by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
In Crown Heights, the world headquarters for Chabad Lubavitch chassidus, there was an urgent meeting regarding a seeming cult, or at least borderline wacko psychotherapy program, making inroads into the community. One of the attendees commented “maybe if we knew the rabbonim (rabbis) understood our pain, we wouldn’t flail around trying to grab hold of anything that might help”.
Also this past week there was an article in one of the orthodox Jewish family weekly magazines (I don’t remember if it was Ami or Mishpacha) quoting one of the non-chassidic gedolim (Torah leaders of the generation) where somebody asked the gadol why he didn’t come out against something while another rabbi did, and he responded “Did he have 14 fathers come to him this week praying that their son’s die?”
We do not live in the not-so-distant past where 1 in 3 children would NOT make it to 10 years old. We do not lose 1 out of every 20 wives and mothers to death by childbirth, nor 1 out of every 20 adults to flu and pneumonia.
We did not suffer through the Holocaust, where ALL the young children were slaughtered and few adults made it – even fewer with ANY family members left.
The memories, even stories, of these horrors and hard times have faded to story, legend, and to be forgotten.
We are religiously observant Jews. We invest our ALL to make a family, to have children, and to educate them in Torah and Mitzvot (G-d’s commandments), a daily relationship with G-d and a continuance of our holy mesorah (the chain of Jewish tradition). We wish for nothing more than “yiddeshe nachas”, to see our children succeed in forging their connection with our chain of tradition, to carry out the holy goals of Judaism on to the next generation.
We work long hours, have as many children as G-d will give us, and literally pay college tuition prices to provide each of our children with a proper kosher holy Jewish religious educational environment. We struggle to raise a large family, to provide all their needs – physical and spiritual – and to pass on our lifestyle, culture, values and religion.
If, G-d forbid, we lost a child or family member to a pogrom – well, the goyim hated us and used us as a convenient scapegoat and whipping boy, we could understand. If, G-d forbid, we lost a child or family member to disease… G-d gives and G-d takes – who are we to judge the ways of G-d?
- They’re a wonderful chassidic couple, he’s from generations of rabbis and she’s from famous chassidim. He works in a religious profession. He spends much of his time saying tehillim (psalms) and learning Torah, and is incredibly loving with his young children… but his teenage daughter feels repressed. She insists on dressing inappropriately and acting inappropriately, and his chassidic neighbors literally asked him to move out of the neighborhood (as they didn’t want that lifestyle near them or their children). He struggles not to be angry with her or throw her out, he feels a failure. He’s failed where all his ancestors succeeded. His next daughter recently said she wants to try some of the things the older daughter is doing. He doesn’t know what to do, at whit’s end. He always has a smile, but starts crying if you talk to him for a bit. He’s the kindest and holiest chossid I know.
- They’re an incredible family, always giving. Money, help, they’re the kind of people you turn to. He works long and hard, 12 hour days in his business. But in breaks he’s saying tehillim (psalms) and learning the Torah of the day. They’ve invested incredible amounts to make sure each child is in a school that fits them, with extra tutoring and even moving communities to make sure each child was getting the best Jewish education that could be provided. Their 16 year old daughter, attending a top quality Jewish religious school, just informed them that she’s going to start dating. (Most orthodox Jews don’t date for fun, they wait until 18-22 and date for finding a marriage partner.) They’re besides themselves, trying to figure out how to get through to her. Where did they go wrong, where did they fail? He was crying outside the door at synagogue last week, sure he’s a failure as a Jew.
- I couldn’t believe how giving this chossid was when I found out. He’s been supporting half the expenses for a synagogue and supplementing the rabbi. He’s covering teacher’s salaries at a religious school. He gives VERY generous donations to everyone who shows up at his door and is secretly underwriting several religious institutions. Thank G-d, his business has been holding steady even in difficult economic times. He’s very dedicated to talmiday chachamim (Torah scholars), having multiple session of learning and Torah lessons being given at his house every week. And his son…started misbehaving in yeshiva. Then shouting back at his parents. He was thrown out of yeshiva, then placed in an institution for troubled boys, which he was then thrown out of. He could see his son headed into the wrong crowd, so he picked up his family and moved into a tight neighborhood in Jerusalem. His son’s misbehaviors increased, his family became ostracized. For the social circumstances of the rest of the children he was forced to move to another community, and had the means to send his son to a “recovery yeshiva” in the U.S. Does he keep his son away or risk traumatizing the rest of the children again (if only from social rejection)? He maintains a good face, but begs his rabbis and advisors for good advice.
- He’s a senior rabbi, one of the respected Jewish religious leaders of a major city. He gave his children the best Jewish education available, personally tutoring them up to the highest levels. They were the respected children of the rabbi. It was a pressure, but also an honor… except for his son. He hit a certain age and just seemed to go wild. Besides the continuous embarrassment, he began getting into real trouble with the law. To get him out of the environment, his father packed him up and sent him off to a “problem boys” yeshiva in Israel. He actually did well there, but upon returning home became violent with his father. He headed to the airport, got on a plane back to Israel and joined the IDF – going into the hardest infantry combat unit Golani. He’s committed to never speaking to his father again.
- They’re an average chassidic couple with many children. The father works and helps out at the synagogue, the mother takes care of the children and is involved with ladies Torah events for the community. Their son just didn’t fit at yeshiva, was tested for ADHD, given medication, and then thrown out. They tried a second and third yeshiva, each more expensive and specialized, which seemed to leave the son more traumatized and more wild. At the next school the son told a therapist his parents were “torturing” him, which promptly brought a child services investigation and police investigation. Now paying for psychologists, psychiatrist, therapists, and a lawyer, the family finances began to crumble under the pressure. The formally stable family began to suffer as the father had trouble working under the pressure and the mother becoming a nervous wreck. The son’s behavior did not improve, and now the police were at the door looking for the son. The costs increased to 2 lawyers, one defending the parents, one representing the son. The father still puts on a smile and helps out a synagogue, the mother still helps organize community events for the women. Then they go home and ask each other how their failed as Jews. The son, now in a “last chance recovery yeshiva”, called to let them know the police showed up at his yeshiva asking for him to be brought out a few days ago. For some reason they left before he was retrieved – now the parents sit on pins and needles not knowing what to expect this time.
I could go on, for far too many families have such experiences. Some people talk about the “off the derech” problem, but for these families it means FAILURE and FAMILY AGONY, and often it seems to only get worse. This is the pain of today. And the problem is they feel IT’S THEIR OWN FAULT, and THERE IS NO WAY TO FIX IT.
That’s the difference of today. The terrible occurrences of life of the past all seemed designated from Above. Today the failure seems to come from within.
They’d love to hide it, and usually do. The embarrassment, their FAILURE hanging in front of them in public, others who then want to stay away from them (to at least avoid the impact of the problematic child on their children) – these things aren’t talked about in polite company. That’s probably an error, as they lose out on each other’s and community help.
But that’s the situation today. By the way, one of the stories above is mine.