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August 27, 2014 / 1 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Leiby’s Legacy

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Note to readers: When I heard the words, “You give us seven minutes and we’ll give you the world” on the radio at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, July 13, I never thought that what I was about to hear would shake me to the core and change my world forever. I could not come to myself – and I’m sure most of klal Yisrael couldn’t either. So I sat down and the following poem spilled forth. Because it is written in a simple style, simple enough for any child to understand, I hope it does not seem to trivialize what happened; it is just my humble reaction to an earth-shattering event.

 

*  *  *

 

A tzadik was born, to perform a tafkid so rare,

To make klal Yisrael express that they care.

Barely nine short years later, his mission fulfilled,

He returned to his Maker, as was willed.

 

The decree from Above seemed a harsh fall.

Why should one family take the burden for all?

But as the details unfolded, unimaginable, unreal,

It reminded me of an earlier time, when Hashem made a deal.

 

Like to Avraham about S’dom, now Hashem made a vow.

“If the klal could show achdus, then maybe somehow

The g’zar will be lifted, and you’ll all return

To the way it was before, the decree will adjourn.”

 

If in seven short minutes, every Yid would perform

A mitzvah bein adam l’chaveiro, the decree could be torn.

If in the seven minutes Leiby waited, any Yid really looked

At the lost look on his face, he would have been hooked.

 

If an onlooker had asked, “Need help? Are you waiting for your mother?”

Leiby might’ve asked him for guidance, instead of the other

But we hurried on by, didn’t volunteer to assist,

The clock ticked on, the surveillance camera hissed.

 

And the monster paid his bill, and emerged to the boy

Did he come with a promise of a TV or a toy?

Leiby followed behind, like no father would ask,

Cause the man’s mind was focused on his dastardly task.

 

The seven minutes we wasted, not looking not seeing;

The seven minutes he waited while we were too busy “me”ing.

An opportunity lost to set Leiby on a good path,

Away from the monster, away from his wrath.

 

Now there’s no turning back, no way to undo,

Just trust in Hashem as an ehrlicha Jew.

And we must surrender and beg Hashem to forgive,

Though we’ll never understand as long as we live.

 

Don’t you all remember in yeshiva we learned

Of magefos and troubles and Jews that were burned?

And the pasuk just prior described all their bad deeds

And all of the mitzvos they neglected to heed.

We all read aloud and said to ourselves with a smirk,

Didn’t that generation realize they were acting like jerks?

Why couldn’t they see just one pasuk behind,

That their deeds and actions were causing this bind?

 

And we, our history yet unrecorded, we too don’t look within,

We point and we blame someone else for our sins.

Hashem, He asks only that we follow His Torah,

And then we will see, “LaYehudim Ha’yesa Orah.”

 

We too are blind to the warnings, we are blind to our plight,

We don’t see our own monsters hiding in the dark of night.

And so Hashem creates a tzadik to show us the way,

To really look at each other every night and every day.

 

To weed out the monsters, not hide them from view,

And help protect our children from what they could do.

The Most Important Things In Life Are Invisible

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

In today’s world of mounting pressures and continuous change, we need to take a few minutes to reset our perspectives and figure out what matters most.

Each stage in life is fraught with challenging – challenges that have the potential to make or break us. Life is all about choices – and when we know what is essential, our hard work and energy gets streamlined in a crystal-clear path to help us achieve what we want most.

Most of us, at least to some degree, are guilty of wasting time focusing on the trivial things; we let ourselves be blinded by all the power, prestige and material things that seem to surround us. And once we lose focus, we tend to forget the significant things, such as our relationships and our own personal development. Often we channel so much of our energy and time into matters that, in the long run, don’t really matter. Running late for work, someone cracking the bumper of our car or getting the wrong item in a long awaited package may cause us a lot of distress. Stressing out about having nothing to wear, what other people think about us or making sure we do everything we can to keep up with the latest fashions can keep our mind whirring for hours. Perhaps we have been spending too much time at the office, in front of the computer or the TV and haven’t been able to take the time to focus on what really matters.

Imagine if there were a bank which credits your account each morning with $86,400, carries over no balance from day-to-day and allows you to keep a zero cash balance. What would you do? You would draw out every dollar, of course!

Well, each of us has such a bank; its name is Life and its currency is time. Every morning, it credits each of us with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever time we have failed to invest towards a valuable purpose. It carries over no balance; it allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for us; each night it burns the records of the day.

If we fail to use the day’s deposits of our imaginary bank account, the loss is ours; there is no going back, there is no drawing against “tomorrow.” Therefore, we would empty out every dollar and buy the most precious of items. Same too in life, we must draw out every minute and spend it in the best way possible.

Often it takes a wake up call to help us reprioritize. Events such as a job loss, a new baby, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, a birthday or a near-death experience tend to hit us like a ton of bricks. These wake up calls make us stop and consider what s truly important. Very often we realize that we have had our priorities mixed up. When that happens we can set our priorities by separating that which is important from those things which don’t hold much significance.

After graduating from nursing school, Daniella started work in the operating room of a local hospital. She was very enthusiastic about her new career; she worked tirelessly during her long shifts and was enthusiastic about every task she performed. However, like with many new jobs, the novelty soon wore off and she found herself in a slump.

One night, while working a double shift, Daniella was feeling aggravated – she didn’t like the doctor she was working with, her feet hurt, it was late, and she was “doing eyes.” Every operating nurse has a preferred, and least preferred, body part to operate on, Daniella most disliked operating on the eyes-she felt that these operations were both boring and repulsive.

Her patient that night was an elderly man; he was there to have his cataract removed and new lenses implanted. When the procedure was completed, Daniella started to pull the bandages off to put drops in the patient’s eyes. As she was pulling off the bandages the patient made instant eye contact with her.

“I can see!!!” he exclaimed emphatically and excitedly, “And you are beautiful!”

At that moment Daniella realized what a truly significant thing she had just done. She realized what this meant to the patient and how truly grateful he was. She helped him see! She quickly mumbled some response to him about how he must still be feeling the effects of the anxiety medications. However, he adamantly proclaimed again, “No, you really are beautiful!”

Daniella no longer felt tired, her leg pain seemed to disappear. She had helped him see and that was a truly beautiful thing. Daniella realized that she had not understood what true beauty really was. There was nothing repulsive about the work she was doing – helping another human being was a beautiful thing.

Every moment in life counts and if we spend our moments worrying about, or even merely thinking about, matters of little significance, then we are losing precious time that we could have used to move us in a positive direction in our life. Will it matter what we were wearing today ten years from now?

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on a table in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take your partner out for a walk. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.

Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

Focusing on what truly matters is what truly matters. Remember, life, this incredible gift from Hashem, is what we make of it. Our life account has a limited capacity, there is only so much time deposited for us each day, let’s be sure to invest it wisely.

The Thin Line Between Joy and Tragedy

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

“There is a thin line between love and hate,” the saying goes. Two opposite emotions, yet one can so easily transmute into the other.

I have lately come to see that there is also a thin line between joy and tragedy. Joyful and tragic events can converge on the plane of time, emotional ink bleeding across the intersecting lines. Or an experience might transform without warning – a crushing setback unfolding into the greatest triumph, the height of celebration spiraling into heartbreak.

The only way to survive the roller coaster ride is to travel on a cushion of faith.

If this all sounds like a bunch of preachy philosophical pabulum, let me back up a bit.

*    *   *

One evening in February, my husband and I were relaxing in our living room. The Olympics hummed along on TV, my husband the weather-buff was devouring online updates on the unfolding East Coast snowstorm, and I was holding our baby daughter in my arms, feeding her a bottle. Our little boy was asleep in his room. One minute, a tranquil family tableau. The next minute, panic! Baby turning blue, her body stiff, her life hanging in the balance. I don’t know exactly how long she wasn’t breathing – a minute or two that seemed like 20 – but they were positively the most terrifying moments of my life.

By the grace of Hashem (and with the help of fast-responding Hatzolah volunteers, kind neighbors, and a top-notch ER) everything was fine. Tonight we are back here relaxing in the living room, enjoying the gift of another evening together.

*   *   *

Now, allow me to take you back a little further to when the learning really started.

After a progression of fertility troubles culminating in a bleak prognosis, my husband and I were at a very low point. Windows closing, the limitations of medical science laid bare.

Thus, we felt incredibly blessed approximately one year ago to learn we were expecting a second child.

Our jubilation turned to disbelief when initial tests put the viability of the pregnancy in question. But things progressed. The months of sickness that followed seemed a small price to pay. We were buoyant, if anxious.

A little past the halfway mark, the pregnancy became high-risk when I was diagnosed with a serious complication. Up and down, up and down. Where was this road going to take us?

At just 29 weeks, our daughter was delivered by emergency c-section. She weighed a little over 2½ pounds. The doctors whisked her away before I could even blink.

Right away, the confluence of joy and sadness struck me. Our daughter had arrived on Simchas Torah. The holiday of rejoicing with the Torah – Hashem’s greatest, everlasting gift to us – singing and dancing and celebrating our good fortune as its recipients. And here we were, my husband and I, in a hospital room, trying to digest our frightening new reality.

That first night, on Motzaei Yom Tov, my parents came to see me. “Mazal Tov!” bellowed my father, ever the optimist. The words rang strange in my ears. Yes, the birth of a child is always a blessing. But this new life was yet so tenuous, her prognosis then so uncertain. How could I celebrate when my baby lay tethered to machines, her tiny body utterly unready for the tasks of living?

For two months, the NICU was our baby’s home and our second home. Day by day, she made progress and showed a strong spirit. I was proud to see her batting her arms and legs, but I learned that all that movement wastes precious energy needed for growth.

Two steps forward, one step back is the rhythm of the place.

There were highs: the first time I held her (it was several weeks before that was possible), every clean test result, the day I finally saw her sweet face without any tubes or apparatuses. And lows: saying goodbye each day (often she’d finally open her eyes just when I had to go), having to ask permission for everything and defer to the judgment of others regarding her care, the night she contracted an infection and almost died.

We were at home sleeping when that crisis hit, blissfully oblivious until an unexpected morning phone call. Two days earlier, our baby had graduated into one of the “going home” rooms – those that house the bigger, stronger babies who are on their way toward discharge.

Perhaps the hardest part of those eight weeks was feeling torn between my child at home and the one in the hospital. Call it a severe case of Mother’s Guilt: the feeling that no matter what I did or where I was, I was shortchanging someone.

My mother has a dear cousin in Israel who is a chesed powerhouse. Among her wise expressions is, “In life you have to be where you’re needed the most.” I thought about that a lot during my NICU experience, and kept asking myself: Who needs me more right now?

On one hand, my son, then just shy of two and a half, sorely missed me when I wasn’t there. He was, in a word, confused. Children crave routine, and his had been quite upended. After my weeks of bedrest when he had been heard to chant in a singsong voice, “What happened to Mommy? What happened to Mommy?” I had disappeared into the hospital. But I didn’t come back with a baby in tow like in the big brother books we had read together. And he wasn’t allowed to visit the NICU, so he couldn’t see this “baby sister” he had been told about. The best I could do for him was to simply Be There. That meant cutting my time in the hospital short (or so it always felt).

Did the baby sense my absence? Not consciously, of course. But what about that subconscious-unconscious-visceral need that all newborns have to bond with their parents? Would she be scarred for life – not just because of the hours I couldn’t be there but because of all the cuddling she missed out on lying in an Isolette with wires and tubes and beeping noises and invasive procedures regardless of whether one of us was there?

So even as I sat playing with my son at home, or chasing him in the park outside, I felt conflicted. Delighted to see my son happy and carefree despite the upheaval in his routine, yet aching inside for my baby to come home, for our family to be whole.

Where does sadness end and happiness begin? Must the bitter overpower the sweet, or can it exist side by side, like two rivers flowing into the same heart? Hashem’s world is complex, and we are tasked with making peace out of the many pieces of our lives.

Throughout our journey, the jumble of emotions I felt led me many times to the brink of doubt. Each time we had to hold our breath again, I begged to understand: Why is Hashem doing this? Could we possibly have come so far only to lose it all? How can we bear to climb so high only to sink so low?

Will our baby make it? Will we?

But at least I had Someone to whom I could direct these questions. How, I wonder, can anyone get through such an experience without God? Whom do they call out to in the darkest moments? Just as I’ve always wondered how non-Jews and non-frum Jews handle the stresses of the week without Shabbos, I cannot fathom how one can get through a medical crisis without the succor of faith.

My husband and I are ordinary people. Our faith is imperfect. But I don’t think we could have survived our ordeal without it. From the very first night we learned of my pregnancy – and were warned that it might not last – we began a nightly Tehillim ritual of five perakim followed by a special Yehi Ratzon prayer from my Tefillas Chana siddur. The ritual continued while our daughter was in the hospital. It helped us connect with Hashem and feel that we were rallying the heavenly minions to our cause.

He heeded our prayers – and those of many others davening for us with hearts more pure. Our miracle daughter, the one all the nurses had labeled “feisty,” came home ahead of schedule.

*  *  *

This last year has been a roller coaster ride for our family. It’s made me realize more than ever how fragile our existence is, how unpredictable our lives. Not just from year to year, but from moment to moment. Why Hashem chooses to run the world this way I cannot claim to know. But I suspect that perhaps the unpredictability of life is supposed to motivate us toward continued prayer and dialogue with Him. It’s not enough to pray for something; once we have it, we have to pray to hold on to it.

Tanach is replete with examples of great individuals whom God drew to the brink of deprivation in order to elicit their deepest cries of prayer. Hashem wants to hear from us in good times and bad, in the throes of confusion and moments of clarity.

Unfortunately, not everyone manages to daven formally every day from a siddur (I admit I am among them). But as we go about each day, words that form in the heart and are whispered aloud – expressions of thanks, appeals for help – keep the conversation with the Almighty going.

When davening for our children, we typically focus on beseeching Hashem to grant them X or let them grow up to become Y. But that’s missing a step. Every parent must thank Hashem every day for the fact that he or she has a child at all. The same goes for spouses and parents. Because nothing is guaranteed; Hashem gives at His Mercy. The line between joy and tragedy is razor thin.

A neighbor of mine recently lost her father; a few weeks later she made a bar mitzvah. This type of predicament is, unfortunately, all too common. And yet, the show must go on. I know a girl who lost her father three weeks before her wedding. Yes, the wedding went on as scheduled. Not only is that undoubtedly what her father would have wanted, but it’s what our rabbonim advise. It is surely not an easy course. I can only imagine how much inner strength one must muster to make a simcha while still in mourning.

Regardless of the circumstances, undiluted simcha is rare in this world. There is almost always a sting, a yearning for the loved ones not there to share it. And don’t we make a point at every chuppah of tempering our joy with a remembrance of the churban? In galus, our joy is never complete.

*   *   *

We celebrated Pesach a few weeks ago, and Purim just before that. Each of these holidays illustrates the commingling of joy and tragedy in a different way.

Purim is the story of “V’nahapoch Hu” – disaster transformed into jubilation. Hashem is in control; it is never too late for Him to save us. In the Megillah, the very tools that were to do us in became instruments in our salvation: Achashverosh’s royal seal, the gallows Haman erected to hang Mordechai. Indeed, Haman unknowingly selected, through his lottery, a date for our destruction which is now forever enshrined on the Jewish calendar as one of rejoicing. And Esther’s ascent to the throne, which appeared at first as a grave misfortune, turned out to be the key to our enemies’ undoing.

Pesach, on the other hand, is an example of wondrous and unfortunate events occurring contemporaneously. In the first place, we are told that only one-fifth of the Jews made it out of Egypt. If just that small percentage numbered six hundred thousand souls – the headcount at the time of the redemption – how many millions of Yidden were lost during the centuries of enslavement? That is a tragedy of staggering proportions.

Moreover, the makkos wrought tremendous suffering and destruction, culminating in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Yam Suf. While it may seem odd to mourn those losses, Chazal made acknowledging the Egyptians’ misfortune part of the Seder (removing drops of wine from our cups) and of the Pesach liturgy (saying only partial Hallel on the intermediate and final days of the chag). We ever so slightly mitigate our celebration because our redemption came at a great human cost. The moral lesson: We do not rejoice at another’s pain (even if it comes as due punishment).

We would all love to live in a world without pain. Some people seem, on the outside, to have a “charmed life,” but that can only be an illusion. There’s no such thing as a pain-free existence. That’s why it often strikes me at a shiva house when fellow condolence callers wish the mourners that they “should know no further tza’ar.” Well-intended and benign as the thought may be, it doesn’t reflect reality.

Hashem could have created a world without suffering where everyone lives forever in peace and vitality. God willing, we will experience such a world one day, may it come soon. But in the meantime, we are challenged to strengthen our emunah through the rough and tumble of life’s vicissitudes. (By this I do not mean to make light of anyone’s suffering. The recent trials of my own that I have chosen to share here pale in comparison to the horrors others have had to endure.)

*   *   *

Our little girl has, thank God, been growing by leaps and bounds. She will continue to be closely monitored – being a “preemie” doesn’t end when you leave the hospital – but we are optimistic. Most of all, we are profoundly grateful for our blessings. I hope that we maintain that awe and awareness as time goes by.

“Wonders happen if we can succeed / in passing through the harshest danger,” Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. Better yet, the words of David Hamelech: “Ha’zorim b’dimah b’rinah yiktzoru” – may those who sow through tribulation reap a thousandfold in joy.

Rookie Director Honored For Religious-Themed Israeli TV Drama

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

      Jerusalem- When Israel’s version of the Emmy Awards were announced in late 2009, the mainly secular entertainment establishment received an unexpected jolt as “Srugim,” an off-beat series about the trials and tribulations of religious singles in Jerusalem was tabbed “Best Drama” on Israeli TV.

 

      Ironically, “Srugim” (which means “knitted,” as in knitted or crocheted kippot) did not air on Israel’s three major commercial channels but on the increasingly popular YES satellite network.

 

   To make matters even more interesting, “Srugim” was helmed by a first-time prime-time TV director, Eliezer “Lazy” Shapiro, the religious son of American parents who made aliyah from Philadelphia way back in 1969. Today, Shapiro makes his home in Karnei Shomron.

 

      “Srugim” follows the story of five 30-something singles in Jerusalem, some of whom have been married and divorced, who find themselves increasingly frustrated by the local dating scene as well as the various social and religious boundaries they face as they grow older.                     

 

        Shapiro discovered that “Srugim” touched a nerve with both religious and secular singles in Israeli society as well.

 

   “A wide spectrum of Israel’s religious society reacted to the first season in an almost obsessive manner,” Shapiro told The Jewish Press.

 

   “Some singles told us we had made a series that literally copied their lives, while more frum people, who aren’t supposed to have a TV to begin with, claimed we depicted things that were a chillul Hashem.

 

   “We aspired to show all the characters with their flaws, because no one can identify with someone who’s perfect. Some of the characters go through religious crises and must deal with the boundaries of halacha. These things are real and happen every day.

 

   “On the other side of the coin, the reaction from secular Jews was equally amazing. Many people told us we had shattered the stereotypes they grew up with about religious singles and discovered a whole new world, where the social mores and codes are different. Which is why some religious viewers told us we had actually created a kiddush Hashem for secular society.”

 

      As the number of viewers grew along with positive reviews from TV critics, the YES programming department realized it had an unusual hit on its hands and immediately asked Shapiro and his production associates to start preparing for a second season. Filming on season two commenced last summer and ended in early September. YES will start airing the new episodes beginning next week.

 

      Shapiro is proud of having broken stereotypes about religious singles in Israeli society while creating a fascinating TV series that has no need for provocative scenes to generate ratings.

 

   “We have been able to create a popular series that still retains a bit of 1950s innocence, which is almost unheard of today,” he said.

 

   “This is not to say we won’t deal with thought-provoking issues during the course of the second season. We will. As in any ongoing series, the characters become more dynamic and complicated. We deal with Jewish identity, relationships, the Ashkenazi-Sephardi cultural and religious mix, etc. I can tell you that by the end of the second season, one of the characters gets married.”

 

      “Srugim” has had an impact on the actors who portray the various characters. Unlike Shapiro, nearly all the cast members are secular. Ohad Knoller, who plays Nati, a handsome doctor who has yet to understand his own emotions when it comes to relationships, said, “Israeli TV has never explored religious singles, which makes this series unique, so I’m actually not surprised it has become successful.

 

   “I am secular, but through the Nati character I have been able to understand religious society.”

Punish Us All

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

       Every time a Muslim terrorist commits an atrocity, the insane reaction of our liberal societies is to punish everyone collectively. Several years ago, a terrorist tried to detonate an explosive hidden in his shoe. As a result, every airline passenger is now required to remove his shoes and pass them through an x-ray device. It is common in airports to see long lines of passengers walking barefoot or in their stocking feet, queued up and waiting to have their shoes checked. Instead of forcing all Muslims to fly barefoot, every single passenger is inconvenienced to avoid racial profiling. 

 

      Now that a Muslim terrorist has hidden explosives under his trouser legs, we will most probably witness a demand in the near future that men remove their pants before being allowed to embark on an airline flight. The Muslim terrorist also went to the bathroom for an hour before the flight landed. Will we now all be restricted from going to the bathroom one hour before the end of a flight? We are lucky that the Muslim terrorist did not go to the bathroom three hours before the end of the flight!  

 

     The terrorist carried a pillow as he left the bathroom. As a result, all pillows and blankets will now be removed an hour prior to the end of a flight.  

 

     At a recent family gathering, my three sons, my wife and I met for our monthly family cream cheese and lox fest. We began to explore alternative solutions to this need to punish all airline passengers for the crimes of the Muslim terrorists. Hopefully, the airlines will not take our suggestions too seriously, but if they do, please remember that you saw them first here in The Jewish Press.

 

   The first rule, of course, will be that men (maybe also women) will no longer be allowed to wear long pants on flights. Kilts will become fashionable. Shorts in every style and color will become required attire for the international jet set, especially on flights from Florida and California. I wonder if trousers will also be forbidden on Air Force One and private flights.  

 

     Transparent slacks for men and women may become the next big seller and may be a good investment for someone with money to burn. The limits of the transparency will  have to be determined by airline officials in consultation with TV comedians.

 

     A steward or stewardess will be stationed in each public restroom and closed-circuit television will be set up in each restroom to be monitored by the pilots and airplane crew.  

To avoid the possibility of the terrorist blowing up the plane over densely populated areas, all flights between New York and California will be routed south over the ocean to Panama, over the Panama Canal, and north to California.

 

     No flights will be allowed between American cities and large population areas. Buses and trains will be allowed, until a Muslim terrorist threatens to blow up a bus or train.  

 

Special handholds will be glued above every seat in the aircraft and passengers will have to sit during the hour before landing with their hands above their heads. 

 

      The most effective solution and the most peaceful is to fill a plane with sleeping gas instead of oxygen, and to require all passengers to be in a deep sleep until the flight is over.

 

         I am sure that many of you can come up with your own innovative solution to punish the entire traveling public instead of, G-d forbid, profiling terrorists, as the Israelis do. Everyone knows that a little old lady in a wheelchair can be dangerous, especially if she is the tenth check-in passenger.

 

      Comments may be sent to dov@gilor.com

If You Belittle Your Kids They Will Be Little

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


 


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

Blossoming Into Torah: An Interview With TV’s Mayim Bialik

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009


  Many of us who are children of the ’90s – or who had children in the ’90s – remember the popular television show “Blossom,” which starred Mayim Bialik as a teenager confronting, and trying to survive, adolescence. After years away from Hollywood, Bialik now finds herself back in the spotlight with multiple guest-starring roles on cable and network TV shows. But there’s another, more important part of her life to which Bialik has returned.

 

   Raised as a Reform Jew, Bialik, now 33, has been searching for her place on the spectrum of observant Judaism. And, much like Jewish superwomen everywhere, she wears multiple hats: actress, wife and mother, and Ph.D. in neuroscience. Bialik, who currently makes her home in Los Angeles and is working on developing the “Rashi’s Daughters” books into a miniseries or movie, recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

 

   The Jewish Press: Growing up, what kind of Jewish rituals or traditions were prominent in your home? What kind of Jewish education did you receive when you were younger?

 

   Bialik: I was raised as a Reform Jew but my mother had been raised Orthodox, so we had a lot of remnants from her former level of observance in our own home. We always lit Shabbat candles and my mother made sure to have two sets of dishes in our kitchen. We celebrated Chanukah and Passover. We also went to temple on the High Holy Days. I participated in Board of Jewish Education programs until I was 19, and went to both Jewish camp and Hebrew school at least once a week. Judaism was really a presence throughout my childhood; the main thing missing was an understanding of halacha. I didn’t know why my mother kept two sets of dishes, and the laws of the holidays weren’t really discussed. I began learning about them when I studied further as I got older.

 

   Your grandparents were Holocaust survivors; what role, if any, did their experience play in your later return to Jewish observance?

 

   My grandparents weren’t in the camps, but they did escape from Europe during the Holocaust. My grandmother, who came to Ellis Island at 19, lost half her siblings in the war, and many more of my family members were also left behind. My grandparents were Orthodox and I was always conscious of their observance when I was growing up – they couldn’t eat off the plates in my house, and they walked miles to get to my bat mitzvah ceremony rather than drive there on Shabbos.

 

   What made you decide to pursue acting as a career?

 

   I started going out on auditions when I was 11, after acting in some school plays. Additionally, I saw a lot of theatrical elements within Judaism, such as the chazzan singing in shul. One of my first roles was for the Bette Midler movie “Beaches”; the movie came out the same week I became a bat mitzvah, which was kind of surreal for me.

 

   Has there been an encounter with a celebrity that’s made a particularly strong impression on you?

 

   I’d say it was either being interviewed alongside Michael Jordan, as I was a huge sports fan, or being invited by Bob Dylan himself to attend one of his concerts and meet him backstage.

 

   Have your Jewish values ever conflicted with a role or a specific episode of a show you were on?

 

   I wasn’t terribly observant during the years “Blossom” aired, when I was 14 to 19. I did feel some sort of conflict that we filmed the show on Friday nights, but that time of my life wasn’t centered around Judaism like it is now. I did always get off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which was written into the “Blossom” calendar.

 

   After successfully breaking into Hollywood, why did you decided to put that on the back burner and attend UCLA [from which Bialik graduated and later went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience]?

 

   I think a lot of it was due to my traditional immigrant background that mandated you go to college and that’s just what you do, even if you have your own television show! My grandparents came to this country so their children and grandchildren we could have the opportunity to go to school and learn, and that was always stressed when my brother and I were kids. Additionally, starring in one popular sitcom doesn’t guarantee lasting success in Hollywood – or, more importantly, life.

 

   What experiences did you have at UCLA that set you on the trajectory of exploring your Jewish roots more deeply?

 

   I minored in Hebrew and Jewish studies, I took a lot of Holocaust Studies classes, and I studied Yiddish for a year. I gravitated toward Hillel, where I felt comfortable with my Jewish peers, almost recreating the camp experience. I started learning with the rabbi there, running an a capella choir and Rosh Chodesh women’s group, and volunteering – especially with countering the anti-Zionism activism on UCLA’s campus. My involvement with Hillel was the main social highlight of my college career – and college was also the place I met my husband, Michael, while sitting in calculus class.

 

   Does your husband share your Jewish values? What Jewish traditions are you instituting in your home with your children?

 

   Neither of us was raised with the level of Jewish observance that we keep now, but we certainly make Judaism a major part of our everyday life at home with our sons, Miles (Meier Rosh), almost 4, and Frederick Heschel (Ephraim Hirsch), now 1. We keep a kosher kitchen and keep taharas hamishpacha, something neither of us expected to be a central part of our lives but which has become very important to us over time.

 

   We are somewhat Shabbos-observant as well, having Friday night dinner, for which I usually bake challah. Since the closest synagogue to our home is about an hour’s walk away, we usually spend Shabbos day at home with the family, not watching TV or listening to music or answering the phone. It’s really a driving force of our entire week, a day we can shut off the outside world. We also celebrate all the holidays and introduce our kids to Jewish books and music – they don’t want watch TV or movies.

 

   After college, how did you stay connected to Jewish education and exploring your religion?

 

   After my first son was born, a friend mentioned to me that she was really enjoying her participation in Aish’s Partners in Torah program, which pairs people looking to study Judaism in-depth with mentors and teachers.  In my new identity as a mom, I was completely devoted to my baby and thought of little else but nursings, naps, diapers, and baths.

 

   I wanted to do something intellectually enriching, and was quickly paired up with Allison Josephs. Incidentally, as a fan of “Blossom,” she had tried in vain to contact me herself when she heard I was identifying increasingly with Judaism, and was then randomly assigned to be my Partners in Torah teacher. Together, we’ve studied the laws of Shabbos, the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik, and a beautiful book called Bread and Fire, an anthology of Jewish stories. We also studied the laws of tzniut, which led to my personal commitment to no longer wear pants.

 

   Now that you’re back in the acting world, is it hard to reconcile that newfound practice with your TV roles?

 

   It hasn’t been too hard, especially when playing a chassidic woman on “Saving Grace,” on which I mostly wore a long skirt and scarf on my head. I was able to finagle wearing leggings under a shorter skirt on another role. However, the first TV spot I did since I stopped wearing pants was a makeover show called “What Not To Wear,” and when they were dressing me, I had to say several times that I would only wear skirts. It may be hip to be Jewish but it’s not yet so hip to be an observant Jew. There are not too many observant Jewish women in Hollywood, which expects you to be sexy first, and I have a different concept of what that means now. Still, I hesitate to label myself completely Orthodox, as the level of mitzvot I keep can mean different things to different people. I tend to get labeled as Conservadox, but it’s not a black-and-white title.

 

   How do you balance motherhood and acting?

 

   Being around for my kids absolutely comes first with me. I realized that if I wanted to be with them most of the time, being a research professor wasn’t going to work. Luckily, television scheduling is often flexible enough that I can, for the most part, be with my kids, but I would not take a role that stipulated I needed to be away from my kids for any extended period of time. Our family comes first, which is a very Jewish value.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/blossoming-into-torah-an-interview-with-tvs-mayim-bialik/2009/09/02/

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