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Discovering Strength & a Bright Future

Elky Pascal

Difficult teen years do not have to translate into difficult adulthoods. At times it can take years for the strength — and the greatness — to emerge

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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I t’s true: Struggling teens often turn into accomplished and successful adults. Teen Pages spoke to adults who struggled through their teen years. During those years they never dreamed they’d get to where they are today. They discovered an inner strength that surprised even them, and through that, blossomed into incredible people. Four stories of discovery…

Discovering Her “Thing”

I remember the day Dini*, a classmate of mine, burst into tears and let off steam. She’d been rejected from the three seminaries she’d applied to… and she felt like her life was over.

“And no one even cares enough about me to even try to help me get in anywhere!” she sobbed. My heart went out to her, yet I struggled with the right words to comfort her. Dini had suffered throughout her school years. Unable to keep up with the vigorous classes in our high school, she was placed in a remedial track. Aside from the stigma, she suffered socially. Although she tried to fit in, she never quite made it. Even the friends she made sort of felt bad for her. She never really connected with them and never found her place.

Dini’s seminary rejections were the icing on the cake of a difficult high school experience. Well, fast forward about 11 years. For the record, people did care about her and the school administration actually pushed her into a seminary (it wasn’t her first or even her second choice, but at least she had somewhere to go).

Dini married a wonderful young man; she’s currently raising a beautiful family. Dini may not have had the book smarts to learn dikduk and solve complicated quadratic equations, but so what? She had a flair for style and the smarts to open one of the most successful clothing boutiques in town. It’s pretty ironic. Some of the girls who once snubbed her are now clamoring for her fashion opinion! But that’s life. Dini just wasn’t cut out for school; it just wasn’t her “thing.” But she somehow got through the down times and finally discovered what her thing really is. Most importantly, she discovered the strength within herself to take it and fly!

Your Future is in Your Hands

Looking at me today, you’d see a typical chassidishe woman in Boro Park, the loving mother of a beautiful family. Never would you believe what a nightmare my childhood was… As far back as I can remember, there was tension in my home. My father was unable to hold down a job and my mother worked two different jobs to support the family. Even as a young girl, I was privy to the fighting and tension in my home, but never did I imagine how bad it actually was. I was in fourth grade when my life came crashing down on me. On a cold winter evening my father didn’t come home. He would never come home. The following days were traumatic; I felt lost and alone. It was a different generation; there wasn’t as much awareness back then. So I basically suffered in silence.

I didn’t know it at the time (and I only learned of it much later in my life) but my mother had suffered from severe emotional issues since her own childhood; she was also a pathological liar. The weeks after my parents’ divorce passed in a miserable blur, and I had one younger sister who felt even more lost and forlorn than I did. Because my mother was wrapped up in her own life, I stepped in to take care of my younger sister. That left me with little emotional energy to process my own feelings.

From one day to the next my mother decided to uproot our lives and move to a new community. It was in the middle of the school year and I didn’t know a soul in the new town. The dingy basement apartment we lived in certainly didn’t improve the situation. My mother took care of us, but love was nonexistent. I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories of my childhood.

Things went from bad to worse when someone suggested a shidduch for my mother. My mother forged ahead with the shidduch, and basically forgot about her own two children. We only met our stepfather for a few minutes when it was already a done deal. Once they were married, our stepfather was very annoyed to learn that our father had stepped out of our lives and didn’t support us. He viewed us as a nuisance, always getting in the way.

My sister and I were basically ignored as my childhood turned into a living nightmare of emotional abuse. My teen years were a mess. I attended several different schools in different towns. If I ever wrote a book about my life I’d call it, My Mother Didn’t Even Buy My Socks. I literally had to work during the summers to buy myself basic necessities. At one point, my stepfather decided the tuition was a burden and actually enrolled me in public school.

I attended public school until the middle of 11th grade. A relative finally caught onto the situation and put me back in a Jewish school. When I graduated high school, I began my job hunt. My stepfather had insisted I start paying him rent because I had the ability to work.

Initially, nothing worked out for me. At one point I landed a job as a bookkeeper in the jewelry district on 47th Street in Manhattan; but that fell through almost immediately. I was a broken person.

Then, Hashem, my Father in Heaven, stepped in and saved me in the most remarkable way. Really, He was with me all along, but often it was hard to see Him.

At that point, I was desperate for a job, any job. So I took what I was able to get — an afternoon job in a local takeout place. The owner was a kind chassidish man who knew my mother. He recognized that I was a lost girl and treated me kindly. When Pesach rolled around, I had nowhere to go, so he invited me.

My dress and demeanor clashed starkly with his family’s. Despite this, they were warm and accepting of me, and totally nonjudgmental. The only thing they asked — and so gently — was that I wash negel vasser each morning.

That Pesach was a turning point in my life. I fell in love with the chassidish life, specifically the varemkeit (warmth). I decided that I wanted a home like that. After Yom Tov, they invited me to live with them. I left everything behind, even my TV and radio, packed up all of my worldly possessions into half a garbage bag, and moved in.

That kind family was also involved in my shidduch. I married a wonderful, chassidish young man, and I’m now happily married for 27 years, with a wonderful loving family.

I speak often in many different high schools. I tell the girls what I’ve been through. In case they don’t believe me, I pull out a photo from eighth grade in which I’m actually wearing a nightgown because I was working to buy my clothing and that $9.99 nightgown from Caldor’s was the only thing I was able to afford! That was the extent of how neglected I was.

I always leave off with a strong message:

It is possible for you to have the future that you want.

If you want a good, happy family one day — you can have it! Don’t let the people that are hurting you now hurt your future. Your future is in your hands! You just have to talk to someone. There are people to talk to! You don’t have to go through this alone! Reach out to a kind teacher or principal — to someone! When I speak in schools, I even give out my own phone number. I tell the girls to call me if they can’t find someone else to speak to. You may be suffering right now; but don’t let that make the rest of your life miserable.

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