Chesed Starts At Home

rabinowitz_elishevaSome people find performing chesed, kindness, an easy task.

As Jews, we perform chesed for people in the following order: 1.people who are closest to us, 2. our neighbors and 3. the rest of the world.

We are blessed to live in a community that encourages chesed. I interviewed two rabbis, Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, of Tiferes Yisroel, and Rabbi Shmuel Silber, of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim, both of whom had recently encouraged their congregants to increase the amount of chesed they were doing.

Rabbi Goldberger said chesed is the “central way of a Jew.” He said he looks forward to learning “Ahavas Chesed” (“Love of Kindness”) by Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen (the Chofetz Chaim) with his congregants, and encouraging them to incorporate chesed into their homes, shul and community.

When I asked Rabbi Goldberger about the fact that some families feel overwhelmed and can’t seem to perform any extra chesed outside their home, he responded that in some cases, the family dynamics need to be addressed. For example, some families may only be able to focus on chesed within their family, whereas other families will have the ability to focus on chesed outside the family.

He said, “Performing chesed for someone else can liberating for one who is overwhelmed.”

Rabbi Goldberger suggested the entire family engage in chesed activities such as visiting the sick or elderly, making a meal for someone who just had a baby or making guests feel welcome.

Rabbi Silber discussed how in his Kol Nidrei drasha, he recommended that his constituents increase their level of chesed. He stated that performing chesed “refines us” and “makes us into better people.”

“Being a baal chesed [someone who performs acts of kindness] will make a husband more attentive to the needs of his wife. When you live life to benefit the other, it changes and enhances all of your life relationships,” he said.

Jewish law requires that a man be as concerned about his wife as he would be about himself. Happiness fills their lives when each spouse is concerned for the other (“Sifre”). Therefore, a necessary factor for building a marriage and a happy home is kindness. Marriage is an opportunity to shift the focus from oneself to one’s spouse and to be concerned about one’s spouse’s wellbeing.

I want to encourage readers to look for small opportunities to perform chesed in their homes, such as being more compassionate, speaking more gently and lovingly, smiling more frequently, making a favorite meal for one of your family members, calling a family member who you haven’t spoken to recently, writing an “I love you” note and placing it in a family member’s lunch, under his or her pillow or on his or her desk, taking out the garbage or doing laundry with an appreciation for the fact that you have food and clothes, giving your child an extra hug, preparing a drink for your spouse when he or she comes home or being loving to your family even when you are upset. Our increased level of chesed should bring blessing to the people of Israel.

A special thanks to Rabbi Goldberger and Rabbi Silber for their time.

Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local licensed clinical professional counselor. She can be reached at 410-736-8118 or rabinowitzcounseling@verizon.net. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.

Nurturing Spirituality

We have just returned home after the wedding of our youngest. There is this rare sense of completion, seeing all our children launched on their spiritual paths along with their soul mates. In unimagined and wondrous ways, it actually got done. I want to savor this joy so the glow will linger.

But my new children’s book, “Let’s Stay Pure,” is coming out. Right in line with the theme of the just-completed Chanukah, it teaches children how to joyfully keep their souls pure in today’s world despite the negative influences that surround us.

I was asked to write an article about nurturing spirituality. I had an idea, I emailed my children and asked them what to write. One of my daughters-in-law responded right away.

“It’s all about what’s important to parents, what they talk about, care about and focus on,” she wrote.

A strikingly similar response came from one of my daughters: “Nurturing spirituality takes training and modeling from parents. If children don’t see it, they don’t know about it. As parents, we have to overtly show that there is spirituality in our lives.”

Soon, another answer:

“Talking about the soul helps the soul to be understood more clearly. … Children need to be reminded that they are spiritual beings because it’s not something they can see with their eyes.”

The last one to check in wrote this: “Our Shabbos table was the highlight of our week. We all loved sharing and it was such a happy place to be. Another highlight for us was saying Shema with you and adding our own personal prayer. It was such a special time to connect with our souls and with you.”

I wrote to one close family friend, as well. Here was her perspective:

“I will tell you that you can find many examples of how to nurture spirituality watching your children,” she said.

She noted how one child asks her children about needing food for fuel or whether they are trying to fill something that can only be filled spiritually. She talked about how another sits on the floor with her young children, helping each one to express not only what they would like for themselves, but also what they would ask for someone else.

And she reminded me of our Shabbat table; when the kids were growing up, each person got a turn to speak while everyone else was listening. They would each talk about a highlight of their week. Each child came to value present moments this way, and each was given a chance to speak for his or herself about what was important to him or her.

Wondrously, it got done, didn’t it?

The glow lingers.

Bracha Goetz is the author of 24 Jewish children’s books, which can be ordered through Amazon. Pages from her new book, “Let’s Stay Pure,” published by Torah Temimah Publications, can be read at judaicapress.com.

Better To Give

2013_insider_aaron_shillerA meshulach (Jewish charity collector) visited our home late one summer night. A window was open so he knocked at the screen. Heschel, our dog, sprang to his feet, jumped through the screen and chased the visitor all the way down the block. We reveled in this victory, and Heschel earned himself extra treats that night. I often tell this story around the Shabbat table, and it is a crowd-pleaser. My children are well aware of how proud I was of Heschel that day.

Despite our attitudes toward that meshulach, my wife and I have tried to raise our children to be community-minded with open, giving hearts.

Last year, our 11-year-old son, Matan, and his friend, Ethan, gathered their band of friends and sold snowballs hoping to pad their wallets to buy football cards and Super Soakers [water guns]. To make this project more meaningful, the parents of this group suggested that they give a portion of their proceeds to a charity. I anticipated some pushback and prepared myself with mottos such as “It’s better to give than receive” and “Be thankful for what you have.” But to our surprise, the kids responded by showing true compassion. They worked hard and raised $500 for the Jewish Caring Network. They beamed with genuine pride.

The following year, to prove that they were not just worked over by fast-talking adults, they stepped up their operation and pulled in $1,000. Remarkably, they did not keep any of the money for themselves. The satisfaction of giving back to the community was not lost on these youngsters.

Now dubbed “The Snowball Gang,” the children were truly an inspiration. But they did need a bit of guidance to put them on that righteous path. Left to their own devices, they might not have made the same choices. For example, recently the same Matan, who I thought had understood my “be thankful for what you have” speech, paid $15 of his birthday money to watch a classmate drink a whole cup of ketchup. He thought it was money well spent, and the two of them were giddy with excitement as they told me about the episode.

Just as kids don’t always make the right judgment calls, it occurred to me that perhaps I celebrated a bit too much about that poor meshulach who was chased down the block by Herschel. I don’t know that I can stop telling the story around the Shabbat table. It’s an essential piece of comedic material. But I did do something else. Whenever a meshulach comes to the door, I fight my visceral desire to shoo him away. Instead, I invite him in and let him sit down. I ask a few questions and offer a drink. The last time a meshulach came around I introduced him to my children. (Yes, they thought it was strange.) I only had a few dollars to give him, and I apologized for that. The meshulach told me not to apologize. He said it was the best stop of his day.

Let Them Eat Cheerios

2013_insider_laurie_legumThis Year marks my son’s third Thanksgiving and third Chanukah. It is also the first time the holidays have coincided since 1861. The fact that both festivals are celebrations of appreciation, for our country and the miracle of lights respectively, makes it almost impossible not to reflect on the importance of giving and of instilling the spirit of tzedakah in my son.

Though he may be too young to comprehend the concept of tzedakah, he does seem to grasp the idea of giving. While snacking on Cheerios, he graciously offers handfuls of his favorite
cereal. With lightning speed, his saliva-covered paws will shove the moist little oats into the unsuspecting mouths of his mommy or daddy, and he’ll smile with pride once his gifts have been received.

Sweetly, he offers me the morning paper, blows on my coffee to cool it down or kisses my boo-boo.

He also finds great fulfillment in providing his posse of stuffed teddies and puppies with generous swigs of milk from his sippy cup.

Recently, his toy truck has also taken a liking to milk, while his stuffed Elmo has become a big fan of pretzels.

My son’s generosity extends to his medication as well. Nothing gives him greater pleasure than watching his daddy pretend to consume the last drops of Infants’ Advil from the measuring spoon.

In class, he shares his passion for all things four-wheeled. Sometimes he’ll offer a toy vehicle to a perplexed female classmate who, much to his dismay, ignores his gift. When a classmate snatches a toy from his hands, rather than cry, he takes the insult in stride.

He’s always willing to lend a hand with the housework, whether it’s using a broom to ‘sweep up’ the box of crackers he’s just dumped on the floor or mopping up a glass of spilled milk.

Just this morning, when an open container of chicken stock fell from the refrigerator and drenched me from head to toe, he kindly offered a helping hand in the form of Elmo, who used his furry red hands to wipe off my boots. Unfortunately, now it’s not just my clothes that need a good wash.

Date Night

rabinowitz_elishevaWhat is the key to marriage? The answer, according to John Mordecai Gottman, a professor emeritus in psychology who is known for his work on marital stability, is friendship. Therefore, you might ask yourself, “How can I keep, build and maintain friendship in my marriage?” One method is to make time for each other with date nights. Here are some things to consider when planning a date night, based on discussions I have had with couples I counsel.

How often should you go on a date?
Some couples may prefer frequent, short dates (about a half-hour) to reconnect instead of a longer date, which might be a few weeks away.

Discuss with your spouse how often you want to plan date night and make it an appointment on your calendar. I find that couples who establish date night as an appointment are more likely to keep the time set aside for themselves. I explain to couples: “Just like you don’t cancel a doctor’s appointment, you need to ensure you keep this appointment, too. Your relationship is just as important as any appointment.”

How can you ensure the date is productive to the relationship?
I recommend that couples turn off their cell phones because then they can focus on each other without interruption. If children or someone very important needs to reach you, I suggest setting up a code ahead of time to indicate that the call is urgent, such as texting “311.” (“I can’t find anything I like to eat in the house” is not urgent.)

Also, I recommend that you plan the date, so you can have fun and connect. When couples get in the car and start discussing where they want to go, this can lead to frustration. Stay away from: “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know.” “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know.”

In addition, I suggest that you agree to leave the business issues at home and make your date a time to bond.

Some of the biggest challenges on a date are time and expense. Babysitters can cost an average of $10 per hour. When added to a $30 dinner, a date can be cost-prohibitive. Ideas?
To save money, find a friend that you trust. They can watch your kids twice a month, and you can watch their children in exchange.

Also, not all fun costs a lot of money. Go on a hike or take a long drive. The possibilities are many.

The bottom line is that you make your marriage a priority by taking time to nurture it.

Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local licensed clinical professional counselor. She can be reached at 410-736-8118 or rabinowitzcounseling@verizon.net. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.

Ask Mesila

Q: True or false? It is dangerous to encourage people to live with a strict budget. Recording every penny and constantly staying within a predetermined budget causes tension in the home.

A: We disagree. Our experience has demonstrated that in homes with a budget, money is less of an issue than in homes where spending limits are only loosely defined.

This should come as no surprise. Structure creates freedom. For example, in a home where there are no rules or limits, are children happier? In a lawless society, is there less interpersonal conflict? Of course not. Both children and adults crave the security of knowing what is acceptable and what is not.

The need for clear limits applies to money matters, too. In a home where budgetary limitations are not clearly defined, there is more room for disagreement and squabbles over how money is to be spent. When reasonable, predetermined spending limits are in place, people can spend money without fear of a backlash from their loved ones — or from the bank.

Yes, there is definitely a measure of discipline and self-control involved, but there hould be no financial power struggles. Instead of husband, wife or parent having to say, “no,” the budget becomes the authority that decides whether money is to be spent or not.

Consider the following scenario:

Mr. Cohen decides one day that he needs a new car. Mrs. Cohen thinks the old one is just fine and that they cannot afford a new one right now. If the Cohens have a budget, the decision whether to purchase a new car can be made objectively. The issue of “Can we afford it?” should be an easy one to resolve, since the family’s financial balance sheet will clearly indicate if money is available for this purpose.

If the Cohens do not have a budget, the decision probably will be made based on emotion.

When husband and wife decide ahead of time where they want their money to go, they are, in effect, eliminating possible sources of friction down the line. Once a year, or once every few months, when they readjust their budget, they can discuss how they want to spend their money. The rest of the time, money should be a non-issue.

A home is in many ways similar to a small business. At Mesila, we advise businesses to view their finances as a cake. The last, and most important, piece of cake is the profits. Unless business owners carefully plan for that last piece of cake, the cake will disappear quickly, and they will be left holding an empty tray.

The family-finances cake also needs to be apportioned carefully so it does not disappear. A smart parent knows better than to cut big pieces of cake for a few of the children and leave nothing for the rest — he or she will divide the cake in a way that ensures that there will be enough for everyone.

Similarly, the only way to divide the family’s income pie fairly and effectively is to do so ahead of time, setting aside money for basic expenses while allocating reasonable amounts for the needs of individual family members and the family as a whole.

The smart parent will also make sure to leave a bit of cake at the end.

Of course, in order for a budget to contribute to the harmony in the home, it has to be realistic and somewhat flexible. If unbudgeted-for expenses continually arise, or if routine expenses consistently exceed their budgeted allotment, those are indications that the budget is too austere and needs to be reworked. Jt

This column is a regular feature written by Mesila financial planning and counseling experts, mesila.org. Email questions to editor@jewishtimes.com.

What Is Love?

rabinowitz_elishevaWe say “I love you” or “I love (fill in the blank)” so casually in our everyday lives that it becomes empty and insignificant. Many people say “I love pizza,” “I love brownies,” “I love working out (or maybe not),” “I love my car,” and recently I heard a teenager tell someone she had only met a few days prior, “I love you so much.” I wondered to myself, “If they just met a few days ago, do they really love each other, and do we really love all of these things?”

When I began to ponder why we use the words “I love” without meaning, the following came to mind:

> Movies: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, something monumental happens, and they live happily ever after. We see it so much, we believe it is real. We can tell ourselves that this is just a movie, but it skews our perception. What are our expectations when we are looking for the right one? Is our decision based on physical appearance, money or other qualities? And when times get tough (and they will), what do we hope will happen (someone will save us)?

> Music: Many people listen to secular music several hours a day. Many of the lyrics revolve around love: “All You Need Is Love” (Beatles), “As Long as You Love Me” (Justin Beiber), “Love Will Keep Us Together” (The Captain and Tennille), “Love The Way You Lie” (Rihanna) … and the list goes on.

As a therapist and mom, it saddens me to see the songs that have provided generations with a fantasy of love.

When I ask clients about how they first met, frequently I hear stories such as: “It was love at first sight;” “I fell in love after just a few dates;” and “I knew she was the right one as soon as I saw her.”

These descriptions do not hold true for all my clients, but these descriptions do sound like they are out of movie scripts. After these couples get married, they are frequently surprised when reality hits. We have to pay the bills, we have to stay up all night because the baby is crying, we are upset with each other because we have a difference of opinion, we gained 20 pounds, or we went bald. Many people are unaware of what it takes to stay married. Frequently, couples don’t discuss the everyday challenges, the ups and downs and the frustrations because love will solve everything. It does not work that way.

So what is love?

I can’t define love for you, but usually it doesn’t develop (referring to the songs with a love theme) in five seconds, it doesn’t work if you lie, it’s not healthy if you are addicted to it, and you can lose that loving feeling (but that doesn’t mean the relationship is over). Relationships take work, patience, compromise and giving to one another to develop and maintain a loving bond.

Enough

2013_meredith_jacobs_smOn my daughter’s Twitter feed the Monday after the Navy Yard shooting: “Enough. #DCStrong.”

I felt proud at her outrage and also sad because this is yet another in a long line of national violent tragedies our children have grown up knowing. Our children, who were babies, preschoolers during 9/11 — is this to be their generation’s moniker? Here is a sampling of national violent
attacks during their lives:

Columbine in 1999; 9/11 in  2001; the Beltway snipers in 2002; Virginia Tech in 2007; the Holocaust Museum in 2009; Tucson in 2011; Aurora and Newtown in 2012; and this year, Boston and the Navy Yard.

I thought about when I was growing up. I’m certain there was violence and horrible things in the world. I remember my teachers writing on the chalkboard the number of days the hostages were held in Iran. My high school science teacher turned on the television in our biology classroom when President Ronald Reagan was shot. When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, carrying a planeload of students returning home from their junior year abroad, I gathered with my college roommates, all of us also in our junior year, and cried.

I’m certain there were more, but unlike our children, I didn’t have Twitter or Facebook to flood me with a constant stream of news. It’s overwhelming and somewhat distancing. Desensitizing. Our parents were able to shield us. News was on television at 6 p.m. or in the newspaper — vehicles far too boring to catch our childhood attention.

I asked my son how he felt about the shootings. He told me that it feels like it’s just one more. In a few months, there’ll be another.

It reminded me of something my daughter had written for the New York Jewish Week in its “Fresh Ink for Teens” blog: “We are the future but not if we are the targets.” She was struck by how often the victims were children.

It was soon after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., that she wrote about how often she has gathered at school for moments of silence, how often she has heard rallying cries of reforming gun control and increasing resources for those struggling with mental illness and how often time passes and people move on.

Is it our new way of consuming news? Our attention is caught only by what happens to be trending at that moment.

Sofie wrote: “It was OK for us to blindly hope when we stood in a circle around the American flag in first grade, but we’re too old now to put our fate in other people’s hands. … But maybe this is our rallying cry. Maybe out of our sadness, anger and fear we open our eyes, become aware and create movement and proactive change regarding gun control and the treatment of mental-health illnesses.

“Faceless terrorists scare me. Burning buildings scare me. Evil gunmen scare me. But what scares me most of all is the idea that the only reaction from Newtown will be blind hope.”

Less than a year later, we’re here again. How many more tragedies will cut through our children’s lives before we truly do something? We can’t wait for them to grow up. It’s not enough to throw a Twitter hashtag or “like” a post and think we’ve done something meaningful. We need action and
reform. And we need it now.

Enough.

Make A Deposit

090613_make_a_depositMany people enter marriage believing that it will fulfill their every need and all the things they have longed for. When we expect our spouses to fulfill us, we may be setting ourselves up for frustration, disappointment and unhappiness.

On the other hand, successful couples look for opportunities to give to their spouses.

Dr. John Mordechai Gottman, world renowned for his research on marital stability in couples, finds that couples who try to reach out to their spouses and make “deposits” will have a stronger and more successful relationship. Therefore, when couples make deposits into their “marriage box,” they fortify the walls of the box, building and strengthening the trust and love in their marriage.

As a marital therapist, I often see couples who are frustrated or angry that they are not receiving and getting love. Therefore, I ask couples to start making “deposits” into their box by giving to their spouses. The “giving” doesn’t have to be expressed by purchasing expensive jewelry or vacations, but by doing something that your spouse would enjoy.

For example, Sara was upset that Avi never took time to walk with her. Since Avi had a very busy learning and work schedule, he didn’t see the need or have a desire to walk with Sara. After we discussed the importance of giving to each other (in the way that your spouse would like, unless it’s an unreasonable or demeaning request), Avi was willing to compromise and walk with his wife.

Part of filling your marriage box is making compromises. Even though Avi was uninterested in walking, he came to understand how meaningful the walks were to his wife, which then put a deposit into their marriage box.

As couples make their deposits, they are actually working on renewing their love. People who are in healthy relationships don’t just express “I love you” to their spouses verbally, but they do so in many different way.

Here’s are 10 ways to express “I love you” that do not cost money and may be meaningful to your spouse:

1. Spend time together: Take a walk, read a book, play a game

2. Talk about and share your dreams, wishes, goals

3. Give your spouse a back rub, kiss or hug

4. Cook your spouse’s favorite dish

5. Plan a surprise for your spouse

6. Say something uplifting or encouraging

7. Write your spouse a letter expressing your feelings

8. Say thank you and show your appreciation

9. Smile in a loving and caring manner

10. Say “I love you”

When you make deposits into your marriage box, it does not have to be difficult or costly, but it takes forethought. By taking time to make a deposit, you are expressing how important your spouse is and how much you value your relationship.

Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local licensed clinical professional counselor. She can be reached at 410-736-8118 or rabinowitzcounseling@verizon.net. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.

Kindergarten Jitters (It Can’t Be Here Already!)

Starting kindergarten can be an exciting but anxiety provoking time for both children and parents. For me, as my oldest daughter prepares to start kindergarten this year, it’s bittersweet. How can it have been over five years ago when she was born, and how can this day have come so soon?! Like it or not, no matter what our children have done up until now – whether they’ve been home with a parent, or in full or part-time preschool – they are about to embark on a major milestone which begins the start of their academic lives. There’s no turning back now!

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