Monday, July 28, 2008

We, the Perfect People

Given the attitudes prevalent in the frum communities 40 years and more ago, we've come a long way as regards admitting that there might, just might be problems that face Klal, some of which aren't "pretty" and that aren't easy to discuss. And yet, we are nowhere close to being where we should be. What problems am I referring to specifically? Among them, sexual abuse of minors, physical and emotional abuse within families, substance abuse, mental and emotional maladies, physical and educational disabilities, medical conditions etc.

Why are we so reticent to discuss these problems, to admit that they exist within Klal, to come up with clear cut solutions to the problems? (Just a note: some of us cannot even verbalize the words indicating a problem. Plenty of people who will not say "cancer," calling it instead "yeneh machlah.") One answer that is all too common was given to me years ago when I first went to register my children in a local Bais Yaakov school. I asked why the school had no psychological testing pre-admission and why the school had no resource room. The answer? "Alleh Yiddishe Kinderlach are perfect." Say what?

Yup, that's us, the perfect people. We aren't prone to any of the problems that exist in the outside world. Somehow we are genetically structured such that we can't possibly have any problems.

Another answer that is given is the old "let's not wash our dirty linen in public" line. The problem with that approach is that the "dirty linen" never gets washed at all, and it sits and stinks and festers.

Another answer I've heard is the one about its being ossur to embarrass people in public. Let me see if I am getting this correct. A man beats his wife and children and we are worried about publicly embarrassing him? A child suffers the pain of sexual abuse by a family member or school authority and we tell him/her to keep a lid on it because someone might get embarrassed?

Someone has a physical/mental/emotional/learning disability and our prime concern is about embarrassment? Just whose embarrassment are we talking about here--theirs or ours? Why is getting help equated with embarrassment? Shouldn't the goal be accomodation? Or facilitation?

A little note: do you have any idea of how many special ed teachers Touro and all the other programs under frum auspices graduate a year?! Just where is it and who is it that these teachers are going to be teaching when no frum kids have problems and frum schools really, really don't like having special ed programs?

And then there is the old standby: having problems is bad for shidduchim. So getting help when a problem arises and perhaps solving that problem is a bad thing, but hiding the problem, lying about it, is a wonderful thing for shidduchim, particularly when the problem openly surfaces after a marriage takes place? What kind of a cockeyed world do we live in where someone with a hearing loss is told not to get a hearing aid because it's visible, and that would be bad for shidduchim? What kind of perverted logic says don't wear your glasses while dating because it's bad for shidduchim? Perhaps not recognizing your choson/kallah under the chupah might be a bigger problem?

Here are some facts, unpalatable as they may be. There are sexual predators in Klal. There are abusive parents and spouses in Klal. There are drunkards in Klal. There are drug abusers in Klal.
And yes, there are people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities in Klal. Pretending that these people don't exist doesn't magically make us all perfect.

We still lag behind the general public in providing opportunities for those among us who have physical/mental/emotional disabilities. Yeshivas today have a unique way of dealing with these problems: they refuse admission to students who manifest any of the problems. Might as well put the Jewish version of NIMBY in the Yinglish dictionary--NIMBM, not in my bais medrash. I heard one school administrator make a public statement that his yeshiva was simply not set up to handle such "problems." Well sir, why not? Dyslexia is not typhus, and you don't really need to worry about anyone else catching it. Speech, hearing and vision problems are likewise not diseases that are catching.

As for those truly sick people who prey upon the vulnerable members of Klal among us and commit heinous acts, I have nothing but contempt. As far as I am concerned, throw the book at them, throw every book at them, hell, throw anything you can find at them and put them away where they cannot harm us any longer. And that goes for their "protectors" as well. And let's get our priorities straight--it is the victim who deserves our concern, not the victimizer.

Were we living in a world where there was no research and knowledge of and no help available for the many problems that can beset people, I might better understand the reticence to talk about the problems. But that is not the case. Knowledge is available, so help should be available. Not taking advantage of that knowledge and that available help becomes foolish to the n-th degree.


Anonymous said...

I understand that you are trying to set out all the different types of problems that might and do affect some frum people. And you are correct that as a general rule frum people are uncomfortable discussing what they see as tsuris.

But one of the problems is that we lump every problem together under the heading of Major Problem. We see them as a group where I think we would do better to see them as separate. Drug abuse is its own problem and should not be lumped together with learning disabilities. ADHD is not bipolarism.

Perhaps if we made things more manageable for ourselves by looking at one thing at a time we would come up with a better way of dealing with things.

Anonymous said...

Unless you have grown up with an alcoholic in your family you have no idea how much the frum cvommunity tries to hide this problem. Drinking too much on a shabbos or holiday is not a sign of alcoholism, it's just being happy. The boys who routinely get smashed at weddings aren't having alcohol problems, they're just being happy for their friends. Maybe if we had a more realistic picture of how people get to be alcoholics and what the warning signs are my kids would have had a grandfather around instead of a grave to go to. If there was a frum program around when my dad was living it was a closely guarded secret.

A co-worker who went to public school mentioned that they got all kinds of information on what the signs of alcoholism are and what to do if you think someone you know is an alcoholic. In our yeshiva we got nothing. Don';t kid yourself that frum people can't be drunks. Maybe if we hadn't been frum my dad might still be living.

Dave said...

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

--Justice Louis Brandeis

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law had problems reading when he was younger. The yeshiva didn't have any resources set up for him and as far as they were concerned it was just too bad. His mother sat with him every single night for hours teaching him and helping him - doing what the yeshiva should have been doing. Now he is a voracious reader (reading many several hundred page books a week) and is doing wonderfully in medical school. If the yeshiva had its way and his mother wasn't so caring who knows what might have been.

As a contrast, my wife's cousin (who is not from a religious family) was born with dyslexia. The public schools came to immediate assistance. He now has a PhD in learning disabilities and works to help others with dyslexia and other learning disorders.

Isn't being "perfect" coming to the aid of others?

Anonymous said...

Another aspect of this "perfection" of klal is this:

A "goy" is seen a bit tipsy at a wedding or outside a bar. He's a bum and a drunk. A "yid" is seen a bit tipsy at a wedding or at shul. He's misameach chattan v'kallah and partaking of the simcha of shabbat/yom tov.

A "goy" is unemployed and doesn't have a college degree let alone a high school degree and collects welfare. He's a bum and a drag on society. A "yid"? He's a kollelnik and is doing Hashem's work.

A "goy" has 7-8 or more children living in a small house. The parents don't spend enough time with each child. He's a bad parent, should use birth conrol, should control his kids. A "yid"? It's a mitzvah to have a large family.

A "goy" is at a restaurant with his family and they're misbehaving and carrying on. They're rude, inconsiderate and have no manners. A "yid"? It's a kosher restaurant, the kids are just being kids.

A "goy" who runs a store provides bad customer service. He's a jerk and should be run out of business. A "yid"? It's a kosher establishment, things are a bit crazy, be more patient.

I could go on and on and on. I think you get the point.

SaraK said...

As far as I am concerned, throw the book at them, throw every book at them, hell, throw anything you can find at them and put them away where they cannot harm us any longer. And that goes for their "protectors" as well.

I agree. Excellent post.

The Five + of Us said...


I started to comment, then it just got carried away... my response is here.

(And let's get going on the practical solutions part - Who's up for it out there?)


Anonymous said...

Good post ProfK.
I also enjoyed JS's remarks.

Anonymous said...

I've struggled with the same observation for a while, and can't help but feel that it's directly related to another - that the frum community seems to bolster its self-image by insisting that it is better than all other religions / communities.

How can we admit to the problems you mention if we need to believe and teach our children that "we" are better than the goyim/assimilated Jews/reform/conservative/modern orthodox because only their children have drug problems and only their couples get divorced and only their parents abuse their children?

Since we are frum and study torah, clearly we are above all that.

Anonymous said...

js, excellent comments!!!


s(b.) said...

anonymous 2:05pm,
Perhaps we need to bolster self-image by handling these issues well ourselves. myomitzvos isn't such an abstract concept, and one doesn't need to be/feel better than anyone/anything in order to be a true/right path for people. I realize you were probably being a little sarcastic.

I loved this piece and think it should be reposted today.

Perfection is the commitment to keep learning, keep trying, keep getting better and doing one's best, whatever that best may be.

All the phone #s for ALL services/ hotlines, etc. should be given out to EVERYONE. If there's no AA for the frum community, there should be one, and all the special/ dedicated services should offer the same anonymity that AA meetings do.

Bad for shidduchim? I haven't met anyone who is perfect. If people didn't get married if they weren't perfect, no one would marry anyone, ever. People should stop marrying their relatives. It's so tragic seeing a mother who spends 26.5/7 at the hospital with her child and learning that she married her cousin. It's called genetic illness for a reason. We are no longer largely nomadic; there is no excuse for inbreeding.

Abandoning Eden said...

I saw this all the time growing up- people with problems being thrown away instead of helped by the frum community. A girl has a cutting problem (cutting her arms but not trying to kill herself)...solution? Expel her from school! A girl caught smoking a joint at the school shabbaton...expulsion! Another girl speaks up about being date raped...expulsion! All those girls ended up in public school, since no other jewish school would take them.

They tried to expel me for suffering from depression. No joke. My parents worked out a deal whereas I went to therapy and pretended to be happy when in school. My brother also was forced into therapy and on anti depressants (we didnt' go to the same school, but this seems to be a common solution) because he fought back when a dude picked on him for a year or more (he finally had enough and punched the dude...). Oh and he was also expelled a year later anyway, when my parents threatened to go the police because this other dude kept beating the crap out of him. Talking to outside authorities? Expulsion!

Anyone who doesn't fit the mold exactly or who doesn't hide their problems is thrown out like yesterday's trash. No wonder there's so many like myself who are "off the derech."

Abandoning Eden said...

oh and also they put me in remedial classes in elementary school because I was so bored with the material that I didn't bother doing homework or paying attention in class, and would secretly read books I had hidden in my desk. So it must be that I was 'slow'.

Even when they have remedial classes, they just send anyone there, even if they don't need to be (I didn't receive any psychological testing before being sent over there, and years later when I finally did get psychological testing everything said I was off the charts above-average). And now I'm nearly done with a phd at an ivy league university.

little sheep said...

want to hear about sexual abuse in the frum community? discuss it?

read my blog...can't put it all up here!