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March 16th, 2007
New books on teens and families provoke thought, ideas for change
The Book of Proverbs teaches, Better a morsel of dry bread, with peace, than a house full of feasting, with strife. In other words, shalom bayit, or peace in the home, trumps most other pleasures and joys.
A fundamental Jewish value, shalom bayit can be difficult to achieve. While Jews are certainly not the only ones to struggle with issues of family harmony, our history and cultural background affect the approaches we take to family relationships.
Our inclination to question, analyze, argue and hammer out our opinions has created a unique communication style.
Additionally, the central role that community and family have historically played in Jewish life has resulted in a relatively heavy emphasis on interpersonal relationships.
Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Jews are over-represented among psychiatrists, psychologists, advice columnists and radio and television therapists. And some of those counselors recently published books on family relationships from a Jewish point of view.
Fragmented Families: Patterns of Estrangement and Reconciliation by Ellen B. Sucov (Southern Hills Press, paperback, $19.95) is this years winner of the National Jewish Book Award in the category of contemporary Jewish life and practice.
In her annotated, 330-plus page work, Sucov, a psychologist and retired University of Pittsburgh professor, examines diverse aspects of family estrangement from personal, psychological, cultural and religious perspectives. She focuses on the meanings and process of alienation, its outcomes and paths toward its resolution.
Narratives of real families form the heart of the book. It focuses on Jewish families and the historical processes and religious traditions that impact on Jewish family life.
And while some of the families discussed remain in the midst of struggle, a few have found ways to rebuild connections and achieve closure. The story of the painful, prolonged estrangement in the authors own family traces the sequence of actions that led to its reconciliation.
Fragmented Families provides practical strategies for clarifying ones own role in the family and facilitating reconciliation with alienated family members. Intended for general readers, it is also relevant for psychologists, physicians, lawyers, social workers, educators and clergy.
Parenting Jewish Teens
Joanne Doadess Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed (Jewish Lights Publishing, paperback $16.99) plays on a title by Judaisms 12th century scholar, philosopher, physician and codifier of Jewish law, Moses ben Maiman, also known as Maimonides.
Doades explains in her preface that like Maimonides, whose goal was to help scholars reconcile the truths of scripture with rational philosophy, one of her goals in the book is to help todays Jewish parents draw upon the teachings and the wisdom of our tradition in guiding their teens to adulthood.
Doades asserts the idea for this book project was born from the difficulties of my own personal experience in parenting Jewish teens. Assuring her readers that she is not speaking theoretically, she has, she says, ushered three children through the teen years into adulthood and she seems to have the harrowing anecdotes and emotional scars to prove it.
She developed her ideas for this book through her masters thesis in religious education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. And she also designed Parenting Jewish Teens workshops, which she presented at professional conferences, synagogues and Jewish Community Centers.
There, she said, she saw that Jewish parents across the spectrum often feel isolated and alone with their parenting Jewish teens issues, often not knowing how to access the power of our eternal tradition that purports to provide meaning and direction for a life well lived.
Some of the issues she addresses in this 147-page book are: The differences between the world of todays teen and the world of their parents as teens; the pain of separating from children as they enter their teen years; and how parental behavior must change as teens grow older.
Doades also takes on particularly Jewish issues, such as: living with differences in Jewish belief and observance within the same family, and the unique challenges of parenting a Jewish teen in an interfaith home or parenting a special-needs, adopted, or homosexual teen, or a teen engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior.
Shalom in the Home
In his new book, Shalom in the Home: Savvy Advice for a Peaceful Home (Meredith Books, paperback, $14.95), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach addresses issues that destroy families.
Described by his publicist as Americas most outspoken rabbi, Boteach is the author, columnist and radio and television host who made it big with his 1999 book, Kosher Sex.
Based on his TLC television program of the same name, the 286-page volume offers insights and advice in a simple, reader-friendly style to help adults see the larger implications of their behavior and its impact on all of the members of the family.
Taken from a re-examination of his experiences with families from his shows first season, Boteach recounts the process of interviewing and videotaping family situations and then the analysis and counseling that ensued. Each chapter attempts to offer insights and life lessons that all couples can identify with and use to create harmony in their own homes.
Divided into 10 chapters, each focuses on one of the families Boteach worked with in the television series and on one of the problems that tears families apart.
Some of those include choosing life after a tragic loss; adultery; parenting out of fear (in this case, fear of disciplining, closeness, loss of babyhood); passionless, platonic marriages; sharing the burdens, whatever they are; and achieving self-worth through ones children.