June Caption Contest Winner!

 Posted by on June 24, 2012
Jun 242012

Dear readers, lurkers and awesome people who leave comments,

The June Caption Contest got some incredibly interesting, insightful and funny submissions. The contest cartoon was of a Hasidic woman lying on the Freudian therapy bed and a very unreligious looking, goateed doctor listening to her lamant. I always enjoy drawing the contest and wondering where the readers will take it. All over the place, is the answer. You guys rock! Thank you for all your contributions. It was so fun! Ideally, every one who contributed should win $25, but ideally everyone should also contribute $25 for the blog site maintenance, so we’re kind of even.

[ehhem]. On with the program.

The three runner ups of the contest were:

Nitza: Hasidish OCD “So did you really leave the door open a crack?”

HH: “He said I should lie to the therapist.”

Yoelish Steinberg: “And the very next day Mindi strolls out with her yellow canopied Bugaboo, rendering my sand canopy worthless!”

These are all funny and insightful in there own way, and for their contribution and humor and moment of laughter, they get a million-dollar shout out. No cash value, though. Sorry. The winner of the major sum of $25, which in this economy is now valuable enough to bail out Greece, is none other than our father of philosophy Socrates, who has risen from the dead and interrupted his dialogs in the heavenly town square in order to contribute. In Yiddish of all things! Yes, first ever Yiddish cartoon. I thought why not — Yiddish can express things English can’t. I’m a big believer in the value of Yiddish as a representation and vehicle of the culture, so this caption had specific appeal. And any polite goy out here reading this can use to learn a Yiddish vort. So there! Here, we publish, the final cartoon.

An Hasidic woman on a therapist's couch

June Contest Winner

[translation: “a polite gentile, but what does he really understand?”]
Thank you, Socrates! We will paypal you your riches.

If a Hasidic woman goes to therapy, she may hope to be relieved of her “problems” or qualify for a medical recommendation, but she would feel a wide, gaping disconnect between herself and her provider. Not only would she be weary and mistrustful of the provider and feel like he doesn’t begin to get her, she would also probably be under the impression that all therapists can see inside your brain. I’m not sure how this popular belief about therapists reading minds came about, but one element that adds to the reverence and fear of therapists is that it isn’t a profession that is practiced by Hasidim’s own. Hasidic women don’t have husbands or girlfriends or children who go on to be therapists. Therapists are mysterious professionals “out there” who went through a daunting education regimen in which they somehow, some way, learned all the secrets to the human mind. When the details to this process are vague, it is easy to assume that they are bigger and more amazing than they really are.

That is not to say H

asidim don’t have makeshift therapists. But those are of a different ilk. It isn’t a branch of psychiatry, it’s more of a branch of yenta-ology. Any yenta can expand her prying and advising to a full fledged business. And any good yid with a few philosophies about life can open a folding chair for some “counselling clients”. But these good people, who are often good people indeed, are much more personal and informal than therapists. What’s problematic is that there is no training and licensing system for self-declared “therapists” and anyone and everyone is free to nail a sign on a closet and open a practice. This creates opportunity for predators and inappropriate behavior to occur unnoticed and unchecked behind these closed therapeutic doors. One makeshift marriage counselor slash rabbis slash mind reader slash evolution debator I saw some years ago, informed me that his “treatment” is most effective when the woman client spends a few “good” weeks at his house. One of his eyebrows coyly expanded upward as he made the declaration of the fine services he offered. I raised him two eyebrows in return, and nearly stuck out my tongue. But I was quite stunned by the seriousness with which his suggestions were taken by others. The ignorance about therapy, professional or self-professed, makes Hasidim very susceptible to all sorts of emotional or financial frauds.

Good thing these people have folding chairs instead of beds then?

On Leaving

 Posted by on June 21, 2012
Jun 212012
Leaving Brooklyn? No Vey!

Leaving Brooklyn

Satmar leaders often told me: “We demand that you follow the rules. If you don’t like our rules then you have a choice. You can leave.”


Really? How exactly can I leave, what with my young child deep in the system’s throes, how?

Officially, those who don’t comply can leave. After all, they’ll all say, the community strives to maintain utmost purity in its schools and in its homes and does not want my or your or anyone’s filthy ideas about individuality or modernity or cross-country cycling (that’s mine) infiltrating their community. But the truth is that they don’t want you to leave either; they aggressively don’t want you to leave. That’s because the Hasidic community is a social construct in which one departure pulls a thread out of the whole fabric of the community. A man or woman who leaves implicates the sibling’s marital prospects, the “poor abandoned spouse”, the “grieving parents”, quite often young children who are on the threshold of two worlds, and all the other neighbors, friends, or unrelated gawkers who may be led to think or take action as a result.

If you are happy in the community, good for you. But if you are unhappy, the reality is sadly very grim. Leaving it is a journey through hell via the extended scenic route.

The community is set up like an onion; layers upon layers that keep you in the system in various ways, and oh, how it can make you cry. You are sewn into its fibers by relations to friends and family you love; you have no one else. You are married before you are old enough to make a choice, and then tied to a spouse and soon children. You have little vocational training; no financial headstart, no education or personal development, no practical world knowledge, a language barrier and a cultural barrier and the barriers just piled so thick, to slice through them you weep. You are so bred into the system psychologically and emotionally, you may not be able to leave even when all logistical boundaries have been removed.

The result is that even if you feel you outgrew the community and the community oppresses you, judges you, hurts you, controls you, bleeds you and robs your spunky spirit and crazy opinions, you may not be able to imagine yourself anywhere else. You may not hope to leave. You may not be able to part with kin and kind. The bind that this creates is a double life fraught with conflict and restrictions too painful to imagine. There’s a growing underground community of double lifers who are finding support and ideas among each other. I know some of them to be incredibly unique, often gifted and supremely talented, with ideas and interests that sets them apart from any mainstream culture. They are resigned to go through hundreds of rituals a day that have no meaning to them and keep secrets from loved ones, because their loved ones cannot accept their truth.

And if you want to leave, if you cannot bear another minute of no freedom, intimidation and raising children against your beliefs, then slather your skin with lots of protection, because hell’s rays blister to the bottom of the soul. Leaders may tell you to go and good riddance, but they will also tell you that they will do all they can to make your life miserable. If you are a parent, the children will be pawns through which they will not let you go. I know this because I’ve been through it. They will tell you they will ensure that your children will be barred from every frum school, that your spouse will be “saved” from you and your marriage torn, that you will have to fight a losing custody battle in which you will be vastly outdone in power, support and money. That you will be ostracized, isolated, defamed and lonely. They will tell you that while you can make a choice, your children cannot be part of that choice. After all, you made a commitment upon marriage (at puberty; when you may have otherwise made a commitment to move to the moon and cure your acne) to raise your children Hasidic. So why, go, go, good riddance, leave your children you carried in your womb and nestled on your breast and go wander the world alone. It’s what you want, isn’t it? Now why aren’t you going yet? It’s a choice, a choice!

Oh?! Oh no, that’s no choice. If any parental tie is torn to bloody shreds when we “can choose” to leave, then NO Mister Rabbi, we don’t have a choice. When our children will be allowed to have relationships with both parents, when children won’t be turned against the leaving parent, that’s when we’ll have a choice. When family won’t close their doors on their own, when a mother won’t have to fight tooth and nail to retain custody of her children, that’s when we’ll have a choice.

The reality is a horrible nightmare of power and control that cruelly attacks anyone who threatens the system. Those inside who are content may not understand the need to leave or the pain one goes through when stuck in a system they want out of, and in that way, they are complicit in the ostracizing, gossiping and investing money in fighting the leaver.

My only solace is that the present situation will improve, that leaving will become easier. It simply has to. Footsteps, an organization aimed to helping those who leave, is growing its resources for parents. There’s also a new organization called “Unchained at Last”, for women in particular. There’s increased social support for those who are in the process of making this decision, online especially. Perry Reich brought national media attention to this issue when she went on Dr. Phil about her own custody battle. Some Hasidic parents are finding out that it is alright not to fight their OTD ex; it is best for the children for the parents amicable. And more awareness and writing from those on the other side, who have survived this nightmare and managed to resettle and salvage their cherished bonds, gives hope to those who want the same.

And there’s the human spirit and our loved ones. We can only hold on to that and keep going, keep going, keep going, until hell can’t hurt us anymore.