By A Parent
On the Shabbos after Pesach, May 3-5, 2019, at the beautiful Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, an organization called Kesher Nafshi did something extraordinary and completely unprecedented: it brought together over 600 parents for a Shabbaton of achdus and chizuk. Together, we supported one another in our common nisayon: parenting “off the derech” kids.
These parents are dealing not just with kids who happen to not be frum, but with all its associated symptoms and causes: trauma, PTSD, school distress, learning issues, behavioral challenges, and so much more. Yet the Shabbaton saw laughter, applause, chizuk, and singing. There was also, of course, vulnerably shared pain by the most prominent members of our communities, with tears of pain and frustration as well.
The majority of the attendees were Chassidish of every stripe. The rest ranged from very yeshivish to modern, from in-town to out-of-town, to Europe, Great Britain, and Israel. It didn’t matter.
Kesher Nafshi was created to support parents throughout the year with guidance from da’as Torah, askanim, and mental health professionals. It also provides precious peer support and chizuk in various get togethers and an annual Shabbaton. Some parents are used to “tzaras rabim chatzi nechama,” but newer parents are still living a secret, shameful pain. Here they wondrously find an open place to share, care, and learn better ways of coping.
Rabbi Shimon Russell, noted therapist and lecturer on this subject, keynoted, along with the eloquent and prolific Rabbi Shais Taub and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in the Five Towns. Author Batya Ruddell, who recently wrote the book “On Their Derech: the conversation continues” shared her thoughts in multiple sessions and conducted a book signing as the book was distributed as gifts. Members also shared in panel discussions and breakout sessions. Rabbi Pinchas Friedman of Belz and Rabbi Shalom Noach Landau offered personal perspectives and inspiration.
But it wasn’t only about the speeches. I have never been in a davening like that, and I don’t just mean the professional “Zingers” a cappella harmonies that broke your soul open. The davening stopped mid-laining for Harav Landau to say a mi sheberach – with individual names – for every single child who needed it, and for every single parent in pain in the room. It was just another message that each attendee got: you matter, your children matter, this is not your fault, it is a gezeirah from Hashem, your children are struggling and your only job is to love them up, just as Hashem loves us through our pain
The profound influence of this weekend is inarticulatable. You truly had to be there. Connections have been made that will last a lifetime. Things have been learned that would have been impossible to know otherwise. Hugs and tears, normally under wraps in our sterile world, were in abundance, by both men and women.
The weekend ended with a keynote by Rabbi Russell on parenting which I am personally determined to make viral. Next year’s event proves to be even bigger and better – and I daven that each parent who needs it knows about it, so we can continue to reduce the stigma, find our strength, and most importantly, help our precious children heal.