Category Archives: children

THE PURSUIT OF UNCOOL

 

JUF NEWS PICNEWS: LOCAL

May 9, 2014

The pursuit of uncool

By NEIL HARRIS

If you ask my wife and three kids (a boy, 14 and two girls, 11 and 7) if I am a good father, I’m not sure what they would answer. If you ask them if they think I’m a cool abba, they’ll tell you that I used to be cool. Being cool is a choice. I spent, what seems like months, saying to my own children. “Kids, I really am cool.”

I tried explaining to them about the glory of the 80s and how music was much better back then, especially the stuff that fell into the categories of college radio and punk. I tried showing them how a bunch of my friends all dressed differently than everyone else (we all mostly wore black…very original). I told my daughters that I had crazy hairspray and hair dryer skills that they couldn’t even dream about. It was never a conscious choice, but during high school and the beginning of college I was seen as being “cool.”

I know plenty of parents that go out of their way to appear cool to their kids. They might try to friend their kids and their kids’ friends on Facebook, be up on the latest music, novels, and texting abbreviations. If that works for you and the relationship you want to have with our kids, more power to you. I eventually gave up and just accepted the fact that I was no longer cool. I stopped trying to be cool in their eyes.

It was much easier than I thought it would be. However, I found that the choice of not being cool opened up a whole new avenue of going out of my way to be uncool. I had thoughts of calling my kids’ friends by nicknames that only I would understand. I had visions of interrupting play dates my kids had by doing the robot dance. To my family’s delight, I rarely acted upon these examples.

What I did implement was a conscious choice to show my kids that I wasn’t cool. Again, I am far from a model parent, but this mindset has fostered a more positive relationship with my kids. This was much easier than I thought in some aspects. My wife and I have always stressed to our children that there are things our family does and it might be a little different than other what other families do. There are TV shows, music, and movies that we feel are appropriate and others that are not. These decisions to be uncool, at times, are not easy, but my kids have learned that my wife and I are willing to listen to their points of view and if we are swayed to their side it is solely because they have valid reasons and not because we are looking to be “those parents,” the ones that propel the parent/child relationship with the fuel of coolness.

Rabbi Joseph Hurwitz (1847-1919), known as the Elder of Novardok (a city in Belarus) taught that, “When the world means nothing, life means everything.” I have always looked at this quote as a message that we have to stand our ground sometimes. We shouldn’t always do things that the masses are doing, especially if it goes against our value system. When we stop worrying about what others think is when we can have opportunities to do what we know is the right thing in life. This is something that we can’t lecture our kids about; it is something that we have to show by example. I am no poster child for leading by example all the time. I am, however, blessed with three great kids who are learning the importance of doing the right thing, which is a foundation of Judaism.

Neil Harris and his family live in West Rogers Park and, aside from being uncool, he works in commercial finance and writes monthly for Oy! Chicago.

Originally posted in JUF NEWS-May 9th, 2014

Best minyan EVER!!

Aerial - US Cell-Chicago-No Border

Once in a while, I merit to have a good idea come down to me from Hashem. I admit, it is pretty rare, but when it does happen I am pretty darn grateful.

Prior to Pesach I had made plans with 4 other families to go to a White Sox game with my kids on Thursday of Chol HaMoed. I knew that within our group we would have 7 adult males (4 fathers and 3 post Bar Mitzvah boys). I decided to put the word out on Facebook, Twitter, and emailed a bunch of fellow residents of the Chicago area to see if we could get a Maariv minyan at the beginning of the 7th inning. Quickly I got a response from a friend that he would be there and also 2 other guys. Then another guy (didn’t know him prior to the game, but I’m glad I’m friends with him now) and his son said they would join in, too. As we got to the stadium and parked, my son noticed a car of 3 other guys parking right next to us and I quickly told them about the minyan, as well.

When it came time to daven we had just over 17 people, including someone saying Kaddish and someone who had a Yahrzeit. The Sox lost, but I don’t think it was related to our minyan.

Here’s the important part, really. I’m not posting this because I’m looking to blow my own shofar, I’m posting this because each of us has a way we that we can help others and add to the “quality” of our community (or a community of baseball fans). I often go through periods when I know I should be doing more with myself on a communal level. I know there’s, like, volumes more what I’m meant to be doing for Klal Yisrael beyond my role within my family and immediate friends, but I just don’t (for a number of reasons). I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m, again, grateful that I was open to receiving an opportunity this time and acting upon it…this time.

Nourishing the Neshama-“The School, the Home, and the Community”

nourish2.2.2

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 – 8:00pm at OR TORAH
“The School, the Home and the Community: An Open Discussion with Three Leading Educators”featuring 
Rabbi Menachem Linzer, Dr. David Pelcovitz & Rabbi Eli Samber

“Nourishing The Neshama” is a new project in Chicago.  It’s a partnership project of Ida Crown Jewish Academy, the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel, NCSY, YU Institute for University-School Partnership, and Congregations Chochevei Torah, KINS, KJBS & Or Torah.

 

Dishing out opinions

 

Image found here

Image found here

The Alter of Novardok, Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz zt’l, taught that kosher utensils could be either meat, dairy, or parve, but a man cannot be pareve, he is only one way or the other. I have been thinking about this teaching for a good part of the summer (which is almost over since my kids started school this week).

Most of us have opinions. It’s part our personality. I, in my more colorful past, always had something to say about everything. Eventually as I got older, I curtailed my opinions on many social, political, religious, and community issues. In my more formative years of being frum I looked towards the middah of humility, anivus, as a crutch not to have such a strong opinion on things. This is completely the wrong way to behave. It was a mistake of my youth and one I regret. We all have opinions about things we are truly passionate about. It’s part of being created B’zelem Elokeim and emulating Hashem. Humility doesn’t mean you have to keep your mouth shut all of time.

“Man cannot be pareve,” say the Alter. We just can’t, because deep down inside us is a little voice giving an opinion. Those that claim to not have an opinion about things, really just don’t want to share their opinion with you or make it public. Not expressing your view is sometimes worse than voicing your opinion. Over the years I’ve seen relationships and friendships dissolve like sugar in a pot of boiling water because people try not to side with one party or the other. I have seen business deals destroyed, reputations soiled, and families torn asunder because people try not to take a side on an issue.

I am not advocating that we all need to make picket signs for every little cause we can think of, but it’s important to make known how you stand on an issue. This is especially true, I think, with your children. Children, as they grow up, need to understand the nuances of halacha, minhag, and hashkafa. They will only understand if they see us and the decisions we make. For example, if you don’t explain to your kids which hechsharim your family eats, then they might think that any hechshar is acceptable. I want my children to have opinions and know that it’s ok to speak up and defend someone. I want them to not be afraid to be in the minority about something they believe to be emes, the truth. I want them to follow the example of their parents, especially their mother. So, I guess that means that 5774 will be a year of finding a voice to express my opinion.

Rav Wolbe zt’l on the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim

Found on Flickr

Found on Flickr after a lot of searching

 

In Z’ria U’Binyan B’Chinnuch, Planting and Building, by Rav Shlomo Wolbe z’tl (English translation by Rabbi Leib Keleman) the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim is quoted, which states (pages14-15):

“The foundation of Chassidus (piety) and the root of perfect service of Hashem is understanding and appreciating one’s obligation in one’s personal world.” It is tempting to gloss over the apparently repetitive phraseology, “The foundation of Chassidus” and “the root of perfect service of Hashem,”…in this short phrase, Ramchal teaches us that there are two, parallel processes in serving Hahsem.

The first one, Chassidus, demands a foundation. Chassidus constitutes the top floor in the construction of a human being and construction always requires a foundation. The taller and loftier the building we wish to construct, the deeper the foundation we must dig. To reach the heights of Chassidus, we must first lay a strong foundation and then build on it.

The second one, Divine service, evolves organically from within, and such growth requires a root, Ramchal hints. Where there is no root, there can be no growth. In one terse sentence, Ramchal informs us that we must be involved in both construction (building ourselves through the acquisition of ma’alos– good qualities) and growth (sowing internal seed that will sprout during our lifetime). And with this understanding we should learn the remainder of the introduction to the Mesillas Yesharim

This is exactly why our there needs to be both building and construction in raising a child and in building ourselves. A sprinkle of piety here and a pinch of servicing Hashem there helps make things taste better. Of course, I’m referring to the ta’am (taste) of a mitzvah. Hey, I’ll admit that that as a man I can only do one thing at a time. If I’m being asked to work on constructing a edifice with a strong foundation, then how work on nourishing my ever growing roots?

My own interpretation of this is that since roots are under the surface, working on growth is something we keep to ourselves, like a smokeless fire (see this post). What our families, friends, and people we bump into will see is how those roots essentially help with the construct of the “building” in the form of those mitzvos that we perform out in the open, such as davening, learning, or a chessed.

Speaking of Mesillas Yesharim, A Simple Jew was kind enough to tell me about a new edition of Mesillas Yesharim coming out July 31, 2013 from Artscroll. with seriously useful commentary.

Sweet deal on the "must have" parenting sefer


The English translation of Zeriah u’Binyan beChinnuch, Planting and Building by Rav Shlomo Wolbe z’tl (translated by Rabbi Leib Keleman) is currently on sale for $11.69 if you use this online coupon code: FLD10.

From the Feldheim website:

An English translation of the acclaimed Hebrew best-seller, Zeriah u’Binyan beChinnuch. The author, an acknowledged Torah authority, is one of the foremost spiritual leaders of our time. This book has been prepared from several of his lectures, and presents basic guidelines for parenting and education. The wisdom in this important book fills a great need for our generation and Rabbi Wolbe’s vital teachings should be read and re-read by every Jewish parent and educator.

Now, here’s the nitty gritty about this sefer, if you have kids or are in a formalized chinuch position, then it’s in your best interest to read this sefer. If you live in Chicago, email me and I’ll let you borrow my copy. Last February in Chicago I heard both Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Paysach Krohn quote and base discussions around this sefer at two totally separate events. Rabbi Wolbe z’tl completely “got it” about how to use sechel in the way we educate our children. I often catch myself using techniques and teachings from this sefer. I also catch myself not following some of the ideas in the sefer and pay for it. I don’t get any kickbacks from Feldheim (but wish I did), I just happen to feel very passionately about Planting and Building and it is truly 88 pages of knowledge. Don’t forget to use the code “FLD10” to save 10% when you order it.



The Fire of Judaism (link)

Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, Rosh Beit Midrash of the Yeshiva University-Torah MiTzion Beit Midrash Zichron Dov posted the text of a drasha he gave over Shabbos.  Not only was I inspired by what he posted, but he eloquently weaved examples and sources that were a pleasure to read.  Here’s a teaser:

As our topic this morning is how we raise Jewish children, one lesson here is that we need to do more than tell our community’s children about our ideals; we need to live these ideals, visibly. I know this is likely obvious, but I state it as a first important step for parents, and for all of us, as adults; we are role models by dint of our simple presence.


The entire drasha (not too long) can be read on his blog, here.

Growing up

Our son, just past his 2nd birthday

Our son will become a “Bar Mitzvah” this Shabbos Kodesh.  Over the years I have written about how I’ve  shepped nachas from him making a friend feel comfortable, how we danced it up on Lag B’Omer, how we learned from a chumash belonging to my grandfather, and his awesome one-liner one Shabbos night.  All in all, he’s a great young man.  There are times when he is wise-beyond-his-years and other times when he acts well below his years.  He finds humor in things that others don’t see.  He understands the importance of a moment in time.  The excitement he felt on Tzom Gedaliah, when he put on his Zaidy’s tefillin was beautiful, because, he understood that even without making a bracha, it was special.  He started wearing his Shabbos hat on Rosh Hashanah and is aware that it’s not just another accessory.  I have always told him that he needs to keep his head covered, that’s the main thing.  He fully gets the fact that wearing a black hat doesn’t mean he has any more kedusha than any other Jew.

We have been fortunate that even when he was young, thanks in part to hours of listening to Uncle Moishy, he has had a certain fire for Yiddishkeit.  He has strong sense of what is right in the world and even when he would dress up with an old Shabbos hat and a tallis and play with at “Torah” he made in pre-school, there was a look in his eyes that, to him, he wasn’t just playing.

Watching him learn to lein has been quite an experience.  His diligence and desire over the past year has been inspirational.  He has even opted to listen to the mp3 files of his parsha instead of listening to baseball games on the radio at night (sometimes).  For him, this is a major accomplishment.  His has a great group of friends in his class that he has known since the middle of kindergarten.  He is looked to as role model by many younger boys our family knows, he is liked by his teachers and respected by his rebbeim.

He, like every kid, has his moments that make me want to pull out what is left of my hair, but I love him and he usually knows that.  He is loved by many and I hope he sees this over Shabbos.  We are zoche to live in a beautiful community that is rich in Torah, Avodah, and Gemilus Chassadim.

The countdown is here, my brother arrived before Shabbos, and before we know it we’ll be with out-of-town family and friends who have come in to join us in this simcha.  The absence of my wife’s parents a”h and my father a”h is not easy, but, as we wrote in the Bar Mitzvah invitation:
“Though one’s parents have passed on, Hashem escorts them from Gan Eden to participate in their children’s simcha.” (Zohar 3:21b)

The cold mikvah moshul

Once, when the Chofetz Chaim immersed in the mikvah, he found the water to be very cold. He questioned the caretaker, who insisted that he had heated up the water before adding it to the mikvah and even showed him the kettle he had used. The Chofetz Chaim first felt the kettle, then he put his finger into the water of the kettle, and found the water to be lukewarm. He explained to the mikvah attendant, if boiling hot water is added to the mikvah then the water will become warm. However, he noted, if the water is only lukewarm when it is poured into the mikvah, the water will remain quite cold indeed.

Similarly, if we are trying to ignite within our children an excitement and fervor for Yiddishkeit, we ourselves must be piping hot with enthusiasm. If our ardor for Torah and mitzvos is tepid and unenthusiastic, how will our children be energized and invigorated?

-From Rav Dovid Goldwasser, in the Spring 2012 issue of The Klal Perspectives Journal

New issue of Klal Perspectives (with an article by Rav Weinberger)

BLACK HAT TIP to Micha Berger for emailing me the is link.

The new issue of Klal Perspectives just came out.  Included is an article by Rav Moshe Weinberger, titled “Just one “Just One Thing is Missing: The Soul”, available here on page five.  Every article seems awesome!