-related bullying where the perpetrator succeeds in drawing in other children to continue the harassment, Shonnie’s “tormentor” was acting alone. As soon as this girl’s abusive behavior was exposed and she was disciplined, the bullying ended and Shonnie’s life returned to normal.

“I felt as if we’d awakened from a bad dream,” her mother said. “Now I understand how important it is to teach quiet children better communication skills and the importance of trusting adults.”

Unfortunately, for many victims of bullying, the matter is not so simple.

Bullying Leaves Scars

School bullying involves the psychological, emotional, social or physical harassment of one student by another. It takes the form of name-calling, taunts, slandering, shunning and physical abuse. Victims of bullying can suffer lowered self-esteem, physical health difficulties, anxiety disorders and/or depression.

Bullying can lead to excessive shyness, social isolation or a social phobia. Children who are victims of bullying may become school “avoiders” and later, drop-outs.

Which children are most likely to be the victims of a bully? Experts point to children who are perceived as different; shy, sensitive children; those with poor social skills and children who are learning disabled and stand out as scholastically below par.

Sometimes parents may not know their child is being bullied. Some children, like Shonnie, are intimidated into secrecy. They may also keep quiet because they feel ashamed that they have allowed this to happen. They may fear their parents will either criticize them or will intervene in a way that will make everything worse.

Be Alert For Telltale Signs

If you suspect your child might be the victim of bullying, look for general signs of school distress – falling grades, physical complaints on school days, and lack of interest in school work or after-school activities.

More specific signs would be unexplained injuries or torn clothes, missing belongings or money, or repeated requests for money. [Bullies often coerce children into giving them money or other valuables.] If someone is taking your child’s lunch, he or she may come home hungry even though he took an adequate lunch to school.

You need to know how to get your child talking about his concerns. It is best to broach the subject at a calm neutral time. Ask general questions about whether something is bothering your child. Get as detailed a narrative as possible. Avoid interrupting or judging. Try to stay calm and do not make outraged statements while your child is telling his tale.

Avoid offering premature solutions. You may not get the entire story on the first telling. Be patient and bring up the topic again later. Finally, if you feel that something is going on and suspect that your child is withholding information, call his or her teacher.

No one needs to put up with a bully’s outrageous behavior.

How Parents Can Help

How can you help your child deal with the bullying? First, teach him to avoid being an easy target. A bully often surrounds himself with a group of peers. He consciously picks weaker, more vulnerable victims and repeatedly bothers the same people. He tends to do his bullying when authorities are not around.

In dealing with a bully, teach your child that posture, voice and eye contact are important. These telegraph messages about whether you are vulnerable.

Act brave. Sometimes wearing the mask of courage is enough to stop a bully. If you walk by as though you’re not afraid and hold your head high, a bully may be less likely to give you trouble.

Ignore. Simply ignoring a bully’s threats and walking away robs the bully of his or her fun. Bullies want a big reaction to their teasing and meanness. Acting as if you don’t notice and don’t care might weaken the incentive and bring the harassment to an end.

Stand up for others. If you stick up for others when they are picked on you are sending a message that bullying won’t be tolerated. Then when you stand up for yourself, the bully knows you mean it.

Be a buddy. Bullies are often cowards, afraid to stand alone. Two friends facing a bully is often all it takes to force a bully to back down. Make a plan with friends to walk shoulder to shoulder on the way to school or recess or lunch or wherever you think you might meet the bully.

Tell an adult. If you are being bullied, it’s very important to tell an adult. Teachers, principals and parents can all help to stop bullying.

Don’t bully back. Don’t hit, kick, or push back to deal with someone bullying you or your friends. Fighting back just satisfies a bully and sets the stage for further skirmishes. It’s best to stay close to others, stay safe, and get help from an adult.

Teachers Hold The Key

How can teachers and educators work to eliminate bullying?

The first imperative is to stop looking the other way, experts say. As long as we ignore dysfunctional behavior, we are giving it the green light to continue.

The second step is to recognize that adults must take charge to stop it. Kids can’t do it on their own. They often don’t talk about it with adults because they’re ashamed, embarrassed, or they’re afraid adults will only make it worse. But deep down, they want to talk about it. They need to know that every adult at school will listen to them and help if they report a problem with bullying.

Here are some practical steps teachers can take to address the problem of bullying in their classroom:

Talk about it. Have class discussions about tolerance and respect for others, as well as the fallout everyone suffers when bullying is permitted. In the words of one expert, “Kids need to know that it’s cool to stand up for other kids.” Standing up for others takes courage, but when the values of a school or community support this ethic, it goes a very long way toward reducing bullying in a school.

Students need to realize that they hold a lot of power collectively. When the peers say bullying is out, IT IS OUT. When a peer group says bullying is OK either by condoning it or doing nothing, they risk becoming a target themselves, exposing their friends to harassment and lowering the Torah values we hold dear.

Look for it and confront it when you witness it — every time. Too often we minimize and normalize bullying by saying things like “kids will be kids,” or “sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Don’t allow these sayings to cover up malicious harassment. Make it clear that if anyone’s having a problem, they can talk with you – then make sure you follow through.

Teach bystanders how to safely intervene. Most students are not chronic targets or chronic bullies. They’re bystanders. And as we all know, what students typically do when they witness bullying is stand around and watch. Yet most students agree they don’t like to see it happen, and that they often feel guilty or ashamed for not stepping in and helping out.

What Happens To Bullies?

Some children adopt bullying behavior to help mask their own feelings of inadequacy. They may be learning disabled or for various reasons failing scholastically or socially, and are desperate to win respect from their peers. A bully may lack good adult role models. If he sees parents bullying him or each other, he may consider this proper behavior.

Some children fall in with a peer group that uses bullying. They may learn undesirable conduct from these friends. In some cases, the behavior improves when the child is separated from that peer group, and makes new friends.

In the end, most bullies wind up on the losing end. If they continue acting mean and hurtful, sooner or later they find themselves with very few friends left – usually other kids who are just like them. The power they wanted slips away fast. School authorities marginalize them. Other kids move on and leave bullies behind, dismissing them as troublemaking losers.

Bullies can change if they absorb the fact that their behavior is not only wrong but destructive to themselves, and if they are willing to learn to use their power in positive ways.

In the case of class bullies who act aggressively to compensate for learning or social disabilities, personalized coaching by teachers and parents often yield dramatic results both academically and emotionally. Aggressive and obnoxious behavior may gradually be replaced by decent and even-keeled social conduct.

In addition to the enormous influence teachers and parents can exert, other children who make a habit of treating others fairly, and with respect, set a very important tone in the class.

Of course, some bullies never learn. But others respond to social skills training, remediation, “tough love” and positive role-modeling. Gradually they turn into cooperative and likable kids who grow up to become responsible, ethical and productive members of the community.

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.

Indifference: The New Work Ethic

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Consumers beware: Shopping, gift-giving, vacationing, even making money may be hazardous to your health. Indulging in what should be routine activities can – due to a seeming epidemic of “who cares?” – induce extreme frustration, stress and anxiety, causing your blood pressure readings to be more like those of a thermometer just pulled out of a feverish child. Way too high.

No doubt the incredible incompetence, ineptness and hefkerness I experienced in the last few weeks while involved in the aforementioned activities – ones that should be pleasant and satisfying – are not unique to me: I have no doubt that everyone has a plethora of woeful tales of misadventures, inconveniences and even harm that befell them through no fault of their own – but rather as victims of someone else’s callous irresponsibility.

Individually, the outcome of apathetic, inept consumer “service” may not be a big deal – and it’s a good idea not to “sweat the small stuff”, but collectively they can drain and strain one’s emotional and physical stamina.

Right now, for example, I am looking at a warm, very pretty hooded sweater I bought for my granddaughter to wear to pre-school. Why is it in my possession when she was supposed to have been wearing it since Chanukah? Because the clunky, impossible-to-remove alarm tag is still on it. The cashier forgot to remove it. Of course, as I walked out, the store alarm went off, which in itself is disconcerting and embarrassing. Store security glanced at my receipt, inspected the handful of items in my bag, said all the tags were off, told me it was OK to go and just shrugged when the alarm went off again. Of course she too somehow overlooked the tag. Yes, I can go back to the store, but I bought the item after being a Shabbat guest in a different part of the city. It’s a real inconvenience to go back there, or even to enter a neighborhood store and explain why I have this tagged item with me. From what my friends who I vented to tell me, this is not a rare occurrence. It’s happened to all of them.

And then there are the two little girls’ shopping carts made by a well-known toy manufacturer. They were also Chanukah gifts that were eagerly “put into service” by two excited cousins – except in both, one wheel keeps falling off since the peg, unlike the other three, is the wrong shape for the wheel’s well. Mistakes happen, but two carts with misshapen pegs? And did I mention the handle bar falls off when little hands push hard (because of the faulty wheel) to move the cart?

And of course there was my brilliant plan to make extra money (hopefully) by opening an online stock trading account, one whose profits are tax -free. I actually made a couple of profitable trades (the limit for the account is $5,000 a year, so earning aren’t huge but can still pay for Chanukah gifts). Last week while on the verge of buying shares of a stock that had plummeted but would likely go up again – I got an error report telling me the account was frozen.

Why? After calling and being on hold for 45 minutes, the brokerage service representative – who refreshingly was anxious to actually be of service- discovered that the bank did not forward the necessary paperwork that I had filled out and a 30 day grace period was over. The teller involved was on vacation and it seemed no one else had any clue as to where the paper work was filed. Needless to say that stock soared that day. As I write this – the account is still frozen. No buying or selling or even retrieving the money that is sitting there. I am out hundreds of dollars because someone was hefker.

In the meantime, I did some flying to visit some of the more geographically (but not emotionally) distant Kupfers. Because of a reasonable concern that there would be endless lines at each security station due to a couple of grave (pun intended) breaches in airport security – I went to the airport hours earlier than I normally would- and spent a few productive hours twiddling my thumbs. At least my experience was not as horrific as thousands of others whose travel plans were messed up because of cancelled flights – or who had to endure hours of boredom because in-flight TVs were shut off, or worse -had to deal with bursting bladders because of revoked bathroom privileges an hour prior to landing.

I guess I can take consolation in the fact that I was not in a car/train/plane with a driver/conductor/pilot who was chatting on a cell phone/texting/or tipsy. I am lucky that I never rented a defective car, unlike my (at the time) newly wed son who was saved in Israel by a taxi driver who frantically honked his horn as my son drove by. A wobbling wheel was on the verge of flying off. Of course the car rental owner swore up and down – after initially insisting there was nothing wrong – that the car had been fully inspected before being released to him.

I am also fortunate that I have not eaten “kosher” food that actually was treif because someone let their guard down.

Or have I????

Looking For The ‘Finished’ Product?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

I have been to many singles get-togethers over the years, and have noticed an unfortunate tendency by both men and women to give members of the opposite gender a quick glance over. Each is then given the label of being a “loser,” “winner” (one worth making the effort to meet), and those who are “OK, but not really my type; so why waste my time and energy?”

People are looking for their idea of perfection – and they want it pre-packaged and ready to go. It doesn’t occur to most to look beyond the initial assessment and find out if their first impression was indeed accurate, or if they were too quick to judge and there actually is more than meets the eye.

In a column I wrote years ago, I reflected on how Akiva (the unlearned, “blue-collar” shepherd, who after marrying Rachel, his wealthy employer’s daughter, evolved into the legendary great sage Rabbi Akiva) would have been viewed by women at a singles weekend. I would like to again revisit this imaginary place, this time through a conversation between the astute and open-eyed Rachel and her friend “Miri.”

Rachel is arguably a JJP (Judean Jewish Princess). Her father is a prominent macher in the community and very wealthy. He is a chashuva ba’al habayit, due to being rich in land and livestock. His daughter is the apple of his eye, and lacks for nothing.

When Rachel walks into the dining room at a singles Shabbaton, all eyes follow her, with the men silently rehearsing their best pick-up lines and the other women mentally taking note of her stylish sandals from Rome and her tailored robe.

Also watching her is Akiva. He works for Rachel’s father, watching over his sheep. Their eyes meet and she smiles at him. Her friend, Miri, notices this exchange and, wide-eyed with shock, drags Rachel to the bathroom. While smoothing the red henna on her cheeks, Miri berates her friend.

Miri: I can’t believe you actually smiled at that loser, Akiva.

Rachel: Miri, he’s a nice guy. I bumped into him a few times in the field when I was picking flowers. He’s always too shy to initiate conversation, so I do – and I really enjoy talking to him. He’s quiet, almost to the point of being invisible, but there’s a strength and passion about him simmering below the surface. There is something so noble about him. He

Miri: Are you nuts? He is sooo not for you. He’s a nobody. He’s poor, he’s illiterate, and he’s barely frum. And he smells like a goat! Did you notice he kind of stood off by himself? Nobody wants to go near him.

Rachel: Miri, I’ve seen him with my dad’s flocks. He’s really conscientious. He doesn’t nap while the sheep are grazing, like some of the other shepherds. And he’s very caring. I heard he carried a sick lamb for three miles back to the barn. If he’s so gentle to an animal, I imagine he would treat his wife just as kindly.

Miri: Rachel, I can’t believe what I am hearing. So he’s a nice guy – but he’s also an am ha’aretz from a loser family. Why is he even in the picture? From what I can see, most of the guys here are nothing to write home about, but there are a few “potentials.” Sarit pointed out this great guy she was set up with. Name’s Yudi. They went out twice but he ended it. She’s here trying to get him to change his mind. She told me he’s a talmid chacham and on the fast track to getting considered for the Sanhedrin. And he’s big yichus – a descendant of David HaMelech on his mother’s side.

Rachel: I know him. He drives his chariot through the streets like a madman. He almost ran over my handmaiden in the marketplace last year. Only someone who is full of himself would act like he owns the road. I’m not interested. But if you think he’s so cool, why don’t you talk to him?

Miri: Sarit told me that his family wants a girl with a dowry of at least three orange groves, a vineyard and 10 camels. My family is not in that league. But yours is. You should try to sit next to him when we eat.

Rachel: Miri, at dinner I’m going to invite Akiva to sit next to me.

Miri: I can’t believe I’m hearing this. The guy is 40 years old. He’s a relic, an old bachelor who wouldn’t know the right end of a siddur. My three-year-old nephew knows more aleph-beis than he does.

Rachel: There’s something there deep inside him

Miri: And you have taken it upon yourself to dig it out of him? Are you a human shovel?

Rachel: Miri, maybe the so-called “losers” are actually winners waiting for someone to believe in them and give them the support and motivation they need to achieve their potential.

Miri: What are you talking about, Rachel? Akiva is a nobody – and will always be a nobody. You can’t change a person.

Rachel: Miri, you’re right, you can’t change a person. But you can help him or her bring out who they trulyare. Sometimes life throws a person some early curveballs that prevents what’s there from emerging. What if Akiva was born into Yudi’s family with all the perks? By the way, Yudi won’t change. He is what you see – arrogant and self-centered. I wouldn’t go near him – even if he is kind of cute.

Miri: Rachel, think about it. Your dad is going to have a hissy fit if he hears you hung out with Akiva. He’s his employee – a shepherd. If he at least was on your father’s payroll as a veterinarian, then maybe he’d be more open to it. But at the end of the day, Akiva is just an unwashed ignoramus.

Rachel: Yes, at the end of this day – but maybe not at the end of a later day. I sense there’s so much more to Akiva then what he presents. I just want to get to know him better, that’s all. What’s the big deal?

As we know, it became a very big deal. Rachel’s decision to see beyond the man Akiva was in his current version and to what he could be in the future resulted in am Yisrael being blessed with one of the greatest rabbinic leaders of all time.

Rabbi Akiva, the gadol hador, was not handed to Rachel on a silver platter; he did not come ready made. He evolved over time, nurtured by her unwavering belief in him, her steadfast support, and her willingness to sacrifice and put his needs first.

Sometimes, the perfect mate people are looking for does not exist pre-marriage. They are invisible “works of art” that emerge from their obscure canvas only after being partnered with a loving “painter.”

Akiva, the so-called loser, could not become the ultimate “winner” that he became – until he got married. It behooves every person looking for his or her true zivug to think twice before rejecting who he or she quickly assessed as being a “loser” – and to make the effort to get to know them.

You may be very pleasantly surprised by what you discover.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 8/07/09

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Dear Rachel,

When our new next-door non-Jewish neighbor moved in, I greeted him and we made some small talk.

I soon discovered that his lady-friend would be living there on and off – by no means an unusual arrangement in the secular world and none of my concern, you would agree… until I found out that she was Jewish, and that she, moreover, comes from a practicing religious family.

This revelation caught me off guard. To be truthful, it tears at my gut. I am saddened and disappointed, and at a loss as to how to handle the situation. Do I continue being friendly with them? They are very, very nice people.

It seems that she is divorced and that her children actually attend yeshiva. They’ve occasionally been over but don’t stay with their mom on her overnight visits.

At first I thought I should be mekarev her and her children; I really want to and actually did to some extent, but then I got to thinking what if my doing so gives her the impression that their relationship/living style is okay with me.

She really cares very much for this man, which doesn’t surprise me since he comes across as a nice, gentle and loving person.

But it hurts.

Is there any advice, chizuk or light you can shed (for me) regarding my position in all of this? What would be the right thing for me to do?

I am NOT one of those who are able to influence people. Yet my heart just breaks for her, the children, and the glory of Hashem.

Thanks so much.

Bothered and Bewildered

Dear Bewildered,

You epitomize the Jewish heart; not for naught are we considered a people of chesed.

From the sketchy details in your letter, it is difficult to know just how close you’ve become with your neighbor. Needless to say, whether you will be a positive influence on your new friend is no question; she will surely gain invaluable insight simply by observing your living style and will hopefully be inspired by the way you practice your religion and carry on the valued traditions of our heritage.

You hurt for good reason: how frustrating to see a Yiddisheh neshamah go astray! Yet, there is no telling what circumstances led her to become disillusioned to the point of abandoning a Torah way of life. To be critical or judgmental is not an option; your responsibility lies in teaching by example. At the same time, you are obligated to let her know that you do not condone her lifestyle nor approve of her living arrangement, which is contrary to our teachings.

This can be communicated via casual conversation in a non-condescending manner, even as you carry on in your warm and neighborly way. Don’t hesitate to lend an ear or a shoulder, to share your recipes and your books; be pleasant, kind and understanding – but be forewarned not to allow yourself to be drawn into heavy or lengthy discussions on the subject. Coming up against a non-believer can be daunting, to say the least.

Our Sages advise us to handle the non-believer’s rationalizations as we would (or should) our yetzer ha’ra: shrug off any and all arguments and justifications by claiming to be neither a chacham nor a philosopher. Simply head off any discussion that threatens to be going nowhere with a “you are entitled to your opinion.”

Don’t fret about your inability “to influence.” Just be yourself, be sincere, and be respectful of your neighbors as fellow human beings. Leave the rest to Hashem!

Dear Readers,

As much as we may yearn for time to slow down a bit, there is no stopping the clock. The main thing, though, is to make the best of our time in this world – an objective easier stated than accomplished, especially for those who patiently wait to meet up with their life partners with whom they are meant to forge a meaningful and fulfilling existence.

The advent of Tu B’Av is an apt reminder that it is incumbent on all of us to do some hishtadlus in the arena of shidduchim. Once upon a time, the fifteenth day in Av was joyously celebrated by young singles who aspired to attract their other halves.

On Chamishah Asar B’Av, as well as on Yom Kippur afternoon, the young maidens in Jerusalem would don white dresses and sing and dance in a circle in the vineyards – each with the respectable goal of catching the eye of her zivug.

The words to the tunes sung by the maidens relay a powerful message. “Lift up your eyes and choose thoughtfully ” they sang. “…Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain; a woman who fears G-d shall be praised ”

Who of us is not acquainted with a single (or two, or three)? In light of the significance of this day, we appeal to our readers to take time out from their busy itineraries to look around them and to see how they can make a difference in this worthy cause.

Lifting a page from the book of our rich history and tradition, we feature two lovely young “dancers” who, with uplifted hearts, hereby put their best foot forward in their dance of hope.

The reader is invited to contribute to the noble endeavor of pairing zivugim by helping our dancers “get in touch” with their prospective mates.

A.A. is an attractive and accomplished young woman of 32. Amicably divorced, this vivacious mom of two who stands at a graceful 5-foot-6, seeks a warm-hearted and loving mate (preferably Sephardic) who is adept at juggling a learning/working agenda. Single or Divorced / Widowed / not exceeding 40 / with children OK.

E.N. is intelligent, cultured and soft-spoken. A striking young lady of 31 who stands at a stately 5-foot-7, she seeks her match in sincerity and sensitivity; an emotionally and financially stable thinker and doer who can laugh at himself defines her elusive other half. Modern Orthodox / 31-38 / Single or Divorced w/o children OK.

Please e-mail detailed profiles of any potentially suitable candidates to Rachel@JewishPress.com.

E-Mail This – Or Else?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Like most people on this planet whose abodes are wired to electricity, I have a computer and go online. It is amazing to me that information on any subject or on any matter can be instantly retrieved with a few clicks of a mouse.

 

Likewise I look forward to opening my e-mail. An e-mail from a friend or family member who lives hundreds of miles away or in a different time zone, such as Israel, is always a day-brightener.

 

I know we can be in touch by cell phone, but the written word has an added dimension. You can read it and then re-read it, savoring the message it contains. Sometimes when you are on the phone, you are so busy listening that you don’t absorb everything that is being said, or there is background noise that obscures a word here or there. Often the call comes at an inconvenient time and you feel pressured to take it, but you don’t necessarily give the person on the other end your undivided attention.

 

The contents of an e-mail (or “snail” mail) are something you can relish at your leisure.

 

The downside, of course, is the tremendous amount of junk mail that you get; but they are easy to delete. They even have a name for it – spam. And with a good filter, many don’t even reach you. Junk is a fact of life, and I’m OK with it.

 

But what I’m not OK with, and what I find quite disturbing, is what I view as threatening, intimidating e-mails that actually come from good friendsand relatives.

 

Many of these emails that I actually enjoy reading contain inspirational messages, hilarious jokes, cute or unusual photos, or interesting, unusual tidbits of information. However, I have no doubt that the main reason they (and dozens of others, based on the e-mail addresses taking up a good chunk of the opening page) were sent/forwarded to me is because of pure, superstitious fear – one totally at odds with Yiddishkeit.

 

Very frequently, these otherwise delightful e-mails end with the exhortation (read threat) to forward the e-mail to at least 10 friends. You are told that if you do, wonderful things will happen to you. Conversely, failure to do so – within minutes of opening the e-mail – may have dire consequences.

 

I recently chuckled over an e-mail I received that was humorous and witty, only to have my enjoyment immediately soured when I read that something horrific would happen to me or my loved ones if I didn’t pass the e-mail on to 10 others.

 

The e-mail even gave examples of people who experienced major tragedies due to their failure to forward the e-mail. These included losing fiancées in fatal accidents, among other major misfortunes. On the other hand, the e-mail described the great luck that happened to those who “obeyed” its instructions to forward it – like meeting the love of their life at a party that evening.

 

The veiled, or not so veiled, threat contained at the end of these otherwise charming e-mails puzzles me – and disgusts me. Some are so inspirational and their messages so positive, why the mind game? Why play on people’s insecurities and irrational fears? Many who receive these kinds of e-mails are sensible, rational people, and for the most part skeptical about the e-mail’s warning of doom. Yet they are beset with a flicker of apprehension and uncertainty, one that compels them to forward the message. “It’s cute, so why not forward it to everybody?” they rationalize. And why not be on the “safe” side at the same time, an inner voice whispers.

 

I know those thoughts once crossed my mind.

 

However, I quickly reached the conclusion that giving in and sending these e-mails is akin to avodah zarah - that I was, in effect, accepting that something other than Hashem’s will could affect the course of my life.

 

The good and bad, the ups and downs in our lives come only min haShamayim – and their reasons are only known to Him. Hashem is in total control of everybody’s existence, and whatever happens to us is the outcome of His will – not of an e-mail that was sent or not sent.

 

To think otherwise erases everything our Yiddishe faith is built on.

 

            So even though I am at times tempted to forward e-mails like those described, just because of their funny or inspiring content, I instead delete them. I put this junk where it belongs – in cyberspace trash.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/e-mail-this-or-else/2009/06/24/

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