By Hindie M. Klein, PsyD
It’s been several weeks since the initial launch of Ohel’s groundbreaking new film, Rising from Divorce. The response has been phenomenal.
Our original aim of producing this film was to provide increased community awareness of the impact of divorce on children. Our goal was to better educate both divorced parents and the wider community about the specific roles that rabbanim, community leaders, educators, family, and friends of divorcees and concerned community members can play to help ensure that parents of divorce and children of divorce can thrive.
We initially presented the film in three communities: Brooklyn, Teaneck, and Woodmere. At each community event, hundreds attended each screening, which was followed by a panel discussion that included Ohel’s David Mandel, Dr. Hindie M. Klein, and Dr. Norman Blumenthal, as well as internationally recognized psychiatrist Dr. Mark Banschick and noted educator Mrs. Rochel Chafetz. A number of community rabbanim participated, including Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rabbi Eli Mansour, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, and Rabbi Hershel Billet.
There has been outstanding feedback with each community event. And while the communities may be diverse and geographically far apart, the challenges and concerns are all the same.
Divorced men and women conveyed that they finally felt that their pain and frustration was validated. Educators, family, friends, relatives, and grandparents felt better informed and more empowered to help and many gathered after the film to ask private questions and to comment on how the film had affected them.
Many noted that the film drove home well-known facts and concepts, but were presented from a variety of different perspectives: from divorcees, from adult children of divorce, from community leaders, from rabbis, and from educators. The film served as a community-wide call to arms—a wake-up call for all members of our community.
Naturally, Ohel did receive some constructive criticism—which is always welcome, not least because it further drives the necessary discourse about divorce. A number of participants felt that the screenings could have been better followed by small groups of discussions, focused on different areas of concern.
In the days and weeks that have ensued, Ohel has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from individuals from around the country; indeed, from around the world.
The film has also been recently screened at the Torah Umesorah annual convention.
Community leaders and rabbis are requesting that we bring this film to their shul, to their community, so that their community members may benefit from the screening and panel discussion. As such, Ohel is planning for a number of additional screenings in the tri-state area, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boca Raton, Baltimore, Toronto, amongst other communities.
So as a member of your community, what can you do?
Perhaps one good way to respond to this question is to quote a poignant and dramatic comment from the film. Rivky, a divorced woman with one daughter, stated that she has been living on her block for 15 years and has never received an invitation for Shabbos lunch. Fifteen years. She also noted that it’s not easy to just pick up the phone and invite oneself for a Shabbos meal. Men and women need to be invited.
It is important to be mindful and sensitive towards divorced parents and children of divorce. Too often there is stigma—what did they do to bring on their divorce? Think of a man or woman who has been widowed or a child who has been orphaned. We don’t judge them; rather, we feel compassion. Divorced parents and children of divorce require the same sensitivity and consideration. This might include help with babysitting or just reaching out to say hi and leaving a warm and supportive message.
At one of our screenings, a divorced man in the audience asked how he should respond to someone who comes up and asks why he got divorced. Frankly, this is not anyone’s concern. One might say something neutral like, “it just didn’t work out and I’d rather not talk about it.”
They may mean well, but they do not need to know.
What they do need to know is how they can be of help. This is the paradigm shift that we are looking to achieve—not why someone has chosen to get divorced, but how we can help them during this trying time.
Become a good listener. When you ask a parent or a child of divorce how they are doing, stop and really listen to what they have to say. Don’t judge or make assumptions. Just listen. And don’t discuss what you have heard with others afterwards. This is private and sensitive information, and if they consider you someone safe to vent to or confide in, cherish the confidence. If you are having a hard time processing what you hear and need guidance on how to best understand what you have heard and be helpful, discuss it with someone you trust, or contact a professional who can guide you and who will treat the information you share with them with utmost discretion.
Become educated. Whether you are family, friend, neighbor, rabbi, educator, or community leader, use your vantage point to expand your awareness on this very important topic. Use your influence to create innovative ideas that will help divorced parents and, most notably, the children. Children should never be caught in the middle of a divorce and should never suffer because their parents have chosen to end their marriage.
After one screening, one woman wrote us to say that in the past, she has often spoken negatively about her ex-husband in front of her children. At her friend’s urging, she had agreed to come to the screening of the film, which had a significant impact on her. She has resolved to “turn over a new leaf” and become more sensitive and mindful of how she speaks to the children about their father.
At Ohel, our goals are way beyond the scope of this film. We see the film as a catalyst to belated community-wide discourse, and an expansion of necessary services and programs in the community.
We have organized sections for parents, children, educators, rabbis, friends, family, and community. We are also providing support groups for Magnificent Moms, Devoted Dads, and the Amazing Children.
One final note by an 11-year-old who wanted to send a message to the community and who responded to our question on our website. He notes that since his parents got divorced, the rabbi from his shul comes to pick him up every Friday night, and a neighbor comes to take him to shul every Shabbos morning … “And on Purim we go to the Sister to Sister seudah, where they are very nice and send gifts and gift cards to our family.”
This is a wonderful example of the goals that we would like to achieve in the community, and what we hope this film will inspire.
For trailer and more information, please visit ohelfamily.org/