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5 Strategies for Avoiding Pain Avoidance

Are you a parent? If so, you’ve probably experienced a scenario like this one:

You run to see what your too-quiet two year old has gotten into and find him playing with the snow-globe your sister brought back from her trip to Switzerland last year. Since this is not the best toy for a toddler, you smile at your child and gently take the snow-globe out of his hands.

That’s when the screaming begins.

What do you do? Do you endure the shrieking child or give back the snow-globe?

If you’re normal, your thinking probably works its way through the following steps:

1. He can’t really hurt himself with the snow-globe

2. He probably won’t break the snow-globe

3. I never really liked the snow-globe anyway

4. If he does break it, it’s no big deal to clean it up

5. So is it really worth making him miserable by taking it away?

But we’re not really worried about the child’s misery, are we? We’re more concerned about ourselves.

In the end, the odds are pretty good you’re going to let the toddler keep the snow-globe.

But the real issue isn’t the snow-globe; it’s the lesson you’ve just taught your child:

Click here to read the rest:

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Block Yeshiva closing marks end of an era

Ask any teacher. Ask any informed parent. Educational standards are in free-fall across America — perhaps around the world. And in St. Louis, Missouri, an extraordinary institution has closed its doors.

Block Yeshiva High School did not come into existence as something new or revolutionary. Its roots reach all the way to the ancient traditions articulated by the sages of the Second Temple period, and its style expressed the more recent articulations of one of the most influential thinkers of the last two centuries.

In 1851, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch relinquished both his pulpit and his seat in the Moravian parliament to accept the position as leader of the Torah community in Frankfurt-am-Main. In response to the rapid assimilation of Western European Jews, Rabbi Hirsch developed a movement that embraced both secular knowledge and passionate commitment to Torah study and observance.

The approach that became known as Neo-Orthodoxy was built upon a rigorous 12-year primary and secondary education system providing Jewish children with the fundamental skills and philosophic outlook to remain strong in their traditions while simultaneously preparing them to flourish in the professional world of gentile society. By doing so, Rabbi Hirsch created a bulwark against the sweeping tide of secularization while establishing a model to produce fluent and committed Torah Jews for generations.

For 38 years, St. Louis has boasted a school that has earned an extraordinary reputation among both American universities and Israeli yeshivos and seminaries. Following the trail blazed by Rabbi Hirsch a century and a half ago, Block Yeshiva High School graduates have distinguished themselves in medicine, law, and business, as well as in the world of Torah scholarship. Perhaps more significantly, as a group, Block Yeshiva graduates have retained an extraordinary commitment to Jewish tradition and values, to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and to the refinement of moral and spiritual character that is our true legacy as a nation.

Here are a few examples of what Block Yeshiva has produced:

Click here to read the whole article. Please comment and share.

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The Sound of Silence

[Rabbi] Shimon [ben Gamliel] says: All my days I grew up among the sages, and I never found anything better for a person than silence. Action, not study, is the main thing; and excessive talk inevitably leads to sin.

~Ethics of Fathers 1:17

Listen, my son, to the guidance of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; for they are a charm of grace upon your head and precious gems about your neck.

~Proverbs 1:8-9

Traditionally, discipline came from the father, whose stern and urgent words provided guidance along the path of life. However, it was the quiet lessons learned by example from the mother that defined that path and had the most enduring influence as children grew up into the adults they were meant to become.

No matter how parenting roles may have changed, the general principles remain. Intellectual maturity, symbolized here as a charm of grace upon the head, guides the steps we take; the intuitions of the conscience, when articulated through speech, are the precious gems about the neck, which keep us turned toward our ultimate destination.

Only when our thinking and speaking are filtered through the wisdom absorbed from responsible parents and trustworthy teachers will we be able to find our place in the world and live in harmony among our fellows.

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Pledging Allegiance

After a certain Miami Dophins wide receiver garnered his 15 minutes of fame (by aping a certain San Francisco 49ers quarterback), he explained that — even though he loves his country and meant no disrespect — nevertheless “it’s time for us to come together in solidarity.”

Even if we assume that his stunt was not merely a crass grab for attention, he succeeded in accomplishing exactly the opposite of what he claims he wanted. His refusal to stand for the National Anthem is profoundly offensive and only serves to drive a deeper wedge into a an already fractured society.

The American flag is a symbol of freedom, of human dignity, of personal responsibility, and of collective purpose. It makes no more sense to show contempt for what the flag represents than it does to protest arson by burning down a firehouse.

The insult reminded me of an incident with my own father that I recorded in this essay, originally published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Father’s Day, 2001.

I was ten or twelve years old. My father and I had arrived at the stadium early, and I felt a thrill of excitement as we stood up for the Star Spangled Banner. Down on the field, our home team, the Los Angeles Rams, stood in a line holding their helmets under their arms. And in the row in front of us, a middle aged man stood with his hat perched casually upon his head.

The man didn’t respond. “Hey you,” my father said, louder, “take off your hat.”

The man grunted an unintelligible, though clearly dismissive remark.

“You unpatriotic SOB,” growled my father; he didn’t abbreviate, either.

“Dad!” I whispered, mortified and afraid, but also faintly confused. My father had never before demonstrated any dramatic displays of patriotism.

The national anthem ended, the game began, and I guess I forgot about the incident because I never discussed it with my father, never asked him to explain an indignation that seemed entirely out of character.

But now I’m a father myself, and I don’t find my father’s action thirty years ago perplexing at all.

Click to read the whole article:

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Falling Skies

The death of any young person is tragic, and all the more tragic when unnecessary. In today’s world where sensory-gratification is king and accountability is unknown, few question the wisdom of jumping out of an airplane for kicks, especially when the chances of anything going awry are so small.

But those odds assert themselves eventually, as they did last month in Acampo, California. The two young men who lost their lives were jumping about an hour’s drive from where I jumped myself almost four decades ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I’ve come to reconsider, as I explain in this essay from 1999, originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Middle age has finally arrived,” I said to myself as I confronted a life insurance application form for the first time ever. But as I filled in the blanks and checked off the boxes, I suddenly paused, suspended between youth and old age, as I read and reread one question midway through the form: Have you ever been skydiving?

I consider myself an honest person, so I found myself in the midst of a moral struggle as I contemplated how I should answer. The reasoning behind the question seemed obvious: why should any business gamble a quarter of a million dollars on the life of someone foolish enough to jump out of an airplane?

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In Memorium

Yesterday, we held a memorial service for Rita Cholet White, one of Block Yeshiva High School’s most beloved teachers for over 20 years. After hearing the many stories and reflections, it’s hard to know whether she loved more or was loved more by her students. Perhaps the question contains its own answer. She was 85 years old.

Several years ago, when Madame White was honored by the school, I was asked to write her bio for the Scholarship Gala journal.

I present the text here as it appeared. She loved it then. I have no doubt that she will love it now.

Rita Cholet White has been involved in primary, secondary, and higher education for over half a century (an extraordinary achievement, especially for a woman who is only 49 years old). A Fulbright scholar, Madame White has appeared in Who’s Who in Education, Who’s Who in American Women, and Who’s Who International. Presumably, one of these organizations will eventually discover who Madame White truly is.

A stalwart member of Block Yeshiva’s distinguished faculty since 1992, Madame White demonstrates her pedagogical dexterity by wearing many hats – as French teacher, English teacher, college adviser, and yearbook adviser. Fortunately, the French like to wear hats.

More than just a faculty member, Madame White adds flare and panache to the halls of Block Yeshiva, dazzling students and staff alike with her sense of style and fashion, her stratified vocabulary in several languages, her pluck, her wit, her irrepressible good humor, and her remembrances of the McKinley administration.

Additional distinctions include a degree from the Sorbonne and the University of Nice, the HEW Certificate of Merit, the University of Richmond Certificate of Recognition as an outstanding teacher, and numerous honors that are beyond the capacity of our computer’s spell-check software.

Persistent rumors that Madame White posed as a model for the Mona Lisa and has BASE jumped from the Eiffel Tower remain unconfirmed.

Adieu, Madame. We will miss you with all our hearts.

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Near-death experience

You’re ten years old and a sound sleeper, so it’s already unusual that something has woken you up in the middle of the night. You go out into the hall to investigate. There are strangers in the house and flashing lights out the window. Your father tells you to go back to bed.

When you wake up the next morning, your mother has disappeared from your life.

It’s 1970, before school counselors or lettered conditions like PTSD. Your father means well, but he’s not the communicative type, not one for expressing his feelings to others or eliciting others to share their feelings with him. He’s from the Depression Era, and he barely saw his own father growing up during those desperate years. He’s a veteran of the Second World War; difficulties are part of life.

He’s also dealing with his own trauma, as his wife lingers between life and death.

You get shipped off to stay with friends, or with your grandmother. Very little is explained to you, and you understand even less. Years later, there won’t be much that you remember, aside from the indelible images of that first night.

You won’t remember waking up the next morning to find your grandmother home with you instead of you parents. You won’t remember when they took you to visit your mother one last time because no one thought she had much time left. You won’t remember shouting at her for having abandoned you. You won’t remember the outgoing, cheerful little boy you were before that cold, winter’s night.

You only remember how hard it was for you to talk to people from that moment forward. You remember how easily you cried during the years that followed, and how much you hated yourself for crying so easily without understanding what made you that way. You remember how you considered taking your own life, but always managed to convince yourself that you could do it tomorrow.

A decade passes before you really recover. In some ways, you never recover at all.

Click here to read the whole essay:

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Affluenza: Nothing new but the name

Some verbal atrocities are either too offensive or too absurd to ever be forgotten. Like Jonathan Gruber’s candid admission that “the stupidity of the American voter … was really, really critical for [Obamacare] to pass.” Or Brian Williams misremembering that he had been shot down in a helicopter. Or Al Gore’s claim that he invented the internet (although, in all fairness, that was not quite what he said).

But few violations of common sense and common decency compare to that of Jean Boyd, the judge who concluded that probation and rehab were sufficient punishment for Ethan Crouch — after he pled guilty to taking the lives of four people while driving drunk — because he was a victim of affluenza.

Now, two years later, after Ethan Crouch has violated his parole, fled to Mexico with his mother, and finally ended up back in custody, the Washington Post would like us to reconsider whether the diagnosis is really so ridiculous after all. Rallying experts to support his case, Post editor Fred Barbash suggests that affluenza may indeed be an authentic malady, citing ASU professor of psychology Suniya S. Luthar and Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College:

“High-risk behavior, including extreme substance abuse and promiscuous sex, is growing fast among young people from communities dominated by white-collar, well-educated parents. These kids … show serious levels of maladjustment as teens, displaying … marijuana and alcohol abuse, including binge drinking [and] abuse of illegal or prescription drugs.”[What also stands out] is the type of rule-breaking – widespread cheating and random acts of delinquency such as stealing from parents or peers among the affluent, as opposed to behavior related to self-defense, such as carrying a weapon, among the inner-city teens.”

“[What also stands out] is the type of rule-breaking – widespread cheating and random acts of delinquency such as stealing from parents or peers among the affluent, as opposed to behavior related to self-defense, such as carrying a weapon, among the inner-city teens.”

And finally: Serious depression or anxiety among affluent kids is “is two to three times national rates.”

No arguments from this quarter. But what does not appear in Mr. Barbash’s lengthy commentary is even the most meager attempt to identify why affluence produces teenage miscreants. What is it about growing up with every possible advantage that predisposes so many children to criminally irresponsible behavior?

The answer is quite simple.

Click here to find out why:


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A Message to my Son

My oldest son enters the Israeli army this week, motivated by nothing other than a sense of commitment to the security of his people.

It seems fitting to revisit these thoughts, written on the occasion of his bar mitzvah ten years ago.

It’s not difficult to sympathize with the skeptics who questioned the ability of Avrohom Mordechai Altar, then still a teenager, to succeed his father as leader of the Gerrer Chassidim, possibly the most influential Torah community in Poland at the end of the 19th century. But the young scholar, who would grow up to become a great rabbi and author of the Imrei Emes, answered his critics with the following parable.

A small town in an isolated land rested at the foot of a great mountain, a peak so high and steep that all reasonable people considered it unconquerable. From time to time, however, some impetuous youth would set out to climb the mountain. Some of these returned admitting defeat. The rest were never heard from again.

Despite the warnings and prophesies of doom, a certain young man decided to challenge the mountain. Many times he nearly turned back, and many times he nearly met his end, but through sheer persistence he finally reached the mountain top. But he was utterly unprepared for what he found there.

A thriving city of people lived upon a great plateau at the mountain¹s summit. There were houses and farms — an entire community living where everyone believed that no one had ever set foot.

The inhabitants of the mountain top laughed at him when he expressed his astonishment. “Do you think you¹re the first one to climb the mountain?” they chided. “We also reached the top and, having done so, chose to build this town and make our lives here.”

Not yet recovered from his dismay, the young man noticed a small boy, only six or seven years old. This was more than he could believe. “Did you climb all the way up here, too?!” the young man exclaimed.

“No,” replied the boy. “I was born here.”

The youthful rabbi explained to his followers that indeed he was young. But he had been born into a dynasty of great Torah leaders, raised by and taught by the greatest sages of his generation who had in turn been taught and raised by the greatest sages of their generation. True, he was young; but he had been born on a mountain, and from his place atop the shoulders of the spiritual giants who preceded him he would build upon their greatness. In this way would he succeed as a leader of his people.

And so he did.

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In Memoriam — Rav Ephraim Oratz

How do you start to describe the one person most responsible for launching you on the path that has defined you for nearly a quarter century?

I never had any great desire to be a classroom teacher until I found myself under the tutelage of Rabbi Ephraim Oratz, whose unparalleled pedagogic genius and vast reservoir of Torah knowledge inspired me to embark upon my career as a rebbe.  Whatever I have accomplished in the field of Torah education is primarily because of him.

Rav Oratz was — if I may be permitted to use the term — the ultimate Torah-Renaissance man.  He possessed the passion of the Amshinover chassidim, the yekkishe precision of the German Jews, the academic discipline of the Lithuanian scholars, and the worldly nobility of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, all rolled up — as Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz would say — into one selfless, total servant of the Almighty.

Rav Oratz was truly of the old school, with countless stories about growing up in the post-depression years, about learning and teaching in the old American day school system, about playing stickball on the streets of New York.  He told me once how his father had to go out every Monday morning to find new employment, because his Sabbath-observance cost him his job time and time again.  More incredibly, Rav Oratz didn’t learn of this until years later; his parents kept the children in the dark so they wouldn’t feel insecure.

In our coddled generation, that kind of mesiras nefesh — self-sacrifice — is almost entirely forgotten.
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