Edited by Avigail Rosenberg
Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
In Healing from the Break – Stories, Inspiration and Guidance for Anyone Touched by Divorce, Avigail Rosenberg confronts the pain and loss of divorce. Yet, from those broken threads, she weaves a rich tapestry of hope and transcendence.
Rosenberg, who is writing under a pseudonym, divorced close to ten years ago and found that there was a lack of knowledge and help available in the frum community. In her search for meaning and support, Rosenberg compiled this book to demonstrate how many people faced with this nisayon “have found inner peace” even when faced with great suffering and loss.
The anthology of essays by tens of writers (using pen names), is a rich gamut of stories told from the perspective of everyone in the family affected by divorce: the divorced people themselves, the children, the parents of the couple, and even ex-in-laws. One of the most striking features of this book is the originality of voice and story – which comes as a pleasant surprise, given the uniform theme of the book.
From the get-go, one reads of a woman being told by her mentor, “You can’t get divorced – you don’t know how awful it is to be divorced!” and the reader feels the raw pain of a woman experiencing not only emotional abuse, but the added sting of not having support from her mentor (p. 29). However, as in all the stories, the essay doesn’t end there; the writer uses her own experience to exhort mentors and role models to be careful when they guide kallos and to be aware that marriage is not supposed to include suffering.
The husband’s perspective is also included, including a challenging read about a woman’s obvious mental instability at home, while appearing soft-spoken and smiling in public. Despite his anguish, the writer is grateful for and devoted to his new daughter, and remains a dedicated father, despite such a painful divorce.
Not surprisingly, the pieces written from the perspective of the children are hardest to read. Universal themes emerge, like being pulled in two directions, fantasizing about parents getting back together, and fears that they are the cause of their parents’ divorce. In “A Life from Scratch,” young Sender says, “…it seemed that the very foundations of our home were being split in half.” Fortunately, Sender develops into a healthy young man. He and his two sisters build happy marriages of their own.
After the stories about the initial break, the essays shift into tales of remarriage, step-parenting and blended families. While some paint a prettier picture, others, such as Penina Sternberg’s “In The Blender,” are less rosy. Sternberg presents the struggle facing her new family since the children from the marriages were “polar opposites.” In the end, Sternberg comments, “Each of us has come, gradually, to appreciate what the others have – as alien and occasionally annoying as it may feel – precisely because it is something that we ourselves lack (p. 248).”
Following the personal essays, the section “Better instead of Bitter” includes practical articles from mentors, rebbetzins, and therapists. Again, as with the essays, each writer presents a refreshing outlook. The wonderful essay by Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz called, “Connecting to Torah, A Single Mother’s Guide,” addresses such important concerns as developing a kesher to a rav, being part of a community, and reaching out to establish relationships between sons and male role models.
In the last section of the book, “Ensuring Your Child’s Success,” rabbis, therapists, and a life coach write for parents, teens, and adult children of divorce. These jam-packed essays contain pertinent ideas and sound advice.
Finally, Rosenberg has included appendices about money management, dealing with yamim tovim, a message to teachers, a valuable resource list, and recommended reading.
In the aftermath of her divorce, Avigail Rosenberg asked herself repeatedly, “Why me, and why this nisayon? Why not something else?” Indeed, the percentage of divorce in the frum community has been climbing over the past decade, although it is typically considered a last resort. Rosenberg believes, in agreement with mentors and rabbanim she’s spoken to, that in the period before Mashiach’s arrival “our most precious relationships are unraveling. We confront challenges to our emunah as our marriages dissolve, as unions that showed such potential fail to deliver.”
This book takes an honest look at the nisayon of our time – but not in order to bemoan or question, but with the purpose of healing. Within its pages those who have experienced divorce will find comfort and understanding, and those who have been blessed not to have confronted divorce will learn how to be sensitive to those who have.