Figuring out the family


Panel reveals what parents need to know

By Michael Orbach

Issue of Sept. 26, 2008

Over 70 people attended a panel at Congregation Beth Sholom Saturday night on what is probably one of the most pressing issues on parents’ minds before the High Holidays: “What Jewish Parents Need to Know About Their Children.”

“Since Adam and Chava and their kids, there’s going to be parent-child issues,” Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Beth Sholom told The Jewish Star before the event.

The panel, hosted by the Congregation Beth Sholom Sisterhood and Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, featured three speakers: Michele Friedman, a psychiatrist and the director of Pastoral Counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah; Naomi Lippman, HAFTR High School’s associate principal; and Barry Horowitz, LCSW and coordinator for Ohel’s Long Island Services.

After a brief introduction by Rabbi Hain, Friedman took the podium. She conducted a quick survey of audience members about their own parents and then posed a question.

“What do we expect our kids to do?” she asked.

She spoke of how parents came of age in an era of enormous opportunity and how cultivated expectations lead to problems. She also made a distinction between keeping children happy and being too overprotective and not letting children learn and struggle on their own.

“We need to sometimes let our kids fail,” she asserted.

Friedman railed against the constant use of cell phones and what she considers the “attachment to being needed,” and how much people have defined themselves by it. However, she did note that she forgot to turn off her own BlackBerry before she began her remarks and prayed it wouldn’t ring (it didn’t).

Lippman spoke next and began with an assertion that made virtually the entire audience exhale: “Your children and grandchildren are wonderful,” she said.

Her speech focused on the role of parents and education in being the standard bearers of Modern Orthodoxy.

“Modern Orthodoxy is not Orthodoxy-lite, it is not pick-and-choose-Orthodoxy, and it is not a compromise for concessions of the modern world,” she explained. “It is a great challenge of being a halachic Jew in the modern world. It’s not just adding together Torah and parnasa. It’s being enriched by the modern world and enriching the larger society with our values and principles.” She discussed some of HAFTR’s actions keeping with that concept.  “Our children are watching us,” Lippman said.

Horowitz, Beth Sholom’s native son, took the stage last to a round of applause. He noted that his parents, his boss and his rabbi were in the audience (and one audience member noted he had his bar-mitzvah there too). He said that in his experience working with adolescents in Ohel and as director of Counseling for HANC, children are seeking guides.

“Our children are conducting their own desperate search, a search as critical for the ‘A’ student in the top notch yeshiva as it is for the countless adolescents in pool halls on Coney Island Avenue or in the midnight discussions behind Dave’s Pizza,” he said.

Though they may hide it, children are seeking guidance from their parents.

“Our children, despite their trepidation in expressing it, despite their external bravado, are searching for heroes,” Horowitz said. “They’re seeking our wisdom.”

He concluded with a quotation from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Strong families beget strong individuals... For good or for bad, families are the seedbeds of the future.”

As the event wound down and people made their way from the food tables to the main shul, one couple stood by the podium and wondered if what they had learned that evening would help stop their child from leaving to Uman for Rosh Hashana. Through the open door, Chazzan Joel Kaplan’s sonorous voice began Selichot: “Ashrei yoshvei veisecha –– Fortunate are those who dwell in Your house.”