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February 22, 2017 / 26 Shevat, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Yael’

Shir Hajaj, Yael Yekutiel, Shira Tzur: Victims of Arab Terror

11 Shevat 5777 – February 6, 2017

Last month four Jews, three young women and one young man, were brutally massacred by an Arab terrorist on the Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem. The Arab rammed a flatbed truck into them, crushing Cadet Shir Hajaj of Maaleh Adumim, Lieutenant Yael Yekutiel of Givatayim, Cadet Shira Tzur of Haifa, and Cadet Erez Orbach of Alon Shvut – all in the early months of their IDF training. Each one was a spark of hope in the soul of our nation and a tragic victim of Arab hatred.

As this column focuses on the impact women have made on Jewish life and history, we will be discussing the three female cadets who were murdred.

Twenty-two years old Shir was the eldest of four daughters and an honors student. Despite being an active service soldier, she also worked with the local branch of Colel Chabad and the Chesed Menachem Mendel program. She had been tutoring a local teenager whose father had passed away a number of years ago. Their last session was on Motzaei Shabbat, just a few hours before her life was extinguished.

Leah Babayof, the coordinator of Colel Chabad in Ma’ale Adumim, said of Shir Hajaj: “This was a young woman who truly wanted to help others. Upon meeting her, you were immediately impressed by her maturity and her desire to be of service.”

“Perhaps were it not for this tragedy, the world would never have gotten to know about Shir’s dedication and remarkable caring for others,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad. “But she is a true example of what it means to be humbly performing charity, and we can only hope that this remarkable lesson will offer some comfort to her family and friends during this tragic time.”

Yael had completed the officer’s-training course and had transferred to serve as a propaganda officer in the Education Corp. Her grief-stricken father reminisced at her funeral: “You spoke fast and it was difficult to follow. You were funny, studious and good-natured. After you got angry, you would forgive. You thought a lot. We were only together for a short while; we didn’t get enough of you. You were a teacher, a soldier, and wanted to do something meaningful in education. You took us on a tour of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in order to practice the tour you would give to cadets. We didn’t know that we had a daughter like you. We knew nothing.”

Shira was a graduate of the Reali High School and a cadet in the Intelligence Corps’ officer’s training course. She had begun her army service in the pilots’ course before transferring.

Her aunt said, “she was smart, sharp, no one could argue with her.” Her uncle added, “Ever since she was little, she tried to change her environment and make it a better place. She tried to do the best way possible, and she managed it, too.”

Three amazing young women, their devoted efforts for our people cruelly cut short, their hopes and aspirations smashed by Muslim terror. May the Almighty bless their memory and send fitting retribution to their murderers.

Dear Dr. Yael

10 Shevat 5777 – February 6, 2017

Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing about my experience in being a baalas teshuva. I know you featured a letter from a woman who felt very isolated in her community (9-2-2016), but I have to say that it has not been my experience. I feel as if I am integral part of neighborhood in which I live.

I think our lives when we become frum doesn’t change in certain ways. For example, I am a very social person and always had a lot of friends; it may be that the previous writer had a different personality. While I don’t know what this woman is like, there are times when people seek out Yiddishkeit and a closer connection to Hashem because they are unhappy socially or have a poor relationship with their parents.

That’s not how it was for me. Baruch Hashem, I have a wonderful relationship with my parents. My search for Yiddishkeit was because of a lack I felt in the Judaism I was living. Even as a young child I remember sitting at the Seder table (a mostly Conservative set-up) and crying because I felt everyone wasn’t taking the Seder seriously. My yearning for the truth continued throughout the years and in college I went on a Birthright trip which helped me understand how many Jews there actually were in the world.

In college I made friends with some Modern Orthodox girls, but felt there was still more to be found in Yiddishkeit. In grad school, I met people who were seriously frum, yet open-minded and filled with positive thoughts about Torah and Hashem. One of those women became my role model and taught me so much in a non-judgmental way. Her love and warmth made me want to dig deeper into my heritage.

That summer I went to a seminary in Israel and totally turned my life around. I married a man who was frum from birth and today we have a beautiful family with six children. I think the isolation our previous writer described may have been related to her not having children and/or not being in a warm and loving community.

My parents initially had a hard time with my choice. While there are still things about my life they don’t understand, my family and I are their greatest source of nachas. They love me and help me a lot with my six children, but it’s still not the same as having parents who are frum and are totally accepting. This is why being in a warm and welcoming community is so important.

Please encourage your other writer to find another community. Wherever she lives is not the right place for her. There are so many communities either out of town or with an “out-of-town” feel where she will be made to feel at home. I daven that Hashem guide her on her journey.



Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I do agree that it seemed as if the original writer was having a more difficult time as she was struggling with infertility. She described people making assumptions that she and her husband were holding off on having children for professional reasons and how painful that was.

Over the years, many infertile couples who were frum from birth have written saying that our community as a whole is not welcoming to those who do not have children. Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim, especially Purim and Simchas Torah, are very child-focused and that makes it painful for those who have not yet been blessed with children to participate.

I am happy that you found a community that is so accepting and loving. I hope that our previous writer will make an effort to find such a community so that she can feel more accepted and have a larger social circle. Hatzlocha with your family and with all that you are doing!

Dear Dr. Yael

1 Shevat 5777 – January 27, 2017

Dear Dr. Yael,

I am a happily married man who loves his wife very much. However, there is one situation that threatens to undo the fabric of our marriage.

Let me explain.

This is a second marriage for both of us. Each of us had been in unhappy marriages the first time and waited for our individual children to marry before we got divorced. Baruch Hashem, both our previous spouses are also happily remarried and, for the most part, we all get along. Many marvel at the way we can all be at our children’s simchas together.

And yet, my wife has one flaw: she will get angry with me for things that are out of my control and threaten to divorce me. Later she apologizes and says that she is sorry that she lost it, but it can ruin a whole day or evening.

Here is an example: One of my married daughters is not very respectful to my wife or me. This daughter suffered the most from our divorce – she is the youngest and we separated pretty soon after her wedding. I also think she did not realize how bad things were between us and was shocked by the divorce.

She does not speak with my wife unless forced to and is very cold to me. As you can imagine, it makes things very uncomfortable for all of us, and my wife does not know how to handle things.

I am not sure what I can do. I cannot control my daughter’s actions and know that if I try to discuss things with her, she will just cut me out of her life.

I love my wife. Baruch Hashem, we have money, true love, passion and happiness and I so want us to stay together. Our relationship with the other children is wonderful and we see them and our respective grandchildren all the time.

My question to you is: How can I stop her intense anger and threats of divorce when it comes to this particular issue which I have no control over? I love your column; we read it every Friday night. I hope that you print and respond to my letter. I changed some details so that people will not recognize us.

A Fan


Dear A Fan,

Let me begin by saying that people who threaten, whether it’s divorce or any other consequence, are generally those who were threatened themselves. It could have been in a previous marriage or in childhood. You say that all of you – spouses and ex-spouses – seem to get along. I wonder, though, if your wife wasn’t threatened by her former husband. Or if she wasn’t threatened as a child by her parents. If she was, it’s something that needs to be examined on a deeper level.

If your wife is used to being hurt by others, she may defensively try to hurt you to protect herself – the best defense is an offense. I cannot say for sure, but it is a possibility.

I would suggest sitting down with your wife at a time when you are both calm and explaining how you feel. Tell her that you love her and are so happy you found each other. Tell her that even though you know she is not seriously thinking about divorce, when she brings it up it hurts you. Remind her that you know your daughter is completely wrong but you don’t want to damage that relationship anymore than it has been.

Maybe you can come up with a secret (funny) word you can say when you see your wife getting upset, to avoid the divorce threats. Maybe you can also say this word when you see your daughter isn’t being nice to her, so she understands that you and she are on the same page. This might help her feel more loved and less attacked, which will allow her not to feel like she has to attack you.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. If this doesn’t seem to work, maybe your wife will agree to go for some short-term counseling to help you navigate this hairy situation! Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

23 Tevet 5777 – January 20, 2017

Dear Dr. Yael,

I need your advice. I am developing a strong disdain for my husband of almost 20 years and I don’t know how to snap out of it.

Let me backtrack: My husband and I met and married when we were both 20 and fresh out of yeshiva/seminary. Back then, I was obsessed with him and admired, agreed and enjoyed everything he said and did – he could do no wrong. We discussed our views on politics, childrearing, religion, finance, family, etc. and were on the same page. I was probably living in a unrealistic, fantasy world, because things are very different now. Fast forward 18 years and 4 kids later, and I cannot stand the man.

It is not that he did anything wrong, nor did I. I think we simply morphed into different people. My views have matured and evolved and his have not. For years now, I have disagreed with him and despised his every word and action. He has also lost his zest for life, and nothing I do can bring it back.

As I said, this has been going on for years, but life was so busy with school, jobs and babies that I didn’t have much time to dwell on things, even though they bothered me tremendously. Now that life has slowed down (kids older, secure job) it has really become an issue. I do not enjoy spending time with him at all.

Why am I writing you? I do not believe in divorce, so I figured I should roll up my sleeves and try to get into his world and appreciate his hobbies and interests. I did this for almost two years. I read the same books he read, watched the same films, tried his recipes, hung out with his friends etc. – and hated every minute of it.

I brought up going to counseling, but he refused, so I went alone. This was helpful for a while as the therapist taught me how to navigate this mess, but now I am tired of playing mental chess while trying to figure out which move to make next.

While he is the same person he was at 20 (only heavier, lazier, and more stubborn), I have retained my youthful spirit and figure, while evolving into a professional.

How can I deal with this for the next 50 or so years?



Dear Anonymous,

I read your letter with a heavy heart and wish there was an easy answer to your question, but there isn’t. However, as it sounds like you and your husband once had a deeper connection, it might be possible for you to find it again. It will not be easy and, although it sounds like you have tried all the options, I would like to propose some ideas.

My first suggestion is that you and your husband begin dating each other again. Obviously, this can only work if your husband is willing to try as well. If you can get your husband on board, then try the following ideas:

Make your dates fun! If you can’t agree on something fun, then agree that you will take turns doing things that the other finds fun (one week your turn, the next week his turn) and that you will both make an effort to enjoy whatever you are doing. Having fun together and enjoying the time will, hopefully, spark some of those old feelings. As I said, you do not have to have the same interests for this to work. You just have to agree to enjoy whatever it is you decide to do and make it a positive experience.

Dress up nicely. This is important for both of you. Remember, you are going on a date, so put in the same effort you did when you were in the “dating parsha.” Just because you are married does not mean that you don’t deserve to look special and to feel that the other person cares about his or her appearance. Also, once you make the effort to look good, you will feel better about yourself. When a person is confident and beautiful, it generates a level that happiness. When you and your husband are happy spending time together, it will create positive energy that will, in turn, help your marriage.

You and your husband must compliment each other at least three times a day. The compliments must be genuine and must make the other person feel special. You seem to feel very negatively towards him and, since you allude to the fact that you look thinner and have accomplished more professionally, he may feel very insecure and even be depressed. You may have to begin the positive cycle. However, if you both make the effort, a spark will reignite.

Make sure that you do not rely on your husband for all of your happiness (you seem to have already accomplished this one, but just in case you didn’t, it’s an important point). It’s imperative that you want to spend time with your husband; however, you cannot rely on one person to fulfill all of your emotional needs. It’s important to have friends, to work and/or do chessed to give you emotional fulfillment. Being successful and feeling needed will help make you a happier person and by extension a better wife and mother. The same goes for your husband. Try to help him find his own happiness so that he can be a more attentive and loving spouse

Therapy as a couple is also very important. Explain to you husband that you want to learn how to be nicer to him and that is why it’s important for him to join you in counseling. Once he agrees it will be easier to navigate this situation and improve your relationship.

I hope that these ideas help you and your husband reconnect and feel more loving towards each other. I am glad that you don’t want to pursue divorce as an initial option and it is admirable that you are willing to put the hard work into your marriage to try to make it better. Sometimes people feel that they have to just move on and start over, but what they don’t realize is that this is much harder than it seems.

Hatzlocha with your difficult journey and please keep us posted.

Dear Dr. Yael

16 Tevet 5777 – January 13, 2017

Dear Dr. Yael:

I have been following your columns about toxic parenting and toxic spouses. Well, I think I may have a toxic friend. We have been friends since elementary school and today we both have married children. Looking back at our lives, I can say that I was always the studious one while she was always looking to shop. We both came from financially average homes, but her focus was always on what else she could have.

As life progressed, my goal was to marry a ben Torah, go into chinuch and raise a wonderful family. Her goal was to marry a rich guy and have a beautiful house, clothes, jewelry, etc.

And that is what happened. She married into a wealthy family and her husband is very successful. He is also a baal middos and a baal tzeddaka and learns with my husband every day.

My family is much larger and our values are very different. Her husband often shares with mine that he wishes his wife would be influenced by me. Unfortunately, even though I know that gashmius is not the important thing and I see that our children are full of tochen and walking the right path, I envy her easy, rich life.

Don’t get me wrong, she does have plenty of struggles with her children, which, Baruch Hashem, we do not have.

My husband feels that she is a negative influence on me and is prepared to sever the relationship as he sees that her constant flaunting bothers me. I keep hoping to rise above this feeling and influence her. However, whenever we are together, I come home sad.

After reading your column on toxic people, my husband wondered if a friendship could be toxic and if I was in one. I do not want to cut my friend and her family out of our lives, but am at a loss as to how to change things. Please help me deal with this situation effectively.



Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your letter. I do not know your friend, but from your letter it does not seem that she is toxic. Although she may be much more into gashmius than you, and may make you feel badly sometimes, it does not seem like a toxic relationship. Whether you want to remain friends with her or not, is up to you; however, I will share with you signs of a toxic friendship so you have a better idea of what to consider.

A toxic friend is always criticizing you and making you feel small and embarrassed (e.g., a toxic friend will find fault in almost anything you do and will usually find a smart way to criticize you and make you feel bad about yourself).

A toxic friend will not be happy for you when something good happens. Someone who truly loves you will celebrate your happiness. Toxic friends do not.

A toxic friend often lacks empathy and does not seem to care when you are going through a hard time. A toxic friend may even derive some joy from your hardships.

A toxic friend will not be trustworthy and will not keep the secret you ask them to. A toxic friend may even use your secrets against you.

Toxic friends take advantage of your generosity and give nothing in return. They usually do not appreciate anything you do for them.

Toxic friends talk about you behind your back and may spread rumors about you. They have no compunction about ruining your good name or telling lies about you.

Toxic friends are always unhappy, complaining, and dissatisfied. They are the type of people who bring you down and put you into a bad mood.

Toxic friends are often very self-centered. They only care about their own feelings and will not consider your needs unless it serves a purpose for them.

Toxic friends make everything more dramatic. They exaggerate issues and make small things into problems. They add unnecessary drama to your life that you’re better off without. They also may lie if it serves a purpose for them.

Toxic friends are bullies. They use your vulnerabilities and secrets to attack you when you’re down and they damage you psychologically.

Toxic friends can be very judgmental and may only talk about themselves.

Toxic friends can be very stubborn. It’s their way or the highway.

Toxic friends can be picky, very needy, and hard to please; they also get into petty fights because they like to sow division. They get mad at you easily and always seem to be upset at you over the smallest things. Besides for the obvious, this can be toxic because they do not like to work out issues in a mature manner.

Lastly, toxic friends can be very negative. This makes them difficult to be around and unpleasant to deal with as they tend to only see the bad in most situations.

What you described does not seem like someone who is toxic. Your friend may be a little self-centered and may talk about all of the things she has, but this is likely because she is feeling insecure around you. You noted that your friend is going through a lot. Try to be there for her and help build her self-esteem – she may be a better friend to you if she feels more confident.

If, however, I have misread your letter, and your friend does indeed meet a lot of these criteria, then it would be very prudent to begin the process of cutting yourself off from her. No one should be friends with someone who is constantly making them feel bad about themselves and who is going out of their way to hurt them.

Thank you for your letter and hatzlocha with this difficult decision.

Dear Dr. Yael

9 Tevet 5777 – January 6, 2017

Dear Dr. Yael,

I appreciated the great column you featured on the sandwich generation after Sukkos. I know that Chanukah is an easier Yom Tov since no one moves in and we can celebrate with our families and friends, however, it has become a competition for my children.

Our children have Chanukah vacation and, according to them, everyone is doing amazing things. Some families are even taking their children to fancy islands and extending vacations so that the kids miss class. Others take their kids on cruises, ski weekends, and more.

We can’t afford all of these amazing vacations and, besides, we love having family parties and doing local things with our children. However, our kids are jealous and I am not sure how to make them understand.

I do wonder if things would be less expensive if schools gave off less time for Chanukah.

A Reader



Dear Dr. Yael,

I am very dismayed to see the way Chanukah and other chaggim have become commercialized. It seems as if all we are doing is copying the ways of other nations. We have to have the grand parties, and the fancy gifts. The question is: Do we do enough chesed at this time of year? Do we sympathize with the less fortunate? I would like to ask this readership to take the time to consider what I have written here.

Kol Tov



Dear Readers:

It is a shame that Chanukah today seems to be more about parties, trips, and gifts than celebrating the spirit of the Yom Tov during which we overcame the Greek influences on the physical and re-energized our spirituality.

My own memories of Chanukah are of visiting with family and playing dreidel. Clearly, our generation was expected to behave, do well in school, and be happy with whatever our parents were able to give and do for us.

One present was a treat years ago, but now kids “need to get” one present a night! Going to a family party was amazing, but now family parties need to feature tons of presents. Once upon a time, going on a local family trip was an incredible experience, but now families “have” to take extravagant vacations. We need to scale it down! Try to spend quality time with your children and make the local trips fun, maybe by inviting some of their friends along. Buy your children some board games for Chanukah and make sure to play with them! You will be amazed how much your children will enjoy the quality time with you!

I agree that we need to focus more on chesed and less on materialism. Our children will also benefit so much more from our attention than they do from the things we give them.

Much research has been done on parenting and spending quality time with your children – talking, playing, reading, doing homework, and exercising with your children has been shown to be an integral feature of successful parenting. Furthermore, children are less likely to develop emotional and behavioral disorders when they receive adequate parenting (often manifested by spending quality time with your children).

There are a lot of activities that will promote happy and healthy children and they do not have to be expensive or difficult. The main goal is to give your children your full attention and make sure that you have their full attention. Even doing homework with your children can be a positive experience if you give them your full attention (i.e., put away your phone), give them a lot of specific and accurate praise for small accomplishments (“Wow, you read that word beautifully!” “That was a great, but let’s try it one more time!”), and make sure to compliment them afterward (call your mother, grandmother, or mother-in-law in front of your child and tell them how amazing your child is and how great he/she knew what was learned that day). Not only will this make your child want to do homework more often with you (we can always pray for an easy homework night!), but you will be building your child’s self-esteem and spending quality time with him/her.

If Chanukah gifts in your family have gotten out of hand, it’s important to talk to your siblings and perhaps set some limits on the spending for all the nieces, nephews, and their children.

Thank you for your beautiful letters and in the zechus of making an effort to do more chesed out of the home and with our own children, and may we all be zoche to only good things! Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

2 Tevet 5777 – December 30, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

My problem is something that I am coming to terms with, but as I have been reading your column for years, I am hoping you can be of some help. Once upon a time, I would have suffered in silence, but now I hope that a discussion can help others.

I live in a large urban frum community known for its yeshivos, organizations and institutions. There are sizeable contingents of every “flavor” of Jew: Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Modern Orthodox, etc. Before our family moved here to partake of the educational resources for our children, we lived in several smaller communities and one other large urban city where different types of Orthodox Jews came together in various shuls and programs. In each community, smaller groups and families maintained their standards of tznius, hashkafos and divergent minhagim largely without judgment and usually with a degree of openness.

Unfortunately, people who heard we were moving to our new location told us things would not be like that here. I didn’t believe it at the time, but alas, they were right. So far, we have been made to feel socially isolated and only marginally important.

No matter what social gathering we attend, melave malka, wedding, a simple lecture or B’nos group, people are very guarded, perhaps because there seems to be so much competition between them.

I have met many people over the years and am adept at small talk and making solid friendships. I have never encountered such a culture of coolness and competitiveness among frum people. I fear that despite all the learning and observance of mitzvos that takes place in this “community” we are failing our ultimate mission as Jews. We are taught to be mekabel kol adam besever panim yafos. Imagine how much different things would be here if people took this idea to heart? Wouldn’t this enhance our ability to recognize sincerely the Tzelem Elokim in each person and to draw closer to Hashem’s ultimate rule?

A Frum Jew


Dear A.F.J.,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us. Some time ago we featured a letter from a baalas teshuva who was experiencing similar frustrations as you express. I know that there are, unfortunately, groups of people who act this way, but I am not sure why.

It hurts when people are unfriendly to me until they find out that I am “Dr. Respler.” Shouldn’t people be friendly to everyone? When I get warmth only after they know who I am, I feel the pain for others who have to struggle with coolness.

If you go to a simcha and see someone sitting at a table alone, sit down and start up a conversation. What does it cost to say hello? Will it hurt us to be a little more caring, friendly and less self-focused? So what if someone is less frum, less educated, or has less money than you? Does that mean that he or she doesn’t deserve the same friendliness you would accord someone you considered your equal?

That being said, sometimes people are shy and are perceived as being cold. When people are unfriendly to me, I greet them and they generally respond. Perhaps you could try saying hello to those who are cold to you – you might be pleasantly surprised.

I once met a very rich, confident successful man who told me that he lived in a snobby community. Whenever someone would snub him in shul, he would go over, greet the person warmly and wish him or her a “Gut Shabbos.” The person would have no choice but to respond in kind.

I don’t want people to perceive this letter as a reflection of Klal Yisroel, since it only portrays a select few. Let us hope that your letter has a meaningful influence on us all and will bring the coming of Moshiach soon. Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

27 Kislev 5777 – December 26, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

The minute I read your December 2 column, I was reminded of a great book I once read called, Toxic People. The author explains that allowing toxic people into our lives gives them the power to destroy us. He says that the minute a person does something we cannot tolerate, we should distance ourselves from him or her. I totally agree with this notion. Life is too short and precious to stay close with those people who say and do things to hurt us. And if we can not do it alone, there is no shame in asking for help.

Thanks for letting me share my view.



Dear Dr. Yael,

I read your column this week and, although, you were talking about toxic parents, I worry that I have a toxic spouse. My husband always makes me feel inadequate and inferior and as if I can never do anything right. Is he a toxic spouse?

A Reader


Dear G.S. and A Reader,

Thank you for taking the time to write and allowing me to clarify this complicated issue. Yes, toxic people can exist in any relationship. In the column you both referenced, we were discussing toxic parents. This week I would like to focus on toxic spouses.

Marriage, as we know, is a lot of hard work. That is one of the reasons why I believe that reading fairy tales to young children is a disservice – they make marriage seem magical. Now, it’s true that couples do experience amazing magical moments, but only when both spouses put in the work necessary to make them possible.

Toxic is a very extreme word. It is defined as “acting as or having the effect of a poison; poisonous.” If thinking of your spouse as poisonous to your life sounds absurd, then maybe things are not as bad as they seem. But if the definition resonates with you, then it would be prudent to look at the signs of a toxic spouse. Some signs of a toxic spouse are:


  1. Make You Feel Inferior – While its normal to sometimes feel badly about yourself, if your spouse is continuously making you feel inferior, something is wrong.
  1. Find Fault in Everything You Do – Everyone makes mistakes and messes up sometimes, but constant criticism from your spouse is not okay, especially if there’s never any positive feedback.
  1. You’re Always Walking on Egg Shells – It’s extremely unhealthy if you do not feel safe to discuss issues with your spouse. Everyone is entitled to a bad day or even a bad week, but you should not feel that you have to constantly censor what you say or that you can never have a conversation with your spouse.
  1. Encourage You to Withdraw From Family and Friends – If your spouse encourages you to or forces you to cut off your family and friends, this is a huge red flag. There are circumstances under which you may feel the need to withdraw from someone, but in general, your spouse shouldn’t be encouraging you to cut people out of your life.
  1. You Lie About Your Relationship – If things are so bad that you are afraid to be honest about how your marriage is going, it may be an indication that you think you deserve better.
  1. Are Controlling – If your spouse controls how you spend your money, who you hang out with, or even little things like what to eat for dinner, then it would be prudent to seek professional help immediately. This is a pretty clear sign of toxicity.
  2. Don’t Take Responsibility for Their Actions – “You chose to feel that way,” is the most passive-aggressive comment you’ll hear from a toxic spouse. If your spouse never takes responsibility for his/her actions, you have an issue. Constantly being told everything if your fault, especially when it’s something you have zero control over, is very damaging to your sense of self.
  1. Aren’t Sorry for Making You Upset – Sometimes in the heat of the moment, your spouse may not show any remorse, but once you both calm down, your spouse should feel bad for upsetting you and want to make it better. The three most important words in a marriage are “I am sorry!” If these words are completely absent, then you are likely dealing with a toxic person or one who needs intensive therapy. Of course, someone who is constantly putting you down, being emotionally abusive and then apologizing is no better. However, someone who always thinks he or she is right is also dangerous.
  1. Ignores You – When someone ignores your feelings and communication efforts it can make you feel alienated and alone. It’s a terrible feeling and can be a very bad sign. Some people have very poor communication skills and need to work on this, so this sign alone is not a deal breaker; however, if you are nodding your head to many of these signs, it’s definitely a sign of danger. Poor communication skills are easy to remediate if caught early on.
  2. You Feel Miserable All The Time – The most crucial sign to look for is feeling miserable every time you are around your spouse. You’re supposed to be happy with your spouse. There will be days where he or she is driving you crazy and you just want to be along, you should not be feeling miserable and unhappy on a daily basis when you are with your spouse.


People are complicated, but anyone making a concerted effort to work on him or herself is likely not toxic. However, if the signs noted above are prevalent in your marriage it is imperative that you seek professional help.

Staying away from toxic people who are not in your immediate family is a whole other story and will be addressed in another column. Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

17 Kislev 5777 – December 16, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

As this is not the first time I am reading about grandparents and their Yom Tov experiences with their children and grandchildren (11-25), I was most interested to see how you would answer the writer. I thought your answer was tactful, delicate and full of common sense. You were able to point out that the children did not intend to “dump” their families and relax, and I commend you. Your insight and caring shows in all of your articles.

I, too, am a grandmother, and although my children do try to reign in their own children’s natural exuberance and are very helpful to me in the kitchen and house, it is only natural for squabbling, messes, etc. to occur. (My father lived with us the last three years of his life, so I also know about the “sandwich” aspect, which wasn’t actually addressed in the letter.) After our last get-together, when I was putting the pieces of the house back in order, I stopped to reflect that I would rather spend time straightening and cleaning up than be in the position of other older women I know, some of whom do not have children, and some who are not even married yet! Perhaps if this lady would consider that, she would be able to count her blessings, along with putting all of your suggestions into practice.

Please keep up your columns. I know your readers appreciate you!

Best wishes,
A Reader

Dear Reader,

Thank you for your letter and your kind words. You are correct that we all should count our blessings and feel fortunate that these are the “stresses” that we experience. Many people cry to me over Yom Tov that they wish they had these pressures instead of being alone. That is why it is important to be sensitive to people in these situations and to not complain to them about your family-related stresses. As you said, no matter how hard it is to host family, it sure beats not having this “hardship.”

Of course, the original letter was written mostly in jest in order to bring home a point. It’s helpful to bring up these issues as many times both parties do not see the other person’s perspective. Most children are giving and loving, but are stressed by their own lives. Many women are holding down jobs while taking care of their households and this can be very taxing. Many men are learning and/or working full time, while trying to be helpful at home. This can also be demanding and tiring. Most couples look forward to coming home, so that their parents can “take care of them.” It is useful, though, for them to read about how their parents feel. This can help them be more aware of the little things they can do to make Yom Tov more enjoyable and less overwhelming.

On the other hand, it is also valuable for parents to understand their children’s perspective. Most are not trying to dump on their parents, they just want to feel “taken care of” again. They look forward to being with their parents and, although it is not easy to pack up a whole family and share rooms to be together with family, they do so gladly. With some healthy boundaries, parents can spoil their kids (if they want to), while not feeling taken advantage of. Of course, if you do not want to take the brunt of the work, you need to make that clear from the beginning in a loving and positive tone. Saying something like, “We wish we could spoil you, serve you, and take care of the children while you relax, but we are getting older and this is getting hard for us. We would love to have you for Yom Tov, but we will need you help with…” Perhaps your children would prefer that you come to them or will be happy to comply with your requests as long as they are spelled out in the beginning. Communication is key!

In general, it is a good idea to focus on the positives, it makes us happier and less anxious. After all, we all have different struggles and no one gets away “scot-free.” Of course, it is normal to feel overwhelmed by day-to-day things and especially by hardships. During those times, it is helpful to make checklists and be organized, even if this is not your nature. This will help you keep on top of whatever it is you need to do. Remember, try to ask for help when needed so that you do not feel resentful of your family.

For more stressful situations, the more you can focus on the good in your life and use a lot of positive self-talk (i.e., “I can do this,” “I am amazing for doing what I do with my daily struggles,” “I am worthwhile and contribute a lot to my family and society”), the better you will feel and the more able you will be to deal with these struggles. Try to seek professional help from someone who can help you overcome the overwhelming feelings if these suggestions are not helping.


Dear Dr. Yael

10 Kislev 5777 – December 9, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing to thank you for helping me get married over 20 years ago.  At that time I was constantly rejecting people who were good for me and was attracted to people who were unhealthy for me. With your counsel, I married a really sweet guy who is an amazing husband and, Baruch Hashem, we have a beautiful family. I wanted to share this nachas letter with you publicly so that others would learn from my experience as well.

In therapy I recognized the negativity that I had grown up with and how critical my parents were of me and of each other. I began to understand that I was seeking out negative men who were in sync with my imago.  It was you who encouraged me to continue dating my husband whom initially I was not attracted to – he was just too nice.

I wonder if both the shidduch crisis and divorce crisis are a result of people getting stuck in their negative imagos.  I am approaching shidduchim soon with my own children.

They were brought up in a loving positive home.

Please share with your readers how you help people marry against their negative imagos. I know men and women struggle with this problem.  May you continue to help people marry well and stay married. A Happy Former Client Dear H.F.C.,

Thank you for taking time to write and share your nachas with our readers.

To explain the imago therapy and how it relates to dating, I have compiled a story that is based on several client histories.

David is a successful attorney and works for a prestigious law firm.  He is tall, good-looking and has gone out with many women.

Generally in therapy he would first discuss his professional successes and then begin talking about Shoshana, the woman that he loved.  He was totally bewitched by her and would marry her in a minute if she would agree.

However, Shoshana kept refusing to make a commitment to him and always delayed talking about an engagement.  When David met Shoshana, she seemed to be everything that he was looking for in a wife.  She was attractive, intelligent and had a sparkling personality. However, as the relationship developed, he noticed that whenever they went to a restaurant to eat dinner, she always complained about the service or the food, no matter how good he thought the restaurant was.  She would complain constantly about her job, but would do nothing to try to improve her working conditions. She was a Physician’s Assistant and could have found many other positions; however, she continued at her job without trying to change the situation.

Instead of focusing on these negative traits, David would focus on her discriminating taste.  As far as her constant complaining about work, when she would rant and rave about her awful job, David would see her as a real trooper for putting up with such difficult working conditions. “Other people would have quit the job long ago,” he would share with me in therapy proudly. The thing that bothered David about Shoshana was that she was unavailable.

She would go out with him once a week on Motzei Shabbos or Sunday and insist on not seeing him during the week. She said she needed some “breathing space.” David agreed to her terms even though he knew that she was dating other men during the week.

She made it clear that he had no choice but to grant her more freedom. To compensate for the situation, David started to date Rena, a woman completely different from Shoshana.

Rena was devoted, compliant, and patient – and crazy about David. She would marry him in a minute.

David would tell me, “Rena is crazy about me and I am crazy about Shoshana. I really don’t care that much about Rena, and when I am not around her, it is as if she does not exist.  I feel guilty, since I am just dating Rena to get back at Shoshana.  I feel like I am taking advantage of Rena. Whenever I am not thinking about work or davening or learning Gemara, I am dreaming about Shoshana.”  Rena happened to be prettier than Shoshana, was more educated (she was a physician), and was clearly more emotionally stable.  Rena was dependable, warm, caring and, as David said, “charming to others.”

So why was David so attached to Shoshana who treated him so poorly? Why was he unable to see all of Rena’s wonderful qualities and willing to overlook Shoshana’s faults?

It should come as no surprise that David had a very critical distant mother who would often tune him out and be emotionally unavailable to him.  His father was a workaholic who never had any time for David.  He provided well for the family financially, but was not there for his wife or children on an emotional level.

When his mother got that distracted look, David would become angry and she would then punish him by spanking him and sending him to his room.  His mother would not talk to him for hours and he remembers crying in his room.  One day, when he was crying for hours, with both of his parents not available to him, he looked in the mirror in his room and saw his tear-streaked face. He said to himself, “What is the use of crying?”  From that day on, he never cried again.  Instead he became stoic, trying not to feel pain.

What was so attractive about Shoshana?  Shoshana reminded David of his mother.  She was always complaining, she hurt him constantly and distanced herself by dating other men.  In therapy, David began to see this and understood that his “old brain” yearned for closeness with someone who was like his mother.  In contrast, Rena was completely different. Shoshana was David’s imago; his imago was unhealthy. In therapy, David had to learn to let go of his negative imago.  Baruch Hashem, David was able to realize that Rena was truly a healthy woman who would be an amazing wife.

Today David and Rena are happily married with a young mishpacha.

Your imago is your unconscious idealized image of your mother and/or father that influences your behavior and your marriage choices. If you have a good relationship with your parents, chances are you will have a healthy and good relationship with your spouse. You would still have to be careful not to over-react to your spouse when he/she acts like your parent in a way that upsets you; however, with some communication skills, this relationship can work.

The problem arises when you have a difficult relationship with one or both of your parents.  Many times, individuals subconsciously try to marry someone in order to work out the issues that they had with one or both of their parents.  If these are minor issues, there is a possibility that this can work, but there will be marital discord.

Dear readers, if you are stuck in a dating cycle and do not know why you are not finding the right person, please seek professional help.

Hatzlocha to all.

Dear Dr. Yael

3 Kislev 5777 – December 2, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

I was going through some old copies of Olam Yehudi and came across an article written by Dvora Waysman. I am writing to ask you for some clarity on an issue she raised.

Ms. Waysman, like most frum people, believes that family is everything that is good in a Jewish life – no exceptions. If a person does not get along with his or her family, it must be his or her fault. All families are warm and loving environments. Her article even says “families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts – but we do care about them because they are kin.”

What a harmful generalization. Since when does some shared DNA guarantee that a person will not treat his or her kinfolk like garbage?

Not everyone lives in Ms. Waysman’s idealized fudge house. In the United States and in other countries a tremendous amount of time, energy and money is spent to protect children from abusive family environments.

I grew up in a war zone. After struggling with depression for many years, I realized that my family was filled with toxic people. I am now estranged from my sister and had distanced myself emotionally from my mother. I took care of her physically as she aged, but out of duty. When my mother would do something particularly mean or callous to me, she would justify it by saying that, as she was my mother, she could do or say anything to me. Many family members use the “blood excuse” to justify their abusive behavior towards others.

Baruch Hashem, with a wonderful wife and great therapists, I have made progress in becoming a healthy person. As I said, many families create hostile environments in their home. There is even a tefillah in my Yom Kippur machzor that tries to reconcile “Honor your mother and father” with the painful reality that many mothers and fathers do terrible things to their children.

H. W.


Dear H. W.,

As a therapist, I know that what you endured as a child was, unfortunately, endured by many other people as well. An abusive family is toxic and can literally destroy a child.

I believe that “Honor your mother and father” does not mean “Love your mother and father.” And I think it is amazing that in spite of enduring the difficulties you describe growing up, you did care for your mother anyway.

It is true that growing up in an abusive home is very damaging for a child. There are parents who do not realize that raising a child means building his or her self-esteem and loving him or her in a way that builds his or her inner strength.

While I do not know your own mother’s family history, my professional experience tells me that people who are toxic were often raised in toxic environments.

It has been said that even among Holocaust victims, those who came from healthier homes were able to function with a better attitude than those who came from toxic homes. Author Victor Frankel wrote that the only thing in one’s control during the war was how one responded to being tortured. Those with a will to live and the ability to cope sometimes fared better. Dr. Douglas Labier, PhD once wrote, “First, consider some less visible forms of abuse, beyond the physical, that can create lasting consequences. For example, parental neglect; indifference to the child’s needs or temperament; outright humiliation; deliberate denigration. All may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, or narcissism.”

A study conducted by researchers at UCLA and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the effects of abuse and corresponding lack of parental affection across the body’s entire regulatory system. It found strong links between negative early life experiences and health, across the board. The effects permeate one’s entire mind-body system.

This study of 756 subjects suggested that “biological embedding” occurs through programming brain circuitry in ways that shape response patterns to subsequent stress. That causes wear and tear extending across multiple mind-body systems, and creates adverse health outcomes decades later. The researchers suggest that toxic childhood stress alters neural responses to stress, boosting the emotional and physical arousal to threat, and making it more difficult for that reaction to be shut off.

I often tell my clients that in coming for therapy and changing yourself and the way you relate to your own family in essence changes the lives of the generations that will emanate from you. Baruch Hashem, you found a positive, loving wife and somehow fought your own depression, even though you had to create your own survival tools.

Hatzlocha in your journey to psychological good health.

Dear Dr. Yael

25 Heshvan 5777 – November 25, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

Now that Yom Tov season is behind us, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences. My friends and I are part of what has been called the “Sandwich Generation” and share similar situations. Yet, we feel more like the “Shmatta Generation.” We all love our married children and grandchildren and many of us are blessed with parents as well. The following is a humorous look at our lives that may help others in our situation.

Our married children arrive usually as close to Yom Tov as possible. Why they can’t come earlier even if they live not so far away is a question none of us can answer. We all wonder why it is that our very frum children, many whom are learning in kollel and have very strict chumrahs in regards to kashrus that we must accommodate, seem very relaxed about arriving on time for Shabbos or Yom Tov.

We also wonder if they allow their children the same amount of freedom in their individual homes as they do in ours. Over Yom Tov our grandchildren turn our homes into scenes that resemble the aftermath of a hurricane. It is amazing what a bunch of little guys can do! If you need a quick demolition team, they can get the job done in no time at all, and they won’t charge you a penny – they will, however, accept payments in cookies, candy and all the junk that is not fit to eat.

If you want chocolate faux paint on your walls, this artistic crew is sure to create original paintings. They also offer free wake up service – at decibel levels you can’t even begin to process.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them all, but having 10 grandchildren under the age of 10 means it gets really wild. The fighting doesn’t stop and wrestling matches go on all day. They say grandchildren bring nachas and simcha – that’s true, nachas when they first arrive and simcha when they leave to go home.

While all our children probably have rules of conduct in their own homes, when they come to us, they are suddenly on vacation. We not only cook and serve, we clean up and babysit.

One amazing story: The day after Yom Tov one of our friends got ready to go to work. As she looked to leave the house, she couldn’t find her car keys – either set. As there had only been one grandchild in her house for the second days, she assumed that either he took them with him or hid them somewhere in the house. She called her daughter who looked wherever she could, but to no avail. Running late, she took a cab to work figuring that when she came home she would say the tefillah for finding things and put money in the pushka.

Later in the day, one of my friend’s younger children decided to look through the house. He found the keys in a closet at the bottom of a case of grape juice – three sets of keys, that is. My friend’s two and her husband’s extra set.

Dr. Yael, as I said, we love our children and grandchildren, but how can we get them to help us keep the demolition crews under control and maybe come a little earlier to help and alleviate our anxiety?

We look forward to your response.

Members of the “Shmatta Generation”


Dear Members,

The “Sandwich Generation” definitely has to deal with a lot. Baruch Hashem, many of us have parents and children that require our attention and it can often be overwhelming.

As to why your children show up at the last minute, it could be that they don’t want to burden any of you more than necessary, so they wait until the very last minute to come. It is possible that if you mention wanting them to come earlier, they would. You can say something like, “We love when you come for Yom Tov, but sometimes we worry when you come so close to the zman. Maybe you can come a little earlier, so we don’t have to worry.”

Regarding the demolition team, well that’s not really going to change. Your children should definitely try to have some sort of rules at your house, but the reality is that their kids are off schedule at your house and that makes it hard to police them. The younger generation often have many children close in age and they feel a bit overwhelmed. I often think they don’t realize how much additional work they are dumping on their parents. They may just be relieved not to have to do it all.

Make sure you ask for help with setting and cleaning up and let them know you need at least an hour to lie down, so you can be more refreshed and able to enjoy all the company. Saying something like, “Sweetheart, would you mind helping me in with the food,” will most likely get a positive response. You can also just announce that you need an hour or two to lie down and then you’ll be happy to read to the children or play a game with them. This tells your children that you won’t be available all afternoon to be with the kids, but that you can play with them a little later while they nap.

Communicating your needs in the moment will be most effective. If your children do not respect your wishes after you communicate them, then you may need to have a conversation about it. Most likely, your children are just not thinking about your needs and are not purposely trying to make you into a shmatta.


I hope that you continue to enjoy your parents and your children and that you have much nachas from the entire mishpacha!

Dear Dr. Yael

20 Heshvan 5777 – November 21, 2016

Dear Dr. Respler,

As an avid reader of your largely insightful column, I was troubled by one of the letters which appeared recently that in effect unilaterally excoriated the use of the Internet. Those few students in my literature classes who, over the years, have elected to myopically view the Internet as simply a tool to compromise the integrity of religious observance, rather than embrace it as a unique apparatus designed to facilitate the improvement of academic essay writing and navigate the terrain of literary research, have confronted tedious challenges their tech-savvy classmates had been spared.

Let me be clear, my charges are all frum students in Touro College’s Machon L’Paranasah. They are yeshiva graduates and of chassidic origin; they simply have taken advantage of technology that will eventually allow them to compete in corporate America. More importantly, it has not lessened their zeal to continually ponder Talmudic thought and implement its findings.

It is, respectfully, intellectually disingenuous to suggest that technology is “…killing our community…” Painfully and frustratingly aware of the two-edged sword the Internet poses, it is, assuredly, up to the parents who, in their objective to pass along their spiritual legacy to their progeny, must be cognizant of the fact that secular education must include the latest that technical innovation has to offer. The tech-messiahs of whom you refer may “clearly agree with the rabbanim,” but I also believe that the spiritual and secular can indeed coexist.

Parents need to be more diligent in inculcating their sons and daughters how toxic haphazard usage of the Internet can be. At the same time, for those parents who want their offshoots to successfully meet the demands and challenges of the world marketplace need to take understand how helpful the Internet is; its a device that offers the entire landscape of knowledge at our fingertips.

With respect,

R. N. G., Professor at Touro College and University


Dear R.N.G.:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write this important letter.

I am well aware of all the advantages of the Internet and do not believe that there is nothing positive to be found online. The original debate was about the use of cell phones and continued with a letter from a woman who felt her family was addicted to technology.

You are correct that it is up to parents to inculcate their sons and daughters about the toxicity of the Internet. However, what is to be done when the parents themselves are addicted and incapable of setting limits and boundaries?

Certainly in a perfect world, we would all use the Internet only for appropriate matters. Unfortunately, our world is not a perfect one and I and other therapists have seen a whole host of addictions affecting families in our community.

It takes only one click to reach an inappropriate website and be exposed to material that can have serious consequences for marital relationships and healthy views of women.

In essence, there are no clear answers. It seems that the world you live in is one in which students are able to utilize the Internet in appropriate ways. I, on the other hand, live in a world filled with addictions and marital problems that fifteen years ago our community never faced. And it can all be laid at the feet of the technological advances society seems to celebrate.

The issue is incredibly complicated. Our rabbanim don’t experience the “good” the Internet provides; they deal with the broken families and teens who have walked off the derech because of it. Once upon a time, a person who wanted to be unfaithful or a young person who wanted to view inappropriate material did not have an easy time finding outlets. Today, however, the Internet and social media have given us all access to thousands of strangers with whom relationships can be developed. In addition, social media has given us the belief that we have so many friends, superficial relationships to be sure, but for some an easy outlet for inappropriate behavior.

The ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, while amazing in one way, can also be very dangerous. Texting and using Snapchat (where the texts and images are only seen temporarily and cannot be saved) make having inappropriate conversations much easier and much more accessible. People often say things via text that they would never say to someone face to face. I wish I could just publish columns that focus on all the amazing things the Internet has to offer. However, that is not possible.

Thank you for helping to highlight the benefits of the Internet and for helping me explain the issues more clearly. I hope that parents take appropriate steps to safeguard their children so they can become 21st century learners and be successful in this new world!


Dear Dr. Yael

14 Heshvan 5777 – November 14, 2016

Dear Yael,

I was both troubled and saddened by the letter from the mother whose children were abused by the meshulach she and her husband allowed to stay in their home. The pain and harm this man caused is something that cannot be calculated.

While I think your response was the correct one, there was a critical piece that was not addressed. How could the family not have pressed charges? It was misplaced rachamim to feel badly for this man’s family at the expense of their own children. The proper action would have been to press charges against him. This would have sent a strong and appropriate message to their children that if something bad happens, their parents will do everything possible to protect them.

This brings me to my second point. It seems highly likely that this man has engaged in this despicable behavior before and may have even abused his own children. How could they have just sent him back with a warning? How did they even know that he really has a wife and children and, even if he did, that he still lived with them?

Let this be a lesson to all of us to be vigilant in regards to the people we bring into our home and if G-d forbid something does occur, to take the proper steps to deal with it.

R. B.


Dear R. B.:

I was happy to receive your letter as I felt the same way that you did. However, as the mother seemed so distraught, and they had already sent him back to Israel, it seemed more prudent to focus on preventing child molestation and/or dealing with it more effectively.

Several years ago, I supervised a number of counselors in different schools. At one point, it became clear that one of these counselors was molesting boys under his care. While we did our best to convince the parents of these boys to press charges, they refused. They did not want their children to have to testify in court.

Often, people who are molested are reluctant to report what happened. As a therapist, you can encourage them to do so, but often their reluctance stems from a fear of being put in the public limelight and having to testify against the person who molested them. Frequently, parents do not want their children to testify for fear it will traumatize them further. This creates a very challenging situation. If those being molested refuse to take action, and often won’t give you information about their molester, there isn’t much a therapist, teacher, counselor or rav can do.

As to your second point, it’s not my job to make a parent feel guilty for something he or she did under duress.

However, as a general statement to our readers, I stress again: Do not let molesters go free. Please report them immediately to the proper authorities. If you don’t, you may be putting other children at great risk.

Also, to parents of children who have been abused: make sure they get immediate professional help. Meet with the counselor/therapist first to ensure that he or she is a good fit. Make sure your child is comfortable with the person. If your child does not want to go for therapy with the person you chose, give it a couple of sessions, and then find someone else if your child is still uncomfortable.

Children must be able to play out, talk about, or draw about their experience. Molestation and child abuse will have lasting effects; however, a child will have a much better prognosis if he or she is given the opportunity to express the pain and take back the control lost through the abuse. Even young children need the opportunity to play out their experience with a competent child therapist.

Remember that children don’t just “forget” what happened to them. They may repress their terrible memories, but this will likely affect them negatively at a later point in time.

Thank you again for your letter and hatzlocha.

Dear Dr. Yael

4 Heshvan 5777 – November 4, 2016

Dear Dr. Respler,

As a professor of child development in a graduate program and a loyal reader of your column, I want to thank you for the incredibly important public service you have provided over the years. I have often used your excellent insights and well-thought out answers in my classes.

I would, however, like to comment on a point you made to “A Guilty Mother” in the October 7 issue. While most of the suggestions were on point, I do take exception to item number three in which Dr. Susan Schulman advises that parents tell a child to confront the abuser and “tell him that your parents are very strong and you know that he’s just trying to scare you.” I fear that some abusers might panic and do physical harm to the child in order to prevent him or her from reporting what has transpired. Perhaps a better approach might be for the child to appear cooperative and attempt to get away in whatever manner he or she can.

It is very sad that there are predators and pedophiles in our midst that would do harm to our beloved children.

Wishing you hatzlocha,
A devoted reader


Dear Devoted Reader:

Thank you for your letter and those very kind words. Thank you also for the opportunity to clarify some points of confusion in regards to that specific column.

Dr. Susan Schulman advises parents to tell their children that anything that is covered by a bathing suit is off limits and cannot be touched by anyone. Everything else in that column was written by myself and Dr. Orit Respler Herman.

You are correct that it’s more prudent to teach our children to run away and let a trusted adult know what happened as soon as possible! While our suggestion was a way of helping a child appear strong, you are correct in saying that some abusers can be violent and this strategy can cause a child to be harmed.

Many abusers seek our children who seem vulnerable; thus it is important that we build up our children’s self-esteem and confidence. When the abuser is a stranger, that confidence can keep the child safe. Unfortunately, when the abuser is a family member, that confidence has no effect.

In addition, I never meant to suggest that victims could choose to be victimized. Anyone can be victimized and no child ever chooses to be in that position. Our hope has to be that a child who has a great amount of self-esteem or confidence will, at the very least, feel comfortable reporting an abusive situation as quickly as possible. It is also imperative that you tell your children that no one can hurt you and they should never be afraid to tell you anything that happened to them. Most importantly, we need to teach our children that inappropriate touch is never okay.

Along these lines, our reactions are very important. We must be sure to remain calm and help them process what happened in an appropriate manner. This is especially true when children are telling us that they got in trouble at school or that they did something wrong. If we yell or overreact to the information they have shared, they will stop filling us in.

This does not mean that you should condone bad behavior; rather, it means you should lovingly explain why what happened was wrong (not that they were bad, but their actions were incorrect) and help them figure out how to act differently in the future. If his or her actions warrant it, a fair consequence can be given, but an incentive for good behavior in the future and helping your child find a better way to handle the situation will likely be more effective.

Having a strong and positive relationship with your children is like an insurance policy. It will protect them from many types of predators and from knowingly entering into harmful relationships. There are, unfortunately, many harmful people who know how to be chameleons. They know how to pretend to be whatever you are looking for during the dating process and in the early stage of friendships. That makes them hard to avoid.

Thank you again for your letter and for helping to clarify our response. May we be zoche to a time in which abuse no longer exists in any form. Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

27 Tishri 5777 – October 28, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

My husband and I were touched by the letter in your column a few weeks ago from a baalas teshuva who felt unaccepted by the people in her community. This is an experience we are familiar with. We are also baalei teshuva. However, another reason we can identify with your letter writer is because we are, at this time, unable to have children.

We are both young and have an unusually healthy lifestyle.  When people would ask us why we didn’t have kids yet, we used to be able to explain that I was still in school. This seemed to satisfy most people, and kept them from asking for a while.  But now, we no longer have that excuse.  We have been accused of being unfamiliar with the Torah, and have been told by some “friends” that their children have no interest in us because we do not have kids.  (We know this to be untrue, but it still pains us – especially as I have a background in early childhood education, and we can see that kids gravitate towards us.)

Not having kids right now has not been a matter of choice for us; in fact, we have been silently working with specialists to identify any issues causing us problems.  We have come across amazing resources and people through this process, and we believe that all of this is part of Hashem’s plan.  At the same time, we are finding it very difficult to live in a community in which most conversations start with a glance at my stomach; in which the decision to go to shul every week hangs on our fluctuating tolerance for an onslaught of baby carriages and pregnant women; in which people rarely talk to us anymore, or invite us for Shabbos, since we’re not part of the “in group.”

We have both lived here for a while now, and have done our best to contribute over the years.  But we are at our tipping point.  You mentioned in your response to the other letter that you could recommend friendly communities – would you be able to elaborate?


Dear Anonymous,

I understand your dilemma and I think there are two issues occurring in your situation.  I actually think the “children” issue is more challenging for you than your backgrounds.

People who are frum from birth and who come from supportive families suffer as well. Over the years, I have treated many couples struggling from infertility and secondary infertility. Unfortunately, people can sometimes be insensitive and say hurtful things to these couples.

I have had chassidishe couples with two children who wanted more children and were criticized by others for being modern.

I feel uncomfortable recommending specific communities. I will say that I live in Boro Park on a warm and friendly block. Other people may have different experiences. This just goes to show that in different neighborhoods you can have friendly and un-friendly blocks. Thus, all I can suggest is that it may be a good idea for you to look for a different block.

When people are unfriendly to me, I go over and introduce myself, and comment on something positive I have noticed about them. Generally, this helps generate a warm conversation.

If there is someone in shul whom you find bright and interesting, strike up a conversation relating to the davening, the rav and his family etc. Volunteering for a women’s organization in your shul is another good way to meet people.

If you can try to start a conversation with a smile and a compliment and demonstrate interest in the other person, you will be sure to win new friends.

Maybe you can try to create new friends with other couples or other women individually and not be part of a “group” or “clique.”  These “groups” can often lead to the need to keep up with others which can cause shalom bayis problems.

Perhaps you are hurting so deeply due to your struggles with your infertility that you don’t realize that there are other people around you suffering from the same or similar issues.

During our time in galus we are all faced with challenges; some are more obvious and others are hidden. Or, as I like to say, some are wrapped in clear garbage bags and others in black garbage bags.

Your nisyonos are wrapped in black garbage bags. Someone who is clearly struggling with a disease has a nisayon wrapped in a clear garbage bag.  That does not make your situation any less painful.  It may just be that people do not realize that you’re also going through your own struggles.  It’s also possible that others are envious of you because they do not realize what you are going through.  You may present to others as this healthy, educated, with-it couple that may actually be a psychological threat to them.  Obviously this is only a theory since I do not know you or your attitude to others at all.

Although it is so hard to go through infertility, a positive attitude can help.  Think about sharing your situation with one or two other women and asking them to daven for you. This might be a risk, but one worth taking. Only you can decide that. However, if you can foster a friendship with others dealing with similar issues, it can be a source of support to you as well.  I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this challenge.

Dear Dr. Yael

15 Tishri 5777 – October 16, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

Let me begin by saying that I love my wife and children very much. So, why am I writing to you? My wife has serious issues with anger management. I don’t necessarily blame her; growing up she heard and saw lots of fighting between her parents. On the other hand, my parents divorced when I was 10; they both remarried and have an amicable relationship. It is like we have three sets of parents – both my step-parents are very nice to us and to our children. I have siblings from both of my parents’ second marriages and step-siblings. We all get along.

Honestly, the only time there is any discord is when we go to my in-laws who have been married to each other for over 40 years. The fighting is out of control and upsets my wife very much. I have suggested that we either stay home or just go to my parents, but my in-laws make my wife feel guilty if we don’t come.

However, the experience is so negative and there are serious ramifications for our family. My wife overreacts to everything after we have been there and it makes things more difficult at home. When I have discussed it with her, she says that when she gets angry it’s because she has been provoked by me or by the children. She doesn’t seem to see that she reacts to what goes on at her parents.

My wife loves your column and we read it together every Friday night. I think it would be so helpful if you would address this issue in a future article. I changed enough details so that people will not recognize our family.

I know my wife does not want to be this way. She is a very ehrliche person who tries hard to work on her middos. Other than this one issue, we have a wonderful relationship and marriage.

I hope you can help us.



Dear Anonymous,

As I write this column, we are about to begin the Yomim Noraim period with three cycles of two-day chagim. This is stressful for everyone, even those who are in highly functional families. Those who are part of the sandwich generation and must deal with aging parents and married children find it even more difficult. As do those who are single, couples struggling with infertility, divorced mothers, divorced fathers, those who are struggling financially, etc.

In other words, we all go through this period of time dealing with more stress than usual. And so working on our middos during these days is a must, though not easy.

Today, we will discuss anger. Developing a strategy for anger management is not easy to do, but it is doable. The first step is admitting there is a problem. If your wife can’t do that yet, perhaps you can sit down and have a calm and loving conversation with her. Start with saying something like, “I love you very much and appreciate everything that you do to keep this house running! I noticed something that I think we could work on that can benefit the family. Sometimes, when the children or I seem to be stressing you out, I feel that you become very upset and yell. I know you don’t mean it and that you love us all very much, but it makes me feel bad when you yell and I think the children are also being affected. Maybe we can think of a silly/secret word that I can say when I see you becoming upset that will remind you to calm down. What do you think?”

Hopefully, your wife will accept what you are saying and you can come up with a word or phrase together. However, even if your wife becomes defensive, understand that she has heard what you say, she is just not accepting it yet. Do not turn this into a fight; just ask her to please think about what you said and end the conversation.

In time, if she truly is the good person you describe, she will understand how her actions affect all of you and work on a plan with you.

Another good idea is working on breathing exercises. This is something you can do together – tell her it’s something you read about and want to try.

  1. Take ten deep breaths – in through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then breath out slowly through your mouth.
  2. Close your eyes and imagine a calming scene.
  3. Give yourself a time out.
  4. Say out loud that what just happened is not the end of the world and everything will be okay.

As to your in-laws, it may be prudent to come up with a game plan for that situation as well. For example, decide that if x, y and z happens, then you will do a, b and c. If you prepare for a variety of situations in advance, you and your wife may be better able to deal with what comes up.

Hatzlocha and have a good Yom Tov!

Dear Dr. Yael

6 Tishri 5777 – October 7, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael:

I thought I was doing a huge mitzvah; I didn’t realize it would destroy my family.

Baruch Hashem, we are well off and can and do give a lot of tzeddakah. We opened our home to a meshulach from Israel who we felt was trying to raise money for a good cause. We gave him a private room and bathroom; he joined us for supper on some nights and most Shabbos meals. He became like a part of our family.

And then something happened. Our children started acting out in ways we didn’t understand. We took them to see a therapist, who, after spending some time with them, discovered that our guest had been abusing our children while he lived with us.

Now all our children are in intensive therapy. The man in question was asked to remove himself from our home and told to go back to Israel and get psychological help. We also told him that if we find out he has come back to the United States we would file a lawsuit against him. I wanted to do sue him now, but my husband feels sorry for his wife and large amount of children.

Dr. Respler, I ask you to please share this letter with your readers. Please tell people to be careful whom they let into their home. A separate chesed apartment is one thing, but the guest should have no free access to a family’s home or children.

My husband and I are overwhelmed with guilt over what we allowed to happen to our children. I hope this letter serves as a warning to other parents.

A Guilty Mother


Dear Guilty Mother:

I am so sorry at what happened to you and to your family, but please, do not feel guilty; it is not an emotion that will not be productive for you. You had no way of knowing that the person you were bringing into your home was dangerous.

That being said, I can’t tell you the number of times adult patients have told me that they were the victims of abuse by guests in their homes when they were children.

Readers, we have made this point before, but obviously, it needs to be repeated: Do not leave your children alone with people you don’t know. Do not leave them alone with guests who offer to watch them so you can get some rest.

What else can we do? Make sure our children know basic information. My thanks to Dr. Susan Schulman for allowing me to share what she tells her patients to say to their children.

Children must be told that anything that is covered by a bathing suit is private, or kadosh. No one can look or touch there – other than a doctor during an examination or a parent if the child has said that there is something wrong.

Tell the child from the time he or she is able to speak and is sent away from the house even to playgroup the following information, on his or her level:


1) There are no secrets from Mommy and Daddy/Ema and Abba/ Mommy and Tatty. If someone tells you that we are doing something that is a secret and you should not tell your parents, you must tell.

2) If someone tells you he (or she) will buy you a present or tries to give you a present to go with him somewhere privately, don’t go. We are your parents and will buy you presents and everything you need.

3) If someone tells you he will hurt your parents, tell him that your parents are very strong and you know that he is just trying to scare you.

4) Tell your child never to go anywhere where there are no other people. “Hide and seek” must be played in safe places in your house where you can supervise.

5) Even the mikvah can be a dangerous place. Do not send your son alone to the mikvah, even if he is over bar mitzvah.

6) Sleepaway camp and dorms can be dangerous as well. Children must be taught to be cautious in all situations.

The following signs may mean that your child has been molested but is either afraid to tell you or does not even understand what has happened.


2-9 years of age:

  • Fear of certain things: people, places, activities
  • Behavioral regression – bed wetting for example
  • Trouble eating or changes in appetite
  • Nightmares, trouble sleeping
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Feeling shameful or guilty

Ages 9+:

  • Depression Nightmares, trouble sleeping
  • Suddenly doing poorly in school
  • Promiscuous activity
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Signs of aggression
  • Running away from home
  • Suicidal thoughts and gestures
  • Overly mature behavior
  • Exuding anger at being forced into situations out of their control


Warning signs of abuse:

Although physical signs of abuse are rare, if you see any of the following, have your child examined by a physician:

  • Pain during urination and/or bowel movements
  • Bleeding, discharges or pain in mouth, genitals or anus
  • Difficulty walking, sitting, standing
  • Self-induced injuries such as cutting, burning, suicide attempts


Guilty Mother, thank you again for writing to us and please take comfort in the hope that this letter will help other families avoid the trauma yours is experiencing. Hatzlocha!

Dear Dr. Yael

28 Elul 5776 – September 30, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing to you about the frightening situation currently taking place in our home. Our family is Modern Orthodox Machmir and we have a television and Internet-connection in our home. My husband seems to make fun of the chareidi community with all of its asifot and proclamations against the Internet, texting, and technology in general.

Well, guess what? I think these rabbis are totally correct. My kids each have their own iPads and are totally focused on the various games they play. They also text their friends all the time. Our older kids have cell phones with Internet access and, honestly, I have no idea what sites they go to and what they do, as I must give them their privacy.

My husband is a technology junkie and has every gadget under the sun. Baruch Hashem for Shabbat, it’s the only time we actually eat together and have family time.

I know that my kids have friends who text on Shabbat, but I insist on taking all their devices before Shabbat and locking them in a closet. My husband does the same with our stuff. But, as soon as Shabbat is over, we all run to retrieve our devices and during the rest of the week it seems as if we hardly see each other.

I am an avid reader of your column and I remember the whole controversy about the teenager whose parents took away her cell phone when they found inappropriate texts. These parents were so smart; I think it might be too late for our family. My kids are all in their teens and I am not sure what I can do to curtail their Internet use. And with a husband who is addicted to technology, my options are very limited.

Dr. Respler, is there anything I can do to help my family?

A Fan


Dear Fan,

As my regular readers know, this is a topic we have addressed many times. However, this week I would like to focus on what secular research says about technology and our children.

Computers and smartphones are keeping our children wired, tired, aggressive, and, in some cases, seemingly psychotic. There are those who believe technology should be considered “Digital Heroin” and claim that battling a technology addiction is harder than battling drugs.

Interestingly, many tech-cautious parents are tech-designers. After doing some research, I found that a great number of Silicon Valley tech-executives and engineers enroll their kids in schools that follow the Waldorf philosophy. These schools believe in hands-on activities and creative play as well as developing strong social skills and empathetic understanding.

Steve Jobs was known to be a notorious low-tech parent; in his home they had tech-free dinners. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page attended no-tech Montessori schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

These are all non-Jewish or non-religious people who understand how technology affects our brains. They clearly agree with our dear rabbonim.

As a therapist, I can tell you that technology is killing our community. It leads to inappropriate addictions, divorce, and a complete lack of family time. As you said, Baruch Hashem we have Shabbos.

That being said, there is currently an epidemic of teenagers from very frum homes who are texting and visiting social media on Shabbos and Yom Tov. It seems they can’t begin to disconnect.

So what can you do?

Your first step must be to reach out to your husband. How can you expect your children to be any different if he is heavily addicted to technology? The Shabbat closet is a great idea; maybe you can brainstorm something similar for dinner hour or a time at night by which everyone’s devices are turned off – a technology curfew if you will.

Next, try to get your children involved in activities that are unrelated to technology: playing sports, physical activity, exercise, swimming, yoga, dance or exercise classes. These will all raise their endorphin levels and help them feel good about themselves.

Maybe there are chesed-related activities you can do as a family. This will not only help you all feel accomplished and fulfilled, it will be time you can spend together when it is not Shabbos.

The rehabilitation of your family must begin with your husband and yourself. Children learn more from our behavior than from what we tell them to do. If you want your children to even consider cutting down their screen time, you and your husband must be positive role models. Whatever you decide to do, it must be a joint effort – it is essential that your children see a united front.

Readers, I await your ideas and suggestions for this family and other suffering from technology addictions.

Hatzlacha to all and a gut gebentched yur.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/dear-dr-yael-90/2016/09/30/

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