Category Archives: children

Blame it on the bus

We (meaning my wife and a couple we’re close with) have running joke that when our kids exhibit behavior or say something that is totally beyond appropriate or not in line with the way of a young mensch/maidel-Yisrael, we say that they must have “learned it on the bus”. (Note: We have busing in the afternoons from school to home for our kids, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Agudath Israel of Illinois. This is truly a bracha in many ways.)

Yesterday my 5th grader told my wife that the bus driver and, even, several 8th grade boys have been “swearing” on the bus and that he and a friend were going to speak to the principal about it. I asked him exactly what words and he told me. One started with S and one with F (and it wasn’t Simcha and Freilich, although if we lived in an extremely anti-chassidishe world, it would be really funny if those words were considered “swear words”).

So, I asked him if he had known about those words before yesterday. He had, but he had never actually heard them said. This opened the door to a short conversation about Nivul Peh and the responsibility to use the mouth that Hashem gave us for serving Hashem with our words. I suppose that I should be happy he lasted this long without really hearing those kind of words.

I know there are times when I’ve gotten injured or angry about something and before I know it I’ve uttered a word that I normally wouldn’t think of using. People slip (commit an aveira, distance themselves from Hashem’s Kedusha, call it what you wish) and hopeful try to better themselves. What bothers me is that I happen to know a handful of people who I think of as good Yidden, but who will casually throw in an occasional Simcha or Freilich when they feel like it. Now, it may be a habit leftover from their past, it may be that they feel it’s acceptable to do so based on the culture (since those words are allowed in PG-13 movies, songs, tv), or their way of expressing themselves within a religion that seems to have laws about everything, or because English isn’t viewed as loshon haKodesh. I’m sure they have their reasons.

What bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. Some parents would say that if I don’t like what my kids are being exposed to on the bus, then speak to the Agudath about getting a money back from what I initially paid for bus service and just pick up my son from school myself. That’s one way to deal with it. My son and his friend are attempting to see if the administration of the school can try to do something, first. Again, what bothers me is that it’s being done on the bus. On the bus with an adult who is busy driving the bus (which is his job). On the bus that has a group of 4th-8th grade boys hanging out on their way home from school. On the bus without any “adult” watching their behavior. Without anyone to be accountable to.

Many kids, even from the best, frum, homes don’t feel that accountability all the time. That feeling that is stated as the first thing in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the concept of “Shevisi Hashem l’negdi tamid – I have placed Hashem constantly before me”, is something that goes beyond home, shul, and school. This, in my own opinion, is half of the problem. The other half, and maybe the root of the problem, is that some kids (and adults, like this writer) forget that the greatest Yetzer Hora is to forget that they themselves are the son or daughter of the King.
Call it a lack of B’tzlem Elokeim.
Call it being in the dark about Gadlus HaAdom.
Call it not understanding the goal of shelaymus.
Call it a result of not knowing that D’veykus with Hashem is a good thing.

How do we act when we think that no one is looking? The bus just happens to be the lab where the experiment takes place. The drive to work is also the lab. Being in your office is the lab. Going shopping is the lab. We control the results of the experiment.

For sources on Nivul Peh, see R Morechai Torczner’s HaMakor site.
For resources about why not to curse, see the Bleep! site.


So the school year has come to a close for my three kids.  All in all, they each had a pretty good year.  During the last few weeks of school several things happened that reminded me of how great my kids really are (k’ninah hora).  

Our youngest daughter, who will be 4 in the fall, has become the bracha queen.  She proudly and clearly makes brachos on her food/drinks.

Our daugher, who is officially a third grader now asked at the end of the school year for pink siddur.  Not only does she daven with it every morning before camp, but whenever she hears that someone is sick she recites Tehillim.

Our son, who is now in fifth grade, just finished a great year with his rebbe, who allegedly, was the inspiration for the Journeys song “The Ninth Man“.  The last week of school his class has a siyum and his rebbe took time bowling and them to a dining hall managed by one of the caterers in town.  His rebbe gives out “zechus tickets” for learning, reciting Mishnayos, showing proper middos, learning over Shabbos, etc to the kids  and they collect them for raffle prizes.  My son was the second to last person to get picked, with only two prizes left.  He told me that he could tell which prize the other boy wanted, so he took it upon himself to chose the prize the other boy didn’t want (it was the game MASTERMIND), so that the last kid would end up with something he liked.  I was floored and very proud of him.

I give up

Photo from flickr
Every month or so I am completely speechless when it somes to my children’s chinuch. I find myself left without words, not because my children’s education as been ruined by “the system”, but because I’m astounded by how fortunate they are to be learning so many important things that are not always found in a textbook.

A few weeks ago my daughter in second grade told me after shul on Shabbos that she was “mevater (gave up) her lollypop to her older brother”. I was speechless. Not because she gave up a lollypop (althought that was impressive), but because she rocked the term “mevater”.  It isn’t a word that gets used a lot in conversation.  In fact, I think I’ve only used the term maybe 3 times in my entire adult life.  I’m not against the concept of being mevater, however despite the book, Let’s Learn Middos 4: Being Mevater (which we don’t own), I don’t often think of it as a middah.  Maybe I should.

For a child (or this blogger) it’s important to understand that “giving up” something can be a good thing.  Selflessness, chessed, and understanding what we need vs. what we want are part of growing up.  For me, it might also be prudent to be mevater certain inhibitions and notions I have about my own abilities.  Can one be mevater the things that hold one back from their Avodas Hashem?  Probably, but you have to know yourself and what why you are not doing what you should be doing.  Of course, a true student of Reb Nachman of Breslov will comment that one should “never give up hope”, but you could give up what’s blocking you from hope.

For a second grader to understand that all isn’t lost when you give up some candy is an important lesson and one that her Morah has successfully taught.   I know the lesson was a success because everyone in my family is on the “mevatar-bandwagon”.

The taste of "Niskatnu HaDoros"

“Niskatnu HaDoros”, the diminishing of the generations, refers to the idea that each generation that is further away from the giving of the Torah, is weaker and further away from Kedusha.  You know how people say, “they don’t make them like they use to”, the “them” in this case would be someone from the previous generation in comparison to someone in our generation.  Think of that “alter Yid” you see in shul who takes time to actually kiss his siddur after davening.  Or the “bubbie” you see in the checkout line in the grocery store, quietly saying Tehillim to herself.
Now think of all the “young married guys” who, after shul is over, run to be “first” in line at kiddush.  Think of the young mother loudly talking on her cell phone while in line to purchase groceries for Shabbos Kodesh.  Yeah, these would be examples of “Niskatnu HaDoros”.  I guess that I’ve got it easy (another example of the diminishing of the generations) because I don’t have to come up with fictional examples.  I can just see it in my own kids.
The three kids that Hashem gave to my wife and I are the following ages:  10, 7, and 3.  They, like most of the kids in this dor (generation) have a penchant for any candy that’s sour.  Sour drops, balls, sticks, gum, gummys, apples, drinks, milk (ok, my kids don’t dig sour milk), etc.  They crave it.  Even the littlest one likes sour sticks.  Now, as much as my children love these items, that affection pales in comparison to the pleasure they derive from watching their Abba attempt to eat these things.  I pucker up and make, what they view as, the funniest face ever.  Why?  “Niskatnu HaDoros”, that’s why.  So, the next time you sit at a Shabbos table or schmooze with a friend over coffee and bemoan the fact that the youth of today have lost that “tam”, taste, for Torah u’Mitzvos, think of sour sticks.

Spoons, sugar, Chelm, and me

Last night my son and I were talking and he mentioned a book he saw in his school library about the “Wise Men of Chelm”.  He told me one story (the one about the bell that signals the town’s fire brigade) and I, in turn told him the following:

The was once a debate in Chlem about which item actually makes tea taste sweeter: the Sugar or the Spoon.
One side held that it was the sugar because when you pour the sugar in your cup of tea and stir it, the sugar will disappear. When you can’t see the sugar then your tea is sweetened.
Now the other side believed that the tea would be sweetened by the spoon itself. The sugar’s only purpose was so that one would know how long to stir. When the sugar had dissolved then the spoon would have sufficiently sweetened the cup of tea.

My son thought this story was hilarious.  He told me that it was funny because even though everyone knows sugar makes thing sweet, in then end it really doesn’t make a difference, as long as you like sweetened tea.  He went on to bed and I kept think about this story.

People like stories that point out the silliness of others.  It’s the same reason we might laugh when we see someone trip or slip on the ice.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.  It doesn’t make us better people, though.  Like those in Chelm, I know that I tend to get confused about what is causing certain things to happen.  I’m lucky that my wife usually points this out to me.  Focusing too much on the spoon blinds you from seeing what is truly sweet in life.  (For the record, this last line too about 4 different rewrites).

“Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man.”- Pirkei Avos (4:1)

Mixed up mussar

Driving my kids to school is usually pretty a constant diet of deciding what music should be played or what “book on cd” to listen to.  This morning, however, I attempted to show them that life lessons can be found everywhere.

Yesterday  on the drive we saw a concrete mixer truck and it was full.  How did I know it was full?  Because the drum was turning around and around and around.
I asked the kids why the drum was turning and my uberson said that, “If the cement stops turning then it gets hard.”

My uberdaughter then said that, “If it gets hard then it is useless.”

I told them that each of us are like the cement and the cement mixer.  If we are not constantly in motion trying to be better Jews doing Mitzvos like helping our friends and serving Hashem then our neshamos will get stuck like hard cement and it will be difficult to build ourselves up and be better people.

Did the get it?  Sort of.  My 4th grade son told over the moshul to his Rebbe and got a “zechus ticket”.  My 2nd grade daughter told her younger sister that if she didn’t share then her neshama would get stuck like cement.

Hanging out: Teenagers

A friend of mine alerted me to this letter that was recently published in Where What When in Baltimore:

To The Editor,

I would like to address the ongoing problem of teenages going astray in our community. The question is where are the teenagers supposed to “hang out”? Some families in our community think they have the answer, which is to open their homes as the “cool” place for teenagers to hang out. These families do not always have teen-aged children themselves but permit actvities in their home that the teens’ own parents parents would not allow. Why would their home be the ideal place for teens to be? Perhaps they have a big television, a Wii for gaming, and other home entertainments that might not be at the teen’s home. Is that really the only solution we can provide?

What about Shabbos afternoons? Once again, there are families that think they can provide the perfect opportunity for teens to be supervised in a “kosher” environment. My question is, is this really in the best interest of our teenagers?

The shuls in our community have activities for yough children, such as Bnos and Pirchei, but nothing for our teenagers. Why can’t we offer our teens organized activities? There are so many opportunities available: like visiting nursing homes as a group, learning programs, games, and other organized activities geared for teens.

It is time for the rabbis and community organizers to take action to protect our teens and direct them to use their time in a productive and true Torah way.


I’ve been sitting on this post for a few weeks.   I wrote a letter to the editor.  What follows is the basically what I sent in.
I realized that that the author is trying to address two issues:
1)  Kids hanging out in private homes
2)  Lack of organized Shabbos activites for teens

Regarding the first issue, what’s really so wrong with teenagers “hanging out” in a private home with parents supervising?  I know, as a parent, I would much rather have my children spending time at someone’s home instead of sneaking around with me knowing under adult supervision.  If a family doesn’t chose to have a television in their home and they don’t want their child “hanging out” with kids watching television, then tell you child “No”.  I understand the Yetzer Hara to condemn another family for making a “cool place to hang out” must be incredibly stronger than the Yetzer Tov to actually be a parent that is involved and has a relationship with their on child.  A relationship that allows a parent to say “No.  I don’t want you watching television or playing Wii”, has to be based on true respect and honesty between parent and child.  A relationship like that takes time and hard work.  Most of us can’t even find time check email mail, these days , let alone attempt to forge a relationship with our children.

However, would you rather have your teenager hanging out with other teens unsupervised behind your back?  Trust me, there are plenty of nice “frum” boys and girls who do things secretly that would make their mothers flip their sheitels.  I think it’s great that someone is opening their home to teenagers in a supervised way.  I take my kids to the “Shabbos park” and I notice groups of teenage boys hanging out without girls around.  I also see teenage girls chilling out without any boys around.  I also, every so often, see a mixed group.  If the teenagers are not at the park then they must be someplace else and doing something else.

Now, the second issue is something that seems like common sense.  Why not have organized programming available to teens is a community?  I think if NCSY, Bnai Akiva, or a local Agudath Israel or a community Kollel were to set up options like the letter writer suggested it would be awesome.  Of course, then we get into the issue of should the program be separate-gender.  I would suggest there be various tracks, so children and parents can choose.

My oldest uber-child is only 9 years old.  I’m not sure if a co-ed program would interest him when he’s a teenager.  I do know that unsupervised hanging-out isn’t the best option.  I spent plenty of years (pre-observance and after I became observant, as well) hanging out at homes when parents were not around.  I will only say that we hung out at these homes, dafka, because parents were not around.  If parents take the initiative to open their homes, the better off those teens are.

Birkas HaChama

R Selig Starr zt”l often told his talmidim that “you should know what you know and know what you don’t know”.  I have heard this from several of his former talmidim from HTC and my son has heard it his current rebbe, who was one of R Starr’s students.

Until about 9 months ago, I had no clue what Bircas HaChama was.  I became Torah observant when I was 16, in 1987 and, of course, that last time we said this tefillah was in 1981.  I did get a copy of R Bleich’s original sefer on this event thanks to someone who was giving away their late father’s Judaica library, so I was able to read up and a fairly good understanding of the event.  This year I will, like my 9 yr old son, experience this for the first time.

All too often there are so many “routine” things in Torah observant life.  For me, it’s nice to learn about a not so common event and still feel that I’m part of a “global happening”.  

A letter to my Daughter

Dear [First Name] [Middle Name],

You are now past the middle part of your first grade year and just got your siddur. You came home from school so excited about your “siddur party” and were so proud of yourself.  Mommy and I are very proud, as well.  On Shabbos night we sat together on the sofa, while your older brother played with your younger sister.  I went to the bookshelf and brought down a siddur that belonged to my grandfather, your great-grandfather.  It was printed in 1857, so it’s 152 years old.  This is probably the oldest thing we have in our home.  It’s way older than, even, me!

We sat and opened up this very old siddur and I showed you that it was printed in a place called Vienna, Austria.  Vienna, interestingly enough is where Mommy’s dad, your Zaide a’h was from.  We looked at the tefillos and I showed you that the same things that you daven from your new siddur are also in this very old siddur…even Sh’ma!

I’ll give this letter to you when you are older and, hopefully, will appreciate the idea that are past, present, and future are all connected to davening to Hashem and when you open a siddur you are opening your heart!