Category Archives: Archives 5763

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Elul 5763 – Life After Sem…Help…

1 Elul, 5763

Dear Chana,

I have been back in the states for 2 years now and I have followed your previous advice [see archives] on filling my free time with Torah and Chesed. The issue at hand is that I still feel that there is something missing in my life. I still feel a void at times. In my time in seminary my life significantly changed for the better. Torah is now very important to me, and my value system has shifted to those things that are deep and real. However, I desperately want to be back in Israel!! There is way too much Sheker and pritzus in America! Yes, I am continuing to to good things, but it is hard – and I so want to go home!! Life in Israel seemed so penetrating and true, and here there is superficiality and distortion wherever you turn. Is there something wrong with me? Is this my yetzer hora? Please help me understand if what I am feeling is normal or not. What can I do to help myself?

Thank you so much for your time and patience

Name withheld Michlala 5761

Dear Jemsem Reader,

I can see that you are a straightforward and honest person. Of course you are continuing to do the right things, but you are facing the facts that it is difficult and life doesn’t seem quite the same as when you were in Israel. Yes, it is true that there is moral depravity, shallowness, and falsehood in the world. These things abound everywhere, it is part of golus. In Israel where Kedusha feels tangible things seem to go smoother a person can easily latch onto the emes. Perhaps that is so, but I still maintain that a person can be whoever they need to be wherever they are.

The trick is to go with the flow of the Hashgacha and let the Hashgacha work for you! If at this point in time you find yourself in America, [for whatever good life reasons that you do] so be it! You can still tap into that amazing person that you are and be ever developing yourself, even in America. Make Hashem’s Will your will, and blossom, for that is what Hashem wants, always. You will also be a much happier person once you truly internalize this concept. It is the yetzer horah, that gets you down and makes you feel like you just can’t do it anymore!

Listen to yourself, it’s your Neshama talking. What you need to do is to allow those feelings of void and emptiness to be THE MOTIVATING FACTOR to give you a push to make things even better more profound and genuine for yourself. You can utilize these feelings and let them be the mechanism that can influence you to strive to greater heights.

As with everything in life, there is Bechirah. Each new day is like the empty page of a book waiting to be written upon. What will I fill My being, MY life with today? What will MY eyes see, what will be in MY headspace today? It is truly up to ME to decide. Nisyonos all around! Employ and take total advantage of this time of year- it’s Ellul! Hashem paves the way for us to get closer to Him now. Dirshu Hashem B’hematzo. Rethink your current mode of living – really take stock of it and see what could use some fixing [of course if it ain’t broken don’t fix it!] and perhaps strengthen some gedarim. We ALL need to do this, no matter where we live! Many of the values of the world at large aren’t our values, so reevaluate and see where you perhaps have taken on a view or are doing something which is truly foreign for a Jew. Step back and use your Binah, it is a Gdly gift which when applied correctly can have extraordinary far reaching ramifications.

Use your own unique creativity, personality and kochos to generate Torah values. There are holes and gaps to be filled, not everything has been thought of yet. There are chassadim to be done for others and gemachim that are truly needed and don’t exist yet. Brainstorm- you’ll be helping yourself as well as others. You CAN make the most of your life no matter where you are!

Wishing you and all of our vast Jemsem readership an uplifting Chodesh Ellul!

Chana

Archives

Av 5763 – Dating Conflicts

1 Menachem Av, 5763

Dear Chana,

I am beginning the dating process and the type of boy that I am looking for is very different than the view of my mother. I really want to live a Torah lifestyle and raise my children with the complete appreciation and love of Hashem and His Torah. I decided that the best derech for me to do that is to marry a boy who is going to learn for awhile [ as long as we can do it!]. This will make him and me more grounded to see the Emes and pave the correct path for our kids. My mother, however, is very focused on the boy not learning for a set time, but working, and when he has a ‘free moment’ he can open up a sefer. This is about a ‘180’ from what my aspirations are! She then told me that if this is what I wanted, I could not date [for tachlis] until I am finished with college, and could have a degree behind my name. I don’t want to create any machlokes with my mom, but I also don’t want to push off starting to date until I am 22! What should I do? Please advise!

Thanks so much for your time!

Michlala, Name withheld upon request

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Dear Jemsem Reader,

The issue that you bring up is quite a sensitive one. What to do when our plans, life goals and ambitions clash with those of our parents whom we dearly love? You had a year or 2 of seminary, you feel that you have your head on straight and know the direction that you want to take in life, and that direction is in contrast to what your family has set out for you. There is no ‘one’ clear answer – every sitiuation has many variables involved within it that can be very complex and are quite individual. The positively best thing that you can do is to get the advice of a Rav. [Remember those end of the year seminary classes of how important this is!] Preferably someone who knows you and your family. Each circumstance will be handled differently, what is right for you may not be right for me. This Rav can advise you and [if the occasion calls for it] perhaps intervene some.

Aside from this, I can give you general advise. Perhaps you can sit down with your mom and discuss the situation. Be well thought out. Think of where her frustrations lie concerning these issues and know what you will answer her. If you need to, write out all the points that you want to make. Show her that you are mature and that you are thinking clearly. If money is part of the issue, try to figure out a gameplan of how it can work. While you are married you can go to school and also have a part time job etc. Don’t be defensive or put her on the defensive, this isn’t a war. This is coming from a parent who has raised and nurtured you and really does want the best for you as she sees it. Remember that. I personally know many situations that have really turned around. Where parents were entirely opposed to the idea of kollel [for any amount of time] and through speaking it out with them or getting other key people or Rabbanim involved the girls have been able to marry guys who are in learning for a while with the blessings of their families!

Of course it isn’t always entirely smooth or fairytalish, but ‘Adam L’amal Yulod’ – We gain and grow from the obstacles that Hashem places in front of us! Keep connecting to Hashem through your T’fillah, and all WILL BE tov. As long as you are ‘Haba LiTaheir [ing] you will be showered with Siyata Dishmaya.

With Warmest Wishes,

Chana

Archives

Sivan 5763 – Responses to the College Issue

1 Sivan 5763

Dear JemSem Readers,

Below are three of the many letters I received in response to my Adar Bet letter on college issues, followed by my response.

Mrs. Chana Silver

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Dear Mrs. Silver,

Thank you for all the chizuk and eitzos you give to young girls and women through your letters on Jemsem.

Concerning your response to the three college age girls in the most recent Jemsem e-mail, while I agree wholeheartedly with your answer, I think that, with all due respect, you neglected some important pieces of information. The starting point, which you mentioned in your letter, that our primary and only-goal in life is avodas Hashem, is non negotiable. It’s the starting point, the middle, and the endpoint. There were other things, though, that as mechanchos, we have the responsibility to say – and to be neglect this is to do our chanichos a tremendous disservice – that while avodas Hashem is the only ikar in life, there is no mitzvah to be uneducated and poor. There are many, many women who are supporting learning husbands, as I myself do b’ezras Hashem, who are not struggling from day to day. As wonderful as the parenting skills are, children do not thrive as much when there is constant worry about money in the house. There is no question that in the United States (Israel may quite well be another story), a college degree in the majority of cases will raise a person’s salary significantly, and a Masters degree will raise it above that. We’re not talking about enough money to buy a house in Lawrence; we’re talking about basic subsistence for a frum family.

It’s a disservice to not even mention such a fact to these young, impressionable girls who don’t understand that to live a life of Torah, you need to do everything possible to make that life the best that it can be, mitoch the gashmius and ruchniyus. There is no reason whatsoever that a tremendous number of American kollel couples are living below the poverty line in certain areas, often due to the fact that the women do not possess any degree above high school. If seminary and twelve years of yeshiva served their purposes, then hopefully we can expect strong, erlich girls to be able to face the challenges of college. And few people except in the Ivy League, where clearly none of the letter writers were going, attend college for a full four years any more. Most people, with AP and other credits, can do it in two or three maximum. It’s grossly unfair to these girls to only present one side, let them know that their parents mean well, and that if they want to live a Torah life, they need to do everything possible within Halachic and hashkafic means to do it. All I’m asking you to do is to present fair pictures of both sides – or else these girls face the likely prospect (unless they marry rich, which is not b’yideihem) of living with much less simchas hachaim and menuchas hanefesh than they deserve.

[Concerning the possible answer that people should learn to live with less – that’s possible and true. However, in America, these girls have not grown up with that mentality, and as inspiring as their teachers in seminary are, the girls are not psychologically equipped to live at a standard below that which they are used to].

Anyway, much more remains to be said on the subject. I urge you to present fair sides in every letter that you write.

Kol hakavod for all your efforts.
Sincerely,
Name Withheld – Mechaneches

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Dear Chana,

In response to the letters written by girls concerned about college, and your response, I would like to bring to light another point.
Many of us think or plan that we will get married young, have children, and not work. We may also think that we can do our jobs without degrees. Many times, this does happen – I am now married and pregnant, and teaching without a degree, and it is only two and a half years since I left seminary. However, for many people this is not the case. Many girls unfortunately do not get married for several years, or have trouble conceiving, and work full time even though they are married.

Even for those of us whose plans have worked out, the future is always unknown. We never know what Hashem has in store for us. I remember a friend of mine talking to my mother about the fact that she was ready to get married and wanted to not go to college, and her mother forbade her. This friend could not understand why this was. My mother delicately pointed out that this girl’s mother had very valid – and personal – reasons for wanting her daughter to get at least a college degree. You see, my friend is the second of five children in her family, and her father was niftar when this girl was in fifth grade. And so, her mother, who did not plan on going to work, was all of a sudden left with the burden of supporting a family with five children by herself.

Since we do not know what the future holds, we must always have a contingency plan. As a teacher, I know that I can continue to teach without a degree. However, I also know that a degree will ensure me a higher salary, as well as guarantee me a job wherever I go. Therefore, even though I already have a job, I plan on finishing my bachelors AND master’s degrees.

I firmly feel that there is always a “kosher” program to attend, and it is extremely important to find these programs and attain an education. Hashem helps those who help themselves. If you go through college and graduate school with the firm belief that you are doing this to help provide for your future, and the future of your bayis, then college, wherever you go, can become a part of your avodat Hashem…

Sincerely,
Naava Hess
Michlalah 5760

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Dear Chana,

I have no idea if you’ll want to publish this, but I think Chana left
something out that my mother strongly impressed upon me.

My mother got married shortly after high school. A couple of years later she got divorced, B”H having not had any children. A few years later she married my father, and bli ayin hara they are soon going to celebrate their 29th anniversary.

My mother realized that if you are, chas veshalom and lo aleinu, in a situation like she was, where a divorce was her only option, if you have never been in charge of yourself and have no way of being self-sufficient, you may choose to stay in a God forbid mentally or physically abusive situation rather than take that difficult leap out of it.

Dearest fellow sem grads, B”H I am happily married and so are many of my friends. However, situations like my mothers are becoming more and more common. For you to CHOOSE not to get a college degree when you have the opportunity (i.e. when you’re after seminary and before marriage) can be locking yourself into a mindset that you can’t support yourself. College grads make much more money in the US at the exact same jobs, and here in Israel as well – even the unemployment funds you get as a college grad is higher than otherwise! Because B”H there exist good, kosher environments to get a degree, and B”H there are also scholarships and so on, before you decide not to think very carefully. My mother had gotten a two-year degree and part of what enabled her to get divorced, was knowing she COULD go on without him, if necessary.

IY”H no one reading this should ever know from divorce. But the statistics say some of you will. Please, consider this before you decide to forgo a college degree.

Name withheld to protect my mother’s identity
BTI

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Dear College-Concerned Readers,

Thank you for giving me another opportunity to express myself on this important and sensitive topic.

My first letter was written with assumption that the overwhelming majority of JemSem readers include college as part of their hishtadlus for a livelihood. How concerned should we be for our role as breadwinner? Should it include the possibility of poverty (Name withheld Mechaneches), divorce (letter from BTI graduate), or chas veshalom death (Naava’s letter)??

That’s precisely why I wrote, “a Rav should be consulted about these very big decisions” (twice, to be exact). In other words the trade off between bitachon and hishtadlus will by definition change between community and community and between person and person.

The two points I wanted to make can be summarized as follows:

1) Our choices have to be “lishma”. Let’s not get trapped in to a secular mentality that gives disproportionate weight to the importance of career. If someone asks you, “who are you?” you don’t want to answer, “I am a dentist”. The goal of college is not that mom can kvell in shul, “my son the doctor” (or in our readers cases, “my daughter the therapist…) but rather in legitimate terms of our avodas HaShem. In shamayim we will not be asked what letters we have after our name, we will not even be asked if we had a career. We will be asked what we did in this world for Him.

2) When choosing a college, our first consideration should be the environment. The options for women to find a college with minimal ruchniyus compromises are increasing. Similarly, when choosing a degree and career, all the ruchniyus ramifications should be thought through well in advance.

So, as you can see, the point that I was articulating in my first letter is not so much whether to go to college or not, [as I can appreciate the issues voiced in the above letters], but HOW one would go about it all. This should include the factors, thoughts, and decisions that must be considered and weighed concerning this important subject.

With Warmest Wishes,
Mrs. Chana Silver

Archives

Iyar 5763 – Struggling With Roommates and Privacy

1 Iyar 5763

Dear Chana,

After being in seminary, one tried hard to work on her middos. Baruch Hashem the one thing I never had to really work on was my patience with my roommates. I had incredible roommates who never caused any problems.

We were always able to talk it out and work out any issue that might have come up. Now, I am dorming in a small room with four other girls and no personal space, and I find it quite hard to get along with my roommates. What makes it even harder is that one of my roommates has never really learned how to deal with people, and how to be in a social setting. I find it that she follows me all the time, will push herself into conversations that can be quite personal between myself and other close friends… I have thought of maybe approaching her, but I just don’t think she can really grasp the idea of “personal boundaries”.

Please help me with advice on how to deal with such a circumstance!

Thank you.
Name & Seminary Withheld Upon Request

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Dear JemSem Reader,

I am sure that this issue has been troubling you a lot. Living in close quarters with someone else [several someones in your case!] can be a truly challenging situation. I am a big believer in using “straight talk” when problems arise. One needs to be open and honest and really talk things through. Make a meeting with the girl who you are finding the most difficulties dealing with – or perhaps meet with each girl one by one or have a whole apartment meeting – or a combination of these options. Choose whatever you feel is the best for your situation.

You need to present the issues using an “I message.” What is an “I message?” It is the concept of wording your thoughts in a non-threatening way. A critical, blaming statement puts people on the defensive and certainly doesn’t help them want to do anything about what you are saying. You need to think out what you are feeling and put those emotions within the context of your statement. This helps them see how the situation is affecting you, and helps you avoid a name-calling and ridiculing message towards them. It would sound something like this:

“I have been feeling upset and anxious [or whatever your true emotions are] about the fact that there seems to be a blurring of each of our personal boundaries within the apartment.”

And then you could go on to explain more about the problem. That is a far better statement than:

“You have really made things difficult for me. You have pushed yourself into private conversations which have nothing to do with you.”

That is an unhealthy “You message”.

By wording things in a non-blaming fashion, it helps the situation to be discussed in a much more pleasant way. This is a wonderful tool to understand and incorporate into your interpersonal relationships, including talking with your spouse and your children. Conflict resolution is part of life.

You may want to sit and discuss solutions to the problems – with all parties offering possibilities. Sometimes people don’t realize that their actions are affecting others in a negative way or that that their behavior is inappropriate. Upon having things pointed out in a dignified manner, they are happy to work on the issue. Sometimes after a discussion it might feel for a bit like you are “walking on eggshells” – in a short time this will pass and you will all be better off for having had the discussion. If things are really “hairy” it may be a good idea to get an objective third party who can be a facilitator and make sure that the communication is going through to each in a clear way. The bottom line to remember is to be B’sever Panim Yoffos and to choose your words carefully and with sensitivity.

The other thing that you can do in conjunction with this is to change some of your own actions, and to reduce your expectations. If you know that a certain conversation will be very personal and private, meet with the person outside of your apartment as opposed to meeting in your apartment and being frustrated that you cannot seem to have a private conversation. Brainstorm with yourself and figure out ways for you to get more “private space”. Most situations have several options; it is only a matter of finding them and learning how to be flexible.

At the end of the day, remember that challenging situations help build us into who we need to be, giving us countless opportunities to develop our Middos and refine our characters.

Thanks for bringing up and important topic.

With Warmest Wishes,
Mrs. Chana Silver

Archives

Nissan 5763 – Coed Gyms

1 Nissan 5763

Dear JemSem Readers,

I have received several letters concerning coed exercise gyms, and male exercise instructors. I am reprinting [with permission] a question and answer from Rabbi Dovid Oratz, Posek at Seminar Bnot Torah [Sharfmans] followed by a letter from a JemSem reader and my reply.

Mrs. Chana Silver

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Dear Rabbi Oratz,

I want to know if you can go to a class in an all women’s gym that has a male instructor. The gym doesn’t feel it’s a problem to have a male instructor. The rest of the women who go to the gym, go, because it is all women, but they don’t have any religious problems with it. A few other frum girls go to the class but they just wear a skirt. Can you please tell me if there is a problem going to such a class?

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Dear Sharfman’s Alum,

When looking at this at first glance, a gym instructor would seem to be like a doctor. Just like a doctor, whose job it is to examine women, may examine women [with common sense restrictions]. So too it would seem that gym instructors would be permitted to help women with their exercises.

However, it seemed to me that there are some clear-cut differences between a doctor and a gym instructor that would disallow a man from instructing a women’s gym class.

I decided to run this question by some of our female staff members. Their unanimous opinion was that exercise includes some very untznius movements. There are also times when an instructor has to physically help a woman through those movements. Either of these would make an instructor worse than a doctor.

I checked with a senior Posek in Yerushalayim who agreed that based on the problems mentioned by those women, it was in fact prohibited.

I am sure that you can find a gym with a female instructor, even if it is less convenient than this one, but which would raise no Halachic problems.

With best regards,

Rabbi Dovid Oratz

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Dear Chana,

Having returned from Seminary, I wanted to loose those few extra pounds that I put on. The first week I was home I went to a mixed gym without giving much thought to it, but now I started wondering if this is a tznius thing to do. I go in the morning when there are only a few people at the gym and I really enjoy myself and feel a lot better after my work out. Is it proper for a frum girl to be working out in a mixed gym?

Thanks so much for taking out time to answer my question.

Name Withheld Upon Request

Afikei Torah, 5752

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Dear JemSem Reader,

Good for you for wanting to go to the gym and help yourself out!! I am all for exercise [I’m an avid exercise fan – as a participant of many varied types of exercise and classes, not just a bystander! :)] but, as in everything, one must be careful how one goes about what one does, making sure to be that one is in sync with Torah Values and Halacha. Exercise is an amazingly important thing. It not only helps us physically, but emotionally as well, giving us energizing abilities to be more upbeat and positive in our lives. It helps with self-esteem. It is overall a grand thing that aids our personhood.

However, as is clear from Rabbi Oratz’s reply about a male instructor being prohibited, a coed gym would certainly seem to fall under the same category. Even if you go early in the morning, there is still always a possibility of a male walking in. As a matter of fact this question is really a Kal V’chomer to Rabbi Oratz’s Psak because men visiting exercise gyms cannot be described as “Osek Bemelachtam” professionals totally focused on their own work. Furthermore, there is a social dimension to a gym class, and there will always be men who, let’s put it politely, are not just admiring your Nike athletic shoes. If we need a mechitza at a wedding where women are dancing, we would certainly need one here!!!

The trick is to figure out a way to get the exercise that you need in a Halachikly permissible kosher fashion. Whether that means, as Rabbi Oratz said, to go to a gym that is less conveniently located, but is for women only, or perhaps get some other form of exercise not in a gym. Each person will find a way that works best for them. Sometimes you have to be creative.

On this topic – a true anecdote: The proprietor of a coed gym in NY told a JemSem reader that you can always tell that the year is moving on, because all the girls start out in September [my addition: having just come back from seminary] looking very modest in big baggy clothing and as the year progresses the layers of clothing get peeled off and lo and behold by the time the year the ends they are in proper tight fitting spandex exercise clothes!

An honest and sad observation.

The fact that you are asking this question is excellent and shows that you are a thinking person who truly wants to do the right thing. At first glance….. exercise is exercise, right??! As we are seeing, not all exercise is equal in terms of Torah standards.

Tznius in general is rooted in Halacha, and is very much the development of the subtleties and delicate nuances of our female internality. These are sensitivities that we as Jewish woman must work hard to inculcate within us – especially given the fact that we live in a world where immorality abounds and women are reduced to nothing more than a body. One of the roles of women is to use our ability to express in the world by taking the physical and connecting it to the spiritual all the while holding on to our tzelem Elokim and not losing our essence. We have an inherent dignity within us and tznius helps us stay attuned to that, rooting us to be in touch with our p’nim. This is a key concept for us to keep in mind as we go about all aspects of our lives. These are my thoughts as a Jewish woman.

Thanks for bringing up an important issue.

With Warmest Regards,

Chana Silver