23 Kislev 5782 / Saturday, November 27, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeishev
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The Year of the Yamulka    

The Year of the Yamulka

Dr. Zev Ballen reveals what he went through as a new Baal Teshuva, including the scorn he received from his colleagues for breaking from their professional smugness...


1990 was the year that I started wearing my yamulka in public. The first time I ventured outside with it on was a Friday night after the evening service. Noticing that I was about to take my yamulka off for the walk home, an older man from the congregation quipped: "Why don't you leave it on, Zev, it doesn't weight that much, does it?"
His logic worked, but...
Within five minutes, a car filled with drunks pulls over, and as the window rolls down I hear: "Hey man - where did you get that cool hat? Could you get us one like that?"
Not long after this incident, I was walking down a very familiar street, still sporting my new yamulka when a sweet old lady passed me and whispered "you dirty Jew" under her breath.
Not long after this incident, I was crossing a street and saw a little girl walking hand in hand with her father: "Look daddy a Jew!"
I had heard that one who tries to get close to G-d must go through challenges but this was getting serious. 1990 was certainly becoming a pivotal year for me.
In 1990, I was still in training at the psychoanalytic institute. The faculty also reacted to my yamulka with disdain - just concealed in more "professional" language. A senior faculty member remarked: "Really, Dr. Ballen. It's one thing to have religious beliefs which are antithetical to the theory and practice of psychoanalysis - but your religious garb is offensive to some people. Religion has no place in a professional setting."
I started to wonder if wearing my yamulka might also jeopardize my income. At the time, I was working part-time at a clinic. When the medical director saw me wearing my yamulka he just smiled and said nothing - but he stopped referring patients to me from that day on, and I was forced to resign.
I wasn't without hope, though. I felt my career take a turn for the better when I was invited to speak at a large scientific convention in New York. The president of the professional society was there. He had never met me personally though. As I took my place at the podium before a large group of psychiatrists and psychologists the president of the society slipped in a pun: "By the way, Dr. Ballen, I hope you'll be joining us for lunch, roast pork is on the menu."
Following my speech, one of the psychiatrists at the convention, who was particularly incensed by my appearance and speech said that it was by far the "stupidest speech that he had ever heard at a professional conference. He asked me if I was intentionally trying to destroy my career. Didn't I know better than to insult an educated professional audience with my "archaic spiritual ideology."
After I "defected" to working with religious people I thought that my life would get easier but that also wasn't the case.
One of my first teachers, in yeshiva, suggested that I drop my practice of psychotherapy and learn full time. He said that since my profession was useless I should learn as much Talmud as possible and encourage everyone else to do the same thing.
I was told by another rabbi that there was nothing that I could do to help people because: "what can a therapist do against the yetza hara?"
Someone else told me that I should continue to work with people but without the title "doctor" because religious people didn't respect doctors and they would feel safer that way.
Who knows what my next move would have been had I not discovered the books of Rabbi Shalom Arush. His writings spoke to both parts of me - the psychological and spiritual - and showed me how I could continue to work as a spiritually-based psychotherapist.
Rabbi Arush writes about every area of psychological functioning that there is: The relationship between men and women; how to raise emotionally healthy, happy children; how to find your mission and to work for it and not just a paycheck; how to set realistic goals and to motivate yourself to achieve them; how to help others unlock the power within them and to use it to find true happiness.
Any Jewish therapist who is willing to study emuna can certainly become a potent agent of change even for the most depressed of people. The happiness that people experience by learning about emuna, goes beyond any conception of happiness that the secular world knows about. With Rabbi Arush's wisdom, one can learn a whole new way of concentrating, thinking, feeling, behaving, and problem solving.
The yetzer is the source of peoples' negative emotional reactions to their perceived failures and personal defects. The emuna coach is G-d's agent to arm people with strategies and tactics with which to fight the yetzer - the very role that the above rabbi could not conceive of a therapist fulfilling. May G-d show him the Truth, as he is the leader of thousands of people who come to him for advice.


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  1 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  thanks for sharing!
nubia1/5/2015 11:30:52 AM

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