Monthly Archives: November 2009

Clarity: Parshas Vayeitzei

This parsha contains two Aramaic words: yagar sahadusa.  These words were spoken by Lavan HaArami, the father in-law of Yaakov Avinu.  The Aramaic language is unique in the sense that it is a gateway between the Holy Tongue and all other languages.  It seems that Torah must pass through this gateway; it has never been directly translated in such a manner that the translation retained its actual meaning.

In Likutei Moharan 1:19,  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that Aramaic, or Lashon Targum, as it is also known, is conceptually related to the concept of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Aramaic functions as a conduit between the holy and the mundane.  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is understood on a mystical level to mean an admixture of objective good and evil; eating of its fruit caused knowledge of both to meld together.  Man can no longer separate between the two; he now only has his subjective opinions about what is desirable and undesirable to guide him.

In a deep sense, our job in this world is to peel good and evil apart again, to discern one from the other, elevate the good, and destroy the evil.  This is one of the reasons why we lift the kiddush cup during kiddush.  There is an opinion that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the grape.  Wine, the product of the grape, has the ability to either expand the mind (when used in moderation) or to dismantle one’s human stature.  It can go either way, like Aramaic.  By lifting up the cup, we demonstrate that we have power over it and not the reverse.

Lavan is a very complex personality.  He is called “Lavan”, which means “white”, which would indicate straightforwardness and truthfulness.  Yet, he is also Lavan HaArami, the Aramean, the letters of which can be rearranged to mean “the liar”.  A person like this revels in lack of clarity, misunderstandings, unclear, cunning communication.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that we stand on the sidelines hissing at this bad guy–each one of us has this trait.  If we didn’t, the Torah would not spend so much time on Lavan.  He referred to the pile of stones designated as a mark of covenant between himself and Yaakov by the Aramaic term Yagar Sahadusa.  He made his oath in the name of the G-d of Avraham–seemingly to satisfy Yaakov Avinu and appear kosher.  Yet, he then adds “the god of Nachor” to the oath, indicating that he still placed his trust in the idol worshipped by Avraham Avinu’s forebears. And even if he didn’t, he needed the duality, the option to go this way or that.

But Yaakov Avinu only referred to the pile as Gal Eid, in the Holy Tongue, and would only make an oath in the name of the G-d of Yitzchak Avinu.  For Yaakov Avinu, who was the vehicle for G-d’s attribute of Emes (Truth), there was no other way but true and clear. He would accept no duality, even if it would cost him the opportunity to ingratiate himself to the other party, as diplomats do. And make no mistake, at the moment of this exchange, this was the highest level diplomatic negotiation taking place in the world, not between Carter and Brezhnev, but between two people representing the side of holiness and the sitra achra. This was the defining moment for Yaakov Avinu. And he would accept no duality. Because there is only One. Truth is singular.

I believe that life is also about clarifying, clarifying the good from the bad, making that which is unclear clear, and emerging with or at least moving towards a defined sense of meaning where there was previously an entropic mess, an existential vaccuum.  Our lives become healthier both spiritually and emotionally when the proper boundaries are in place, when we are able to tune in to the actual task that stands before us, and the context of our lives is truth.  When we accomplish this we are able to stand at the gateway where all opposites meet, and remain on the side of clarity and holiness, like Yaakov Avinu.

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Q&A with AJC Acting Co-Director Marc D. Stern: A Successful Model for Combatting Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Community?

Being a former resident of Passaic, New Jersey myself (and a former intern in the Jewish Family Services there), I was very impressed to read a recent article in New York’s Jewish Week that described our former hometown as a leader in the very difficult struggle against the phenomenon of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. Not only was my former town of residence involved, but my esteemed Rav, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman shlit”a of Congregation Ahavas Israel, was essentially the leading rabbinic voice in this movement!

I work for an important organization in Israel called Shalom Banayich, whose raison d’etre is to raise consciousness about this issue in the religious community, to garner rabbinic support for this effort, to counsel the victims of sexual abuse, and, working in partnership with law enforcement and the courts, to facilitate therapeutic groups for religious sexual predators under the rubric of clinical criminology. Naturally, the goings on in Jewish communities worldwide with regard to this topic are important to me, but seeing that Passaic was now “on the map” as it were in dealing with sexual abuse, gave me a sense of real pride.

I am very fortunate to know Marc Stern, who is currently the acting co-director of the American Jewish Congress, a lawyer with an impressive career, a musmach of Yeshiva University, and a longtime resident of Passaic. I contacted him as soon as I saw the Jewish Week article to get his perspective on the events in Passaic. Mr. Stern has very generously given his time and consideration to my queries, as follows:


1. If Passaic can be upheld as a successful model of a Jewish community that is confronting the issue of sexual abuse, what are the elements that contribute to this success? Do these elements exist in other communities and/or can they be replicated elsewhere?

There are a number of elements which explain the ‘happy’ situation of Passiac—some “luck,” some not.

(a) Although there has been a day school here for 60 years, most of the growth in the community took place within the last 20 years, at a time when taboos against discussing child abuse were on the wane, and people no longer dismissed such charges as children’s fantasies.

(b) Fortunately, the older day school appears not to have had any (known) instances of child abuse, and certainly not by a long-term teacher who had substantial supporters as well as detractors. We thus avoided the contentious issues of redressing the past (or, at least, what is claimed to have happened in the past) which have plagued other communities.

(c) We have been blessed with rabbonim who ware united in their determination to protect children, and not to let “slogan-type” p’sak (no autopsies, no mesirah) to interfere with rational actions necessary to protect children, all well within the bounds of halakha.

On this issue, at least, rabbonim from all ideological corners of the Passaic-Clifton Orthodox community have worked together, thus eliminating the common, if unacceptable, practice of one shul offering alleged offenders refuge. (The same can be said of husbands who abuse wives.)

(d) Our Jewish Family Services is run by a frum woman who works with local rabbonim, and offers a variety of “frum-friendly” services, including serious informational programs for rabbonim and the community which have alerted people how to identify and respond to abuse.

(e) As a whole, the community does not have an adversarial relationship with relevant government authorities. (This is mostly because the state child protection agency has improved in many ways over the last two decades.) As a result, there is greater confidence in these agencies, which are no longer broadly regarded as hostile to religious observance. People are less afraid to report crimes, real or suspected, to these agencies.

(f) Almost twenty years ago, when dealing with the sudden death of a child, I was told by a community “activist” child abuse does not happen in frum communities. No one here believes that anymore, although there are still segments of the Orthodox community elsewhere that appear to do so.

(g) The so-called activists play a role in keeping the issue alive, and ensuring sympathy for victims. At the same time, our rabbonim—who share the activist determination to protect children—have taken an active role in dealing with these issues as they arise, such that there is not a leadership vacuum leading to extreme and unsustainable over-reactions.

2. With regard to the prevention and eradication of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, where does systemic change have to occur–in the Jewish community or in the context of the broader legal framework in which the community finds itself?

I think much of the American Orthodox community has taken important steps to deal intelligently with child abuse. I doubt we can ever fully eliminate it, but we can—and have—in many places taken steps to ensure that systematic abuse does not go long undetected. There are still segments of the community in deep denial, in large part because they view the Orthodox community as immune from the evils and temptations of the secular world, and believe, usually counter factually, that the non-frum world is on a search and destroy mission aimed at Orthodoxy.

From what I can see, programs serving children are now careful to guard against abuse—whether by screening staff, instructing them about abuse, ensuring that children are not alone with staff, etc. Passaic offers a wide series of lectures for parents, and, I think, people know to whom they can turn for advice.

None of these measures is cost free. That a rebbe or morah cannot put an arm around a child, or pull a child into a private room for a quick chat, is a cost worth paying, but a cost nonetheless.

There are still open questions, about which I am not competent to express an opinion: should schools offer students formal programs about abuse? Is there a point at which an emphasis on protecting children causes children and parents to be paranoid about innocent actions? What level of suspicion is needed before a report is made to the authorities? Are there treatment programs that work, and which ones? Are programs offered under Jewish auspices as good as they possibly can be?

I think it fair to say that overall, in Passaic-Clifton we have struck a good balance between protecting children and avoiding hysteria and vigilantism.

Another open question is the extent to which recourse to a beit din is a prerequisite to a report to the authorities. We have not formally insisted on such recourse here (and my posek has not insisted on it). Other communities and poskim do insist on it, but in my view this is legally questionable, since the Beit Din has no legal standing. Other communities have programs involving psychologists and batei din. We have not found this necessary yet, but it clearly would be best to have available mental health professionals specially trained in detecting and treating victims of abuse.

A problem that needs community-wide discussion is how to ensure that children victimized by abuse—and who report it—are not victimized a second time when it comes to shidduchim. Part of the answer no doubt lies in providing adequate (as much as possible) treatment, so that victims do not carry their pain into their marriages and relations with their own children. We also have no answer—and perhaps there is none—how to deal with offenders who have satisfied any criminal sanction imposed on them. Should we allow them in synagogue?


3. Does the American legal system handle the issue effectively, from your perspective?

By-and-large, I think the legal system is handling these cases reasonably well. Child abuses cases are typically not easy to prove, as children are typically not molested in front of witnesses. There are palpable improvements in the system’s preparedness to handle these cases with dedicated prosecutorial and investigative units, and enhanced sentencing rules. New crimes have been created (possession of child pornography) and civil confinement laws (as well as laws publicly disclosing the names of serious offenders) which improve the state’s ability to combat child abuse.

This system isn’t perfect—resources are a continuing problem, the flood of all criminal cases presses for speedy resolution of cases, and distinguishing between offenders likely to re-offend and those who are not remains a problem—but overall, it does work pretty well.

There are also debates about how far back civil justice should reach, but these, too, are complicated. Should cases in which the statute of limitations long ago ran out be reopened?


4. How do you understand reluctance on the part of Jewish communal leaders, either lay or rabbinic, to involve themselves in a public manner in the struggle against sexual abuse?

First, I think the reluctance to speak out against sexual abuse is receding, and receding rapidly. This may just be a generational issue. Second, in a sex-drenched society, Orthodox leaders are—rightly or wrongly—reluctant to publicly discuss anything to do with sex. This is a mistake, one now being corrected in some places, but reinforced in others (see, e.g., the letters page in Yated).

Third, I think there was a feeling that rabbis and teachers were vulnerable to false accusations. This is less of a worry now, or one eclipsed by concern for children. And fourth, and most significantly, the ‘it can’t happen here’ attitude combined with the feeling that ‘they are out to get us’ are probably the most serious lingering problems of all, and lead to a circle the wagon mentality.

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A Pseudo-Academic in Tel Aviv Revives the Khazars

Professor Shlomo Sands, a “scholar” of French history at Tel Aviv University, has written a polemic whose ultimate aim was to deligitimize the Jewish claim to the land of Israel. In order to do this, he has invoked the mythical theory that posits that Ashkenazi Jews are actually descended from the Khazars, an ancient Turkic ethnic group whose monarchy adopted Judaism as the state religion sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries. This would essentially mean that the majority of the architects and founders of the State of Israel (as well as 90% of American Jews) had and have no meaningful biological connection to the Jews who lived in the land of Israel before the Diaspora. They are but latecomer descendants of Turkic peoples who assimilated and intermarried–in short, who were inadvertent impostors who, through the faultiness of historical memory, mistake themselves to be part of a people that doesn’t really exist: the Jews. This pseudo-theory, which has been debunked, has proven to be an object of fascination, not to people of repute, but generally to non-Jews whose opposition to Israel is fueled by Jew hatred.

But Sands goes a step beyond his goal as well. Is his aim merely to undermine the claim of the Jewish people to the land of Israel? The title of his magnum opus is The Invention of the Jewish People. Understand the title literally: there is no Jewish people. It’s not about colonialism anymore. These Jews cannot lay claim to the land of Israel because they are not actually Jews.

That an anti-semite would want to invoke the Khazar myth to disconnect the Jews from the land of Israel does not perturb me; people driven by hatred will employ all means to prove their point. I do find it odd that a published professor on the staff of an academic institution would utilize a theory that he knows has been proven totally false through historical, genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence. I find it fascinating that a university that considers itself respectable would retain someone like this as a faculty member. And what is even more diabolical about Sands’ work is that he is only making use of this lie to accomplish his goal of subverting any Jewish claim to the land of Israel. This goal alone provides the rationalization for him to publish tripe.

What I find most significant, and horrifying, about this tripe is that, according to the New York Times, Sands’ book has been on the bestseller list for months. Where? In Sweden? In Iran? No, in Israel.

The question begging to be asked is, if a significant portion of the Israeli populace is able to keep a book that reduces the notion of the Jewish people to a historical myth on a bestseller list for months, what does this tell us about Jewish identity amongst secular Jews in the State of Israel? How can the fascination with this book, whose thesis is based on an idea that has been laughed out of the laboratory, be explained?

I do not think that it is coincidental that on this date in the year 1859, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published. Darwin is credited with introducing the concept of evolution into the consciousness of the Western world. This is an exaggeration; the aspect of evolutionary theory that Darwin was responsible for was natural selection from accidental variations. Jacques Barzun, in his landmark work Darwin, Marx, Wagner (Little, Brown and Company, 1941), summarized the effects of Darwinian theory and their contribution to modern thought as follows:

“The entire phrase and not merely the words Natural Selection is important, for the denial of purpose in the universe is carried on in the second half of the formula–accidental variation. This denial of purpose is Darwin’s distinctive contention.” (p. 11)


“Evolution was restless, and though it could mean progress, it was strictly speaking progress without a purpose” (p. 4)

Barzun contends that the three figures mentioned in the title of his book gave the world mechanical materialism, a worldview which essentially severed man from his soul.

And this is secular Zionism as well: a type of evolved redemption and return to the land without The Purpose.

I see a parallel in the advent of Sands’ and others’ works in terms of how these portray the relationship between Judaism, the land of Israel, and the Jewish people. The aim of their respective contributions to the world is to separate the Jew from his neshama, the land of Israel from its destined inhabitants. In this case, by calling into question the very existence of a Jewish people, Sands also removes the purpose of our existence in history and geography. His surprising popularity, however, amongst Israelis themselves, I believe, is indicative of a epidemic of confusion regarding Jewish identity. I think that his warped idea gives perverse hope to those people who have been trying to figure out since the First Zionist Congress how to be Israeli without being Jewish.

Dating for Marriage: A Model Based on the Wisdom of Hillel HaZaken

I counsel a lot of people through the dating process–sometimes from the first date until the chuppah. Recently,when glanicng at Pirkei Avos 1:14, I realized that Hillel’s famous statement provides a model that I believe people who are looking for a spouse or are actively dating can use to retain their clarity throughout the process.

If I am not for me, who will be for me?
And I am only for me, what am I?
And if not now, when?

If I am not for me, who will be for me? This is a question that people must ask themselves before and during a dating process. If successfully landing a date with another person is difficult, this can often be due to a person’s own exacerbated sense of their own imperfections and flaws. Remembering that seeking a marriage partner requires self-advocacy. Who else besides you is qualified to advocate on your behalf that you possess the good points that you have to bring to a relationship, to contribute to another person and to a life together? It is imperative that you search yourself and discover your good points; you have them!

Also, it is critical that you hold onto your sense of what is unique, special and positive about you during the dating process. A lot of people, worried that they might do something to cause the failure of the relationship, may attempt to retain their partners by trying to be what they think their partners want them to be instead of who they truly are. That kind of smokescreen can end in disaster when you and your partner, now married, discover that you are someone else entirely. Always be yourself! Whoever marries you should do so based on his or her appreciation of the real you.

This parallels what Rabbi Ovadiya MiBartenura says regarding this first point. If I do not create merit for myself, who will do that for me? Sometimes, creating merit is a process of discovering merit within oneself.

And if I am only for me, what am I?
Here, too, the Rishonim, including Rabbi Ovadiya MiBartenura and Rabbenu Yona understand this to mean that a person must be cognizant not only of the merit he or she has based on his or her performance of mitzvos, or possession of positive traits; one must also sense the scope of their obligations to Hashem, the responsibility that comes with being in relationship with Him.

This can also be applied to relationships between people. I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken to people looking to get married, and the conversation is dominated by talk about the qualities they want in a mate–physical, psychological, financial and hashkafic–as if it were possible to order a life partner from a menu. And conspicuously absent from their monologue is any mention of what it is they have to give to another person, how they will fulfill their responsibilities within that relationship on all levels–in short, what they are offering, not just what they are seeking.

I believe that if we stop obsessing about what the other person has to be like, eat like, spend like, look like, and refocus onto what we would like to give to another person who will be sharing life with us, we will reach that place that is truly within our arena of responsibility and free choice: what we can do within a relationship. This is essential for marriage precisely because marriage is a partnership, a joining together for a purpose that transcends either of us as individuals. Being able to pool resources, as it were, depends on our ability to discover our resources and contribute them.

It may seem daunting when we really stop to consider how much soul searching and personal work we will want to do in order to reach a sense of clarity in these areas. But if we’re serious about getting married, this is the task at hand, and the process of working through it and succeeding is the meaning of our moments before marriage. And, of course, let’s not forget Hillel’s last statement, lest we be lured into procrastination: if not now, when?


The Old-New Path: Parshas Toldos

Rabbi Dessler, in his legendary sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu, gives us a very keen insight on parenting from this week’s parsha. There is an idea that the Seven Shepherds–Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbenu, Aharon HaKohen, Yosef HaTzaddik and Dovid HaMelech–became the vehicles, as it were, for the various attributes of the guiding power of this world as G-d arranged it. Even if you are not familiar with the layout of the kabbalistic sefiros, you can understand something about these sefiros from the content of the parshios in Bereshis.

For example, Avraham Avinu, though his life, was the chariot of the Divine attribute of Chesed (Lovingkindness); he manifested this attribute through all of his actions. We have a principle from our Sages’, מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, the deeds of the forefathers are signs for the children. We, as the children of these people, must look to Avraham Avinu as the paragon of chesed if we want to learn what it is and how to do it.

Yitzchak Avinu, by contrast, became the vehicle for the attribute of Gevurah (Might, Severity or Restaint) which is also referred to as Din (Judgement). Gevurah seems like the polar opposite of Chesed; Chesed bestows kindness in a limitless way, whereas Gevurah comes to limit that kindness and ensure that it is conferred in a just manner, but this, in turn, actually maximizes the impact of Chesed and insures that its effects are beneficial. Gevurah is also the root of discipline, self-restraint and self-transcendence, which are key tools of the pathway towards holiness. Gevurah is what is required to suppress and fight against one’s yetzer hara (evil urge), as we find in the Mishna, “Who is considered mighty (gibor)? One who conquers his evil urge.” These were the character traits of Yitzchak Avinu.

One can ask the question, why did Yitzchak Avinu decide that his life’s work would be in an area that was distinct from that of his father? After all, Avraham Avinu was the greatest tzaddik of his time; it might have been more logical to emulate him and continue in his path of building Chesed in the world.

Here, Rabbi Dessler brings a thought from the Alter of Kelm, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv zt”l. In the Midrash we find that, when Yitzchak Avinu and Rivka Imenu involved themselves in intense prayer to facilitate Rivka’s ability to conceive (after years of barrenness), G-d granted them this desire, but only in the merit of the prayer of Yitzchak Avinu. Chazal explain that this is because the prayer of a righteous person born of a righteous father is greater than the prayer of a righteous person born of a wicked father. What, in this case, made Yitzchak Avinu’s prayer greater than Rivka Imenu’s prayer? Lineage alone?

Rather, what gave Yitzchak Avinu’s prayer its particular effectiveness was that it came as a result of a dimension of spiritual accomplishment that Yitzchak Avinu possessed. Having been born to the greatest tzaddikim in the world–Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imenu–Yitzchak Avinu could have fallen back upon his education, upbringing and good habits that had been reinforced throughout his formative years to coast through a holy life as if on autopilot. Instead, he built upon these endowments in a very unique way, by transcending them and striking out on his own, serving G-d by opening the gates of Gevurah in this world. This was a unique path that Yitzchak Avinu had cleared himself, as it were. This is much harder to do, explain Chazal, than to leave an evil, idolatrous family for a life of holiness, as Rivka Imenu did.

I think that what we can learn from this perspective, as I have said before, is that we have to empower our children to use the gifts we give them to be the choosers, the architects of their own holy destinies as people.

In parshas Lech Lecha, we see that, at the end of the wars of the kings, which Avraham Avinu’s forces had successfully brought to an end, Malkitzedek, the king of Shalem, brought out bread and wine to commemorate the war’s end. Bread and wine, in order to be the best that they can be, need to adhere to certain criteria. Bread must be new and fresh, whereas wine must be aged. This also applies to the making of a person; we as parents must give our children a mesorah, a tradition of Torah that is as aged as Creation itself, and has stood the test of time. Simultaneously, we need to teach our beneficiaries to live this mesorah in a way that is as fresh and new as bread.

Good Shabbos!

Spend Time With Your Kids!

Those of us who are parents–and those of us who have been kids–know how important it is for parents and children to spend time with each other.  And those of us who fully appreciate how much the demands of life compete with that goal, know how hard it is to get the balance right.  Most of us do not live in the agricultural society of yore, where we rise at dawn and fall asleep at sunset, where the loudest noises are  the whinnying of horses and the lowing of cows–and the occasional thunderclap.  We do not have the experience these days of the family working together, on the farm or in the general store, interacting with each other constantly, learning from each other, embracing life together.  Instead, we live in a world where the electromagnetic buzz of the city is itself a constantly rising level of noise, where we are expected to work efficiently until long after the sun has set–and square away our children accordingly in a variety of settings that do not involve us.  The cell phone may go off at any second, and someone out there may demand my immediate response just because I have the technology to instantly respond! We are forced, in this day and age, to run our lives like logistics coordinators just to retain our humanity.

You and I both know that this is a crazy arrangement, one that does not respect the natural needs of people and their families.  And this is especially true when we remember the importance of spending time with our kids, and we feel that pang of guilt, that sense that we are not doing what we know to be right.  We complain about the influences of the outside world and the media, but we are not around our kids enough to exert our own influence on them! To top it off, we rationalize the little amount that we give our children as “quality time”.  We know that, in fact,  quantity is quality, don’t we?

It doesn’t have to be this way.  While we can’t turn back the hands of time and demand that civilization not organize itself in the manner that it does, we can choose to conduct our affairs in a way that benefits us and our families, even if that’s old fashioned.  Let’s reclaim control of our time!

I have a few suggestions–let’s call it a Beta Version–for increasing the quantity and quality of your time with your kids.  You would be doing me an incredible favor by trying them out and sending me some feedback.


  • Every child in the family deserves a special date with each parent.  This will assure the child that he or she is special in his or her own wright, and having some “just you and me” time with Mom or Dad or both will probably reduce sibling rivalry, since sibling rivalry is based on competition for one’s place in the family.
  • If there are 4 weeks in a month, with effectively 5 days/nights, then there are, potentially, 20 quality time units per month, all else being equal.
  • Divide 20 by the number of children in the family.  If there are 4 children in the family, each can have 5 exclusive dates with a parent per 4 week month.  These dates can be redeemed in any way that allows the parent and child to experience something pleasant together.  If homework is not a mutually gratifying experience, it would not be the preferred activity.  Yet this “date” does not have to be as elaborate as a trip to Niagara Falls either.  Keep it simple, and let your child take you where he or she wants to go.
  • In addition to dates, each child should have quality time every night.  If the parents are home from 6-8, for example, and there are 4 children, figure that you have 90 minutes plus a half an hour for baths, brushing teeth and pajamas.  Divide these 90 minutes by four.  You will have 20 minutes’ worth of exclusive time available for each child.  These minutes can be forgone for the sake of a mutually gratifying group activity.
  • Do whatever it takes to facilitate this time.  You can feed the kids early, bathe early, whatever.
  • Do not answer the phone during dinnertime, and if you can stand it, ignore the phone during family time too.  You don’t have to answer the phone just because it is ringing, or an email just because it arrived.  (Hey, shut the computer off!)
  • Shabbos and Yom Tov are “free zones”.  That means family time.  No one can lay exclusive claim to each others’ time, because of the time demands of shul and meals.  It’s first come, first serve, and the parents have to make sure that each child has a fair shot.  But remember, the kids come first!
  • It is important to remember that there will be times when the childrens’ needs will differ, sometimes based on their ages, or when one needs more TLC or alone time, so the division of your time does not always have to be exact.

Please try this for a week and let me know how it goes.  One more suggestion: you may want to kick off your new, quality life with the following activity.  If you have a television set, unplug it, and put it in the trunk of your car.  Pile the family in the car and drive somewhere where you can sell the TV for a good price.  Take the money and buy a bookshelf and some great books to read together.  This will instantly create a new activity for you and the kids that is calm and productive.

Alternately, if your kids are rambunctious and hyperactive, you can purchase a sledgehammer.  Pop some popcorn and let the little angels have some cathartic whacks at the tyrannical tube (preferably in the backyard).  Next, bring out some tempera paint and let them make some form of installation art out of the former centerpiece of your living room.  Just kidding.  Sort of.

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