Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I address this letter to all the narrow-minded people of my community who claim to live a Torah life and practice the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro as ardently as those bein adam l’Makom. They profess to judge no one, but in truth, they judge everyone. They claim to stand at the ready to help any Yid in need, but turn and run at the first sign of commitment. They go to shul daily and face the Ribbono Shel Olam, shaking and shukkling to emphasize their belief in Him and His Torah. They ask Him to provide them with every blessing and send the right zivug for their children as though only they are entitled to such privilege and no one else! Why then do they rob me of the same privilege? Who gives them the right to deprive me of that same happiness? Who made them experts on my character, my middos? Who gives anyone the right of control over my future? Who has the right to judge me? I know these words may sound bitter and acerbic, but it is the ill will of others that has made me so.
I am a twenty-five year old Bais Yaakov graduate who went to seminary, projected the classic Bais Yaakov values and profile, and graduated in the top ten of my class. I am pleasant to look at by today’s standards – 5’5″, thin, blond, blue-eyed with above-average intelligence. I was valedictorian at my graduation and my teachers predicted a bright and promising future for me. All my seminary teachers were amazed at my ability to juggle chesed, schoolwork and social activities all while maintaining a 96% average and working with classmates who needed help. After completing seminary, with the high recommendations of my mentors, I became a much sought-after teacher, beloved by hanhallah and students alike. So what’s the problem, you ask? Where does all this community narrow-mindedness and abuse present itself after so glowing a repertoire? It begins just about here.
I am the eldest of five children from a staunchly Orthodox family, where chesed and tzedakah were an integral part of our upbringing. My four younger siblings and I often found ourselves in the care of babysitters or neighbors homes while my mother was off working for the shul sisterhood, the school ladies auxiliary, community meetings or performing other such acts of chesed that usually superceded our needs. My father, the gabai of our shul, was also visibly absent, due to the long hours at work and his duties to the shul. When my parents did find themselves at home, they were often tired, irritable and non-approachable, so we learned to fend for ourselves the best way we could, relying on friends for camaraderie and comfort.
In retrospect, it is no wonder that, as they got older, two of my brothers got lost in the world of drugs and bad company because there was no one they could turn to for guidance, direction and supportive approval. My years of teaching young children made me aware how vitally important parental love and consistency is in the shaping of their adult lives. This was missing in my own home and in the homes of tens of students I’ve taught over the years. That hungry need to feel wanted, validated, special and safe was stamped on their faces. I am not surprised that many of them, like my brothers, have fallen by the wayside and become statistics of drug abuse. And when there is a family member with drug-related issues, it colors the character of every member of that family by association. We all become “damaged goods.”
At twenty, I was redt a shidduch by a local shadchan, a wonderful bochur with a great future in learning and from an outstanding family. Things were going well and I was so excited and looking forward to getting engaged and starting my own bayis ne’eman. Then, just before we were to get engaged, someone brought up my brothers’ drug issues. That was the end of “fine” and the beginning of “no dates at all.” I had a great deal of trouble understanding how my brothers’ drug use reflected on my character, personality – on me at all. I understand that people may be afraid of the stigma of drug addiction. However, in our case it is not a genetic manifestation nor is it contagious. I also know that one should be judged on ones own merit and not by the yardstick of another. Why does no one want to understand that just because one family member is afflicted with a destructive condition, and it does not mirror itself on the other family members. I am my brothers’ keeper – but I am NOT my brothers!