Letters – Summer 2020

An Upbeat Seder
I want to thank you for making my yom tov seudos upbeat and thoughtful. I might have been the guest of honor at my corona solo Seder, but Baruch Hashem, I was not alone. I was surrounded by [photos of] the sweetest children in the world, and I enjoyed the company of the Jewish Action at each Seder. There’s so much to be grateful for. Next year together in Yerushalayim!

Susie Berzansky Bensoussan
Rochester, New York

 

A Bright Spot During COVID-19
Thank you so much for the spring edition of Jewish Action. It was our family’s favorite read over yom tov. The articles were well written and up to your usual standard. What was most enjoyable, however, was that there was not a single mention of the “C” word (corona) anywhere in the magazine. Of course, we understood that the publication went to print before the current crisis. That being the case, it was so nice to read through the articles and take a mental break from the all-pervasive and yes, oppressive, coverage of the situation. You were Hashem’s messenger to give us that much-needed break. Thank you!

Baruch Cywiak
Brooklyn, New York

 

When A Child Leaves the Fold
Regarding the article “Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold” (spring 2020), Tal Attia’s advice was right on! I speak from personal experience, having our only daughter tell us when she graduated high school that she was done with Judaism. It took over two years for me to grow and heal and realize that this test was for me. We don’t have other children to focus on and that made it all the harder. Tal writes, “However, there is ultimately one factor we cannot control: the fact that our children are their own people, with their own experiences, minds, hearts, souls and, of course, free will.” I wish I’d had Tal’s words to help me heal back then. It’s so important for parents to remember that we’ve done our best raising our families with Torah and emet, and at some point, our kids have to choose their own derech for themselves. We’ve planted the right seeds and someday we will see fruit.

Anonymous

 

Thank you for featuring this valuable symposium. Each of the well-known presenters provided expert advice to assist parents as they confront the many emotional, religious and practical issues that arise when a child no longer follows halachah.

All of the points in the various subheadings—“Set a balance between love and limits”; “Love your child unconditionally”; “Invest in the relationship,” et cetera—are vital for helping children develop into emotionally healthy adults. While the guidance offered is appropriate when parents and children experience tension over religious differences, it is just as relevant at every single stage of one’s relationship with his or her children.

Indeed, as Rabbi Moshe Benovitz writes: “We are constantly educating our children. . . More than anything else, they implicitly learn our values and priorities.” It is therefore crucial that parents consistently demonstrate that they are accepting of personal differences. Parental attitudes toward marginalized groups are “implicitly learned” and absorbed by our children. This includes attitudes toward, for example, those who dress differently than the community norm, are LGBTQ or otherwise struggling to find their place in the religious community, and those who do not follow halachah. These parental attitudes will undoubtedly color the relationship with one’s children when they forge their own path in life and in their relationship with Hashem, which may diverge from their parents’ path. Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman so fittingly writes: “One can simultaneously accept someone’s behavior while not approving of it.” The fact that a parent (or rabbi) demonstrates a sensitive and non-judgmental stance, which includes acceptance of others, even when disagreeing with them, will be remembered for many years. On the other hand, a parent’s (or rabbi’s) disparaging and cynical comments about others are nearly impossible to erase.

The symposium is introduced with the statement, “Tolerance, compromise, flexibility and understanding are important components in any attempt to maintain a relationship with a child who has left the path of halachic observance.” These same ideals should be purposefully practiced with our children and actively demonstrated to them, at every age and every stage of their religious and personal development. Continually exercising the values espoused in this symposium (along with prayer for Hashem’s assistance) will help our children develop into emotionally mature adults, with healthy familial relationships.

Chaim Nissel, PsyD
Yeshiva University dean of students
NYS licensed psychologist
New Hempstead, New York

Editor’s Note: As mentioned in the original article, the need to balance love, tolerance and understanding with fidelity to halachic norms raises very difficult questions which require consultation with learned and sensitive rabbinic authority.

 

Your recent focus on a child who leaves the Orthodox fold was interesting and timely, and I especially appreciated those authors who shared their own experiences.

Being shut down when authentically questioning and grappling with intellectual topics and issues of faith pushes people away. Too many young people who are sincerely struggling with these issues are dismissed rather than engaged. Instead of banging their heads against a wall, they call it quits and leave the communities in which they have grown up. We all lose.

Renée Septimus
New York, New York

 

Years ago when I served as a consultant at a yeshivah high school, I dealt with teenagers, many of whom were turned off to Orthodoxy. These teenagers thought that by “rebelling” they are no longer conforming, and that they are exercising their independent right to question old ways of thinking, and to make their own decisions. I enjoyed pointing out to them that our forefather Avraham was in fact an independent thinker and a non-conformist. Indeed the midrash comments that Avraham Avinu was a very young child when he began thinking about a Creator. In other words, the foundation of our Orthodox beliefs is based on commitment and not at all on conformity. Conformity brings with it a fear of being different, of being ostracized and left abandoned. Commitment comes from a position of strength and a recognition of truth and brings along pride, determination, and dedication.

Psychologist Solomon Asch investigated the need for people to conform and its influence on perception and decision making. His famous experiment entailed identifying whether two lines on a wall were of equal length or whether one was longer than the other. He told nine people in advance to lie even though the correct answer was apparent. However, he did not cue in the tenth person. The research question he asked was, “Would the tenth person trust his own perception and judgment or would he or she go along with the other nine people?” Asch discovered that many people were willing to suspend their independent thinking and decision making in exchange for not being different.

We in the Orthodox community need to appreciate and respect adolescents’ need to identify with their peers, to think in new ways, and to feel that their questioning is based on the need to commit from a position of strength. Our job is to remind ourselves that we are committed to being Orthodox out of a position of pride and strength. One of the main reasons Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was so successful in bringing a generation of Jews back to Orthodoxy was his ability to articulate the purpose and meaning behind Torah observance and its benefit not just for the klal but for the individual as well. Certainly when Chazal say “Al tikra charus, ela cheirus—Don’t say that the commandments are etched in stone. Rather say that they represent freedom,” they were addressing this very point. The question for parents, teachers, administrators and our community is, how do we teach commitment? Without such a discussion, we will run the risk of reproducing the results of the Ash experiment in every generation, thereby making us more vulnerable as a cohesive nation.

Dr. Morton Frank
Adjunct assistant professor
Queens College
Queens, New York

 

I am writing in response to “Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold.”

I would posit, from personal experience, that when a child leaves a less observant life (e.g., Reform or Conservative) to become Orthodox, it creates as many, or even more challenges, than those you wrote about.

One day the child comes home to advise his parents that should they wish to continue to enjoy meals with him at their home, new sets of dishes are in order as well as new silverware. The foods that your son enjoyed for years and that Mom always cooked may no longer be acceptable. Forget going out to dinner to celebrate birthdays, unless one lives in New York or LA or in other major cities. This is life-altering. But we try to avoid being judgmental and adjust—physically and emotionally.

How? Never lose track of the fact that you brought this individual into the world and you love him unconditionally, more than life itself. Concentrate on the things and times you can enjoy together. Make peace with your child’s life choice.

Peter Schneider
North Tustin, California

Editor’s Note: The challenges facing non-Orthodox parents whose children become Orthodox are certainly deserving of treatment as well. Those who embrace a frum lifestyle should be encouraged to maintain good relationships with their parents and siblings. As one kiruv professional explained, all too often baalei teshuvah reject their non-Orthodox families, resulting in unnecessary pain and alienation.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2020 issue of Jewish Action.
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