How to educate a child with ADHD

ADHD is all the educational discussion these days. How do you educate a child with a different learning method without compromising the essence of the material  you must teach? One head of school put it to me thus, “trying to teach a child with ADHD in a typical classroom setting is like locking a tiger in a cage and expecting them to be OK  with that.”

Clint Pulver – His Viral Video

You must have seen that video of Clint Pulver, the child with ADHD whom with the guidance of a caring teacher, saved him from the judging and cruel world around him. Instead of reprimanding him for his fidgeting, he told him, after calling on him to stay after class one day, “I don’t think you are a problem, I think you are a drummer.”

(If you haven’t seen the video, take a moment to watch it. It will move you to tears https://www.westernjournal.com/l/slarson/little-boy-adhd-becomes-successful-musician-thanks-one-caring-teacher/)

This simple and moving video and story has garnered millions of views on social media, not because of its daredevil stunts or its novel invention, rather it is because it is a most basic fundamental teaching that is so rare in today’s society.

King Solomon says in Proverbs 22:6, quoted by the Alter Rebbe in the second section of Tanya, “Educate a child according to ‘his’ ways, and even when he is older it won’t leave him.” This verse has been the source of myriads of articles, lectures and ideas of not being judgmental of children who learn differently, rather to find that secret sauce that speaks to them.  

If you can accomplish this, then you will be an effective teacher and the student will be able to be the very best student that they can be. Helping a child who is a round peg in a square world thrive and reach their maximum potential.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into this for a moment. The Alter Rebbe continues in his essay to ask a basic question. If the way you are teaching the child is inauthentic and incomplete, since you must alter the “regular” or “natural” way of teaching, to help the struggling student comprehend, then what is the value of the latter half of the verse “even when he is older it will not leave him?”

Have you really done him a favor? You’ve altered or possibly watered down the teachings, in order that you can get through to him, but at the end of the day, what he has now been taught, is compromised material?

After a lengthy exposition, the A”R concludes, that in fact no such compromise has been made. There are different levels and methods by which to connect, love and comprehend (as it were) Gd, and by extension to understand any wisdom or information in this world.

There is the “traditional” method, that you study and you have immediate positive  results for your efforts. However, this traditional method is not so traditional. Most people don’t operate at that level. Only the truly righteous.

Most people work in a more contemplative and ongoing development modus operandi. Meaning, with slow and continued thought, one can develop a love for Gd. When one goes through the process – process being the key word – they can work their way up, stage to stage, level to level, to get to where they need to be in their academic journey.

 “As water reflects the face of a person, so too does the heart of man reflect what it is putting out.” Meaning, if we put out love to Gd, Gd will reflect that back to us. The point being that it is a educational process, not necessarily a destination. Your training the child in a system of thought, a process of knowledge attainment, will reflect back and reward him with success.

As such, if you teach the child according to ‘his’ way, and teach him to be contemplative, even if that is an alternative way from the traditional way, he will always be able to fall back onto that system of thought and be able to connect, study and learn.

This wisdom is ancient and modern all at the same time. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, knew what psychologists and educators today or just figuring out. If you try to force a child to study in a preordained proscribed format it will not only not work, it will backfire. The child will feel broken and depressed by their inability to “keep up” and will not learn the data being fed to them, and furthermore, they will quite possibly rebel, as no one wants to feel like a perpetual failure.

Yet, if you teach a child according to ‘his’ way, meaning, if you teach him, using language and systems that ‘he’ understands and connect with; if you teach him a technique that is basic and foundational upon which he can always fall back on when things aren’t going right, then “even when he gets old, it won’t leave him.”

You will have not only given him fish to eat, and not only a fishing rod by which to fish for his own fish with, but you will have taught him how to make a fishing rod when he has nothing!

Now that is a victory.

Blog 35/52 Photo Credit

Speech @ Rally for Good

Speech for rally

Thank you Mr. Mayor & Debbie Coltin of the Lappin Foundation, the soul behind this rally, the PCMA and specifically Joel Aderle and Richard Perlman, David Kudan for the great work you do for the community and the faith communities and all those from the various houses of worship in town. Thank to the Peabody Police and State police … your visits with your cruisers at the local Synagogues and my home is very comforting.

It means the world to myself, and my family personally, and to the entire Jewish community that so many organizations came out, including the CJP, ADL, Deputy consul General of the State of Israel and more…

However, more Specifically, I want to thank the residents of the city of Peabody and the surrounding communities. Thank you for showing up today and being counted, and standing by the local Jewish community, as I know you’d do for any faith that was attacked or maligned. This is a rally against anti-semitism, against intolerance, but it is not about me.

When I wrote the Facebook post that started all of this, it did not cross my mind that I would catch fire quite in the way it did.

But it is you, those of you who are present and those of you who could not make it, who chose to share it, like it, put a cry emoji on it, comment on it over 1000 times, that really pushed this whole thing forward.

If this incident, and my writing of it on Facebook, caused this rally FOR goodness, Mr. Mayor, you’ll forgive me for renaming this rally. It is not a rally against hate, but A RALLY FOR GOOD! …  and if there will be some actual substantive good things that will come out of it, more than simply saying “we won’t tolerate this,” , then as they say in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu … it would be enough.

While it is important for Jews to stand up loud and proud, wear their kippa and their Star of David , and to not cower in fear, and frankly that was the purpose of my post… if we look to history to be any sort of guide… it was the righteous Gentiles of the world that saved so many thousands of lives there in the darkest period in Jewish history , the Holocaust.  As many hundreds and thousands did then, so must many hundreds and thousands do  to today, and that is, to do something good in response to negative and hateful acts.

I will let the ADL tell you the statistics of hate, and the trends. Yes, they are frightening, and step one is to call it for what it is, but my, as a Chabad Rabbi and a student of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Righteous memory, is to guide myself and others who wish to participate, in the appropriate response, and that is to increase in goodness.

When my wife and I moved out here, 16 years ago, with 2 children this was a city that prided itself on being a “NO PLACE FOR HATE” city. Now, 16 years later, and 5 more children later, that slogan is being put to the test.

I stand here before  you today, to say, that that has not changed! (applause line).

The City of Peabody is a city of love, tolerance, compassion, diversity, warmth and acceptance. We are still that city, and sometimes someone or something rattles our cages and makes us unsure if this is still the case, but I assure you, Peabody is a city where there is NO PLACE FOR HATE! (applause line).

Yes, I am a rabbi here in town, but I am a regular person, a human being, a father. I have a need to keep my family safe and protected. I don’t have my head buried in the sand about what happened and other dangers that Jews face. I simply choose to focus on solutions, not on problems.

In that regard, there is a lot of good already going on, and this has already generated more.

Among those hundreds of comments on facebook, I also got many private messages as well as emails.

One, from Rhona said, “I pass you and your family every Saturday as you are walking to your Synagogue, and I love to see a family in today’s day and age, that still has values and wants to go to their house of worship and pray to Gd. I also noticed that one of the little girls was walking a bit too close to the street, and her older brother, ran quickly to protect her, and bring her deeper onto the sidewalk. How do you make such children these days?

Then there was a note from a local religious leader of another faith who told me, “that what happened is not reflective of his faith, nor of any faith, and that he will be wearing a star of David in solidarity. “

There were many more, perhaps even 100 more, but one final one.

Mikey, emails me and says, “Rabbi, I am so sorry you had to experience that. I am not of the Jewish faith, but I have a lot of respect for the Jewish People. Growing up, I was a troubled kid, and it was Mr. Goldberg, in Revere, who took a chance with me and hired me when no one else would, and that helped get me, and my life back on track.

I realize that you and Mr. Goldberg are really the same. You both are just trying to help out your local community. And now it is my turn to be Mr. Goldberg. I am going go to my next door neighbor’s house. She is an elderly woman who has trouble keeping up. I mowed her lawn, and now I am going visit her regularly, since she is just so lonely.

Thank you for what you do, and thank you for inspiring me to do better myself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mikey really captured the essence of what this Rally for good is, what Peabody is, in my opinion.

We need to turn darkness into light. Sadness into happiness. Negative into positive.

How we react to negative things, is the ultimate differentiator.

Some are inclined to remove with the visible signs of their difference. Takeoff the yarmulke, hide the star of David, take their mezuzah off their door post. That works for some but that doesn’t solve the problem of hate. People of color cannot remove their skin. People of other oppressed communities cannot hide who they are.

So hiding your identity doesn’t fix anything. In fact, I think we need to do the opposite. We need to reinforce our individuality, stand louder and prouder in who we are.

The real solution however is to root out hate.

It needs to be in un-cool, un-woke, to hate.

It needs to become stylish, fashionable to do good. (More on that from Rabbi Baron in a moment.)

PAUSE…..

Back when Kennedy introduced Peace Corps, it became a good and noble and stylish thing to be giving to others. In Judaism we call that a mitzvah.

I call upon all those present and all those who will see or hear this at a later point, to do their part in rooting out that hatred by increasing in act of goodness.

Do a Mitzva! Replace the hate with something concrete…

PLEASE TAKE 30 SECONDS, RIGHT NOW, TO THINK OF SOMETHING CONCRETE THAT YOU WILL DO, SOMETHING THAT IS POSITIVE, THAT WILL MAKE THIS ALREADY GREAT CITY EVEN GREATER. SOME GOOD DEED, OF KINDNESS, … perhaps VISIT A FRIEND WHOM YOU HAD A FALLING OUT WITH, BRING FOOD TO SOMEONE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD WHO JUST HAD A BABY, BE CREATIVE, BUT PLEDGE TO DO SOMETHING GOOD.

WAIT 30 SECONDS!

Finally, hate begins at home… it is a learned trait… As I posted on facebook. we need to change the way children are educated. They need to learn that there are real people, real victims of who are impacted by what they say do and think, and there is life beyond video games and social media.

There was a movement in the past that I hope will be considered by the school committee boards to make a comeback. It was called a Moment of silence in our schools… you have heard about it in the news, when my colleague, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein made it part of the national discussion, after being shot in the hands, defending his Shul in Poway California.

The idea is, students are asked to stop for a minute, no talking, no phones, nothing, just closing their eyes and realizing that they are not alone here on this earth. There is a higher power, whatever that power may be to them, and that they, each and every individual, child – and adult – matter. YOU MATTER, therefore, WHAT YOU DO MATTERS! There is a God and Creator … a reason that we exist… we are not random… and nothing is by mistake.

If we heal this at the bottom, it will improve at the top. It may take some time, but it will get done.

So, again, thank you to you all who took time to come out on a busy late Wednesday afternoon, fight the downtown traffic and parking, to rise up and rally against hate, anti Semitism and may this be the last that we have to do such a thing for any faith or form bigotry.

Amen

Blog 34/52 Picture Heather Gravalese Facebook

Exhausted & Sleep Deprived Heroes – A Shavuot Thought

As parents of a growing family, a good nights sleep is mostly a thing of dreams, pun intended. There is always a diaper that needs changing, a midnight drink for a parched throat, and of course the occasional illness that needs soothing.

It is rare that the interruptions come from above. Literally, above my head. The other night, As I was beginning to dive deep into my REM portion of my sleep when the smoke alarms around the house started up. It didn’t stay on for long, so after a brief check of the house I didn’t think much of it. When it started again about 20 minutes later, and stayed on long enough to frighten everyone into my bedroom for an impromptu overnight family sleep out at the foot of my bed, I decided it is time to take this more seriously.

However, again after an exhaustive search of the house, even the attic I decided I need to call the Fire Department. Could be carbon monoxide, who knows.

After their ceremonious arrival, and their deduction that it was a faulty unit, finally, 4:30 everyone was back asleep.

Everyone, except for me that its.

I’ll muscle through the day, and there is always to tomorrow night, being my mantra. Another day in the life of…

What is about sleep that so consumes us? The insomnia medicine market is a billion Dollar industry. Why? The human body was designed to get more sleep than just a couple hours a night, and consecutive hour/s not piecemeal.
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So you think I am complaining? OK, maybe a bit, but there is a point at the end of this rant. Doing many (odd) hours awakings, and wondering if I will be able to function on fumes the morning after, got me thinking.

We are one week away from Shavuot, (June 9th and 10th to be exact) and we will have many wonderful services and parties, but there is a tradition that the night leading into Shavuot, June 8th in the evening, to stay up all night, and study Torah.

The reason? To “fix up” for the Jews who welcomed the Torah at Sinai by…. Wait for it… yup, SLEEPING!

So I don’t get it, you want to get ready for the greatest event of your life, they were going to experience Gd as humans never had prior, you’ve just spent the past 49 days counting down to this magic moment and when the big day comes, where are they? Sleeping?!

Now, I get it, when you are tired, you don’t function at your 100% optimum. I know, I’ve dropped a couple balls of my own in the past few days, but basic decency would suggest being present and awake when Gd is coming to meet with you. And even if you are bit wonky from tiredness, you still should get out of bed and show up?

Chassidism teaches that the Jews were preparing for Sinai in the way that they thought would be best. They figured, that when you are awake, your soul is stuck in your body, your body is an inherently selfish machine (always trying to do what’s best for it), and so they’d transcend their physical bodies by being asleep.

More than that, the soul, when the body sleeps, ascends to more heavenly spheres, hangs out in higher worlds, gets cleansed and polished while sleeping. So, in their perception, the best way to prepare for the giving of the Torah, was to be at their highest possible “personal self” and thus they were asleep.

And thus, we stay awake to correct their error. They may have been correct in theory, however, life exist in reality, not theory. In reality, you need to show up, even if it is not in your optimum state. You still need to be there.

And while we might be tired the next day, we are at least making sure that we there, present, and we showed up. Half the challenge for most things in life, is just showing up. Tired and all, warts and all, you gotta show up!

So, to our sleeping child, who finally went to sleep, but left us unable to do so, we thank you for keeping us awake, three nights in a row. We will get our revenge when you tell us that your kids kept you up all night. We are very patient ppl.

However, to the serious point, sleeping is important, kabbalah talks about the power of dreams that happen while you sleep as being the disjointed thoughts of your day getting expunged from your body. So sleep is necessary both biologically as well as spiritually. However, there is incredible value in being awake.

When you are awake, you do things. And this, is what makes us humans. Flawed humans are greater than perfect angels. Flawed and physical humans, do things and can break out of their personal limitation, angels, while perfect and flawless, are stuck in one spot.

That was the ultimate mistake of the Jews at Sinai, and that is what we flawed humans can fix. It is particularly in our physical reality, our vulnerability where Gd resides, and it is there that we are both human, and awesome!

So, whether it is a sleepless child, or a broken smoke alarm keeping us from our dream sleep, remember, that While sleep is the fuel to help us conquer another day of life, the goal is the awake hours where you do the real conquering.

Blog 33/52 Picture Raizel Schusterman

Hate On Lowell Street

This past Saturday afternoon, my friend and colleague Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad and I were taking a Shabbos stroll on the way to the beautiful Peabody bike path. To walk this way, we had to walk for a short bit on Lowell Street.

Walking and chatting while visibility Jewish, kippas, beards and tzitzits flying about was apparently too much for a bunch of pickup truck drivers. There were 3 or 4 large pickups, one with red hubcaps, and modified mufflers to sound really loud as they drove by.

The driver of the first truck slowed down and flipped us the birdie and yelled out “****ing Jews.” A moment later, he threw a penny out of his window and shouted another anti-Semitic slur something to the effect of “go pick up the penny ****ing Jew.”

Now, I am not unaccustomed to people yelling things to me or honking from the safety of a driving vehicle that I cannot catch up to. However, the angry and hateful vitriolic tenor was new and quite upsetting. My kids, have often shuddered when we walk the streets to or from shul and a car drives by (usually with a few silly teens) and yell or whistle at us. Recently, one of my kids said, “Tatty, why do they hate us so much?”

I didn’t have a good answer, so I deflected and told him that they were just a bunch of rowdy kids excited to be driving their own car, so they were just being silly. This Shabbat insult was nothing of the sort. This was simple, clear, unvarnished, hate.

I write this today to bring awareness to the hate in our community (or at least driving through our streets) and if you know of that caravan of trucks, please report them. We will never again be silent in the face of hate. Never again means NEVER AGAIN! And that can only happen when we stand up to it, announce it, report it, call it out for what it is EVERY SINGLE time we see it.

Like Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin recently told Germany, we will not get rid of our skullcaps/Yamulkahs because of those who hate. The solution is not to get rid of the kippa. The solution is to get rid of the hate.

***

Then there is the academic side to it.

Why does this person hate so much? I have never met him. In all likelihood he never met an Orthodox Jew in his life. I’m confident he never did business by an Orthodox Jew. Still, he felt the need to endorse the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are thieves and cheapos.

He didn’t look Middle Eastern (no Kafiya or anything so identifying) so I am assuming this was not related to the growing anti-Jewish anti-Israel hate (well documented in films where children and adults in many Middle Eastern countries are taught to hate). No, this does not mean that every Middle Eastern person is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. This was a homegrown form of hate that is starting to invade this country – spreading from the halls of our government to our college campuses and beyond. 

So what’s the source of the hated?

My only guess, and that is all it is, is a guess, is the upbringing and training. Children – and later adolescents and adults – are impressionable. If they are taught that McDonald’s is a healthy square meal, then in all likelihood people will raise their children that way. If they are taught that rich people are evil or that people of color are dangerous, then they will likely transmit that training to their progeny.

If they are taught (as many children, here and abroad tragically are) that there is a sub-human group of people that are a danger to society, a blight on the pure human race, for whatever concocted or perceived reason, that will be transmitted to their children.

So, to you, Mr. Pickup truck driver… 1. Shame on you. 2. Shame on those who taught you to be a wimp and shriek from the safety of your vehicle with the ability to speed off. Next time you have something to say to me, pull over and say it to my face. I want to see if you are still so brave. 3. I actually don’t hate you; I am mostly sad for you. Mend your ways and I will forgive you. 4. Most importantly, not only for my children’s sake, though that is the main reason for me personally, I am not going to tolerate your disgusting hate without responding. I will announce it to the world every time, and stand up to you. I am not afraid of you.

***

Today, I write on Memorial Day. Our soldiers fought for the right to live in peace and to practice the faith of your choice, and for that I am eternally grateful. I don’t think they fought for people to yell, scare, frighten and promote hate and division.

*** As of this writing, this post has been liked/cried/hearted on Facebook over 300 times, shared more than 200 times and commented on over 1000 times, and it is only 8 hours old. I can’t say for sure why it has caught fire, but I think because it touched a nerve that is very raw and exposed by all, Jews and non-Jews alike, and as much as we try to hide it or from it, it is still there and very sensitive.

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BROKEN COMMITMENTS

Here is the thing about commitments, they are made to be broken (and repaired). I had pledged to myself to write an article/blog once a week for 52 weeks and that was going well until it wasn’t.

Nothing in particular, other than life got in the way. Usual work/family drama (yes, even rabbi’s have that) and then a lackadaisical energy that doesn’t promote the creative juices.

After missing my deadline for a couple weeks, I knew that I need to do something different if I had any hope for a different result. So, I packed up my trusty little iPad and keyboard and went to one of my favorite North Shore spots. The Lynch Park in Beverly, where you have water on three sides.  (See picture) There is something calming and soothing about the water that gives a general reset.

So what is it about commitments to do good that don’t seem to have the staying power? Why is it that I don’t need motivation and encouragement to eat cheesecake an ice cream regularly, yet for things of worth it is so challenging?

I suggest the answer might be found in the command to say the Shema prayer (3 times) daily. Why is there such a law? If we read it yesterday, presumably our awareness of that information has not disappeared or dissipated so quickly that it needs such a refresh.

Perhaps a once weekly reminder would suffice? Yet that is not enough? We are obligated to say it day in and day out? The answer is, that Hergel Naseh Tevah, getting used to something makes it second nature.

This cuts in both directions. At times it works in our favor, that by doing something religiously (pun intended) you just get used to it and do it regularly. Think gym, and other similar good things that while difficult can become part of your daily routine. On the flip side, we can adopt bad habits, like that cheesecake and ice cream habit I referenced a moment ago.

However, then there is something in-between. Where your rote in doing something makes you start to take it for granted. For example, prayer, and specifically the Shema prayer. This prayer, which focuses on the essence of our faith, and acknowledging that Gd is the All Powerful One, can also become robotic and without meaning to the person saying it.

That is the great danger with all commitments. What begins as passion, dies or goes into a comatose state, and not for lack of usage. Just lack of reinvestment in the original intent.

When that happens, you need to a) identify it b) commit to doing something different to get a different result.

If it is prayer, you need to revisit what you started to pray, what that prayer means to you, and how to reignite the original passion again. Look inward and realize how many blessings you have, and to express gratitude and thanks, and conversely, how many blessings you still need and focus on Who can provide them.

If it is a blog, you need to reconnect with the origins of why you started to write and how to keep that passion going or, in some case light it up again from scratch. In my case, to open the creative juices I know are flowing in my head.

And if it is a diet/bad habit, like the cheesecake and ice cream we’ve been discussing, to revisit why you agreed or endeavored to stop that behavior in the first place.
***

So, goodbye dear ocean – you can be sure I will be back to see you again and again – and know that I will learn from you.

Your waves lap against the shore, and that happens again and again and again, regardless of weather conditions or internal and external factors. Regardless of life’s dramas, stresses and ever changing realities, you continue to splash on the sandy shore with the same original passion as the last gazillion times. I pledge to emulate your ways in all my ways (the blog being the least of them) and recommit myself to the things that got me started in the first place.

Blog 31/52 Picture my iPhone

Dear Gd, Here we go again

Dear G-d,

Here we are again. Last we spoke, it was right after the Pittsburgh Massacre. There you told me, how you weep with me, and how if I could understand Your ways (which I cannot since I am not GD), I’d be less pained.

Yet you cried with me, at pain the Jewish family was enduring. The loss of life, the carnage, the insecurity that Your children were experiencing. You seemed to walk this fine line between being the Adult in the room, who knows what He is doing, and the empathetic parent who cries with their child who is going through the pains of growing up.


Lori Kaye’s daughter, Hannah at her memorial service. Photo AP

I walked away from our discussion, feeling that while my questions were not answered, I knew you were on top of things, and there was order, where it seemed like chaos to us. I walked away somewhat comforted knowing that you hadn’t abandoned us, notwithstanding the facts on the ground, mixed with blood and tears.

Yet, now I am here again. Knocking on your door asking you why? Why would a sister Chabad Center in Poway, California, a home dedicated to love, and compassion, a home that is but a branch of nearly 4000 similar homes, be targeted by a hateful and vile individual. How could you allow it? Why there? Why anywhere? In the past month, there three major faiths in the world had their houses of worship attacked, and we just proceed on. Are you in charge or not?

We just finished Holocaust Memorial Day, where the images if the greatest mass destruction of our people in the History of the world dominated our news cycle, our social media feed, and all the pain, anger and mistrust has risen to the surface again.

Perhaps my greatest consternation is this pacifistic, soft response I am hearing from all those Chabad Rabbis. A little light pushes away a lot of darkness. Or the “we fight evil with goodness and kindness” and a plethora of other Chamberlain-ian responses? I get that they mean well, but wouldn’t they be better off learning from history and getting gun licenses and other aggressive proactive efforts?

Sorry for taking your precious time,Gd, but I really need your help understanding all of this.

Dear Son,

Oh my son, you are so wise and you ask such difficult questions, but I won’t shy away from your tough questions. If I am truly the father that you see me to be, I will guide and instruct, and hug and cry with you, in every scenario I will do what I deem to be the right response for that time.

Today, I will hug you for your fear. I will cry with you for the loss of dear Lori and the Rabbi and those injured in Poway. I will remind you to be responsible and protect yourself and your Chabad Centers as the responsible people that you are.

However, I want to answer your last question. I want to remind you, that your Rebbe, my trusted servant answered this already, and I am only going to remind you what he already communicated.

There was a time in history, that the modus operandi was that you fight evil with evil, and only once evil is vanquished can you start to focus on the good.

The classic chassidic analogy had been when dealing with sin. “You don’t bring furniture into the house, while the house is still dirty.” Or as it relates to this discussion, you can’t work on spreading love and light until you have crushed the enemy of love and light.

We live in a different time. We live in a pre-messianic era where the rules of the game have changed. Not simply because I willed it so, but because after generations of constant beating at the evil, the evil HAS been softened. We build on that, or sustain our accomplishments and even further our work by doing those acts of goodness and light. That is the radiation that doesn’t allow the cancer to come back.

(Even if today it doesn’t appear so. Today you are hurting, but next week, when you have had a chance to process a bit and see the world through different lenses, you will see that there is an immense amount of goodness out there. There is care for the wounded, programs for those with physical and emotional challenges. There are nations who are dedicated to not only promoting peace and democracy in their own borders but around the world. The world IS a better place.)

So, all those Chabad Soldiers, my Shluchim, from Peabody, to Poway, from Kathmandu to Crown Heights, they are correct. You no longer need to wait until you have banished evil to promote light. Do a good deed, and it further melts a softening evil world. Light a Shabbat Candle and the darkness that gets banished is not just the physical darkness in that room, but the darkness in our souls and the souls of those who have true deep seated darkness.

That greatest mistake would be to allow your questions, to stop you from being the beacon of light I created you to be. You have a job, you have a responsibility, to be brave, even while scared, to convey this message to the world. Your Rebbe did it since 1951. He is counting on you to keep on doing it.

It’s not a slogan, it’s not a cliche, it is a fact. Random acts of kindness, little acts of light, do indeed combat evil and darkness.

Farewell my son, I hope not to see your tear streaked face knocking at my door ever again. Let’s meet at our other happy and uplifting gatherings.

In fact, lets meet at Shul this Friday night or Shabbat?

Blog 30 of 52

Merging Worlds

I first met the family some 7 years ago, when I was called to perform a bris on their newborn son.  A mutual friend had connected us, and was agreeable to do the bris, regardless of what they could pay.

I recall finding it interesting at the time, how a family that had been intermarried so many times, the women’s husband was not Jewish nor was her dad, still cared that a bris be done, and by an orthodox Rabbi/Mohel no less.

I chalked it up to a line I heard my uncle (Schwartzie) say often, that during the three major lifecycle events of a person’s life, even super secular non practicing Jews, reconnect with their roots. Hatch, match and dispatch. Birth, marriage and death.

I basically forgot about them until a few years later I got another call, that my mohel services were once again needed. I noted how the grandmother of the baby, was not present at bris one, but was at bris two. I was told that she was not well and didn’t think much more of it.

A few years later, (at this point, we were friends on facebook) I realized that baby one is now Hebrew School age eligible. So I reached out, and not long thereafter, child one joined our Hebrew School.

With time, the friendship developed and we got to know each other better, they spent a shabbat meal with us, and they were now in the orbit of our Chabad and lives. Making friends with other Hebrew school families and I was able to monitor their Jewish continuity, whether it was Chanukah or other Jewish holidays and activities.

Then I received a message, grandma, the one who missed bris one, and who had battled illness for the past 20 years had passed very unexpectedly. Can I help?

Of course I agreed to do whatever I could and thought nothing more of it.

When the funeral home called to confirm my availability I immediately agreed, and said yes, of course. That was until, I got the details.

She said, you are an orthodox Rabbi, so I assume you will want Taharah (ritual cleansing of the deceased – a very important part of the burial process) done? Yes, of course I said.

However, the woman from the funeral home said, that the family who were not practicing/observant Jews,and the husband who was married to the deceased, was a fine Italian man, and didn’t see the need or value in the Tahaha. Since it was all so sudden, the expenses were huge and unexpected. They didn’t see a need for the extra expense.

That made sense to me, so I offered, to trade my Rabbi’s honorarium for the Taharah. That would cover the cost with a bit to spare. The woman at the funeral home was so moved by the gesture and the fact that it was so important to me, agreed to co-sponsor the Taharah.

Problem one, solved.

Then in going over the details, she said that the service would be held at the Chapel, and the internment at the xxxxx Lawn Cemetery. I was not super familiar with that cemetery, but I knew it was not a Jewish cemetery. This again presented a halachik issue.

Not wanting to hurt or distance this family that we’d had come quite close with, I asked for some time to do some homework. I then made a flurry of phone calls, until I reached one of the top experts in this area of Jewish Law, R. E. Zuhn, and was given a special exemption based on various factors and assuming I be be able to put a few things in place. With this matter resolved, we were able to proceed.

I later met with the family, and as we went over a few details about the funeral, and reviewed the life of the deceased, it was clear, that everyone (the family, the funeral home, and myself) had joined together to ensure that this woman be buried in the holiest of manners possible.

Next on the agenda shiva. The family intended to spend a couple days sitting shiva, in whatever manner that was meant to be. However, making a minyan and saying Kaddish was certainly not on the agenda.

As Hashgocha protis (Divine Providence) would have it, I had yarhtzeit for my mother on the day of the funeral. I myself was having trouble putting together a minyan for mincha, as it had to be concluded earlier than many finish their work day.

I suggested that we merge forces, and do a shiva and yahrtzeit minyan at their home after the funeral.

They had the men needed for my minyan, and they were fine with saying Kaddish, and they were already assembling that afternoon. I needed to say Kaddish as well so everyone would gain.

Indeed, this is what we did. I gave a few basic instructions of what was needed for them to do, and the minyan began. Many of the minyan barely knew of or identified with their Jewish identity, but all donned Yamukah’s and said Amen at the appropriate places.

As I left the Shiva house a bit later, I reflected at the magnitude of what just took place.

You had two worlds, that seemed so diverse with no apparent areas for intersection, yet, when all was said and done, not only had we gotten together for mitzva, but we had crossed that narrow bridge that divides the orthodox religious world, and that less observant world, and managed to meet, and join, for the greater good of both.

I imagined the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Barditchev, two of the greatest lovers of the Jewish people, looking at this ragtag group of Jewish in suburban Boston, joining forces for the greater good of the Jewish people and then grinning happily with broad smiles on their faces as they witness the fulfillment of Ahavas Yisroel at its greatest.

May the soul of Chaya Bina Bas Yitzchok be bound in the bond of life!

Blog 29/52

Knock out his teeth – Chabad’s Secret of Love

As we near Passover, there are two major events that mark the Jewish calendar. One is the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the lover of Jews, unparalleled since Moshe Rabeinu and the Baal Shem Tov, and we prepare for the Seder. As the noise and sounds in the kitchen die down, we can focus on the Haggada and all the rich text. The words of the Haggada so precise, rich and flavored, they match the kugels and kneidelach in their savory depth.

Perhaps the most frustrating passage in the Haggada is the line, to “knock out,” or “blunt”the teeth of the wicked son who doesn’t appreciate what is going on at the Seder.

Here is the text:

The wicked son, what does he say? “What is this service to you?”7 [By saying,] “to you,” [he implies]: “but not to himself.” Since he has excluded himself from the people at large, he denies the foundation of our faith.

Therefore, you should blunt his teeth and tell him: ….. “Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”

The frustration is, what gives? Ok, he doesn’t know what’s going on? Or perhaps, he doesn’t like what’s going on, so he takes himself out of the community and thus we are told to knock out his teeth? We add insult to injury by telling him, that had he been there in Egypt he would have not been redeemed? Rather harsh, don’t you think?

Certainly, the Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, the lovers of the Jewish people cannot be ok, with such harsh treatment of this “wicked son”? He is clearly hurting or unhappy about something, so he is acting out. Beating him, and telling him that he would have not been saved had he had this pugnacious attitude back in the day, is not going to motivate him or bring him back into the fold? 

Particularly, in today’s world of “safe spaces,” and – appropriate – hypersensitivity to those who are struggling, we need to approach these “at risk” youth with a different approach than our parents generation who would deliver a “frask” – Yiddish for a spanking, and expect things to improve. That may have worked for that generation, but does not work for ours.

So what gives?

I’ve heard this critical question explained thus, and I am channeling my inner student of the Rebbe, to present what I think his sentiments would be, using my verbiage. 

There is rarely such a thing as a wicked child, or a wicked Jew. It happens, but it is too rare for the Haggada to spend it’s precious space addressing. What the Haggada is talking about, is the child who behavior is wicked but his core, the neshama, the soul, is pure. It is not able to be contaminated. So you have a pure soul, that has gotten caught up in something that is making them act out in a way that appears wicked. 

For some it’s an abusive home, others an abusive experience by a teacher, friend or family member, others is the Gd given gift/challenge of emotional difficulties and demons that they need to battle. For other its a traumatic experience, the loss of a loved one or any other crisis that creates frustration, pain and suffering. 

What they all have in common, is that they are not at peace with themselves. This child (either literal or figurative child) is suffering. They are hurting and don’t have the tools to work through the situation on their own. So their “behavior” looks like the wicked son. However, their soul/essence remains as pure as their holy wise and righteous wise brother.

The words “Since he has excluded himself from the people…” is a statement about how this suffering child feels about those around him who he hoped he could have relied on to help him through his struggle. He feels excluded by the world, so he excludes himself.

The Haggada then advises us what we must do to fix the situation. Blunt his teeth. NO, don’t knock them out, and beat him further, Gd forbid, but blunt them, grind down the sharp edges, soften the poisonous vitriolic anger and angst this child is struggling with. 

Love him, hug him, embrace him and remove the the sense of exclusion from the community of family and peoplehood that he thinks he does not belong to and has removed himself from (incorrectly).  Let him know that he is not only a part of the family but an integral piece. So much so, that the obligation to do the Seder – “vi’higadita li’bincha – you shall tell your children” – cannot be completed without him. 

I need YOU my dear son. Despite your pain and hurt, I need you, I want you. You are important. Maybe even more important than your other siblings. 

Engage him, help him see his eternal value and worth. Show him how you cannot be complete without him. Show him how much he matters. Then you will have removed some of the bitterness that he is feeling and will have begun to help him heal. You will have helped him reach his person redemption, from his personal Egypt. You will have helped him realize that he belongs and needs only to adjust his behavior to become one with soul, his essence and his true and ultimate worth.

He was hurt by life, let’s show him some compassion and show him how life is really very good. This is what is meant by blunt his teeth. Soften his blows, and show him his own beauty. Show him, that he too is the wise and righteous son at his core. 

This is hinted in the numerology in the term “blunt his teeth.

Rasha/Wicked (son) = 570 
Tzadik/Rightous (son) = 204 
Shinav/Teeth = 366

If you take the “Shinav/teeth – 366, the bitterness/anger/sadness/pain/frustration away from the the Rasha/Wicked -570 – the pained and struggling child, you are left with Tzadik/Righteous – 204. A calm and at peace child who is ready to heal and embrace their inner awesomeness!

***

This is how the Rebbe looked a “rasha.” He said, let’s show them how beautiful they are. Let’s introduce them to their neshamah, their truest essence and then the misbehavior and negative self imaging will fall away.

Thank you Rebbe for your novel approach to seeing life and showing it in every aspect of Torah. You are balm for a hurting world. 

We, your students miss you, and will continue to endeavor to keep you legacy of positivity and optimism alive!

Happy Birthday!

Credit @theyeshiva.net & Rabbi YYJacobson

Blog 28/52

Dear Mommy

Dear Mommy,

It has been 33 years now, and we are celebrating yet another yarhtzeit. It’s sad, its happy, its life. There is a strange feeling that descends on me each year on yarhtzeit. It is an angst of sorts, though that is not a perfect description. It’s a reflective feeling, but an active feeling.

I am not quite sure. A part of me wants to run around the room like a 4 year old having a full blown tantrum, crying that it is so unfair! I want to pound the floor, and scream at the top of my lungs? Not fair, not fair.

On the other hand, I am not only too old for that, but I have had too much therapy to know that this is narcissistic and self-pity, and for me, certainly at this stage of my life, would be foolish and pointless. In fact, perhaps a bit damaging.

The other part of me that, is at (relative) peace all year long with your being gone, that has accepted that this is what is. That this is Gd’s will. That this has made me grow up. That this has molded me into a better, more compassionate human being, and all these other (true) cliches and platitudes, is just not accepting of that today.

So what am I to do? I can’t have a tantrum, but I am not a peace? I picked a fight with everyone in my immediate area, and that didn’t help distract me. I don’t smoke dope, so that’s off the table. I did mishnayos last night, but that too didn’t settle me. So what am I to do?

I know what I am going to do, and that is to distract myself, with a funeral (that happened to have fallen out today), a shiva house, making a mincha minyan in the Peabodian boondocks, hand out as much matza as people will take and other “acts of goodness and kindness.”

All of these will do me good, and be good deeds, but they won’t and don’t settle that hole deep inside.

I will reach out to my siblings and wish them all a long life, and I will wait impatiently for this day to end, and let what has become my new normal to return to my life.

I will still be upset by the celebrations that you missed. The wife that you never met. The grandchildren you never hugged. The advice you never gave. The shoulder that was not there for crying on. The fact that I didn’t see you kvelling in Atlanta last week at your first grandchild’s wedding.

I will still be frustrated that I have no idea if I was vaccinated against the measles and given a booster, since my immunization records are missing, and my father’s memory doesn’t work for things like this. (I don’t blame him, mine doesn’t either register this kind of info.)

I will still miss you when the normal has returned, and I will go back to relegating your passing to a painful piece of the past that I have figured out how to work within.

But today, for one day a year, I will again, tantrum on the inside, smile on the outside, and behave like an adult even if I feel so so sad on the inside.

I miss you mommy. Happy Yartzeit

Blog 27/52

Why I hate Pesach – The pain of confronting reality

Ok, sorry for that shocking name of the article, but here goes. I hate Pesach. There, I said it. No, it is not for all the cleaning needed. Though, that really is not my favorite thing, I can handle that. It isn’t even the exorbitant spike in my credit card bill as this holiday comes and goes, though that too is not my favorite thing. The reason I hate Pesach is because to really do it right, you need to confront your chometz/leaven. You need to look inside yourself, and let’s face it, who like doing that?

Let me explain.

We will soon be gathered around the table talking about the four sons, and this is often an emotional call to parents to explore their success and failure as a parent, as to which “kind” of son they did/are raise.

I have four sons, but they are all the righteous one, so for me this is merely an exercise in theory. Seriously though, I think there is powerful conversation to be had here. Indulge me for a moment here.

***

Parenting, which comes with no manual, is amongst the highest on the list of difficult things.

It often seems that regardless of what is going on, we are not getting it right. Are our kids happy? If not, why not? If they are, we ask ourselves other questions, all in an effort to to attain perfection for them, and thus for ourselves. Why aren’t they more driven and motivated? And if they are, we look for something else. We work ourselves to the bone trying to make them happy, and most often, our efforts to improve things are met with responses like, “just mind your own business” or “stay out of my life!” So, what is going on?

My book on parenting is coming out, so for a more thorough deep dive into this, you are going to have to wait for the book, but for now, let these paragraphs suffice.

I recently listened to a podcast in which Dr. Phil, of the famous Dr. Phil Show, was being interviewed. Most of what he said was common sense, including what struck me, perhaps the simple Southern way in which he said it, finally made it click for me.

He described a scenario that often comes up in his show, where there is a 30-something-year-old, living at home, abusing various substances, and parents are frustrated and don’t know what to do with their failing child/adult.

He continued, that often there is a complex situation, with traumas and other mental health disorders that require delicate handling, but more often the situation is quite simple and easy to explain and fix. The parents don’t want to live with the worry that their child is on the streets, perhaps being taken advantage of, perhaps they are cold, perhaps they may take their substance abuse to its (G-d forbid) worst case scenario. So rather than feel all that fear, the parents will provide their child with a roof over their head, food to eat, a cell phone to call – just in case of emergency – and pay for the insurance on their car – because Gd forbid they will have a car accident and be arrested or be on the hook for major financial obligations – etc.

Basically, they are anxious about the child’s anxiety.

In truth though, in that scenario, the parents “helping” their kid are not doing their child any favor. (They are selfishly only trying to do themselves a favor. The favor of a less anxious night’s sleep, and hurting their kid in the process.)

Kids want to be parented and pushed. They crave boundaries and borders. When they say, back off, what they may often be really saying is, I need some space to figure out all these feelings I feel inside. So please allow me some time to process what you just said or did, while I work this out on my own. I want to be an adult someday too, and I can’t get there if you are always butting in.

They often don’t have the words to express those intense and unfamiliar feelings, but they don’t want us to simply do things for them, so that we can have tranquility for ourselves.

Often it is our own anxiety that is steering the ship of “help” on their choppy waters. If so, we are are actually not saving them, we are making it worse.

I wonder, and that is all this is, me wondering, if this is what is going on in our lives, as viewed from Gd’s perspective. Perhaps our pain, parenting, faith, health, or any other challenge, is the pain of growth. Perhaps the things that appear difficult, are the things that are exactly what we need, and like our children, we need training to push through. These are the challenges we are facing, and simply surviving, will make us thrivers?

Perhaps, the goal is only to make us better and stronger, and while it feels painful down, here, it is really the growing pains of a full and meaningful existence?

(To be clear, this doesn’t make it less painful while we are in it, and crying and kvetching is normal and the healthy reaction usually, but it is not a destination in itself.)

***

The Passover season, the story, and the modern day program of Passover is filled with so much investment of time, energy and emotion. Sometimes we wonder if all the hassle is worth it? I am suggesting, perhaps it is a part of the process of growing up as a people; mimicking our growing up as a human, as a child. We need to feel the pain of childhood to grow and become an adult. Perhaps, in fact, this is the essence of Pesach? The journey to be free? This is perhaps the deeper meaning of the struggle of the four sons?

So you want to know, why I hate Pesach? Because, confronting these real world ideas, is as real as it gets. When we talk about searching for chometz and getting rid of it, it means to not only rid ourselves of our physical chometz, but of our internal chometz. Our struggles and worries. To get rid of it, you have to look for it, find it, fix it and dispose of it. Now who wants to do that?

Having said that, I would not trade it in for anything. Once you have confronted your chometz, there is no better feeling than that. (Oh, and don’t worry, there will be a new batch of chometz right after Pesach.)

Blog 26/52 Picture credit beartales.me