The runt of the litter
Meni grew up as the youngest child in a large, religious family filled with anger and rage. He saw his father violently attacking his mother on many occasions. His mother would in turn all too frequently lash out against his older siblings. Meni watched from his hiding place behind the curtains. Meni learned from a young age to fade into the background so that he wouldn’t attract attention and get hit himself. He was physically small and thin for his age and his parents mocked him for being pathetic and a weakling. They called him the runt of the litter. School was a refuge for him, and he did well academically. Yet even when he brought home report cards full of praise his parents still both called him a waste of space and a disappointment.
He left as soon as he could
As soon as he turned 18 Meni left home, throwing his kippah in the bin on the way out. He worked around the clock as a waiter and an office cleaner. He earned enough money for rent and and also saved for a plane ticket. As soon as he could he left America. He flew to the Far East, and backpacked his way around the region. Working in bars and hotel, he was able to fund each leg of his journey. As he passed through, he would have the name of every new country tattooed on his arm.
Encountering Israelis in his travels
Meni encountered hundreds of Israelis busy on their post-army tours. At first, he tried to avoid them, because he wanted to stay as far away as possible from anything Jewish. However, eventually he began to soften a little and one day even accepted an invitation to a makeshift shabbat dinner on a beach.
By now, the appeal of the endless travel was starting to pall, and Meni was starting to feel like there wasn’t any purpose to his life. Could it be that he truly was a waste of space just like his parents always said? He got chatting to one of the Israelis, who said that he himself had hit a similar low point during a particularly challenging part of his army service. However, his friend told him I met a rabbi who’d really made a difference. “He didn’t make me religious or anything,” said the new friend, but he really helped. “Maybe go spend some time in Israel? I’ll give you his number if you like.”
Meni comes to Jerusalem
Meni flew to Israel and felt immediately at home. While in Jerusalem, he did some serious soul-searching and ended up returning to halakhic Judaism. Three years later he married a woman who was sweet and kind and truly accepting of him, tattoos and all.
When you frighten Yourself
Everything was fine until their baby was born. They both adored their beautiful new daughter, but she had reflux and screamed all day and all night. The frustration of not being able to calm the baby, mixed with the lack of sleep made everything look black in Meni’s eyes. Suddenly, he found himself filled with anger, shouting horrible insults in his wife’s face. Because she left the milk out of the fridge or was talking too loudly on the phone, reducing her to tears. Suddenly he heard himself hissing at his tiny baby to ‘shut up or else.’ He was horrified about what was coming out of his mouth. He felt as if his parents were staring back at him when he looked in the mirror. Meni’s wife handed him a leaflet for Kav L’Noar, and Meni made the call.
Meni sees a Kav L’Noar Therapist
Meni told the therapist that he was disgusted with himself. “I’ve spent 28 years vowing never to be full of anger and rage like my parents, and at the first hint of pressure, I behave exactly as they did. How could I of all people say such awful things to the people I love the most in the world? I’m terrified that this is just the beginning- if I’m capable of this maybe I’m capable of being violent too? The thought makes me want to throw up!”
The therapist was very calm and very reassuring. He said, “first of all let’s put the judgment to the side.This isn’t about being a bad person. But if you’re open, I can help you learn to deal with this side of yourself.”
Exploring a childhood filled with anger and rage
Meni and his therapist spent many sessions going over Meni’s childhood experiences, and exploring how Meni had tried to rescue himself in all sorts of different ways both then and afterward.They talked about how he and his siblings were all victims, and how much his parents had also struggled. Meni spent a lot of time trying to contextualize, in light of his parents’ difficulties, all the insults he had so much taken to heart. It was grueling and emotional, but at a certain point, Meni felt healed enough to call his parents for the first time in many years and to tell them about their new granddaughter.
Meni’s therapist also worked with him extensively on his anger management. He taught him to acknowledge his emotions, understand his triggers and recognize the early warning signs. The therapist gave him practical tools for how to pause before reacting, slow his breathing down, and be present and mindful. But he also taught him how to forgive himself when things did go wrong, how to apologize and move on. Meni learned to accept that after all he’d been through, it was natural to have to work on his temper sometimes. Today Meni feels in control of himself and able to enjoy life with his young family.
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality. Picture is for illustrative purposes only.