From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda)Blank MS, BCC
Director of Chaplaincy Commission and External Services
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
February 4th, 21
Before I begin my article, I want to share with you about the COVID 19. It has come to my attention there are some who are under the impression everyone over the age of 65 could get the vaccination (when and where available). Well, I recently spoke to dear friends of mine who live in the Midwest and one of the couples cannot take the vaccine due to a certain medical condition. They live in a neighborhood where there are many cases even amongst the younger families. That couple has not left their home since March. There are some who are under the impression that after receiving the vaccination precautions are no longer necessary and that is not so. However, the vaccine brings much needed safety to those who are taking it. Hopefully, there will be an increase of the vaccines available so more of all recommended ages will be vaccinated. I share this with you because there are still many who are contracting COVID 19, even under the age of 65 and there are many of diverse ages who have been hospitalized. Boruch H there are now treatments that are beneficial, not available months ago with earlier discharges when possible. It is important for continuous outreach to families and individuals who are homebound, isolated, in need of shopping, cooking, prescription pick ups and helping care for children if there are parents who are caring for their spouses or other family members. COVID 19 is not over as of yet. Living in a neighborhood where one does not always hear “the latest” does not mean COVID disappeared. There are people who are still not leaving their homes or apartments. Loneliness can be devastating. Purim is only three weeks away and yes; Pesach is only eight weeks away. Whatever assistance, can be given, just checking in and being in touch with each other is so vital. What is also important is to remember whatever one’s opinion might be, we should all strive for achdus, not speak loshon hara which could lead to sinas chinan,
Once again, Klal Yisrael has been thrust into sadness with the recent death of three gedolim in Israel. Harav Dovid Solivetchk, Harav Yitzchok Sheiner and the remarkable Rabbi Abraham Twersky MD. I met and listened to Rabbi Twersky when he addressed the National Association of Jewish Chaplains a number of years ago regarding alchoholism, addiction and other serious illnesses and at a number of professional mental health seminars where he always wore his Chasidik clothing and often his Peanuts tie.( He co-authored a number of Peanuts books with Charles Shultz) . I was always in awe at those seminars, attended by mental health professional’s and doctors from leading hospitals, mental health clinics and those in private practice who had the utmost respect for the gadol he was in all that he accomplished and was recognized for. He was a prolific writer of Torah related articles, secular professional articles, periodicals and over 60 books. He was a world renown psychiatrist, a speaker, founder of the Gateways Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburg, the Shaar Hatikva Rehabilitation Center for prisoners in Israel. He was a scion of multiple Chassidic dynasties, a proponent of Alcoholic Anonymous and the 12 steps guide. He conveyed the importance and appropriateness of the Alcoholic Anonymous program for the Orthodox Jewish community many who thought it was only for those who are not Jewish. He addressed the issues in the Orthodox Jewish community and the seriousness about alcoholism, substance abuse, addiction, domestic violence, and so many other concerns many would be uncomfortable or refused to address. He was not shy on taking up such issues including the very strong concern of intoxication by teens on Purim . Please see the article below. Purim is only 3 weeks away. !?
In a few weeks my family will be honored with a presentation of the Rebbetzin Shima Feinstein (Rav Moshe’s Rebbetzin) award in memory of my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohein a”h by the Yeshiva MTJ of Harav Dovid Feinstein. In a letter I composed to distribute about my wife, one of her many attributes I have written in these articles on several occasions was her radiant smile, her wonderful disposition and faith. This was especially a focal point many have shared especially having learned of her death that she had an incurable cancer, never showed on her face any of her challenges, discomforts, pain and sadness even when any of the treatments were losing their effect and a new treatment had to begin- never knowing if it would be successful. Yet always being concerned and caring about others.
She had remarkable courage, stamina, hope, faith and the ability to hold in any of her discomforts or even any worries she might have had when speaking to others. I kept hearing over and over “ I had no idea- she never said anything” “She didn’t look like in any pain” “Her face always had a smile that was sincere- how was it possible to be so sick” “She never showed it “ In one of the last formal pictures of my wife and I taken at the Siyum Hashas in front of a private room which we were given the honor of joining some others in honor of Naftali Miller one of the key persons in the making of the Siyum It was the day before one of the tests she was to take. She was not feeling well. Yet, you would never know it by looking at the picture. She did not want to “shter” the simcha. How many can follow such a derech of making sure not to “shter” the happiness of someone’s simcha when something of a personal nature is not good. Or showing signs of one s displeasure when speaking to someone because of a personal nature whether it be a physical discomfort, someone in the family going through a difficult time or some other reason not to feel too good, happy or comfortable or any personal reason. Or maybe just upset about something in life. In chaplaincy training one is taught not to bring anything of a personal concern into the room of the patient. If one cannot constrain him or herself, then do not visit the patient.
By looking at someone’s face going through a personal challenge, often someone might ask “what is the matter? Are you all right” and so on and so forth. Here are some parts of the chapter from Parshas Beshalach “With a Bright Countenance” by Harav Avrahom “Shabbos with Rav Pam” Pam (During the Gulf War 5751/1991) by Rabbi Sholom Smith Artscroll Series published by Mesorah Publications Ltd
(pages 103-107). “At the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei we say with the light of Your countenance You gave us, H our G d the Torah of life and a love of kindness….” We normally relate expressions o H’s warmth and loving countenance to great and noble things, such as the giving of the Torah and acts of kindness. The concept we have cited of the Torah and acts of Chesed. The concept we have cited above regarding the mann, however, teaches us to look for H’s Divine favor and warmth even in the daily, seemingly mundane matters.” “There is another point to be considered. A person should always strive to emulate the ways of his Creator (see Devarim 10:20 To Him shall you cleave). Just as H deals with a person in a warm, gracious manner and with a he-awras pawnim, a bright countenance, so too should a person display such a face to those who depend on him for help. The Chofetz Chaim writes in Ahavas Chesed (3:2) that this is especially relevant to the manner in which a person performs the mitzvos of hachnasas orchim and tzedakah. A man invites a poor, downtrodden Jew to his home for a meal. Even if the baal habayis (homeowner) has great worries on his mind-for example, a family member is seriously ill, or his business is floundering or has suffered a major downturn-he should be careful not to allow the troubles he is going through to be reflected on his face. If he does, this will be noticed by the poor man, who may think that the baal habayis is angry or upset at him or is giving him a meal grudgingly or unwillingly. People are very sensitive, especially those who are poor and helpless and have to rely on the assistance of others to meet their basic needs. Thus, displaying a sad face will certainly upset the guest and negate the pleasure of the meal he is receiving.( See The Pleasant Way pp.80-82, “The Power of a Smile “) On the other hand, if the baal habayis displays heawras panim, a warm, joyful countenance, to the guest, that will relax him and make him feel that he is not an unwanted burden forced upon him by Torah that requires Jew to perform hachnasas orchim. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that this is a major aspect of the fulfillment of the mitzva.” Rav Pam continues “H deals with people in the manner in which they deal with their fellow human beings. If we strive to act in a considerate, gracious manner and with a warm, cheerful countenance to those less fortunate than us, this will open the Heavenly storehouses of mercy so that H will deal with each one of us in a similar manner and redeem His people f rom the overwhelming tzaros in which they find themselves.” When a rav, a counselor, a chaplain speaks to someone, listens to someone sharing his difficulties in life, body language is so important. A person can sense if the other person is listening to him, paying attention to him, is bored listening to him, has something else on his mind, not interested and so on and so forth which can either be a positive experience discussing and sharing his difficulties in life or feel downtrodden and not listened to nor does the rabbi, the counselor, the chaplain cares much about him/her or is dwelling on his own concerns in life. So why even bother. That is why it is so important to show and display a countenance of care and sincerity. Anyone who spoke to Rav Dovid, Rav Gissenger, Rav Kelemer or my wife, felt he/she was the most important person at that moment. Let us be mispallel we can also be able to put aside and most of all not have anything that interferes with our countenance when we are with others -hopefully all the time, have sipick hanefesh and not be a burden onto others. May we be zocher the geula sheleima. Amein. Sincerely Rabbi Yehuda Blank
Aish.Com Aish HaTorah Israel Programs.
Teens, Drinking & Purim
Feb 28, 2015
by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP
Giving your teens helpful, safe guidelines.
Purim is right around the corner and it is one of our most joyous holidays. Along with all the revelry comes drinking and often unsafe behavior ensues. Some parents are at a loss how to talk to their teens about drinking. But we need to find the way to do so, not only on Purim, but all year round.
According to the NIAAA (The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), teen drinking has been steadily increasing in recent years and alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among teens in America. There are many negative consequences to this trend. Drinking impairs judgment, causing teens to make poor decisions making them more susceptible to physical or sexual attacks. Injuries and death can result from alcohol poisoning and drunken driving incidents. Our brains develop well into our 20’s, alcohol can hinder brain development, causing learning and cognitive issues. According the NIAAA, people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
According to Rabbi Abraham Twerski, there is no mitzvah on Purim to drink irresponsibly. Rabbi Twerski has been alerting the community of the increasing problem of alcohol abuse and marijuana smoking among Jewish adolescents. Due to the gravity of the problem, he entreats parents to avoid encouraging intoxication.
Rabbi Twerski says that “many people drink to excess because of the mistaken notion that there is a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim. Rabbi Shneur Zalman in his Shulchan Aruch (529) says, “It is impossible to serve God either in levity or drunkenness.” One of the final authorities on halacha, the Chafetz Chaim in Mishna Berura (695) states clearly that the proper thing to do is not to drink to intoxication, but rather to drink just a bit more than is customary (which would be a glass or two of wine) and go to sleep. This is the proper way to fulfil “not distinguishing between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai.’ There is certainly no justification for drinking anything but wine. Aruch Hashulchan (695) condemns drinking spirits (liquor) in very sharp terms.”
Now that we are aware of the issues, what is a parent to do? Here are four simple ways to talk to your teens about drinking and other unsafe behaviors on Purim and throughout the year:
- Don’t talk just, role model:
Sometimes it’s best if we don’t talk. Children do as we do, they do not do what we say. That means that lectures usually fall on deaf ears. Kids learn best by example. If we want our kids to have a healthy attitude about drinking, then they need us to model a healthy attitude towards drinking. Rabbi Twerski advocates that parents should set a model on Purim for their children and not drink to excess.
According to the NIAAA, parents can do the following:
- Use alcohol moderately.
- Don’t communicate to your child that alcohol is a good way to handle problems. For example, don’t come home from work and say, “I had a rotten day. I need a drink.”
- Let your child see that you have other, healthier ways to cope with stress, such as exercise; listening to music; or talking things over with your spouse, or friend.
- Don’t tell your kids stories about your own drinking in a way that conveys the message that alcohol use is funny or glamorous. (Understand that the media and peers portray alcohol in a glamorous way.)
- Never drink and drive or ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
- Agree to Disagree:
Teens have a hard time listening to their parents. Many times, parents will give their child advice and are annoyed when their child does not listen. It is even more frustrating when their child’s friend or mentor gives the same advice, and their child listens readily, even if it was the same exact advice.
Our teens can hear us if we can deliver the message in a kind and diplomatic way. We need to let our children know our values in a way that does not demean them.
Jim Fay of Love and Logic encourages parents to agree to disagree. When a child says something that goes against our values, rules, or our better judgment, like “Drinking is no big deal. I can handle it!” we can say:
“I am glad you told me your thoughts and feelings about drinking. I am glad you feel like you can handle it. But I am concerned that drinking is illegal under 21 years of age. And I don’t agree that ‘drinking is no big deal.’”
In this way, our true message, “drinking is illegal under 21 and it is a big deal” is couched by respectful language, so that our teens can truly hear it. It is a kind and gentle way to help our teens understand our values and rules.
- Talk about yourself and take little opportunities to talk:
Many times our conversations with our teens end up in anger. Our teens can push our buttons. Why? Because they need to test their independence and they need to push us away in order to do that. In a normal bid to grow to be healthy adults, teens need to reject what parents say so that they can define and refine their sense of self. Their egos are fragile and they are overly sensitive as they navigate this tough time in their life.
It is difficult for parents to watch their teens grow up, make their own decisions (sometimes not very smart decisions) and struggle for their independence. In their frustration, parents often use language that rankles teens, putting them in a position where they need to defend themselves and their decisions. Parent will say:
You better not do anything stupid when it comes to drinking! You need to pick a better group of friends!
To avoid placing our teens in a corner where there only recourse is to fight back, we want to talk about ourselves using “I” messages:
“I don’t like to read about kids drinking themselves sick.” “I get upset when kids use drinking to feel cool, I wish they could find other things to do that would help them feel good about themselves.”
We also don’t want to lecture. There is nothing a teen hates more than when parent gets on a soap box. Instead, it is better if we take little opportunities to talk when things are calm, when we are reading the newspaper, watching TV, or when we witness another person engaging in unsafe behaviors:
When reading the newspaper: “Here is an article on the effects of drinking on your mind, what do you think about what it says?”
On TV: “Those kids are making some bad decisions about drinking and drugs.
What do you think is making him do that? What would be a better way to handle that?”
Witnessing a person’s bad behavior: “Smoking is a hard habit to break! I am glad I never got started!
It is at those times that we can also ask our teens:
“What do your friends say about smoking, drugs, drinking?”
“What plans do you and your friends have in place if you are put into a difficult situation with drinking?”
- Be your teens safety net:
Kids need to know that if they find themselves in a sticky situation, they have a way out. It’s important to tell your teens that if they are ever in trouble, they can call you at any time of the day or night. Reassure them that you will not be angry just happy that they called you when they needed you.
- Invite them to come up with some rules for themselves:
Teens need to learn to think for themselves. If they come up with rules and regulation for their own behavior, they are more likely to stick with them. We want to use language that is encouraging and affirms our belief that they can make good decisions. We can ask them the following questions:
“You know the challenges of drinking and drugs. What rules should be in place for teens like you?”
“How can parents help kids make good decisions? What do you need from us?”
“What guidelines do you think you need to help keep yourself safe?”
Before Purim and any other social event where there might be drinking make sure to go over the rules that you have put in place with your teens. Rabbi Abraham Twerski encourages close supervisions of teens on Purim. Have your teen tell you where they are going and who they will be with. Make sure that they have a cell phone and remind them that they can call you at anytime if they are in a bind or if they feel at all uncomfortable. Reiterate the dangers of drinking and driving and that they may never get into a car with someone who is not sober.
Teens need us to be supportive and loving as they move through these years towards adulthood. Talking to them in respectful ways about tough issues and having rules in place can help.
About the Author
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP
Adina Soclof is a Parent Educator, Professional Development Instructor and Speech Pathologist working with children in a school setting. She received her BA. in History from Queens College and her MS. in Communication Sciences from Hunter College. Adina is the founder of ParentingSimply.com. She delivers parenting classes as well as professional development workshops for Speech Pathologists, Teachers and other health professionals. You can find her text based CEU courses at PDResources.com and video courses at Homeceuconnection.com and SpeechPathologypd.com. Adina is the author of Parenting Simply: Preparing Kids for Life.