“It Wont Happen to Me” Response

I would like to respond to the editorial written by Mrs. Lichtenstein in your July 6 issue. I feel that she has performed an invaluable service for the whole chareidi world. In previous times, we could tell ourselves that the problems that blighted the rest of the world hardly existed within our community. The chareidim were only a minute fraction of the already decimated world Jewish population. We could afford to smugly tell ourselves, “It won’t happen to me!”

Things have changed.

Within living memory and with great siyatta diShmaya, our kehillos have experienced a demographic miracle. Our numbers have increased exponentially. Even the most pessimistic sociologists predict that in the not-too-distant future, our chareidi community will be the majority of the Jewish population. Our burgeoning chadarim, schools, yeshivos and kollelim are witness to this forecast. But this revolution brings with it a new reality and a new responsibility.

We are an established community that is also susceptible to all the problems of a mature society. We are exposed to all the challenges of our modern world. We can no longer afford to say, “It won’t happen to me!”

The Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Teshuvah writes that the crux of teshuvah is viduy — admitting and recognizing that there is a problem that needs correcting. We need to spell out in non-compromising terms that we as a community have very serious challenges that need addressing. Unfortunately, as Mrs. Lichtenstein has so graphically described, we must finally admit that “It does happen to us!”

Too many families have been torn apart. Too many hearts have been broken. Too many children have been lost to the community. Only when we recognize these facts can we begin the healing process and look for solutions.

Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, London

I’d like to thank Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein, the publisher of Hamodia, for taking a candid, and very courageous, look at our community. Her editorial last week, “It Won’t Happen to Me,” shines a spotlight on problems that we’ve preferred to keep hidden in the shadows, at our peril.

I made the mistake of trying to fit my “square” son into a “round” hole. I used connections to get him into a top-rated yeshivah that, in hindsight, I knew he wasn’t suited for. I told myself that it was for his good — it would help him when it came time for shidduchim — but, to be honest, it was for my good. I wanted to be able to say that my son learned in ——. That’s how good a father I am, how good a family we are.

Instead of seeing my son for who he was, and finding a yeshivah that met his needs, I didn’t see him at all and forced him to attend a yeshivah that met my needs. When he complained that it was too much for him, I ignored him. I was sure he’d eventually get with the program, and even if he didn’t, he’d benefit from being in such an environment, with such friends and Rebbeim.

But after a while he just couldn’t keep it up. The pressure was too much. How could I have expected him to wake up every day and spend the next 12 to 14 hours feeling inadequate, a failure? It got to be too much, and, as you describe in your beautifully written editorial, he started hanging around with the wrong crowd, staying out till very late, talking disrespectfully.

As a community, we need to be honest about our flaws, our misplaced priorities, our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and young people. We have a lot of dropouts, way too many. We have a problem with alcoholism, gambling and other addictions — perhaps not to the same extent as the general population, but enough that we need to be talking about it.

I, for one, would love to see hard alcohol banned at all simchos. True, for most, these drinks are innocent enough, a joyous l’chaim, but for others they are deadly. If we ban peanut products at schools because of the small percentage who have an allergy to them, we must certainly ban hard alcohol at kiddushim because of those — young and old — who have a problem with it.

I imagine that there are some readers who were upset by the editorial, on the grounds that it cast our community in a negative light. I sincerely hope that you continue to hold up a mirror to our flaws and call for “self-education at home and then as a community.” That’s the only way we can, b’ezras Hashem, spare the next family a child who goes off, or the next couple the kind of pressures that lead to breakups.

In the merit of such bold editorial stands, may Hamodia continue for many more years as the newspaper of Torah Jewry.

Rabbi and Mrs. Cohen, Ramat Beit Shemesh

I don’t know how to respond to the editorial in last week’s Features section, “It Won’t Happen to Me,” but I feel that I must. Of the three “sagas” described, I think the story of “Dovid B.” hit home the hardest. Let me share a scene I have observed more than once in my Jewish neighborhood as Shabbos approaches.

This past Erev Shabbos I was on a local commercial street and I noticed a small group of teenagers who were obviously Jewish, and who, from the look of things, were not preparing to spend a conventional Shabbos. But I also saw such ehrlichkeit in their faces.

One of them was trying to buy a pack of cigarettes. I couldn’t help myself; I butted in and mentioned someone I knew who had lung cancer, as a kind of cautionary tale. This teenager, without batting an eye, said, “I wish him a refuah sheleimah.”

I don’t want to cross the line of lashon hara, and I hope I’m not. But I think again and again when I see kids who used to be in yeshivah — but are not now, for some arbitrary reason: What is wrong with us, that we can’t appreciate kids for who and what they are?

I didn’t grow up frum, and I didn’t grow up in a frum New York neighborhood.

Out of town, I think these kids might be seen as gems. The quirks of their journey, if they choose not to be “cookie-cutter,” would be taken seriously and would not necessarily set off alarm bells and sirens. The demands placed on them would not be so harsh.

My own son was nearly lost to Yiddishkeit in high school, when his reasonable questions about his faith were brushed aside by his yeshivah. Thank goodness a few Rabbanim got involved and told me what was looming on his horizon. He had to go to Israel, they said. He requested to go to a yeshivah that was mainly for baalei teshuvah. This greatly surprised some of his peers and some of his mentors. “I want to go to a yeshivah where the boys actually want to be there,” he told us.

So he went and his Yiddishkeit survived.

In each of the cases mentioned in the editorial, who we are, what we earn and how we live simply isn’t “good enough” for some fantasy of what a successful Jew should be.

So what will be the follow up after this editorial? How is the attitude of “you’re okay, even if you do not fit the mold today” ever going to really permeate our community? (And who made that mold?) When is it going to be okay to not go in a straight line all the time?

Which brings me to another recollection. As I mentioned before, I didn’t start out frum. To be truthful, after 10 years I took a several-months detour from frumkeit. I was not in New York City at the time and was able to work it out in my own way. And when I was able to resume a fully Jewish life I did it with the understanding that the Torah is perfect but we, most definitely, are not.

That’s the bottom line. And Hashem loves us and wants us, so why can’t we show that same acceptance to each other?

Chani W., queens

The touching editorial “It Can’t Happen to Me” reminded me of something I read in the sefer Gedolah Shimushah, written by a close confidant of Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l.

Rav Elyashiv would express enormous anguish about the actions of parents who chose yeshivos for their children based on “kavod” and what “others would say,” and once described this as parents who are drowning their own children, R”l.

Initially, a bachur attending a top-tier yeshivah which he is not suited for may enjoy the “kavod” of being in such a yeshivah, but when that dissipates, Rav Elyashiv said, the bachur will become shattered and unable to succeed there.

It is noteworthy that he felt that generally, the ones best suited to decide which yeshivah a bachur should attend are the mechanchim in his current yeshivah, and not the parents. When asked, Rav Elyashiv encouraged parents to send to a yeshivah where the bachur would be considered among the stronger talmidim of the yeshivah.

Another very relevant psak from Rav Elyashiv, quoted in the aforementioned sefer, is that only when a bachur’s actions have a negative effect on others in a very serious way may one consider throwing out a bachur from a yeshivah. But even then, Rav Elyashiv said that the responsibility remains on the staff of the yeshivah to continue to worry about the bachur’s placement and spiritual well-being, for it is a matter of pikuach nefesh!

Shia Eilen

First and foremost I would like to compliment you on a newspaper I am proud to have in my home. A newspaper that is meticulous in its responsibility of bringing news to Klal Yisrael without the schmutz that abounds in the society around us. A newspaper that always has its finger on the pulse of the community and stands ready to do its utmost to help them.

It is for this reason I must say bravo. All the examples in your editorial of July 5, “It Won’t Happen to Me,” are true. As you mentioned, there have been “whispers” traveling around for several years. So much heartbreak and pain has been the lot of too many in our communities all over the world who were afraid to have their “secrets” exposed. Your words are like water from a fresh spring to a man dying of thirst in the desert with no sign of an oasis.

Ignoring these problems when they are still small and manageable is a mistake and causes the immediate and extended families a lot of pain. There is help available for those who need it. All they have to do is reach out and grasp the extended rope tightly and they will be drawn to a safer environment where they can implement the tools necessary to help them settle back into a “normal” life.

Don’t wait for “it” to happen. Get help before everything explodes out of control. Don’t let your family be “collateral damage.”

Thank you, Mrs. Lichtenstein, for opening your heart and extending your hand to those in our community whose voices are not heard.

May this be the springboard from which help will be forthcoming to help all these families.

Wishing you continued hatzlachah in your missions,

Esther Horowitz, New York

In the poignant editorial of this past week, it says, “Alcoholism, gambling, drugs, financial fraud, abuse, OTD, were almost unheard of in our camp.” Perhaps this is something that can be explored. Why was it almost non-existent previously, and prevalent now? Is there something about our way of life that has changed over recent decades, something that is a contributing factor to these sad, new statistics?

Perhaps senior frum therapists, as well as senior educators, Rabbanim and Rebbetzins who have dealt with our communities over a period of at least 30 years, can share their observations. Perhaps Hamodia can interview them for their insights. I, for one, would be very interested to read about this.

C.D. Hellman

Thank you for the courageous editorial which touched on so many important issues.

What struck me in particular were the paragraphs about the problem of alcoholism, as portrayed by “Moshe.” As someone who baruch Hashem has merited to make various simchos over the years — and give l’chaim in my local shul for various yahrtzeits of family members — I am well aware of this very real issue.

Based on personal experience at being a host, I wish to make some practical recommendations:

We are not honoring our guests when we ply them with expensive whiskeys; we are actually dishonoring them and ourselves. The cheapest brand is perfectly acceptable when it comes to drinking a l’chaim.

By all means, let there be plentiful food and non-alcoholic beverages at a Yiddishe simchah. But there is no reason that we should have any more than an ounce of alcohol per expected guest. Ideally, I try to do the pouring, and needless to say, no guest gets more than one “whiskey cup,” three-quarters full of Slivovitz. Even when there are too many people to greet at one time, I make sure that there are never more than two small, half-empty bottles of whiskey in the room at any given time. Guests are invariably uncomfortable to take large amounts when it appears that there isn’t enough to go around…

On a related topic — and I know there may be readers who will disagree with me, and each should ask their own spiritual mentor for guidance — I think that those parents who refrain from giving their children any wine or whiskey at all are making a grave error. Instead of making alcohol something that is forbidden — and therefore very tempting — let us train our children how and when to use alcohol. We should teach our children that wine is only to be used for Kiddush, bentching, Havdalah and the arba kosos on Pesach, and that whiskey is only to be used in tiny amounts for a l’chaim. We can teach them that, when used properly, wine plays a vital part in performing lofty mitzvos, but when misused, can have catastrophic results.

B. Moses

The powerful and moving editorial “It Won’t Happen to Me” raised numerous very important points. I would like to comment on two of them.

One is the matter of “top” and “second-tier” yeshivos. As you have alluded to in past editorials, yeshivos geared toward metzuyanim are leaving a trail of destruction that has cost Klal Yisrael a terrible price — and unless there are enough parents brave enough to stop this runaway train, there seems to be no end in sight.

As indicated in the editorial, for so many bachurim the pressure of a yeshivas metzuyanim that they attend only because of the ego of their parent can be disastrous. For the many other bachurim who don’t have the right connections, being rejected from these yeshivos, especially when their friends were accepted, can leave wounds that never fully heal.

It is high time that parents of metzuyanim and financial donors to such yeshivos start worrying about Klal Yisrael as a whole and insist that they start opening their doors and catering to every bachur who wants to learn, whether he is a 100 student or has an 85 average.

Secondly, I want to point something out about “Moshe and Leah” — the young couple under severe financial hardship. There are so many like them in our community, young parents who truly try their best but can’t keep up with the ever-increasing expenses and peer pressure.

Here, too, there is much our community can do. For one thing, those employers who have the ability to do so should consider raising the salaries of their employees. Instead of making yet another investment into yet another piece of real estate in pursuit of income you don’t need, “invest” in Klal Yisrael and in helping another Yid.

For those who can afford it, instead of ordering an Uber, take a heimishe car service. Instead of ordering online, patronize a local store, and give a Yid some parnassah. Every little bit makes a real difference.

Yisrael Fried