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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Jewish’

An Obscenity In Jerusalem

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

We thought the outrageous incident involving an eight-year-old child being spat on by a haredi man because he didn’t think she was modestly dressed was about as over the top as one could get. But then came the demonstration in Jerusalem Saturday night in which extremist Orthodox Jews actually marched with yellow “Jude” armbands and also play-acted several infamous scenes of Jews in the throes of the horrors of the Holocaust.

The purpose of the costumes and the posturing was to draw parallels between what the Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis and what haredim supposedly experience at the hands of an Israeli government they say is opposed to their standards of Judaism.

The analogy is an obvious obscenity and an unspeakable affront to the memories of the victims of the Holocaust, and as such is utterly unacceptable. It reflects a juvenile perception of human events and an extraordinary lack of sensitivity and judgment. It is also an example of an unfortunate development in Orthodox Jewish life as individuals with narrow agendas arrogate to themselves the right to speak for the faith – with impunity.

When all is said and done, the demonstrators speak only for themselves. Indeed, their tactics are supported neither by the general community nor by halachic authority. Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon will continue to grow unless haredi leaders are better informed by those they look to for information and enabled to deal with the growing usurpation of their authority. This hefkeirus is plainly destructive to the interests of Klal Yisrael.

As we noted last week, it is important that the Jewish tradition of modest dress and separation of the sexes not be called into disrepute because of the excesses of some zealots. It is also important to appreciate that the backdrop to the current controversy is a long-simmering conflict in Beit Shemesh between ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox residents for political control, with each side advocating its agenda.

As a community we must come down hard on the zealots. But at the same time we must not let the underlying dynamic be defined by their excesses.

‘I Never Expected To Win’: An Interview With Rhodes Scholar Miriam Rosenbaum

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

On Shabbos, November 19, Princeton University’s Miriam Rosenbaum made history by becoming the first Orthodox Jewish woman to win a Rhodes Scholarship. Roughly 1,500 Americans apply for the prestigious award each year, but only 32 ultimately receive it. Altogether only 7,000 people – including such famous personalities as Edwin Hubble, Dean Rusk, James William Fulbright, Bill Clinton, and David Souter – have won the scholarship since its inception in 1902.

Rosenbaum, who is studying at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, grew up in Riverdale, N.Y., and is a graduate of Bruriah High School for Girls in Edison, N.J. and Michlalah-Jerusalem College in Israel.

The Jewish Press: When you first applied for the scholarship a half year ago, did you really expect to win? Or was it more of a pipe dream?

Rosenbaum: I honestly did not think I would win at all. It’s a six-month application process – you need to get 10 letters of recommendation, write a 1,000-word essay, and go through a few rounds of interviews – and there were times when I was wondering, “Why am I spending six months working on this?”

But I figured that it would be a good experience either way because writing the essay and going through the interview rounds taught me a lot about myself and gave me a number of important skills that would be useful regardless of the scholarship.

What type of skills?

Interview skills, writing skills, and the ability to think about my interests and future goals in a cohesive way. Also, throughout the interview rounds, I met a number of really interesting, smart people, and I think those experiences were valuable. Most of the interviewers were in their 60s and 70s and hearing what they have accomplished throughout their lives was very interesting. And I learned a lot from them.

Who interviewed you?

There were eight interviewers, and they themselves were Rhode Scholars at some point in their lives.

Was Bill Clinton one of them?

No.

What are your thoughts on becoming the first Orthodox Jewish woman to receive a Rhodes Scholarship?

I hope this will be a trend. Many Orthodox women pursue higher education and strive for academic achievements, and I’m hoping that more will continue to do so.

Do you think that currently too few do?

Not necessarily. I think there are many Jewish women who accomplish tremendous amounts in their personal, religious, family, and academic lives, and I don’t want to minimize that.

You’ve been quoted as saying that Orthodox Jewish women can get any education they desire and that they need not choose their religion over their education. Some, however, believe that Jewish women must, indeed, sacrifice advanced education or certain careers if they are to properly raise a Jewish family.

I don’t want to give out universal advice. I’m only 22 years old and I don’t think I have enough life experience to be giving advice. But what I can say from my experiences and what I’ve witnessed is that Orthodox Jewish women are able to be successful in many areas of life simultaneously – get a good education, have a fulfilling career, grow in Yiddishkeit, and raise a family. My teachers in high school chose to do that as did other women I see – like my mother, who is my role model.

At Princeton, you’re minoring in African American Studies, Near Eastern Studies, and Jewish History. That’s a pretty wide array of interests.

I decided to minor in African American Studies because of the professors who teach in the department – specifically Cornel West.

It’s just something very different, and especially in the field of health policy [which I hope to enter] it’s important to be able to understand different cultures. When you make policy, you have to do what’s best for the greatest number of people, but you also have to understand the needs and backgrounds of different cultures that comprise the nation.

It’s interesting that Cornel West was one of your inspirations to minor in African American Studies. Some see him as a flaming radical.

He is pretty radical, and while I disagree with most of his views, I find him to be a bright and kindhearted person. He calls me “Sister Miriam.” Also, he doesn’t express his radical views in the classroom; he’s pretty good about sticking to the material.

What do you hope to study at Oxford University next year?

I’d like to [ultimately] be an advocate in the [U.S.] government for people with disabilities and the elderly. The Rhodes Scholarship will pay for me to get a Masters in bioethics, and when I return to America, I hope to get  another Masters in public affairs, with a focus on economics.

My goal is to combine ethics and economics to have a holistic understanding of the healthcare issues facing marginalized populations.

Shalom Task Force Responding to the Call of Domestic Abuse

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Mrs. Sharon Russ, Hotline Director for Shalom Task Force, prays every day that her job will cease to exist. Alas, her prayers have yet to be answered. Over the last fifteen years, thousands of Jewish women have summoned up the courage to reach out and contact the hotline, asking for help. They rely on Shalom Task Force’s guarantee of anonymity and privacy and awareness that an Orthodox Jewish wife will often delay efforts to seek advice. This is because she is fearful of embarrassment and the potential negative consequences for her and her children. When she finally gathers the courage to face her dilemma, calling the hotline is her first step towards getting help.

The caller could be a distraught mother who believes that her married daughter is suffering from a controlling, critical husband. She wonders what can or should be done. Another call could be a young girl in her twenties, engaged to be married in just one month, who is uneasy because she heard her chassan speak to a family member in a cold, hostile way. Is this a red flag she should be paying attention to? Is he really the mensch everyone said he is? She’s been uneasy for a while now, as she’s seen this darker side of his personality emerge on several occasions. Should she break off the engagement? And if she does, will she ever get another chance? These cases are representative of the hundreds of different situations Shalom Task Force’s highly trained staff of dedicated women face on a regular basis.

STF hotline advocates take a three-hour shift once a week. They don’t take their responsibility lightly. They know that for many women, they may be the only existing lifeline. There are more than an estimated 1000 calls received each year. Many of these calls are in response to a domestic abuse situation. Additionally, the hotline provides referrals and a listening ear for personal and family concerns.

Rachel*, a dedicated volunteer, shares her experience: “One of my first calls was a woman who called Monday morning at 9:02am, right after the phones opened. It was clear she had been waiting to make the call. She said: ‘I just want you to know that Hashem blessed me with seven children. Last night, baruch Hashem, was the last sheva brachos for my youngest child. I have been married 35 years, my life has been a living hell and I have to get out of my marriage.’” Rachel, the volunteer, continues: “Many times the phone will ring and all I’ll hear is sniffling. I’ll say, ‘I’m here for you, I care about you. I’ll hold on for as long as you need.’ The woman will start sobbing because someone cares about her. I have listened to women cry for ten minutes before they start talking.”

A few years ago, the hotline began an affiliate program that has allowed them to expand beyond the NYC region. Since it is very costly to start up a new hotline and to train volunteers, other areas of the country are joining Shalom Task Force as affiliates. These cities put together a customized manual for social service, therapeutic and legal referrals in their area, and supply the New York volunteers with these manuals. If a woman in trouble calls from elsewhere she will speak to a New York volunteer who has access to referrals that are well suited to the caller’s geographic location.

Sarah* is the name the anonymous victim used when she called the hotline one Tuesday morning, after her husband had left for work and her children were safely at school. She had been summoning the courage to make this call for at least three years. Her hands trembling, her mouth as dry as the Sahara, she practically whispered the words: “I’m frightened for my children to witness what is going on, what do I do?”

Sarah called the right place. Shalom Task Force is here to help.

Rabbi Julius Berman Reminisces On Rav Soloveitchik And 50 Years Of Community Service

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

This Sunday, Yeshiva University is honoring Rabbi Julius Berman for 50 years of community service. Currently the chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, honorary president of the Orthodox Union, and chairman of the board of trustees of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school (RIETS), Rabbi Berman has headed a dozen Jewish organizations over the last five decades while also working in the law firm of Kaye Scholer, where he has been a partner since 1967.

 Aside from being the first Orthodox Jewish layman to head the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1982-1984), Rabbi Berman is also well known for the close relationship he shared with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (popularly called “the Rav”), who ordained him in 1959.

The Jewish Press: How did you wind up in Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur in Yeshiva University?

Rabbi Berman: On the eve of my bar mitzvah, my father got a letter from his uncle in Israel, Rav Avraham Bender [whose grandson, Rav Yaakov Bender, currently heads Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway]. In the letter, he wrote two things: a) “I’m sending some sefarim for Yudl” – which is my Yiddish name – and b) “I’m making a commitment that when he gets into Rav Chazzan’s shiur [in Torah Vodaath] or Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik’s shiur [in RIETS], I’m going to send him a Shas.”

Well, I had never heard of the name Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik at that time, but sure enough, I went to Torah Vodaath for high school, to college in YU, and eventually ended up in the Rav’s shiur.

And you immediately developed a relationship with Rav Soloveitchik?

Well, I got into the Rav’s shiur when I was going for semicha. The class was overflowing because everybody wanted to get into the shiur. So a bunch of us – the ones who came for the first time – were sitting all the way in the back because you couldn’t get to the front. It probably was good because everybody was so frightened that if they would say something stupid, the Rav would tell them it was stupid.

After the first year, though, a whole group left the shiur because they were getting semicha. So we, the ones in the back, moved all the way up. I recall distinctly that we were all sitting there, waiting for the Rav to walk in for the first day of shiur. He walks in, we of course jump up, he sits down at a table, and almost the first thing he says is, “Ver vill sagen? – Who wants to say?”

Suddenly everyone put their heads down, avoiding eye contact, because they were so nervous about saying [the Gemara]. Rav Soloveitchik repeated, “Ver vill sagen?” Again, no contact at all. He started getting a little frustrated and started looking on his desk for the list of names of the people in the class. He couldn’t find it, and I felt for him, so I pointed to where the roll book was. He misunderstood me, though, and said, “Oh, du vill sagen? Sag! – You want to say? Say!” And day after day, since I was the only name he knew, he said, “Berman sag – Berman say.” So that was my “initiation” into the shiur.

Earlier this year, some Jewish Press readers – reacting to an article by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin – criticized Rav Soloveitchik for being so harsh and forbidding in the classroom. Others readers countered that Rav Soloveitchik’s shiur was a form of intellectual boot camp and that his harshness was designed to inspire excellence from his students. What’s your take on the issue?

Anorexia And Corrupt Dating Values In Our Community

Monday, April 18th, 2011

   The article last week in The New York Times concerning the explosion of anorexia and eating disorders in the Orthodox community highlights a tragedy that has long been buried.
 
   In November 2006 I wrote a column about an eighteen-year-old girl my daughter knew at a seminary in Jerusalem who died of anorexia (www.jewishpress.com/pageroute.do/19839). The seminary shrugged off any blame in the matter and cited some other illness, even though the girls at the seminary watched her wasting away with the administration seemingly oblivious.
 
   The tragedy is not only the danger posed to religious girls with eating disorders but also the growth of corrupt values in the Orthodox community. The Times article highlighted how matchmakers are calling about girls and asking what dress size they and their mothers are. What does this have to do with Jewish values? Sure, a man has to be attracted to a woman. But the narrow definition of the body as the only ingredient of attraction is a betrayal of the traditional Jewish definition of feminine beauty.
 
   Time was when a Jewish woman’s comeliness was determined holistically and based on five key components: her body, her mind, her heart, her piety, and her personality. Now, it’s been reduced to her dress size. Stick-thin scarecrow-like features are the foremost determinant of attractiveness.
 
   Being overweight is not healthy. But women who focus only on their bodies to the exclusion of their souls are equally unhealthy. And men who have practiced Judaism their entire lives but are blind to a woman’s righteousness and virtue, focusing exclusively on her form to the exclusion of her substance, are even more unhealthy.
 
   The crisis in Orthodoxy today is the practice of Jewish ritual to the exclusion of Jewish values. And in no area is this more evident than in the increasingly shallow dating preferences that are coming to define our community. King Solomon’s ode to the eishes chayil – the wife of excellence – we chant every Friday night risks becoming an empty refrain, with men paying lip service to its central proclamation that “physical beauty is misleading, but a woman who fears God is truly to be praised.”
 
   I never would have thought Orthodox Jews would arrive at a stage where our young men of marriageable have become so one-dimensional that their superficiality would begin to literally kill our young women. That their mothers – women themselves – are colluding in this corruption by calling the shadchan to ask a girl’s dress size in the same breath as asking about her level of Torah observance is doubly tragic.
 
   The Times article also cited the immense pressure Orthodox women feel to marry at a very young age and how they feel themselves to be failures if they are in their mid-twenties and not yet married with a few children.
 
   I have long advocated marrying young - for Orthodox and secular alike – because it allows a couple to grow up together and solidify their union with life’s formative experiences. But this has to be balanced against the benefits of young women being educated and using their minds, not just their wombs. It’s a beautiful thing to see Orthodox seminaries for women bursting at the seams. Jewish women today are being exposed to the great texts of Judaism, from Talmud and Midrash to halacha and chassidus. Stern and Touro are graduating Orthodox girls with degrees in international relations and public relations, girls proficient in the sciences and mathematics.
 
   Secular Jews have long dismissed the Orthodox attitude toward women as demeaning and misogynistic. They argue that we treat our girls as baby-making machines who belong in the kitchen. But the highly educated Orthodox Jewish woman gives the lie to these malicious accusations. Should we be so stupid as to prove our critics right by making women feel so much pressure to be married by the age of twenty? Is it not our responsibility to demonstrate that a woman can maximize her fullest intellectual potential alongside having a family and that she need not choose between them?
 
   I am, thank God, the proud father of nine children. I want my daughters to marry young and to marry virtuous men. I shudder at the idea that after my wife and I raised them to embody the virtue of the Jewish matriarchs, my daughters will meet Orthodox suitors obsessed with their external beauty to the exclusion of their inner spiritual commitment.
 
   I have spent my life critiquing the secular culture’s attitudes toward the feminine, especially in my book Hating Women, where I decry the reduction of women to a libidinous man’s plaything. But we in the Orthodox community dare not make our own mistake in reducing our women to pretty baby-making mannequins.
 
   Yes, family is the most important thing in Jewish life. And dating recreationally for ten years – as is common in secular society – is scant preparation for the lifelong commitment of marriage. I am a counselor to secular singles who suffer the effects of the recreational dating culture. They often experience the pain and heartache of endlessly going in and out of relationships.
 

   Orthodox Jewish life is meant to offer a radical alternative. But viewing women as frum Barbies, whose foremost responsibility is not learning Torah and practicing mitzvos but going on the treadmill and pumping iron, or seeing a woman’s education as inconsequential and making her feel old and discarded if she is not married by her early twenties, is hardly an attractive alternative.

 

 

    Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the bestselling author of 25 books, most recently Honoring the Child Spirit” and Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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

When Health Care Comes Home

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

A parent or spouse suddenly suffers a debilitating stroke or heart attack and requires home health care. Where should the family turn?

 

            Many families thankfully are never forced to consider such questions. Others, though, are not as lucky and feel overwhelmed by the new situation thrust upon them, not knowing where or to whom to turn for advice.

 

            The Jewish Press recently spoke with Avi Cyperstein and Adina Berger, director of marketing and director of patient services, respectively, for InterGen Health, a relatively new home health care agency that prides itself on its caring and customer-friendly service. InterGen, which started operations in June 2008, employs approximately 500 home health aides and services patients throughout New York City’s five boroughs and Nassau County.

 

The Jewish Press: It’s probably natural for people to worry that home health aides won’t treat their loved ones with the same devotion and care that they would. How do you address that concern?

 

Cyperstein: I’ve had families who will ask to meet the aide before we start anything and I will put the person in my car, drive to the family’s house, and sit down with the family and patient to go through any questions they may have and see if they hit it off.

 

We want to make the transition from “Oh, my God, what do we do?” to “Wow, this is really working out!” as smooth as possible. Essentially we view ourselves as an extension of the family. We want the patients and families to know that we’re here for you.

 

I should add that all our home health aides are licensed, certified, and trained in the ADLs – activities of daily living – which means assistance with eating, feeding, clothing, bathing, washing, showering, moving, transporting, toileting, basic housekeeping, walking, etc. We also do background checks on every one of our aides to make sure they are legally allowed to work in the United States, have no history of Medicaid fraud, etc.

 

           How many of your patients are Orthodox, and do you make an effort to send Jewish home health aides who better understand Orthodox Jewish culture and practices to these patients?

 

           Cyperstein: It’s hard to know how many are Orthodox. I think maybe 30 percent. [Regarding the second part of your question,] there’s very few Jewish home health aides. So what we try to do is find someone who has experience working with Orthodox patients. We are constantly being surprised by people who come in to apply for a job and we’ll ask them about their previous experience, and they’ll say, “What do you mean? I worked for this rabbi in Brooklyn for 12 years. I know everything about kosher and Shabbos.”

 

            Right now we have an Irish aide who has been working for an Orthodox family for almost a year who takes the patient to shul, checks the times for Minchah, and on Shabbos speaks to the patient about the parshah. The aide is becoming so knowledgeable in Jewish law that visitors to the family sometimes ask, “This aide is Jewish, right?”

 

Do you often get complaints from patients that their home health aides are cold or “have an attitude”?

 

Berger: Often? No. It happens, but when you buy a bunch of grapes, you’re going to have some good grapes and some bad grapes. Most of the time, the bad ones are one or two and you get rid of them right away. The same thing with home health aides.

 

            So the bad grapes are discarded?

 

Cyperstein: Well, if it’s a significant complaint we’ll take them off our roster, but [often the complaint is more subjective]. For instance, a family will complain to us that the home health aide is not talkative; we need someone who’s more talkative.

 

I got a request a couple of weeks ago for a Spanish-speaking home health aide who’s young and not fat. I sent this e-mail to my office and they thought I was joking, but this was the family’s request and we got it. We have to meet the family’s needs.

 

I once got a request for someone who knows how to play chess. The patient liked to play chess and needed an aide who could play chess with him all day, so we found someone. We kind of roll with it. There are a lot of general type of requests – someone who’s talkative, who’s good at cooking, who can help, etc. – but we get funny and interesting ones too.

 

If Congress passes President Obama’s health care plan, how will that affect you?

 

Cyperstein: It’s a good question. I honestly don’t see how it can affect us tremendously, but it affects the customers.

 

Berger: We’re constantly sending letters to the Senate to make sure the bill doesn’t get passed because they’re going to keep cutting the number of hours [that patients are entitled to under government-provided insurance], which ultimately affects us. But it’s the patients that are affected by it the most.

 

How do you monitor your aides? How do you know if they’re doing a good job?

 

            Cyperstein: For one, we have someone in our office whose job is to make sure that the home health aides are at their appointments and are clocking in properly. Part of her job is also to periodically call up people we’re servicing and ask them about their home health aide: How is the service? Is there something that we can do better?

 

A lot of people, especially foreigners who don’t have family close by, feel like they’re almost at the mercy of the home health aide, so if there’s something they don’t like they’re afraid to call us and complain. So I’ll go to the family member or patient and say, “Here’s my card; call me with any questions.” When you open it up, a lot of the time you will hear about things that can be changed for the better.

 

We like to be proactive, not reactive. We view ourselves as family. We’re here to help.

 

Those desiring more information about InterGen can visit www.InterGenHealth.com or call 718-346-1000.

Shalom Task Force: Answering The Call Of Domestic Abuse

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Due to the overwhelming amount of e-mail I have received about domestic abuse, this week’s column focuses on the services of Shalom Task Force.

(Names and situation have been changed)

According to the Allstate Foundation National Poll on Domestic Violence, three out of four Americans know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic abuse. While it impacts many, few are willing to discuss the issue.

Shalom Task Force has been responding to domestic abuse in the Jewish community since 1992. Shalom Task Force maintains a hotline and offers extensive preventive educational programs to youth, singles and engaged couples. These programs are geared not only to responding to domestic abuse issues, but also to enhancing the quality of healthy marriages in our community.

For the last 17 years, thousands of Jewish women, mostly Orthodox, have summoned the courage to reach out to the hotline for help, relying on guarantees of anonymity and privacy, which are always kept. The caller could be Sarah who has been enduring physical violence from her husband for over 10 years. If Sarah is typical of an Orthodox Jewish wife who is a victim of domestic abuse, she will suffer from physical beatings from her husband for seven years longer than a domestic violence victim who is not Orthodox, because she is so terrified of the embarrassment and negative consequences to her children if the abuse were to become public knowledge. She is finally gathering the courage to file for divorce, and she calls the hotline as her first courageous step toward freedom from abuse.

The caller could be Esther, who is distraught because she believes that her married daughter is suffering from a controlling, critical husband.  Esther wonders what she can and should do for her daughter. Or, the caller could be Joanne, a young girl in her 20s, engaged to be married in just one month, who broke out in a cold sweat this past weekend when she saw her chassan (fianc?) speak to a family member in a cold, hostile way. Is this a red flag she should be paying attention to? Is he really the mensch everyone said he is? She’s been uneasy for a while now, as she’s seen this darker side of his personality emerge more often than she’d like. How can she break off the engagement, with the wedding gown already ordered and tailored just for her? And if she does, will she ever get married?

A highly trained group of Orthodox volunteer advocates have been taught how to answer these calls on the domestic abuse hotline.  When a victim calls, the volunteers open their hearts and focus all of their attention on the woman and her concerns.  Long after that woman has hung up the phone the volunteers are thinking about her and praying for her safety. It’s not unusual for a volunteer to have a sleepless night after taking a shift, as she lays awake hoping that Susan or Penny or Leah will be able to extricate themselves from an abusive situation.

Incredibly, 70 percent of the core staff of 15 volunteers who trained in 1992 when the hotline began are still volunteering. Today, 65 women answer calls on the hotline that operates out of several locations throughout the five boroughs.

The increase in staff and locations has been necessary to respond to the estimated 1,000 hotline calls received each year. Many of these calls are in response to a domestic violence situation. Additionally, the hotline provides referrals and a listening ear for personal and family concerns about substance abuse, gambling, bereavement, hospice care, eating disorders, kids at risk, infertility and adoption, marriage and family therapy, and social services like housing, food stamps, relocation, clothing, furniture, and employment assistance.

Nancy, a dedicated volunteer, shares her experience on the hotline:  “One of my first calls was a woman who called me Monday morning at 9:02, right after we opened. It was clear she was waiting until we opened. She said: “I just want you to know that Hashem blessed me with seven children. Last night, Baruch Hashem, was the last of the sheva brachos for my youngest child. I have been married 35 years, my life has been a living hell and I have to get out of my marriage.” Nancy, the volunteer, continues: “Many times the phone will ring and all I’ll hear is sniffling. I’ll say, ‘I’m here for you, I care about you. I’ll hold on for as long as you need.’ The woman will start sobbing because someone cares about her. I have listened to women cry for 10 minutes before they start talking.”

Beth is the name that the anonymous victim used when she called the hotline one Tuesday morning, after her husband had left for work and her children were safely at school. She had been summoning the courage to make this call for at least three years. Her hands trembling, her mouth as dry as the Sahara, she practically whispered the words:  “I need to leave my husband. I have no money. We have five children. I can’t continue like this any longer. Can you help me?”

Beth called the right place. Shalom Task Force is here to help.

For more information call our hotline at 718-337-3700 or visit online at www.shalomtaskforce.org.

 

Next week, First Aid for Jewish Marriages – Part 18, Conflict Resolution

 

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/shalom-task-force-answering-the-call-of-domestic-abuse/2009/10/09/

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