April 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Showing Unconditional Love to Children and Loved Ones

On October 31, hundreds of people, in person and online, watched a panel discussion at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn on “Unconditional Love: Supporting Loved Ones Who Identify as LGBTQ.” Part two, Unconditional Love: Supporting Loved Ones Who Have Chosen an Alternate Direction in Their Jewish Observance,” will take place on December 6. Although the issues are different, the same underlying tension remains: Your child did not grow into who you expected him or her to be. Now you have to find a way to bridge that gap and remain a loving family.

Nancy and Larry Bravman are sponsors of both panels under the banner “Inspired by Ilona.” Their daughter Ilona Bravman valiantly lived a full life despite being born with type 1 spinal muscular atrophy. She passed away at age 28 on July 2, 2021. The Bravmans conceived this series in her memory to open conversations about maintaining family relationships despite differences. “Everybody is entitled to make their own decisions,” said Nancy Bravman. “It’s not acceptable for anyone else to judge them and push them away. Accept, embrace and love your children. Work out a way not to shut them out.”

The panel on December 6 includes Dr. Shoshana Poupko, a therapist whose husband is the senior rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood; Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron; and Rabbi Menachem Bombach, an educator in Israel who often speaks publicly about his approach to maintaining a good relationship with his not-observant daughter.

In her different roles, Dr. Shoshana Poupko has worked with families where one or more children have chosen a different path. As a shul rebbetzin, an educator of teens and a therapist, Dr. Poupko is known as someone who encourages dialogue about difficult subjects and gently invites the elephant in the room to take center stage. “When we talk about unconditional love, there should never be one factor that defines or dominates our relationship with our kids,” she said. “The same is true in our relationship with our spouse and the compassion we extend towards ourselves.”

Observant Judaism governs behavior in all areas of life. So when a child chooses a different path, either rejecting halacha or taking on more stringencies—there are bound to be clashes. “Find spaces, activities and opportunities to spend time together which avoid areas of conflict,” said Dr. Poupko. She advises teens coming back from a year of post-high school study in Israel with stricter standards than their parents to take the long view. “It can be very challenging for kids who have just immersed themselves in a year of Torah learning to hold back from sharing what they learned with their parents. And it is precisely in these dialogues where knowledge and nuance need to serve as guides. There are situations and topics which require that an honest and difficult conversation take place between children and parents. And there are situations in which a child can halachically be a passive observer and focus instead on maintaining a loving relationship with his or her parents.”

When a child moves away from observant Judaism, it is natural for parents to worry about the potential effects this may have on siblings. “One of the most detrimental things a parent can do is encourage a child to move out and live elsewhere simply because they are not observant. What is critical for parents to remember is that when siblings see each other loved conditionally by their parents, it is not uncommon for them to internalize this message for themselves. They may wonder what they might do to lose their parent’s love as well.”

The teen years are a time of defining one’s identity and seeking answers to life’s existential questions. Communication is critical, especially when a parent says “no” to something. “If we appeal to our kids as young adults, they will for the most part rise to that,” said Dr. Poupko. “As parents, we need to be mindful of what we are saying ‘no’ to, and equally important is how we convey it.

Which brings us back to the theme of the program—to love unconditionally and maintain an ongoing dialogue, guided by a desire to understand before being understood. “Shalom bayit doesn’t necessarily mean agreement,” said Dr. Poupko. “Often it’s about respectfully agreeing to disagree.”

Unconditional Love: Supporting Loved Ones Who Have Chosen an Alternate Direction in Their Jewish Observance,” will take place on Tuesday, December 6, at 8:00 p.m. at Congregation Shomrei Torah, 19-10 Morlot Avenue, Fair Lawn, and will also be livestreamed.

By Bracha Schwartz

 

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles