Being A Mother-In-Law and Not a Monster-In-Law

Now that all of my seven wonderful children (ages 25 to 38) are married, I am a Mother-In-Law (Yiddish: a “shvigger”) to seven adults. I just wanted to leave a few observations about making this potentially difficult parent-in-law relationship work well for all concerned.

First of all, please do not make the mistake. A son-in-law is NOT a son. A daughter-in-law is NOT a daughter. This can actually be helpful, as you don’t have twenty-plus years of conflicts and misunderstandings behind you: you start off with a clean slate.

Also there is the RESPECT factor. I can’t emphasize it enough and that is why it is capitalized. You must show RESPECT to your child’s spouse, and to your child’s spouse’s parents. Always speak politely and carefully to a child-in-law. Perceived slights can eat away at your child’s Sholom Bayis.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal once gave a great piece of advice: keep your purse open and your mouth shut. I actually enjoy talking to my children-in-law, but I never criticize, I always sound positive and upbeat. I try to praise as much as possible, telling my children and their spouses what a wonderful job they are doing raising my grandchildren. Words of chizuk and encouragement are always welcome to struggling young parents (particularly when accompanied by a cash gift to help out with the bills).

If you spend time reading books with three grandkids snuggled up close listening to every word, or take the grandkids out to the swings at the park so your tired daughter-in-law can catch a much needed break, your presence will be welcomed rather than dreaded.

Finally, if there is a special needs grandchild, your continued help and words of encouragement and strength are especially important. Raising a special child is a super challenge to parents, but if the grandparents get involved in a helpful and loving manner, it can make a great difference in making everyone’s lives a little easier. Special needs children adore the unconditional love of their Bubby and Zaidy, and tired moms really appreciate respite time when grandparents visit and entertain the special needs child.

To summarize, it’s not “shver” (hard) to be a great “shver” (father in law): respect, positivity and most of all love (plus an open wallet) will make the parent-in-law relationship work for everyone in the family.

A Mother’s Prayer

By the time this column posts, the drama will be over. My daughter, Elana, now a high school senior at Reenas Beis Yaakov in Edison, NJ, will know which seminaries have accepted her, and she will have made her choice.

It’s a tumultuous experience, the seminary application, interview, and selection process. Elana has enjoyed being with the same group of friends since second grade. They light up my house with their positive energy and laughter on Shabbos, and I have watched all of them develop into lovely young women ready to venture out into the next chapter of their lives. Our house will be very quiet next year, not just because of Elana’s hoped for departure for Israel, but also, the loss of all of her friends parading through the house, studying with her, chilling with her, and giving me joy, nachas and envy, as Elana has enjoyed close friendships the likes of which I have never known. I send her off into her life after Reenas with lots of pride, and encouragement, and a big sigh.

I also send her off with prayer. This is something that any frum woman reading this column would have an. . . of course. . . response to. But an awareness struck me recently that every baalas teshuvah can relate to.

I drove Elana to her first seminary interview, held in a high school, which gave over a classroom to the Rabbi who was conducting the interviews. Since we hadn’t attended the open house, he graciously allowed me to watch a seminary video with Elana, and to receive a summary overview of the seminary from his perspective. And then he excused me outside of the room so that he could interview Elana without her mother sitting on the couch behind her.

The interview was very early in the morning so I had brought my siddur with me. As she and the Rabbi continued their conversation, I opened my siddur and proceeded with morning blessings, Shema, and Shomonei Esrei. Whenever I could, I tucked in special prayer for Elana, that she should be relaxed and confident and be able to impress the Rabbi with her special qualities.

There I was, standing outside of her interview room, siddur in hand, eyes closed, praying for my daughter. This was not an unusual sight for any of the other religious teenagers walking the hallways between classes. They’d seen their moms do the same for years.

For a moment, when my prayers were finished for the time being, tears sprung to my eyes.

My mother has never prayed for me. I don’t believe so, anyway. She doesn’t have a religious life or a relationship with our Creator, one that I am aware of. She doesn’t own a siddur, and she doesn’t ever go to shul. She is a worrier, so perhaps all of the worries she has sent up to heaven over the years have been received as prayer. I’d like to think so.

I stand outside of Elana’s interview room wanting the best for her. I stand outside of that room knowing that it’s in Hashem’s hands, and asking Hashem to help her. I stand outside that room sending another prayer, one of thousands, that I have said for her over her lifetime. I have prayed for her friendships, and her health, and her love of Torah, and her success on any number of tests. I have prayed for her happiness, and her refuah from sickness, and so many details of her life, she would probably be surprised to know. I have no doubt, if she goes to Israel next year, I will stand with siddur in hand and plead with Hashem to watch over her.

A baalas teshuvah mourns the loss of many things, and accepts that the path is sometimes a lonely and trying one. I miss something I never had, and probably never will – a mother who prays for me.

If you pray every day for your children, don’t think, “of course.” It is a gift, one your children may never fully appreciate until they are standing with siddur in hand, praying for their own children. And then they will understand a mother’s prayer.

O Daddy … Where Art Thou?

Tzav-Parshas Zachor 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you [lit: cooled you off] on the way, you were tired and exhausted … they did not fear Elokim.

–Devarim 25:17,18

When they encountered: Heb. קָרְךָ, an expression denoting a chance occurrence (מִקְרֶה) … Yet another explanation: an expression denoting heat and cold (קוֹר). He “cooled you off” and made you [appear] lukewarm, after you were boiling hot, for the nations were afraid to fight you, [just as people are afraid to touch something boiling hot]. But Amalek came forward and started [waging war with you] and showed the way to others. This can be compared to a bathtub of boiling water into which no one could immerse himself. Along came a reckless man and jumped headlong into it! Although he scalded himself, he [succeeded in] making others think that it was cooler [than it really was]. [Tanchuma 9]

–Rashi ibid

Our Rabbis taught: [vis a vis parents] What is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘fear’ and what is [i.e. how does one fulfill the mitzvah of] ‘honor’? ‘Fear’ means that he [the son] must not stand nor sit in his [the father’s] place, לא יסתור דבריו, nor contradict his words, nor tip the scales against him. ‘Honor” means that he must feed and hydrate him, clothe and cover him, lead him in and out.

–Kiddushin 31B

The relationship between the Jewish people and HaShem, and even between individual Jews and HaShem, is multifaceted.  Two familiar facets are those of our being subjects in G-ds Kingdom and of our being His children.  On every public fast day, most recently on Taanis Esther, we beseeched Avinu Malkenu– our Father/ our King.  To our detriment, true kings are very hard to find in contemporary society and, as such, we lack one of the primary role models for our relationship with HaShem.

Thankfully, at least fathers are ubiquitous and our relationships with our fathers can serve as ready metaphors from which we can draw relevant lessons in how to relate to HaShem.  And while, for many of us, the child-father relationship falls short of the ideal, if not being utterly dysfunctional, at least we have concrete, black on white parameters for what the ideal relationship ought to be as set down in Shas and in Shulchan Aruch in Hichos kibud av v’eim-the laws of honoring and being in awe of parents.

We are not permitted it to be soser the words/ matters of our fathers’.  This word, soser, is conventionally translated as “contradict.” But Rav Laibeleh Eiger reveals another layer of meaning in this word that impacts our understanding of the eternal war that we wage against Amalek:

Moshe Rabeinu was instructed to deliver this message at his first meeting with the Egyptian pharaoh as HaShem’s ambassador and as His agent to redeem His people from slavery: “this is what HaShem says: ‘Israel is My son — my firstborn. I’ve told you to send My son away [out of Egypt] to serve Me. If you refuse to let him leave I will ultimately kill your own firstborn son.’”(Shemos 4:22,23) As a result of the Exodus from Egypt HaShems Paternal relationship with the K’lal Yisrael-the Jewish People, became manifest and obvious for all the world to see.  Moreover, it revealed the fact that HaShem was a very involved Parent; a “helicopter Dadkivyachol -if you will, who was very concerned about his son’s welfare and insinuated himself directly into the sons affairs in order to relieve the sons suffering and to liberate him.

After the Exodus from Egypt K’lal Yisrael was cognizant of the special relationship that they enjoyed with HaShem.  However, around the time of their being attacked by Amalek, perceptions began to change.  For the nations of the world who were awestruck by the plagues of Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn and the utter destruction of the Egyptian military at the Sea of Reeds, it was not merely that the bloom was off the rose; it was that K’lal Yisrael had lost their air of invincibility.  Although Amalek had gotten its collective nose bloodied and had been “weakened” by Yehoshua; in launching their unprovoked attack on K’lal Yisrael they had blazed a trail and set the precedent for all future attacks, wars, ethnic-cleansings and genocides perpetrated by all future Jew-haters.

But, more significantly, doubts began creeping into the collective consciousness of K’lal Yisrael.  The Jews themselves internalized the implied message of Amalek’s attack. “If this could happen” the reasoning went “perhaps we are not really the apple of HaShem’s eye, maybe we are not so much different from the balance of humanity.  Who can still claim with confidence that we are His son and that He is our Father?” While the facts on the ground such as the manna bread from heaven and the miraculous cloud pillar should have eased these anxieties, nagging doubts remained.  They reasoned that HaShem must have some “hidden” agenda, something that is characterized by hester Panim-a concealment of the Divine Countenance.

Even before encountering Amalek the seeds of doubt had been planted in the national consciousness.  When K’lal Yisrael arrived at Rephidim there was no water readily available for them to drink.  Although Moshe Rabeinu worked the miracle producing the nomadic wellspring that would travel with K’lal Yisrael throughout their sojourn in the wilderness until death of Miriam; the upshot of that particular episode was this: “Moshe named the place Testing-and-Argument because the people had argued and had tested HaShem. They had asked ‘is HaShem within us or not?’” (Shemos 17:7).

Chaza”l provide a biting, acerbic characterization of  K’lal Yisrael’s ambivalence and under-confidence. “This can be compared to a man who carried his son on his shoulders and set out on the road. Whenever his son saw something, he would say, ‘Father, take it and give it to me,’ and he [the father] would do so. They met a man, and the son said to the man, ‘Have you seen my father?’ So his father said to the boy, “You don’t know where I am?” He threw him [his son] down off him, and a dog came and bit him [the son]. (Midrash Tanchuma, Yisro 3; Shemos Rabbah 26:2).  The boy in question never doubted whether or not he had a father.  He merely asked “do you see him … because I can’t!” The boy thinks that his father is out of sight — concealed.

The episode of Rephidim is the immediate preamble to the preemptive, unprovoked, initial attack of Amalek.  Amalek’s “chilling effect” did not merely cool down K’lal Yisrael in the court of public opinion but in their own self-perception and in their perception of HaShem as well.  While they still believed that they had a heavenly Father in the abstract, they were no longer able to “see” Him.  His administration of their affairs was now being orchestrated long-distance from behind a curtain, as it were.

In Lashon Kodesh-the holy tongue, there are many words synonymous with a contradiction; listor-to demolish/deconstruct, l’chalek-to argue/separate, l’hakchish-to deny/thin-out, l’hitnaged-to oppose.  Yet the verb that our sages chose to impart the lesson of not contradicting ones father is the verb in that is etymologically related to hiddenness and concealment; לא יסתור דבריו.  Rav Laibeleh Eiger maintains that one of the subtextual messages of this halachah is that a son is prohibited from characterizing his father’s words/deeds as being covert and clandestine.  The prohibition can be translated “he should not hide his father’s words/matters.” On a national level as a result of the chilling effect of Amalek’s onslaught, this is precisely the prohibition that K’lal Yisrael contravened in their relationship with their Father in heaven.

Rav Laibeleh teaches that part and parcel of our mitzvos to remember and to wage war against Amalek is to fight and suppress our own internal Amalek; the self-sabotaging a voice within our individual and collective psyches that mitigates and that dilutes the unique son-Father relationship that we enjoy with HaShem.  We need to scrap and claw to move beyond an abstract philosophical recognition of HaShems Administration of our affairs.  Knowing that we have a Father in heaven is insufficient.  We must fight the good fight to achieve a visceral awareness that we are riding on His shoulders and that He is always carrying us.  We need to develop the vision to see that our merciful father is directly and intimately dealing with us;  His firstborn son.  As the prophet thunders “O Why Yaakov do you say, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from HaShem, and my justice is passed over by my G-d’”? (Yeshaya 40:27)

We must always remember and never forget that while our King may be remote and inaccessible and may be conducting a clandestine foreign policy or waging a covert military operation our Father is loving, merciful, intimate and directly involved in our affairs. Parshas Zachor would be a great time to start remembering this and, while listening to Megillas Esther is something that we do with our ears, in order to truly vanquish Amalek we needed to sharpen our eyes to abide by the halachah of  לא יסתור דבריו, do right by our Father in heaven and do our own personal Megillas Hester-revealing of the concealment.

~adapted from Toras Emes Zachor/ Tetzaveh 5628/1868 D”H Amru

Please note: I was at unable to provide an online link to the original Hebrew source material. If anyone would like a scanned copy of the pertinent page please email me at SfardClasses@gmail.com.  It should be available by tomorrow

A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives

By “David Shub”

As the father of two BTs, the first words of advice to parents of other BTs is to say that you cannot make it a power struggle. Not only is it not a power struggle, but it is not a “fight” of who is right and who is wrong.

If someone had told me these words twenty years ago, when my older child was becoming “frum,” I would probably have become angry. Years of adaptation, adoption, and understanding have softened my initial view points.

Twenty years ago, my wife and I did not understand what was happening to our 14 year old child. The child was raised in a rather non-religious household. (I was raised in a secular Jewish household where religion was often mocked as the “opium of the masses,” but Yiddishkeit was an understood value.) We did join a Reform synagogue so that we would be able to give our kids whatever it was that we were not exposed to. When our daughter studied for her bat mitzvah, she displayed such a passion for Judaism that we thought we had a rabbi in the making. After her bat mitzvah she decided she wanted more, so we allowed her to enroll in a local Sunday Jewish High School that was run by an Orthodox principal and Orthodox teachers. The student body was comprised mostly of children from Conservative and Reform households.
Read more A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Perspectives

Lives My Father Told Me

I just said my last kaddish for my father A”H until his yortzeit. So this is as good a moment as ever finally to commit to writing the post I had meant for so long to write, and said last year I was not writing then, and that so many of us have in us. It is the post about how a non-religious parent earns so much merit for so many religious descendants. And while I alluded to these issues almost a year ago, when I first wrote about my father’s passing, naturally over the course of the year of avelus [mourning] I have come to understand so much more.

I could write a book about this topic — and certainly about my father. But here I will offer little more than bullet points. The purpose of doing so is not merely to remember him a little more, and a little more publicly, at this juncture. Rather it is to offer other BT’s hints, reminders and appreciations of how their parents, knowingly or otherwise, have helped them get to where they are today — whether or not they would like to admit that, or even if they wish it were not so. Or even if the influence was a negative one, as in, “I don’t want to be like my parent.”

It’s best of course if one is fortunate enough not to have that last case in one’s life. In my case, I am glad to say the influence of my father (and there was influence from my mother too, and plenty, but that is not this article) to value being Jewish and to act on that feeling was a positive one.

Some of the things my father did that added up later were subtle; some overt. The quality they shared the most was the sincerity and, well, what seems on reflection to have been a sort of simple faith, really, though my father was neither simple nor, in his mind, particularly “faithful.”

But these, sincerity and faith, are the stuff souls are made of. This sincerity was the quality of my father that was most admired by those who knew him. Today we call this quality what our grandparents called it — ehrlichkeit. And my father, well, was also known for underestimating himself. In the area of faith, in fact, he gave himself far too little credit, as you will see.

Now, my father’s Jewish education was poor. He attended a Talmud Torah or “Hebrew School” in the Lower East Side and “graduated from [organized] Judaism” at his bar mitzvah. But he took no pride in this non-achievement. Indeed it was precisely his lack of Jewish learning that motivated him to ensure that we had a more thorough Jewish education than he did. “I’m not religious,” he would say — not just to us, but to some of our more ideologically anti-religious relatives when defending his choice to send us to Hebrew school. “But that’s out of ignorance, not choice. I want my kids to make their choices based on understanding.” And so we did.

Thus being poorly educated in Jewish matters did not stop my father from making what he understood to be the best effort he could at doing the right by us and God as he understood it.

Now, again, my father was not a “simple man.” He was pretty sharp, in fact. He was great with numbers, a talented investor and money manager, quite well spoken, and read a lot. Of course he enjoyed Star Trek and the Yankees and the Knicks, but back in the day he also found time for fairly serious science fiction and what in retrospect seems pretty esoteric material for a payroll clerk and benefits administrator who described himself as a “dropout” (he meant college, though). I even remember him telling me as a young child that he had just read — where?, I wonder now — that while we certainly don’t have to believe this, Sigmund Freud theorized (he liked “theories”) that Moses was an Egyptian! Even I knew this was ridiculous; the movie explained quite clearly how silly that idea was.

Yes, my high-school-educated dad read books and articles that raised ponderous issues, even existential ones, though he would not have used that word or likely even read works that did use it. But my father was engaged with cosmological issues, in his way, and he engaged us about the things he read. And from this we learned that questions such as why and how were questions worth asking and whose answers were worth seeking.

And we knew that he valued being Jewish, and the Jewish answers to these questions were, in his view, presumptively entitled to a very serious hearing. But he knew very, very little Torah. My father was more than a sincere man, however; he was a humble man, as I said, and readily admitted what he did not know, and never considered ignorance either a point of pride or a positive heritable trait. So when we were very little but still too young for Hebrew school he bought a book called The Children’s Bible.

It had pictures, and he knew this would interest us, and that’s why he chose this particular Bible. And my dad would read it to us at night, as he sometimes read us entries from Tell Me Why, which we loved.

And when he read us this Bible on the yellow living room couch, our tan little legs sticking to the plastic slipcovers in the sweaty Brooklyn heat, I remember how my father would pronounce the name Avrom, which was spelled “Abram” in this Bible, as “A-brum” — a logical pronunciation deduction from “A-braham,” after all.

As I think of this now, I remember that I used to get Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham, tangled up in my mind with the company Dad worked for. It had the name “Abramowitz” in it, and even though that was pronounced “Uh-brahm-uh-wits,” it was spelled like “Abram.” Somehow this association bound up our Father Abraham, born as Abram, with my father who worked for Abramowitz in my little head.

Which was hardly inappropriate, in its way.

I also remember the picture of Noah’s Ark in that Bible. The tevah looked to me like a giant brownish autumn-time leaf fallen from an impossibly giant tree (yes, trees grew in Brooklyn), shaped as it was in the illustration and with its keel looking life a leafy “spine” running its length and the beams radiating outward from it to form the Ark’s hull. This sure didn’t look like anything I’d seen afloat at Sheepshead Bay! I found this more remarkable than the fact that God, my father read to me, told Noah to get all those animals into the thing. Well, if my father says God could do that, and that God in fact could do anything, I had no problem with that. But that leafy ark?

Now, one thing. If you clicked that link, you’ll see that the Children’s Bible had, um, “both” “testaments” in it. So Dad told us not to look at the back part. “We don’t believe in that.” And we believed Dad, because every word he told us was believable. So we didn’t look. Except, well, I did kind of peek but didn’t read anything. And I saw “theirs” was much smaller than ours. So, “heh,” I thought. Nothing going on there, obviously.

Well. When I started this piece I was going to lay out bullet points, I said. I intended to mention how he kissed the mezuzah when he came in the door — well, we thought it was a mezuzah; it looked like one from outside. I was thinking about how he insisted on having us eat matzah instead of bread during Pesach. There are lots of little things like that.

And of course there were big things, values things. There was his understanding of how he was responsible to help out other Jews, and how he acted on that as if it were simply an axiom of human decency to get a few dollars into the hands of a needy fellow Jewish person, even if he didn’t have so many spare ones himself. And I could never forget how ashen-faced he was when he told us on Yom Kippur in 1973, as we woke up in the convertible bed in our grandparents’ living room overlooking Brighton Beach, that the Arabs had attacked, and how bad it looked. He was so upset — so scared. That, I had never seen.

These events in that far-off place that he had never really talked about with us must, it turns out, matter a lot.

As I said, I could write a book.

But my father wrote the book, really, that is the lives of all his many offspring k”eh who learn Torah and do Torah and mitzvos with the understanding and utilizing the choice he wanted us to have and which he made sure we had.

He wrote it, really, when he read that Book to us, in his humble way, because he knew as a father — he knew, somehow — that it was his duty to ponder these things in his house, and on his way, and to write them on the lintels of our door, that he was bound too to teach these things in that Book to his children as best he could.

As best as he could.

So when indeed will my merits approach those of my father?

Navigating Religious Divides

In the Motherlode parenting section in the NY Times, Lisa Belkin writes Navigating Religious Divides Within Families about “parents out there who are befuddled by children who are more religious than they were raised.”

The article focuses on Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs, of East Windsor, N.J., a mother of an Orthodox daughter and son-in-law and 7 Orthodox grandchildren. The grandmother can’t take the grandchildren out for the day alone; no overnights, no baby-sitting, and no vacations.

Mrs. Dinerstein-Kurs has founded a support group for others in the same boat, called Parents of Religious Kids (PORK). Her advice for navigating religious divides within families is to rise to the highest degree of observance.

“I keep my house to the (kosher) level of my daughter and her family,” she says. “so anyone who comes to my house can eat, no matter who they are.”

The comments section turned into a bash-religion fest until this constructive comment by Chaya from Passaic:

I was raised in a reform Jewish household and now follow a Torah-observant lifestyle. Alienation and estrangement are not inherent in religious differences. They are obstacles to be overcome.

I love my parents (one a non-observant Jew and the other a non-Jew) and am committed to honoring them in the way the Torah shows me. If anything, I have become more committed to my relationships with them since becoming observant.

Part of that commitment is facilitating a close relationship between them and their grandchildren. This means being creative and vigilant on both sides to navigate religious issues.

By the way, some of the details of the Jewish family described in the post don’t make much sense. I think something might have been lost in the reporting.

Kibud Av Vaem and Hakaras HaTov

I try to speak to my mother, may she have a long life, at least once a week.When a Yarhtzeit and any day that includes the saying of Yizkor approaches, we speak and there is a perceptible sigh in our voices as we remind each other about either the Yahrtzeit of my father ZL and saying Yizkor.Such a feeling brings back numerous memories.

I may have written about this before but my parents were very instrumental in my pre teen years in making Kiddush Friday nights, sending me to Talmud Torah, seeing that I had a Bar Mitzvah, stayed out of school on those Yamim Tovim that were not school holidays, being in shul for the Yamim Noraim , sending me to and paying for my being active in NCSY, and being patient, albeit not without some “discussions”, with my ups and downs as a BT for many years as they waited to see if my interest in observance was genuine or just a teen age fad during the late 1960s and early 1970s where many teens were engaged in far more rebellious acts and life styles. When they found out that NCSY had a special banquet at its National Convention for which I was a co chair, in their innocence, they wanted to attend, despite the fact that the banquet was an all night event with a huge emotional component for anyone who attended.Somehow, I managed to assure them that their presence was not necessary.

My father ZL was always active in his shul without being an officer. When an issue arose as to the financial well being of the shul, my father was asked to review the books and did so in a way that helped place the shul in a far better financial setting.

My father ZL was an accountant and a partner in a local accounting firm. Among his many clients was the local Hebrew Day School and its principal who he never charged for his services ( which was his practice for many indigent clients). He was very close with its principal. Other Torah observant clients were one of the few Torah observant families in a nearby town. My parents went to all of their simchas for their children, many of whom are prominent Mchanchim whose names I recognize in the Yated and elsewhere. When a prominent yeshivah gdolah opened in the area, my father ZL was one of the few people in the area who became active in its early years.

There were times when I called upon rabbanim affiliated with NCSY or a rebbe in YU to speak to my father about key issues. My father ZL was always respectful of and favorably impressed with their suggestions.

Recently was my father’s Yarhtzeit on the cusp of both our anniversary as well as the departure for a year of learning in Eretz Yisrael for our daughter, son in law and our adorable grandaughter. Our younger daughter , who was an educational coordinator for one of NCSY’s summer programs, will be graduating Stern this winter . The memories of the past , the present and the future are passing in an amazingly quick manner. I suspect that many of us have either albums or pictures that we don’t look at because many people in the albums are in the Olam HaEmes. Even without looking or glancing at the album, I will always remember how much my father ZL and my mother, may she be blessed with many more years of an active life, enjoyed our chasunah , which for many of their friends, was the first Torah observant chasunah they went to, as opposed to a wedding.

Anyone who has gone through many aspects of Halacha and Hashkafa will see that Hakaras HaTov is a major aspect of being a Torah observant Jew which has no real end.From a lawyer’s perspective, it is akin to a cause of action that has no statute of limitations. After all, we relive the Exodus, the receiving of the Torah and living in a precarious existence in the desert every year and in many ways throughout the year as we fulfill Mitzvos Bein Adam LaMakom. Yet, Kibud VaEm, honoring and respecting one’s parents is a crucial means of Hakaras HaTov on the Bein Adam LChavero level.

I realize that for many BTs, the relationship with one’s family of origin is one of the most sensitive and frustrating issues in their growth as Bnei and Bnos Torah and that one can very well maintain that the issue is largely dependent on how one relates to one’s family before one became a BT, as opposed to strictly halachic and hashkafic components. Yet, as we walked our daughter down to the chupah, enjoy our granddaughter and live our lives as Torah observant Jews, I see and hear my father with us. Yehi Zicro Baruh

Without the Branch, There’s no Fruit

I became an observant Jewess about 3 years ago, when I was 17. Today, I have a wonderful schedule and I love my life and learning – I’m studying to be an optometrist in the morning, and in the late afternoon I attend classes at a Jewish Women’s Seminar. But, I have a fly in my ointment – my parents.

My parents are lovely people, but their world is still at the level of 9 to 5 followed by dinner and popcorn in front of the television. Although they respect me, they embarrass me all the time. I’ve told my father a million times that he can’t shake hands with my girlfriends, but everytime I bring one home he sticks his hand right out. I’ve tried to explain to my mother the severity of slander and idle gossip, but she says everything about everybody. Even worse, all this gives me a nasty guilt trip; after listening to lectures from the best Torah teachers one could wish for, I come home to two people who only seem to be interested in what’s for dinner and what’s on TV. It’s hard for me to respect them, and that’s a big test, since I’ll be living at home at least for another two years or until Hashem sends me my intended (please make a blessing for me). Please give me some advice on how to accept my situation with emuna. Thank you for being there, Rabbi. With sincere appreciation, Karen from New Jersey

Dear Karen,

First of all, I’m glad that you’re still at home; the advantages of your sanctity far outweigh the peripheral aggravation you have from little details at home. Please forgive me, but I must take exception with the “fly in the ointment” metaphor. Maybe your mama isn’t a Lakewood rebbetzin and your dad isn’t a Rosh Yeshiva with a Homburg on his head, but I’m sure that they’re wonderful people to merit a daughter that’s devoting her life to Hashem. Remember, they are simply the products of their environment, much like babies that grew up in captivity. They never cast away Yiddishkeit, for they never had it. There’s a lot of headway to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You can influence them best by being a kind, considerate, understanding and loving daughter. Please don’t preach and don’t look down on them. Concentrate on your own soul-searching and self-improvement. The more you show compassion for your parents, the more Hashem will have compassion on you – that means you’ll find you bashert (intended) with considerable less hassle.

You don’t have to respect your parents’ lifestyle, but Halacha requires you to give them absolute respect. Since this is the month of Shvat, let me explain in terms of a fruit tree: Fruit can’t develop on its own; it must grow on a branch. You, as a baalas tshuva with a bright future, are the aromatic fruit. Your parents though, are the branch you grow on. One doesn’t eat the branch, but without it, there’s no fruit. Don’t forget that, and you’ll be fine – I’m glad you wrote. May Hashem send you your true soulmate in the nearest future, amen.

Blessings always, LB

This article was originally posted on Rabbi Brody’s site.

How was your Relationship with Your Parents in the Beginning

A journalist is writing an article on relationships between fairly new observant individuals and their parents. The writer is looking to conduct fairly quick interviews with people who are going through, or have recently gone through, the initial phase of becoming observant. Please email us if you are willing to help with a short interview and we will pass your information on to the writer.

While we’re on the subject, how was your relationship with your parents when you first started becoming observant?
Was it strained because you made mistakes?
How understanding were your parents?
What would you definitely do differently?
Where do you think you did a good job of maintaining good relationships?

Share your experiences by dripping a note in the comments.

Why was this Shabbos different from all Others?

By Bayla S. Brenner

As we walk through each day, we carry the history of our lives in memory. We are, after all, living documents of our experiences. Every moment breathed in becomes us. The anticipation we felt at dusk when we heard the chime of the Good Humor truck — so long ago — remains intact, alongside the manifold yearnings born over the years. The streets we’ve walked, the people we’ve affected and the ones who have touched us have all altered, but our encounters with time remain and continue. As each Jew reacts to personal circumstances, he shapes his own life, in turn, shaping the life of the Jewish people. If we choose to share these experiences with each other, we are teaching history.

I learned about the Holocaust by virtue of being the daughter of two who lived the nightmare. I don’t think I could have had a more effective education about that agonizing period of Jewish history. The following story captures a moment in time of three Jews, my parents and I, struggling to move forward while carrying the weight of the unspeakable.

My parents and I are separated by the typical strains. Because of their history, the parental expectations and disappointments affect me more intensely than most. It all resurfaces after every call. I sit with a painful hole on my side of the phone click. But still I try: not to make them happy (I’ve realized that that is an impossibility), but to help them see who I am. Where there is talk, there is hope.

Every winter, I visit my parents in Florida. I make reservations at the last possible minute in an effort to postpone my anxiety about seeing them. I arrive feeling somewhat strong, with my ego intact. It always happens, though. By the third night of my four-day-visit, I am a broken and empty shell lying on the guest couch trying to find my pieces in time for the flight back to New York. It was on a recent trip down there that I decided that this would be the visit, after which I would leave the way I came. I didn’t. I came back better.

I arrived Friday morning. The Florida sun felt oppressive as I made my way through the crowded waiting area. I had no trouble spotting my parents. I could almost hear their waiting. We hugged hello, put my luggage into the car, and we were off. My parents live in a neighborhood where the palm trees bend low like the people who live there. Red-yellow-orange flowers blaze, driveways are lined with sleek pastel cars, and blood-scarred Holocaust survivors parade in Nike sweatsuits, Adidas sneakers and leather faces.

I showered, washing off the travel soot, and I was ready to prepare for a Shabbes meal that I never experienced as a child. My parents watched curiously as I set two candelsticks down. My mother placed two of her own beside mine, something I had never seen her do. I lit the candles, covered my eyes and recited the traditional prayer welcoming in the Sabbath. “I’ll say my own prayer,” my mother said with mock indignation. My father hurried out of the room and returned with a faded blue yarmulke in his hands.

“That’s really something, no?” my father’s eyes glimmered. My father’s eyes rarely glimmered. “This is the first time I’m using it since…” He lifted the yarmulke closer to my face. “Look at the writing inside,” he urged softly. My father’s Polish accent cracks me open every time. I tried to make out the chipped white letters inside the rim. Through squinted eyes, I read: “Jeffrey Kahn’s Bar Mitzvah…”

“I was just a kid when you went to that bar mitzvah,” I said.

“A pipsqueak!” he added. I vaguely remembered the boy. He was the son of one of my father’s childhood friends in Europe. My father sat at the table and carefully placed the frayed cloth on his head. He gave its sides an awkward tug. The shiny cloth bowl seemed to fill with air and rise above his bald spot.

My father was about to make Friday night kiddush for the first time in our lives together. I didn’t trust this moment. I knew that on the other side of the levity crouched pain. “I found some old Manischewitz in the closet. This should be good, no?” My father was trying so hard. It hurt me to watch. He recited “…borei pri hagafen” and drank. I wanted to tell him that there was an introductory prayer, but chose to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t want to rustle the tension between us.

My mother stood in the hallway watching us. She crossed her self-imposed barrier only to drop two plates of chicken on the table, then she quickly resumed her huddled position in the dark hallway. Her husband had chosen to tread upon this dangerous territory and seemed to be having too good a time to stop. He bit into his chicken leg and in mid-swallow said, “Mala, come sit with us!” I wasn’t sure I wanted her terrified presence at the table. I was having enough trouble with my father’s unusual amiability.

“No, no, I’m all right,” she said. “You want some gefilte fish maybe?” She retreated to the kitchen, and it was my father and me again. “l’d like to go to the synagogue tomorrow. Are there any around here?” I said to my father in the most matter-of-fact voice that I could manage. “You want synagogue, too? Shabbes is a day of rest. Rest with your parents. You’re only staying five days.”

“Four,” I corrected.

“Okay, four! More reason you should stay with the old folks”.

“Let her go to synagogue!” came a voice from the hallway. My father crossed his arms and held them tightly against his chest. He was containing something more than his arms could hold. “You came to Florida to spend in synagogue? To light candles, to aggravate your mother” — his hands swept the air above the table — “to make…to force on us, this?” The anger took control of his face.

“Please, Michael,” my mother left her refuge to pull him away from the smoke. It was too late. He stood above me and choked on his next word. I couldn’t make out what he said, but the power of his rage shook the room. I had trespassed on forbidden ground. It was a cold, black, scary place, and I was stuck. His finger drilled the air in my direction. “Get out then! You want to leave, so go!” My mother could not stop or slow down my father’s hurricane of emotion. I don’t think she wanted to. He was also speaking for her. She leaned against the front door and wept without tears. My father’s eyes were locked open, dry with fury. I sat behind my plate of cold chicken, 117 pounds of guilt breaking a hole in my chair.

This was no ordinary Shabbes meal. The pretty lace tablecloth, the smell of boiled chicken, the red wine and the yarmulke mirrored a very old vision for my parents, more acute than the one in the dining room. My parents’ memories of Friday nights before the war are buried far away from the light of consciousness, fixed in another time. By creating this scene, had I set my parents up to make them confront these buried feelings?

That night, I forgot how to sleep. The power of pure regret drove through the center of my stomach. I was helpless to free my parents of their pain. I took little comfort in the fact that what had happened that night was, indeed, not the source of their tragedy. I had banged hard on the steel door to a room that only the two of them occupied. A misty room with four trembling eyes, anguished and vulnerable. Why did they yield this time? Maybe they were caught off guard or just succumbed to my pressure, as if to say, “If you really want to see this, then look, but don’t stay long.” Pushing my cheek into my pillow, urging sleep, I heard the sound of my parents’ muffled voices rise and fall down the hallway. We were all trying to resolve something. As a palm leaf shadow on my wall finished its concerto, the realization crept in that I was finding fulfillment in a life-style that my parents felt betrayed by.

The next morning, we said little. Mostly, we shared warm bagels and silence. The silence stood near us, protecting us, drawing us closer. When one understands so completely, there are no words.

The days that followed held dreamlike calm. Our movements and words were careful and deliberate. We were very much in present tense, which was a treat for me and a relief for them. On the day of my departure, we kissed goodbye at the airport and held each other. For the first time, I felt like a grown-up in their arms.

Over a year of Sabbaths have gone by, and my parents continue to walk the streets of their sunny neighborhood. A change had taken place that night. We learned to respect one another. They showed me a part of themselves that the rest of the world would never see. I now understand the need for the soft Floridian blanket with which my parents drape their lives. My father asks me how my holidays are. My mother sends me kosher treats. She writes: “Betty, we miss you.”

My life as an observant Jew has made me aware of the depth and beauty within the moral example that my parents taught their daughter. My mother and father saw beyond their remembered sorrow that night. They saw me.

Bayla is currently working on an article on Baalei Teshuva whose parents were Holocaust survivors. If you fit that description please email Bayla at BrennerBs -at- ou.org or contact us a beyondbt@gmail.com and we will connect you to Bayla.

Family Affair

A few months ago, David the creator of the fantastic site, Simple to Remember sent us this post of his mother’s speech that she delivered at a function for the kiruv organization JAM. This is the sequel to his and his mother’s story, written by Rabbi Avi Shafran.

The speaker was a bit reluctant, unaccustomed to standing before an audience. Yet there she stood in Los Angeles, her hometown, at a dinner hosted by a Southern California Jewish campus outreach organization, the Jewish Awareness Movement. She was addressing supporters of the group and parents, like herself and her husband, whose children, as a result of JAM and their consciences, had come to Jewish religious observance.

Marsha Greenberg recounted how her grandparents had come to American shores from Romania, met in Chicago and sired nine children, the oldest of which was the speaker’s mother. And she told of her own childhood, how her father had died when she was only four and how, ten years later, her older brother and only sibling perished in a freak, fierce blizzard while on a Boy Scout trip in the San Bernardino Mountains.

“My mom never recovered from the loss,” she told the crowd. “I grew up overnight.”

When she was sixteen, she went on, she met a “nice Jewish boy” two years her senior, “from a good home.” They married and eventually had three children.

When their oldest, their daughter Shari, turned sixteen herself, “she had had enough of temple.” She and her siblings had attended Sunday school and she had been “bat-mitzvahed.” But she hadn’t been inspired to continue her Jewish education, and her parents didn’t pressure her.

Their second child, David, though, happened upon JAM, participating in some events, Shabbat dinners and eventually even a trip to New York. He became intrigued by Jewish thought, texts and traditions, and his enthusiasm proved contagious, spreading in time to his older sister.

“What was happening to my family?” the speaker confided she had wondered at the time.

Shari embarked on a three-week trip to Israel, and then called to ask if she could stay a little longer. Her parents said okay. A few weeks later they received another call from Shari, asking if she could stay for a few months more. Again she received an okay. Eight months later, Shari returned home, according to her mom, “a different person, more mature and focused.”

“She brought Shabbat into our home… In her own way, she set an example for David and Michael,” her youngest sibling.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Greenberg continued, “David was doing a lot of learning on his own. Having his older sister home, watching her in action, living what she had learned, made an impression. Now David wanted to go to a yeshiva!”

Both Shari and David left home – she for Israel, he for New York – on the very same day, an understandably emotional one for the Greenbergs. Soon enough, Shari called to say she was dating a yeshiva student. Not much later, the Greenbergs and their sons found themselves in Jerusalem at Shari’s wedding, which “made quite an impression of all of us, especially… Michael. Now he had a sister, brother and brother-in-law all frum [traditionally observant]!”

David returned to Israel to attend a yeshiva there, and Michael soon followed.

“There are very few mothers in Los Angeles,” Mrs. Greenberg told the rapt audience, “who can say that they have three children learning Torah in Israel. I take great pride in being one of those mothers.”

The speaker concluded by warmly thanking Rabbi Moshe and Bracha Zaret, the directors of JAM, and by imagining her mother, father and brother watching out for her family. “I know my children are going to live beautiful lives,” she said. “They are going to raise magnificent, intellectual, sensitive, thoughtful families. I could not be happier. This journey is only the beginning, and every step counts.”

My wife and I have gotten to know Mrs. Greenberg and her equally endearing husband quite well. We have met their children, who insist that their journeys to Jewish observance were directly due to their upbringing; their parents, they explain, always advised and encouraged them to think for themselves, to be idealists and do what they felt was right. And that is what they did.

All of the Greenbergs were at our daughter’s wedding mere weeks ago, dancing as happily and as filled with as much joy as were we. Which is entirely understandable, considering that David, we are happy and proud to say, is our newest son-in-law.

© 2006 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

A friend sent us a link to a book called What’s Up With The Hard Core Jewish People? The excerpts help us understand a little better what some parents of Baalei Teshuva are going through:

“When our son, Carter, decided to blow off law school and stay in Jerusalem studying to be an Orthodox Rabbi, we were in cognitive dissonance. In our wildest dreams, we would have never expected such a thing. We needed to know what the hell just happened, why it happened, and what I needed to do to keep Carter’s desire to be an Observant Jew from breaking up our family. We had no one to turn to but the Hard Core Jewish People, and they’re no help. They thought what Carter was doing is the ‘bomb’. They lauded him for his courage — the consequences be damned. What about living 7,000 miles away from home on a different continent? What about the U.S. Department of State Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens to carefully weigh the necessity of their travel to Israel in light of the suicide bombings that were taking place on a regular basis? What about the divisiveness such a drastic lifestyle change can cause in a family? None of that matters because Torah rules! By learning Torah and teaching it to his children, Carter will be a part of the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition that has been carried from generation to generation for over 3,500 years. Oy!”
Read more What’s Up With the Hardcore Jewish People?

Jonathan Rosenblum on My Father My Hero

Jonathan Rosenblum, the noted author and journalist has a great post about his father titled My Father My Hero over at Cross-Currents. Here’s an excerpt:

When I was a little boy, my father was my hero. When he was around, I knew nothing bad could befall me.

Rarer, perhaps, my father remained my hero even after I had reached adulthood and become a ba’al teshuva. There was no one with whom I more enjoyed talking. He drove me to the airport every time that I traveled abroad. The forty minute drive, with no outside distractions, always seemed too short.

I always told my parents that they have no one to blame but themselves for the fact that four out of their five sons became ba’alei teshuva. And they acknowledged their guilt with good cheer. My mother always told us that the most important about us was that we were Jewish. And it was natural that her sons would, at some point, come to Israel to find out what being Jewish means.

A Mother’s Story

My name is David and I became religious a number of years ago through JAM at UCLA. From my exposure to traditional Judaism I was inspired to share what I found and developed www.SimpleToRemember.com. My family reacted in a rather unusual way to all of their kids becoming religious and I wanted to share that story with you. Here is a speech my Mom gave at a JAM function not so long ago.
_________________________________________________________

I have 3 Orthodox children. I’m thrilled that my children are following the Torah.

How did this happen? We did not raise them like this! We are not Orthodox!

Please allow me to tell you a little bit about myself and the path that led us here……..
Read more A Mother’s Story

Challenges of Caring for Our Elderly Parents

By Chana Sanders

I spent a very interesting Shabbos in a local hospital where my mother was admitted a few hours before candlelighting a few Fridays ago. Since my mother, who is elderly and very ill is not frum, this was a BT experience every step of the way. Yet, it was Shabbos, and the hospital does provide a Shabbos room for overnight guests despite their 99% non-religious or non-Jewish clientele and staff.

So I stayed overnight and tried to take care of my mother, whose thoughts were (rightfully) not on whether I was having Shabbos issues. But every step of the way, from elevators, to electric hospital beds, to straws and silverware in sealed plastic, there were challenges. I know that my Rav can answer all these halachic questions, but there wasn’t time to anticipate them all before this happened.
Read more Challenges of Caring for Our Elderly Parents

You Make the Call: Well Meaning Parents Give Problematic Jewish History Book

Phil emailed us the following request for comments:

Suppose you’re a BT with FFB children. Your parents give a pretty Jewish history book to your 12-year-old for his birthday. You manage to look through it before your child sees it and you see that some ideas go against the 13 Principles, and the general tone is, well, let’s just say that you wince on every few scans of the book.

Do you explain to your child that they can’t read it? Do you let them read it, but with your ongoing commentary? Do you ask your parents to stick to an “approved list” of books? Do you try to explain the book’s faults to your parents? Can you turn this into an educational experience for both your parents and your children? If any answer is ‘yes’, then what’s the best way to go about it?

You make the call (in the comments section)

You Used to Be So Much Fun – Part 3 – Audio Post

Today we are posting the audio file for the third and final part of Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg’s lecture at the Life After Teshuva conference, titled “You Used to be So Much Fun – Relating to Non-Religious Family and Friends”.

Click on the link to listen to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. (To download either audio file to your computer, click with the right mouse button on the link and select Save Target As)

In Memory of My Mother-In-Law

My mother-in-law passed away the week after Rosh HaShonah. Her kevurah (burial) fell on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, effectively eliminating any period of shiva (mourning). Approaching the three-month anniversary of her petirah (passing), I hope that a short reflection on the life of the mother of a baalas tshuva might provide some closure to the mourning process.

Barbara had reached 80 years old and was in reasonably good health before an aggressive brain tumor stole her independence, then her lucidity, and then her remaining faculties over the course of a few short months. Born and raised in semi-rural Massachusetts with virtually no Jewish awareness, her response to her only daughter’s commitment to Torah and mitzvos was nothing less than remarkable.
Read more In Memory of My Mother-In-Law

A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Daughter’s Perspectives

Last week we had a wonderful post by Mr. David Shub, in which he shared his perspectives as a Baal Teshuva’s father. We also had the benefit of Rabbi Yaakov Menken sharing some of his insights on this subject.

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from Yael, the daughter of Mr. Shub as she shares her thoughts on the subject of Parent – Baal Teshuva relationships.

By “Yael Shub”

I don’t generally write postings espousing my philosophy on life, but since my father’s recent posting received such a positive response, I figured I would take the opportunity to share some quick thoughts I have developed over the last 20 years.
Read more A Baal Teshuva’s Father’s Daughter’s Perspectives

HaShem, This Wasn’t Part of the Deal!

Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Cross Currents

The post that appeared here several days ago from the father of two Baalei Teshuvah fits nicely with a concept that I have explored recently with a relatively-new BT. Indeed there should be no power struggle, no “right” or “wrong,” but parents may not see it that way.

All parents attempt to bring up their children in their own image. This is only natural — while they expect their children to explore their own careers and “play to their own strengths,” they also have certain basic expectations. A Jewish family belonging to a Reform Temple naturally expects their children to become and marry Reform Jews. Whether the child brings home a non-Jewish significant other or becomes observant, either way it can be a disappointment — and as “David Shub” intimated, often it is the latter option that is more disturbing. And in both of these cases, the children themselves may have no idea how upset their parents will be.
Read more HaShem, This Wasn’t Part of the Deal!