Archives for April 2010

Mount Grizim

Yesterday was Pesach sheni, one month after Passover when someone who had missed Passover could celebrate it. However, for the Samaritans, שומרונים it was Pesach!

The Samaritans believe in the Torah, but not in any of the other Biblical books, nor do they accept the Talmud or other rabbinic writings. Since modern Judaism is a product of rabbinic interpretation which they don’t accept, their religion differs in major ways from normative Judaism.

Yesterday a bus of Modi’in residents made its way to Mount Grizim to watch the Passover festivities nd to learn about the Samaritans.

All told, there are about 700 Samaritans in the world and all are living either in Holon, Israel, or on Mount Grizim which is located in Samaria (what some people call “the West Bank”). For the Passover observance, all Samaritans must come to Mount Grizim and participate. Busloads of curious Israelis and tourists arrived to watch the festivities.

On a fairly warm day, the mountain was cold and windy. As we walked toward the location of the ceremonies, we saw some sheep grazing. They looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but feel sad for what was to happen to them.

Sheep on Mount Grizim

Sheep on Mount Grizim

We went to the museum which was small, but well kept and we were lucky enough to have one of the Cohanim talk to us and tell us about their beliefs and observances. I found it fascinating that they take the same basic laws from the torah as we do and observe them differently. For example, on Yom Kippur, among the Samaritans, everyone fasts, even babies. The only exception is for those babies who are still nursing.

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

The Cohen, Yefet, with a sefer torah behind him

Yesterday, we were instructed not to bring with us anything that would be considered chametz, not kosher for Passover. We came to see the ritual slaughter of the paschal sacrifice, the lambs.

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Lambs being brought to the ceremony

Passing by us on the street

Passing by us on the street

In addition to the Samaritans, there were hundreds of people who had come to watch the ceremony as well as dignitaries from the Palestinian Authority with whom they also have cordial relations. There also were almost as many professional photographers as there were sheep.

People crowded around the enclosed area where only the participants, dignitaries, photographers and some very persuasive visitors were allowed to be. We occupied a grandstand, a hillside all of the areas around the fences, and areas overlooking the site including roofs of buildings. It was very difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph as the people in front of us kept swaying and blocking our views and never thought of saying “why don’t you take a couple of pictures standing in my place and then switch back with me.” It was cold and windy and pretty frustrating to be standing on my feet for about 2 hours and not seeing much.

What we did see were many men approaching the ceremony. Most were dressed in white, however it appeared that the men of higher stature wore green robes. All of the elders some robes and each had a staff that he walked with.

Approaching the ceremony

Approaching the ceremony

Lambs in the pen, unaware

Lambs in the pen, unaware

As we stood and watched, we heard chanting. The leader would begin the chanting and then all of the men would chant. The words were not intelligible to us because they speak a different dialect. The chanting was not unpleasant, but the noise and commotion of all of the onlookers and of the non-participants made it difficult to appreciate. We saw some dignitaries, cohanim/priests, I suppose, on the podium and then there were two long lines of men. also dressed in white, many of them wearing boots, facing each other on either side of a long trench. A glimpse of two of the men showed them each holding a lamb between their legs.

At a certain point, a word was shouted and then in a couple of seconds there was cheering and shouting and people kissing each other. Although we had seen nothing, we guessed that at that point, the lambs were slaughtered. We later found out that we were right. There was such joy and elation among the participants that I found it incomprehensible.

While we were not looking the animals were skinned and gutted and later we saw a few put on huge skewers being readied to be thrown into the deep, round pits that had been burning for hours.

We were told that at that point, the people would go home and only return around midnight to claim their lamb that would be eaten with the people they were close to.

A few commments:

1. I am glad that I went. It certainly was an experience unlike any other I have had. that said, I wish they could have kept their ceremony purer– with less noise and fuss and extraneous noises and people and bustle. It didn’t have a spiritual quality that I could grasp.

2. I am still feeling very sorry for all of the lambs, and especially so when I think of the joy that slaughtering them brought to the people who did it. I never imagined that animal sacrifice could be anything but deeply solemn and deeply moving.

3. I am pretty sure that I heard our neighbor’s cat praying this morning saying “…שלא עשני כבס”

(If you don’t know Hebrew, it probably isn’t worth explaining it…)


Where am I going this afternoon/tonight?

The first person who answers correctly will receive a Chinese wine bottle cover.

Clue: Look at the calendar.

More when I get back (by then, the contest is over).

How to break up a marriage

A long time ago my sister had a flirting acquaintance with law school. I was, at the time, studying family therapy. We used to joke that I would break them up and then she would get the cases.

But actually, as a therapist, I always did whatever I could to preserve marriages. No marriage is wonderful all the time. We go through difficult periods individually and as a couple that try our patience, that test our coping skills, that make us wonder why did we ever choose to marry this person. Usually, however, these times pass and some of us go along as we were beforehand and some of us grow through the experience and deepen our relationships and some of us grow further apart.

When a couple consults a family therapist, in my opinion, the therapist should never take the side of either spouse. S/he should take the side of the marriage. Particularly if there are children, the couple has a lot to lose by dissolving their marriage. Of course some marriages can’t be saved and shouldn’t be, but many can and should.

One trap therapists fall into is recommending a “trial separation.” Usually the complaining spouse pushes for it and often therapists decide that it would not be harmful. I disagree.

Imagine that you are in a contentious situation with your spouse. You feel that s/he is overly dominant and you have no breathing room. Or you feel that s/he is overly passive and you have to carry all of the weight of the marriage and family. Now imagine your spouse or you move out of the situation. Suddenly the domination stops. Suddenly it’s not your spouse opting out of the work of the family but his/her not being present. What does it feel like? It is a relief. It’s quiet. There is no contention. You sleep and wake on your own schedule. You eat if you’re hungry and don’t if you’re not. Life is a lot better.

Tell me: how is this supposed to motivate couples to get back together?

There was a period of 4 years when my husband and I lived in two different countries because of work and family obligations. I would visit him for periods adding up to 3-4 months a year and he would visit me for about one month a year. I loved the times when we were together. But the times we were apart were good times too. I liked the freedom of being able to establish my own rhythms and activity patterns. Had our relationship otherwise been problematic, the time that we were apart would have convinced me that it was a good arrangement.

Sure, family life brings strength and love and security. We enjoy the closeness and warmth of being together, working on common goals, sharing experiences together, supporting each other in difficult times. But what if all of that is missing? Then wouldn’t separation be less painful than a problematic relationship? Couples who have gotten to the point that interactions with each other are painful have difficulty picturing warm, close family family relationships.

In the over 30 years I have been a therapist, I have never known of a couple who had a trial separation who ended up working on their marriage.

If the intention is to break an abusive cycle and allow people to get the distance and perspective to realize that they really shouldn’t be together, trial separation is a good idea. Otherwise, it’s a mistake.

Families and honesty

As if I really have to tell you…

The basis of any close loving relationship is honesty. Family members should know that they can count on each other to tell the truth. Children must be able to trust their parents in order for them to feel secure. One way that parents can teach this is to let the children know that even if it means getting into trouble with mom and dad, it is always better to tell the truth. Sometimes we would explain it to our children like this: Suppose I told you that if you act nicely now I will give you ice cream after dinner and then after dinner I say I didn’t really mean it, how would you act the next time I promised a reward? How would it feel if you couldn’t trust me?

My own children were, by and large, pretty honest growing up. I am certain there were some lies and deceptions, but if so, they were not of consequence. I knew I could count on them to tell me the truth and they knew they could count on me to take them seriously.

In fact, once we had a babysitter that one of my children didn’t like. The child asked me not to have that babysitter again, but wouldn’t tell me why– and I did not call that babysitter again. Only months later did I learn the reason, and it was good that the sitter did not return. Similarly, when there was a problem at school, I always asked the child first to tell me what had happened. I always got a straight story and I always advocated for my children when appropriate.

When our oldest son left for college in Israel, we all still were living in the US. Before he left, he asked me to promise to let him know if anything happened to anyone in the family– illness or other important things he should know. I told him that I would because I knew that if I didn’t assure him that he would know, he could be in a constant state of tension- wondering if everything is OK at home. After all, back then, before mobile telephones and before the university dorms even had hall telephones in them, communications consisted of letters that took between 5 and 10 days to arrive from the US. But it was only because he knew that he could trust me that my answer was reassuring.

Some families are not honest about things like illnesses and other unpleasant information because they want to protect either themselves or others. That can create big problems.

Once we knew a family where a somewhat distant family member died suddenly at 92 years of age. Members of the family decided not to tell one of the older people to spare her feelings. However, a few weeks later there was a wedding to which both would have been invited. How to explain the absence of the deceased family member? Their solution : a trip to Europe. In our family, from then on, “going to Europe” took on a sinister connotation.

In my own family, my mother hid information about my father’s illness that was essential to my sister’s and my health. My mother hid her own illness from her friends, many of whom were like sisters to her. It robbed them of their ability to support her and it robbed her of the support they could have provided.

Bad news is hard to share, but secrets and lies separate people and doing that at a time when love and support are needed is simply a very bad choice.

Avital’s Bat Mitzvah

I have had a request to talk a little about the simcha that we celebrated a little over a week ago. Avital, the second daughter and third child of my oldest son, is a very special young lady. From the time she was a baby, it was easy to see that she would be quick and clever and have a great sense of humor. She is able to be serious and study hard and achieve and she is able to stop and enjoy life. She has a wonderful smile and in infectious giggle. Here is a formal picture of Avital.



And below is the way we usually see Avital– with her glasses on and raptly attentive to what’s going on around her.



Here she is with her siblings:

Left to right: Elihu, Tzvi, Avital, Amiel, Elisheva, Dina

Left to right: Elihu, Tzvi, Avital, Amiel, Elisheva, Dina

In addition to her siblings, she celebrated with her father and mother and both sets of grandparents and lots of lots of cousins. It was a very happy evening that we all will remember.

We all wish her a life filled with wonder. She should know great happiness, do things that are meaningful, give and receive love, and be blessed with a long, healthy life.

Mazal tov, Avital! We love you.