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Daniel Grama & Aliza Grama: A Child in Recovery

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we sit down with Rabbi Daniel Grama—rabbi of Westside Shul and Valley Torah High School—and his daughter Aliza—a former Bais Yaakov student and recovered addict—about navigating their religious and other differences.

Daniel is a rabbi in Los Angeles, and has, to some extent, dedicated his life to teaching others about Orthodox Judaism. Aliza experienced a rebellious teenhood in which she left religious observance and succumbed to addiction. As Aliza’s deviation from her Orthodox upbringing became more pronounced, she and her family were forced to come to terms with their differences, and eventually learned to love, understand, and compromise with each other.

  • When did each side realize their lives were very different?
  • How did they process this during the early years?
  • How did Daniel and Aliza come to terms with the unfulfilled religious expectations of a parent?
  • How have they been able to build a healthy relationship?
  • And what would they have done differently?

Tune in to hear Daniel and Aliza ruminate on the difficult years of their relationship and what has happened since.

References:
Mishpacha Magazine
The Body Keeps the Score

Scholarly Mentions:
Donald Winnicott

Daniel Grama (father) is the rabbi of the Westside Shul in Los Angeles, and a rabbi in Valley Torah Yeshiva High School. 

Aliza Grama (daughter) lives in the Los Angeles area, and hosts a weekly parsha class with her father on her Instagram, where they model a shared appreciation for Torah that shines through their many differences.

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring intergenerational divergence. Let me just say a word about what we mean by that topic. We’re talking to families where the parents and children have different religious lives, and how those religious differences bear out within a family. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas that affect our lives, our theology, the way that we look at the world. So be sure to check out 18Forty.org, where you can find videos, articles, and recommended readings.

I’ve always been of the opinion that when we think about our relationship with Judaism, we’re actually balancing three different identities at once. Normally, when you’re just sitting at home or on the couch on, I don’t know, on a weeknight and thinking about your relationship with God or any sort of ritual, Halakhah, whatever it is, so you think about Judaism as an individual. And I think that for most of our early lives, we’re probably most conscious of our Jewish life as an individual. And then, especially when you’re much older and you settle into a community, you start thinking about where you’re sending your own children, if you have children, to school, and where you affiliate, and what institutions you give to. We also think about Judaism as an institution, as a large community. And we have our communal and institutional affiliations. And somewhere in the middle, not as an individual, and not as the entire community, we have our familial Jewish relationships. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say that those aren’t always all the same, and that can be okay. Meaning, a lot of people might find that offensive, or Judaism is Judaism. You can’t pick and choose wherever you go.

And God forbid, that’s absolutely not what I’m saying, I want to clarify that. What I’m saying is that, the way that we express our commitments, the language we use, the sensitivities we have, what’s kind of called in the secular world code switching, the way that we talk. That can very much differ in the way that we talk about Judaism in our own minds and our own hearts, what it means to us as individuals. When you’re alone, when you’re by yourself, when you’re, I don’t know, you’re on vacation, you’re alone. What do the commitments mean to you? How do you relate to it? How do you dress up with it? To me, that’s a question that a lot of us had to deal with during the pandemic. What did shabbos look like if you were ever alone?

I certainly, as I’ve written about and spoken about, I’ve spent shabbosim by myself, pre-pandemic, when I was single. I spent Pesach by myself pre-pandemic when I was single, an article that I shared once, I had the privilege to share on Tablet last year when the pandemic was coming out. What do those experiences feel like? That’s on the individual level. And then you kind of have those larger, communal affiliations, whether it’s the schools you went to, and the places that you donate or give to, or the events that you show up to. And in the middle, there is family. It’s not quite the individual, and it’s not quite the communal. And it kind of takes pieces of both. And if you think about it in a way, and there’s a reason why we’re deliberately talking about this before Pesach, before Passover, is because I think the entire experience of Passover is about balancing between that world and transitioning from that world of individuals to that grander world of institutions, communities, and all of that stuff.

That’s what Pesach very much deals with, that transitional space of family. We’re not individuals, we don’t all get to do what we want. We don’t all get to just make our own decisions without thinking about anybody else, which you can do if you’re alone on a desert island. But also not a communal institution that we’re deciding for the entire world. And that’s why I think so much of Pesach is about that family space, because that’s what the entire Pesach experience is commemorating, the transition from individual, to familial, eventually to nation, which was what we had on Shavuos when we were given the Torah at Har Sinai. And I really think it’s interesting. It comes up in a bunch of ways on Pesach, if you think, and this might be too nitty gritty. But if you think about the nature of the korbon Pesach, the sacrifice that we bring on Passover.

So many of the laws, if you’re reading the Daf Yomi cycle is up to Pesachim, so you’ll forgive me if that’s where my head is, but so many of the laws and the nature of that korbon, that sacrifice, it’s not quite an individual sacrifice that you can just give on your own, do it by yourself. And it’s not quite a communal sacrifice that could only be bought in a certain way, has very specific rituals involved. It’s in that liminal space in between the individual and communal, and that’s why Pesach, the korbon Pesach, and mishpacha, family, is at the center of the Pesach story. Which is why I think it’s so apropos to think about how our religious life and our religious obligations and our religious commitments emerge and are negotiated within the context of family. The Maharal has this incredibly beautiful idea, the Maharal was an amazing thinker, Rav Yehuda Loew of Prague.

And he asked this really blunt question, which is, why didn’t God give the Torah to the patriarchs, to the Avos, to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, why didn’t God give the Torah to them? They did amazing things, why not give the Torah directly to them? And the Maharal responds with I think an idea that’s quite beautiful, it’s that they could be amazing individuals, but the only way to perpetuate that eternal value of the Torah is to give it to an eternal entity. And that eternal entity needs to be a nation. Individuals live and die, their lives so to speak expire, it is only a nation, it is only that peoplehood that we have that is eternal. And Pesach is that transition, Pesach is the transition from individual to national, communal, and that road stop is the family. And that’s why I want to be really clear about what these podcasts are about, what these conversations are about, and what they are not about.

We are not negotiating conversations about what communal policy needs to be in all of the divergence that we’re going to be addressing. And we are dressing very real divergence in all of these families. These are not meant to solve theological issues, dilemmas, or resolve sociological pressure that we may feel in our community in any which way in whichever which communities that you’re a part of. What this is meant to do is to be a very narrow but important lens on the family. So I want to introduce our conversations and what they’re going to be about, and I’m going to reiterate what they’re not going to be about, because this is really important. These are not scholars, though many of the guests that we have on in the families we’re talking to are scholars, but they’re not speaking on behalf of communities and institutions.

They’re giving us a lens into a very real family, with real people, a parent and a child, talking to one another, and how they negotiated difficulty, divergence, in a very healthy, in a very real way. And I of course acknowledge the fact that these stories might be more, I don’t want to use the word extreme, but not everybody’s going to have these stories. And I want to make two other very important disclaimers. We’re not trying to sensationalize these stories. These are very real, private, intimate moments that a family is having. We’re not trying to sensationalize, we’re trying to be constructive, because, and this is disclaimer number two, every family, no matter what they’re dealing with, no matter how lockstep there, every family has divergence. My family has divergence. My sister keeps cholov yisroel, only has milk in a certain way, we do not.

I think my mom at some point changed over, I’m not careful about that. My father and my mother don’t use the eruv on shabbos, I use an eruv which allows me to carry on shabbos. My uncle, who I love and I’m crazy about, doesn’t observe shabbos in the same way that we do and lives in Bennington, Vermont. And my father’s shabbos observing was quite different than his father’s shabbos observance. In ways big and small, every family has its own quirks and its own differences in the religious identity and composition of the people in the family, which is why this… I don’t even like the word disclaimer, it’s a reminder of sorts to our listeners that these conversations and all of our conversations have this to an extent, but particularly now, these conversations, I believe are an absolute privilege to listen to.

None of these people came to me. I approached them and said, I think your story is constructive. I think your story can help other families, who may be negotiating in ways big or small, with similar questions and similar difficulties. And it’s really hard sometimes to take instruction on how to manage a family from an institution or from an individual. It’s sometimes easier to look at other families and say, “Hey, the way that this family is negotiating this can be constructive for what we’re going through.” And what this is really meant to do more than anything else is not to tell families how to negotiate these differences and these divergences, but to number one, first and foremost, the quote that I always love from Irvin Yalom is that, “There’s a comfort of sorts of seeing the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.”

Every family is its own universe, has its own character, but looking into other families and realizing that what we’re negotiating, what we’re dealing with is normal, is healthy, and is something that we need to figure out, in ways big or small, how we’re going to negotiate this. That’s number one. And number two, I really want it to be constructive in figuring out and building familial capacity for families to allow their children to coexist with one another, even in the face of really difficult challenges. And I believe there is a way forward, and I believe there is a way to do this. There was an amazing article on the cover of Mishpacha Magazine about, I think it was a teenage girl, maybe she was in her early twenties. I believe her name was Malki, who had a drug addiction.

She eventually, I believe, died of a drug overdose, on the cover of the magazine it had the story of her family and how they negotiated it. And I remember that in that story, and it was such a moving story, maybe we can put the link up on the website, but in that story, they came to a rabbi and said, “Do we have to kick this girl out of our house? She might influence the other siblings.” And this rabbi, who’s clearly Hasidic, answered in Yiddish. He says, “uber its beim heim,” it’s her home, what are you going to do with that? And not to give instruction for parents who are dealing with this, God forbid, that’s not what we’re doing here, but that inner sentiment, that intuition that this is their home that they are growing up in, and to figure out how to create Jewish homes and Jewish spaces that have the capacity to deal with difference and divergence, particularly on a familial level, I think is something that every child and every parent has thought about, considered, negotiated, and tried to navigate and deal with. So it is really my absolute pleasure and privilege, with those reminders that these are familial discussions, these are not communal discussions. We’re not sensationalizing story, we’re trying to build something constructive. And before you give feedback, before you send an email, certainly before you contact any of the speakers, appreciate that there is a personal intimacy involved in this, and to appreciate it as such. These are personal lives and real people opening up situations that are difficult and very often painful to navigate, but who brought us into their lives to help us, the listeners, the people in conversation, figure out how to navigate our own familial lives and negotiate between that space of individual, family, and community.

So it’s my absolute pleasure to introduce, or give you an overview, of the conversations we’re going to be having this month on 18Forty. Our first conversation is with Rabbi Daniel Grama and his daughter Aliza Grama, and it’s about a child in recovery. Rabbi Daniel Grama is a rabbi in the Westside Shul in Los Angeles, and a rabbi in Valley Torah Yeshiva high school. His daughter Aliza lives in the Los Angeles area. And I found out about them because there’s something very beautiful on Aliza’s social media. Aliza hosts a weekly Dvar Torah, a Torah idea where her father comes on and shares something on Instagram. Aliza, as you’ll see in the conversation, struggled with drug addiction and left Judaism, their story is quite powerful and quite painful. But it’s also extraordinary uplifting as all of these stories are.

Next, we have a conversation with somebody who, in the interview, I ended up calling her mom, but Rabbi Robyn Frisch is a Reform rabbi based in Philadelphia. She runs an organization called 18Doors, which works with interfaith couples. And their son, Benji, who’s absolutely amazing, and we got him on the phone, but I’ll tell you in advance, he’s learning in Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. He’s only got a flip phone, he’s the real deal. So this mother, a Reform rabbi, and her son Benji Frisch, who became Orthodox, just an amazing story, and how her mother, who’s not Orthodox, deals with it and negotiates with this. And to me, this was a really important story because in many ways, it’s the story of my family. My grandfather, my father’s father, I don’t know that he would have ever described self as not Orthodox, but certainly he was 1950s out of town and observed Judaism in a very different way than eventually my father did. And it was a source of tension. It’s not a big secret, my Zaide, his memory should be blessed, eventually came around and embraced Judaism in amazing ways in his own life. Much later on, in his eighties, he started going to… He got remarried when he was 80 after my Bubby passed away and started listening to Talmud. But the story of Robyn Frisch and her son Benji very much in many ways parallels one that I grew up hearing.

And finally, the story of Rabbi Menachem Penner and his son Gedalia Robinson. Rabbi Penner, as many may know, is the Dean of REITs, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, and was previously a rabbi at the Young Israel of Holliswood Queens. His son, Gedalia, who is a strong advocate and supporter of the LGBT community, and a member of the LGBT community, have joined us in a conversation together about a child’s orientation, and how a rabbi and leader of an Orthodox rabbinic institution navigates the fact of having a child who is gay. And that conversation was, just all of the conversation, but that conversation was especially powerful and important in this moment to figure out how families negotiate this issue. It’s something that I’ve reached out and dealt with with other families, and really the fact that they both came together. All of these people came together and opened up their lives to our audience, this is an especially big privilege to introduce the topic of this month on 18Forty, Intergenerational Divergence. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce Rabbi Daniel Grama, and his daughter Aliza Grama, in a conversation about a child in recovery.

Hello, and welcome all to the 18Forty podcast. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce an amazing family, specifically Rabbi Daniel Grama and his daughter Aliza Grama from the West coast. Rabbi Grama serves as a rabbi, educator, and Aliza Grama, who we’re going to learn much more about, also currently living in the West coast, and we’re going to learn both of the stories. As all of you should know by now, we’re talking this month about intergenerational religious differences, how families navigate a world where parent and child perhaps do not match up in the ways that we once did religiously. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce Rabbi Daniel Grama and his daughter Aliza Grama.

Aliza Grama:

Thank you.

Daniel Grama:

Good evening. Thank you. And it’s really a pleasure and honor for us to be able to participate in this amazing program, which you put together. I’ve listened to some of the podcasts already and I’m very honored to participate. Thank you.

David Bashevkin:

Oh, that’s absolutely, that’s so kind of you. So the way I found out about you is that you sometimes broadcast on Instagram Live together with your daughter. Now you are clearly a Rav and an educator. I’m looking at you now, you’ve got a nice white button down shirt and a tie. Your daughter is not wearing a white button down shirt and a tie, but you wouldn’t be able to tell what her religious background is, but clearly there are differences –

Aliza Grama:

Only on Rosh Chodesh.

David Bashevkin:

Only on Rosh Chodesh. So I wanted to begin with this question. When did each of you realize that you were on different pages religiously? I assume most families begin where the child and the parent, we hope more or less, every parent hopes that in all aspects of life, their child is the mirror image or whatever aspirations we may have for our children. And it doesn’t always work out that way. So maybe we could begin at the point of distinction of when did each of you realize, I’m going to ask each of you to share your own perspective on this, that you in fact were not, and on very different pages religiously.

Aliza Grama:

I’m going to start.

Daniel Grama:

Yeah, you start.

David Bashevkin:

So this is going to be tricky the whole way, and I’m going to let you guys decide who jumps in first. So Aliza, why don’t you take it away?

Aliza Grama:

Okay. So for me, I was 15 in ninth grade and I was starting to have a lot of questions on my own regarding religion, regarding Judaism. I just had a lot of anger inside me, not knowing what it was about, I had a lot of resentments. I started hanging out with the bad crew in school. I got a cell phone on my own without telling my parents, I –

David Bashevkin:

That’s impressive. And let me dart in right now, before you tell us the details of how you got a cell phone on your own, but explain to me, where were you, just what kind of schooling were you involved in? You don’t have to tell me the specific school, but you were in a Modern Orthodox school, more of Bais Yaakov –

Aliza Grama:

No. I was in a complete Bais Yaakov uniform, black tights, button up to here, the collarbone, everything needed to be covered. It was a very strict Bais Yaakov. So I was in a very, very frum school at the time. And I started hanging out… They weren’t bad girls, but they were more of, I guess I would say the cooler girls, and –

David Bashevkin:

What we colloquially call the fun crowd.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah, exactly. So I was becoming friends with them. I was skipping classes. I wasn’t really going… I would leave school early a lot. I got a cell phone that, I got a prepaid phone from the nearby Walgreens, by the way. I paid monthly for it, with my own money, however I had it, babysitting or whatever it was. And I would meet a guy here or there, or from New York, and that’s how I would talk to guys, or at that time –

David Bashevkin:

That wasn’t really, based on your schooling and upbringing, that wasn’t okay. I remember in my own life, you should know, I think the one… My parent, every parent makes a thousand and one mistakes. I remember my father one time said, he one time announced, he said, “David, I never want to see you outside of the pizza store talking to girls.” He told me this in high school, which basically for me meant, I better to learn how to hide this very well –

Daniel Grama:

Right. Inside the pizza store not so bad.

David Bashevkin:

So you were drifting off into this other crowd and exploring your own freedom in this way, which is fairly, I don’t want to call it typical, but it’s not unusual to have a high school student kind of explore their own freedom in this way.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah. It was also, I wanted to do it because I wasn’t allowed to do it, but I hid everything from my parents for a long time. I resented the rabbi of the school a lot for various reasons. I didn’t feel like I was treated well, I didn’t feel like I connected with any of the teachers, or I didn’t feel like… There was also, my whole life I wanted a lot of attention, and I didn’t feel like I was getting that. That void for someone to reach out to me and want to talk to me and want to be with me. When you’re in a Bais Yaakov school and you ask a question, you ask, let’s say for example, a specific question, like why do we need to keep this halakhah?

The teachers don’t really have an answer because they do it because this is how they grew up, so they just shut you down, and I would always want to know why and why. And so for me, I didn’t know in which way I was going, I was just going. I was angry, I was rebellious. But at this time I was still frum, I was just doing a little bit things on my own. I was also filling the void with boys, me wanting attention, me seeking validation. I was seeking that from guys, which was very not allowed. And I also felt very cool, I guess, because I was being… I felt cool. And that’s when I started, that’s when I felt like I was drifting.

David Bashevkin:

Exactly. And that’s when you realized that you were looking at yourself as a 15, 16 year old, and saying, “Wow, I’m in a place now that is very different than what my parents wanted.” So maybe we could shift to Rabbi Grama, and from his perspective, at what point did you realize that you were on a different page religiously than your daughter?

Daniel Grama:

Well, first of all, thank you for this interview because now I found out about the cell phone, but 10 years too late. I don’t think that we were aware that she was rebelling to that level on the religious level. We knew that she was beginning to make trouble in school and not performing that well, but to say that we saw her as a religious, as a rebellious teen, that we did not see until for sure a year later.

David Bashevkin:

Can I ask, I want to get to that point where you both got on the same page, not religiously, but you both discovered and were able to have a conversation, at the very least, that we’re no longer on the same page we once were. I assume it has to do more, and I don’t need all the details, I assume it’s more than just texting a boy. I know you had mentioned to me that you grew up in Englewood, I assume that that’s not the act of rebellion that’s mind blowing. So what was the catalyst or the context, again, I don’t need specifics of what misdemeanor or felony was the catalyst, but what was the context that allowed you to have a conversation with one another saying, there’s something that we need to talk about because we’re no longer on that same page?

Aliza Grama:

Well, I switched schools after ninth grade to a more modern school. So I think by ninth grade summer, the school, the Bais Yaakov school I was in, I don’t think they really wanted me. I don’t know, did they kick me out? I don’t think they kicked me out, but they kind of just didn’t want me back per se, if I was going to continue acting how I was acting. So I think by ninth grade summer, once I switched schools is when you knew I was straying.

Daniel Grama:

I would say that, again, to say that we were clear on the religious track, I would… In 10th grade, yes, we recognized that she was not for the Bais Yaakov system etc. Again, I would say that we, this is my perspective, was somewhat more about a mix of academic issues and the school was too strict for her and all that stuff, but religiously, it came up more blatant in 10th grade, and probably the first notice, the obvious flags were her dress code.

Aliza Grama:

But also once I moved to the school in 10th grade, for girls going to a movie theater, let’s say was okay, and in Bais Yaakov, that’s not okay. So when my friends would go to a movie theater and they would have to approve it, which for example, my other siblings who were in Bais Yaakov it wasn’t okay. So we had to work together with the girls in my school were doing, what they were used to and what was normal for them, wasn’t very normal for me because it wasn’t how I was brought up.

David Bashevkin:

To me, and I’m just listening to this story. And again, I’m not trying… The point of this conversation is never to understand any sort of salacious details, but I’m trying to understand, at what point, we’re talking about texting boys and going to movies. At what point did you look at one another, even without talking about it, or did you ever have that conversation and, say there’s something much bigger here than just school rules as parent to child?

Daniel Grama:

Yeah, I would say there was no real communication, like there’s a nice conversation. There was lot of hurt on our end, I guess, maybe to give a larger picture to what was happening, we had lost a son, my children lost a brother in a car accident when Aliza was in ninth grade. And that obviously was a huge catalyst for trouble. And like she said, reaching out, I think if I’m correct, you began to reach out to some of Shimmy’s friends at that time, just to connect with him. And that became a lifeline of sorts for her, and whatever the emotional turmoil that she was going through internally through the very strong and traumatic experience and what we’re going through, didn’t leave a lot of head space and a lot of room to sit down and have a real mature communicated conversation and say, “You know what honey, why don’t we talk about this?”

It was just like, we were in so much hurt as it was. And then to see this young girl, and we understood that she went through a lot of pain and we recognized that. We do recognize that there were certain experiences in school post the passing of our son that did not do her well. And they did not handle certain things so well, and one thing led to the next. It was a lot of just, but our end was a lot of being reactive than proactive. There’s no question about it.

Aliza Grama:

But for me after losing my brother, I think that’s when I became angry at God. I would just become angry at everyone and anyone because I wanted to blame someone. So for me, I would blame God. But we never, the conversations at the time was a lot of fighting and arguing, it wasn’t mature conversations. The mature conversations only came in later in life. It was a lot of fighting and arguing back and forth. And let me be like this, you don’t accept me for who I am. Just a lot of that going back and forth.

David Bashevkin:

So I want to get to the more mature conversations you had later. And obviously it shouldn’t go without comment to know that a family, and every family to whatever degree, however large or small, has trauma. Chalila there’s a unique category of the level of trauma of losing a family member at a young age that can disrupt the trajectory of anyone’s familial and personal narratives. And yeah, I’m left somewhat speechless, and that obviously is something that in anybody’s life, any sort of trauma, and I’ve spoken about different things in your life. Anytime you’re handed something that you start to realize that there are going to be areas of your life that are not in your control, there’s a grieving process. And to compound that with actual grieving over the loss of a family member, and the realization that there are components of life that are outside of our control, is a trauma that it’s hard to even comment or use any words to explain.

But still, reflecting on those moments, before we get into the more mature conversations, I’m wondering if you could each talk, and you’ve both touched on it a little bit. How do you think, if you could go back and give advice, Aliza, to your 15, 16 year old self, Rabbi Grama, to your younger self as a parent parenting a 15, 16 year old girl, what do you each, what advice would you have given to your younger selves during that period? Not vis-a-vis the school, not vis-a-vis dress code, not vis-a-vis cell phones, vis-a-vis one another that you could have done differently to ensure that the pain that you had already gone through and experienced as a family wasn’t compounded by the distance being created between both of you.

Aliza Grama:

For me, I think that if I would go back, I would be able to say that my parents love me no matter what, and they would be able to accept the person I was becoming, and maybe have the conversation with them then instead of just resenting them, being angry at them, or making me want to follow a certain path. And have the conversation with them being like, I’m struggling with this right now, and I may need to tell them that I was straying instead of trying to hide everything, or instead of just being angry at them.

Have the conversation that we eventually had, had that at an earlier age to let them know and know that no matter what they will end up acceptingme. And I understand, it was hard for them to accept me at the beginning. And I don’t know how they would have reacted at the time. But looking back now, how it is right now, is something I could have never imagined at that young age. So I was never able to… Right now, I can’t see how it would go back then, but that’s what I would have wished that I could have talked to them about it and been more open with them instead of hiding everything and sneaking around.

David Bashevkin:

There’s an amazing psychologist named Donald Winnicott, who has a theory that part of the reason why children, he’s talking about infants, need to cry and be difficult, like all babies and all human beings are at that young age, is they’re almost testing that unconditional love. They want to see and experience a sense of love when they’re not cuddly and they’re not sweet and they’re not, just want to be held in their arms. And I know myself in my teenage years, and again, I’m going to avoid any sort of comparison between life experiences. But I could say in my own self identity, there’s no question, there were periods in my life that I was extraordinarily rebellious. And I look back at it and think about that idea of Winnicott that I was almost testing, not that I didn’t believe my parents had that unconditional love, but I felt with absent of a rebellion and testing it, I couldn’t really experience it and feel it. And I don’t know if that’s something that resonates with you?

Aliza Grama:

Well, it definitely does. But also for me to act a certain way so I can get a reaction out of them.

David Bashevkin:

That was your way of communicating almost?

Aliza Grama:

Yeah. If I do this, if I do this, how are they going to react back to me? I wanted to be like, I know better, they don’t know anything. I’m the best. I’m going to show them that I don’t care about them or care about whatever, I’m just going to be how I am.

David Bashevkin:

So Rabbi Grama, I’m wondering now, if you could weigh in again on giving advice to your younger self as a parent and perhaps listening in on other parents, whether they have very young children or they’re noticing themselves, what advice would you have given yourself during that period watching the struggles of your daughter?

Daniel Grama:

I think there are two primary lessons that I took away from that experience with Aliza, the very hard rebellious years. Number one is every child relies on their parent to be their protectors and their safety net. And when we, in their mind, disappoint them or fall short of that, we’re going to be blamed regardless of how ignorant we were of what they’re going through. But they have to, between the anger and their hurt and the disappointment that we’re not protecting them from what they felt oppressed by or attacked by. So we’re going to be in the room for that, so that’s obviously an understanding which can only come with experience. I think there’s an important concept that I’ve learned over the years, and that is that it’s not natural or normal for children to want to walk away.

As you mentioned in your introduction, that every parent aspires for children to follow their path. And obviously we know that not every child is going to be exactly like their parents, but there is a certain level of comfort or expectation that, why would a kid want to leave the comfort of the warmth of their home, the love of their home, and try something so radically different? And that means that if they’re willing to sacrifice what they’re getting at home for something else, then they’re not getting something from the house. And there’s something they deeply miss, that’s worth it for them to create that level of trouble and to find it and seek it someplace so out, not just out of their home, out of their religious culture, out of their environment, out of their expectation, and then cause trouble because of that and cause pain because of that. So there’s a lot of deep stuff going inside a child who does something like that.

And parents have to recognize that. I wish I would have understood that then, to understand that this child is really not just walking but running away. Then there’s something which is really hurtful inside of her, and not just this crazy rebellious teenager who couldn’t handle the death of her brother and got a little messed up in school because of it, and now has just taken herself down this path of disruption. It was much more about what she was missing, and that she was seeking, if she could really understand that. And I wish I understood that then.

David Bashevkin:

So I want to fast forward a little bit to talk about where you are both now. I love the fact that you co-broadcast together on Instagram and you’re sitting together, I’m watching you on the couch and there’s something deeply moving about this relationship being healed in some ways. And there are few things I find more moving than that, but at the same time, I think it’s fair to say, Aliza, that you’ve landed in a universe where your religious identity is still very much different than the trajectory you were once on. And I was wondering if you could each talk a little bit about lingering disappointment, about the sense, Aliza, that you may ever feel that deep down in your parents’ heart, they would love you to come back so to speak.

Meaning, is the way that you handle it by pretending, “Oh no, they’re great. Wherever I am, they love everything. This is wonderful. It worked out exactly as planned.” Or are you able to grapple and stare directly at it, that maybe there is a lingering component of disappointment in the way that you measure up in some areas religiously, maybe that doesn’t exist. As well Rabbi Grama could talk about this too, about that in the recesses of your heart, I guess every parent is hoping one day that a child comes all the way back. And I think I want to be able to normalize, essentially, grappling with disappointmen, even after healing. We’re healed, we’re able to sit together, we’re able to talk, we’re able to have open and honest conversations, but how would you express that lingering role of disappointment still how it emerges in your present relationship?

Aliza Grama:

Well, I have a big fear of disappointment. And through the years I got into drugs and alcohol, I ended up in treatment, and I remember I would get angry at my father a lot and say, “You’re just mad because you want me to be religious.” And he would say, “If you don’t want to be religious, that’s fine. I just want you to be healthy.” Because I was doing a lot of stuff to harm myself, and after being in treatment for about a year or so in various treatment centers, I got to a point where I was clean from the drugs and the alcohol, and thank God I have three and a half years right now.

David Bashevkin:

Mazel tov. Wow.

Aliza Grama:

Thank you. And I got to a point where now that I had taken care of that aspect, I started asking questions that I was getting, the questions I would ask back in ninth grade, I was getting answers to those. And I started understanding religion more, started understanding Judaism more. And I got to a point right now where I have a tremendous respect for it, and I love it, and I think it’s a beautiful religion. And of course I still struggle with it, but there’s certain stuff that I keep to, like I give ma’aser, always. I didn’t always do that, but now there’s certain specific stuff that I do now that I connect with, that I personally connect with. It says, this is a little bit in the AA book, Alcoholics Anonymous book, it says, “Connect to a God of your own understanding.” So for me, I still believe in Hashem, the God I grew up with, but I connect with him in my own understanding.

I don’t believe that if I don’t keep this or the other I’m going to go to hell or I’m a bad person. When I pray, I’m still saying tehillim, I’m still praying to the same person, but he’s to my own understanding. And I have tremendous respect for my parents that this is where they are. And when I look at myself in the future, I do want to raise a religious family and have certain stuff in my household that do come from my parents. And I never thought, because I resented it for a long time, but –

David Bashevkin:

Can I jump in? What would you attribute that shift in your life, again, going through treatment, go through AA. I was actually, when I was in Semicha, rabbinic ordination, I was a rabbinic intern for the organization JACS, which supports Jewish alcoholics and substance abusers. And that’s a world that, it resonates in a very deep and very real way. I’m wondering, what would you attribute that ability to return to the God of your childhood, so to speak? When did you feel comfortable enough to return back to that? And then we’ll go back to Rabbi Grama to talk about disappointment.

Aliza Grama:

Well, I never really didn’t believe in him. I just was angry, so I would turn my anger to him. God was somebody for me to be angry at, he didn’t answer back per se. So I was able to be angry at him and yell at him so to speak without getting an answer back. But I never stopped believing in him, I was just angry at him. But once I got to the point where understanding him as a God of my own understanding, that’s when the resentments left, and once I got clean from everything else and I realized who I want to be and what I want in my life, I think that’s when I kind of started connecting more, if that makes sense.

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, absolutely. Very much so. And we had an earlier interview when we spoke about mysticism with Rabbi Joey Rosenfeld who works in substance abuse, and I’ve always found the spiritual underpinnings of the AA program to be deeply therapeutic, whether or not you’re struggling with substances of any sort, there’s a real healing that’s contained in there. But I was wondering if we could hear a little bit from Rabbi Grama on that theme of disappointment. I think for you, there are other components when it’s not just disappointment in your daughter and where she landed and where she is now, that’s one lens. If you’ll allow me to just add in two other lenses before you respond, I’m curious vis-a-vis your other children, her siblings, Aliza’s siblings, and how to manage, how to talk about the fact that one of their siblings is now leading a very different religious life.

And also the fact that you have a public facing component. You have students, you have communal members. Maybe it’s not a disappointment in that case. Maybe it’s a sense of embarrassment, on a much smaller scale, when you bring your child, I have a four year old and you bring them to the shoe store and they start ripping the shoes off the display case. I’m a normal parent, I get embarrassed, I get embarrassed when my kid goes to the supermarket and knocks over the the soup aisle, or they start making a mess. And I have to catch myself, my wife and I remind one another, we take shifts. We’re like, it’s a four-year-old. But sometimes that could feel different when you’re this religious role model and you now have a child in your own home who’s struggling with the very values that your life’s mission is to impart. So I know that’s three lenses, it’s vis-a-vis your daughter, other siblings, and the community. You could feel free to step into that any way you find appropriate.

Daniel Grama:

These are all very poignant and strong questions. And I appreciate you asking them, I’m glad you’re asking them. I think that disappointment is always an outcome expectation, and we all as parents, as you said earlier, and as we mentioned, have certain expectations from our children, and push comes to shove, at a certain point, you are forced to change your expectation for each child. And that rude awakening, that harsh lesson, came to us through Aliza. And when we learned that lesson, that you can’t necessarily expect everyone to be who you are, who you want them to be and do what you want them to do, then you begin to grapple with the disappointment. Because once you change that perspective of expectation, so then you now adjust what you can be disappointed about.

Look, in all honesty, and I say this in front of Aliza, would it give me much more reason to be grateful if we knew for sure that she was shomer shabbos, etc? Undoubtedly, if nothing else for a spiritual level, on a selfish purpose, every parent wants to have that wholesome religious lineage. On that personal level, like you said, I dedicated my life to imparting religiosity to people, and I would love to impart that to my own child. But part of changing my perspective of expectation allowed me to see who she is for who she is –

David Bashevkin:

On her terms.

Daniel Grama:

On her terms. Not in her terms, in her world, in her place. And every month that she’s sober is another reason to celebrate. It’s called her birthday, and by year one, and by year two, by year three, we celebrate it.

David Bashevkin:

As a family, you literally celebrate?

Daniel Grama:

Yeah. Either we’ll put on our little family WhatsApp chat, happy birthday to Aliza.

David Bashevkin:

The Chasam Sofer writes that the same way that there is a reason to celebrate, some communities have a Purim Koton, he actually says that on the day when you do an act of spiritual teshuva, you can have your own personal Yom Kippur, and it’s a day for celebration and coming out. A day when you made a resolve to change and transform your life in a different trajectory. And to know that you are celebrating that, together in whatever way, on a WhatsApp group, with a little birthday cake, whatever you do is very beautiful, but continue, I’m sorry.

Daniel Grama:

It’s actually a couple weeks ago on the Torah Tuesday, so it turned out that it was her biological birthday, the first of the month, and her, we’ll call it emotional birthday, is on the second of the month. And it came out that the Torah Tuesday is right around then, so we celebrate it.

David Bashevkin:

And Torah Tuesday, for our listeners, that’s the Tuesdays where you share Torah together on Aliza’s Instagram account as father and daughter, which is how I first found you. And I absolutely adore, what an example of a parental bond, even through difference and distinction and operating in different worlds. And it fell out on one of those birthdays.

Daniel Grama:

And the big nachas is that Torah Tuesday was obviously Aliza’s idea. She started it, she implemented it, she pushed it, she markets it. So anyway, so at that time we celebrated exactly, she was 24 years biologically and 42 months old, we’ll call it emotionally. So we just play the 24, 42 back, the… But you learn to appreciate people for who they are. Like you said, I grew up in Englewood, New Jersey, I grew up in a home that was not so judgmental. I was involved with kiruv and chinuch, so you have a little bit of that mindset anyway. But of course, when it’s close to home it’s different always, was good enough for someone outside there, not good enough for me.

Aliza Grama:

Can I interrupt for a second?

David Bashevkin:

Yeah, Aliza jump in.

Aliza Grama:

Something I wanted to say regarding my siblings and stuff. I remember talking to somebody a while ago, and I was like, “My siblings, they’re perfect, but obviously, because they didn’t go through any of the stuff I went through.” And then the person mentioned to me, but maybe they didn’t go through all the traumatic experiences that you went through in your life, but they still had to deal with you as a sibling, as a sister. And one thing, my parents were never, I can’t remember a time that they were ashamed of me when I would come out wearing pants or not… People in the community knew. And back in the day, if I was going to a religious place, I’d want to show off, because I thought it was cool that I wasn’t religious. So I wouldn’t go looking religious. But now if I’m going somewhere, it’s a matter of respect. If I’m going somewhere where it’s a Bais Yaakov wedding, I’m going to dress like a good Bais Yaakov girl would dress, which, and a friend asked me, but that’s you faking? And I’m like, that’s not me faking, that’s me respecting the place I’m going to. I’m not going to go to a Yeshivish wedding in a dress that’s not appropriate for that environment.

David Bashevkin:

And did anybody ever ask you to do that, or that was your own, this was your own decision, correct?

Aliza Grama:

Yeah. I would go to a Yeshivish wedding with my parents looking like a Bais Yaakov girl, and they’re asking my parents, “What kind of guy is she looking for?” And then they’re like, “See her tomorrow, it’s a little bit different.” But for me, that was just a sense of respect, that’s how I can respect them. And I did have a hard time with my siblings growing up. I have one sister who is a little bit of, she does get a little bit embarrassed. If her friends are over and I’m wearing a specific thing, and I get it. But at the same time, I wasn’t very close to my siblings at this time because they were trying to stick up for my parents or I was fighting with them, but now I’m very close with all my siblings, I speak to all, I’m one of seven, I speak to most of them every day, I speak to my parents every day.

So at this time we’re all able to connect, and in my head nowadays, it doesn’t even, I don’t think, “Oh, I’m different, and they’re different.” I just wear this, they wear that, or I do this and they do that. But back in the day, when I was first starting out, there was a lot of fights or embarrassment from their end. And I also had a little bit of embarrassment of, “Oh, I come from a really Yeshivish home.” And now I love it. Two years ago I would never have posted a Torah Tuesday on my Instagram. I would be ashamed, that’s my father, and now I love it.

David Bashevkin:

It’s a point of pride.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

That’s absolutely beautiful. And I love that shift, that intra-family shift with siblings. My family, we don’t have distinctions quite as broad. I have some siblings who I would describe as Israeli Haredi and some who are walk of the mill Modern Orthodox, but my broader family is extraordinarily broad. Meaning my uncles, my aunts, my first cousins, we come from an extraordinarily diverse family, and being able to see one another through the lens of family rather than solely the lens of religious identity, that takes time. And it takes you allowing yourself to re-embrace your own familial identity.

Daniel Grama:

Yeah. And it was a process for Aliza to get to that point where she’s become respectful. When she first moved back home after being away for over a year because of her treatments, we had talked about our expectations of dress code around the shabbos table. And we had to talk about appropriate dress –

David Bashevkin:

Talk with her?

Daniel Grama:

With her, yeah, and giving guidelines. And all the therapists we spoke to, Jewish, not Jewish, didn’t make a difference, all said the same thing: it’s your shabbos, it’s your table, it’s your home, you have certain expectations. And it was not so easy for her at the beginning because she still wanted for us to accept her for who she was. But I think that over time, they say love prevails, and she saw how much we do love her, and she saw how much we do value her, and especially in her growth and through her work on herself and the treatment.

There’s one time when literally she was a few months into treatment and she was threatening to, not harshly threatening, but she was threatening to break her sobriety because she just was in a place she couldn’t handle anymore. And my wife said, “Don’t move, I’m coming.” And she jumped on a plane and flew to Texas that night at 8:30, 9:00 at night. I was at work, I couldn’t get away. And my wife said, “I’m coming, just promise me you’re not going to move and I’m coming.” And she spent the day with her and that was it. And these small things, that’s so small, but these pieces built a picture for Aliza.

And slowly but surely she matured, she’s maturing baruch Hashem, she matured and got to the place where she can be comfortable with who she is. You talked about the embarrassment, yes, internally there were definitely times we were embarrassed within the community. We live in a modern community, so it’s not that she was necessarily dressing much worse than other people. We don’t live in a Haredi community, but nonetheless, I’m still the Rabbi, I’m still the Rav, I’m still the educator, I’ve been here for twenty-five years –

David Bashevkin:

And you’re a human.

Daniel Grama:

I’m a human. So there’s certain expectations and desires, but my wife and I worked very hard on not showing that embarrassment. I can’t say we did not feel it at that time, but we worked within ourselves very hard not to show it, because we knew that if we show that, then that may be a place of no return for her. Because for a child to feel that she’s a source of embarrassment to her parents, then you rarely can come back from that, that’s hard. So we really worked very hard not to get to that point. And like Aliza mentioned, with her siblings, it was a struggle, as someone once told me, a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child.

And Aliza was very unhappy throughout those years, and very draining emotionally, very draining financially, very draining time-wise, and definitely was some resentment from some of her siblings, especially the younger ones. We had to work and overwork to compensate for that. And I’m sure there’s some residual effect and impact. Now, we’re all able to talk about things a little bit more and bring things up when it’s necessary. But there definitely was some very trying times in the family. There were times it was a pressure cooker, there were times the house was a pressure cooker, and it was hard. It really was hard, it was hard emotionally for us just to navigate all of it, trying to navigate our own emotions, but being there for the kids and whatnot. But I think chasdei Hashem, baruch Hashem, we’re seeing today the fruits of a lot of tefillos and a lot of work on Aliza’s behalf and on her own personal growth.

Aliza Grama:

I remember, sorry, my mom one time told me that she felt like she was walking on eggshells around me, because any little things she would say I would blow up and go crazy. And I don’t feel like it is like that now. And they want me to come to the shabbos table, they want me to wear a skirt. So in the beginning I was like, “But you know I wear pants, you know I wear this. Why can’t I just come like that?” But it’s their house, like you said, and if I’m living in their house, I need to respect their rules. And if it’s, a little thing makes them happy, it’s so simple for me to just put on a skirt and go to the shabbos table, why would I go so crazy over that? Which I did, and I still don’t know why I did, but it’s such a simple, small thing. And if it makes them happy, why not just do it? Instead of causing fights or arguments about something that’s so small and so simple, and it makes them happy, why not just do it?

David Bashevkin:

I love the notion of each of you, that story of your wife, Aliza, your mom jumping on a plane and going to visit you in Texas, and you, about participating in the shabbos table, the messages that family members send one another, not through words, but these little notes that we send each other through our actions, notes of respect, notes of enduring and abiding love. We don’t always have the energy capacity or even the words to say it, but we kind of pass these notes across the table telling one another, “I still love you, I still want to be a part of this family.”

I’m curious Aliza for you, is there a seminal moment for you when you felt like you got a note from your parents? Not a literal note, but a note saying, they still love me, they still want me to be in their life, and you unwrap it and read it through their actions. Was it the jumping on a plane to Texas story? Was there something else, what to you stands out as the note of enduring love, when you realized that no matter what I’ve been through that relationship is still intact.

Aliza Grama:

Every single day, even before I got sober, I remember my siblings told me this because I had blacked out, but at my sister’s engagement party, I got really drunk and I was laying on my back, and I kept throwing up and my mom stayed up with me the whole entire night because she was nervous that I would choke. So she stayed up with me the whole night to make sure that I was okay and that I wasn’t throwing up and choking. So it was something so small like that, or the fact that I spoke with her at 9:00 PM and by 11:00 PM, she was on a plane to Texas already. It’s not just a drive away.

Or when they came, my treatment center did a family week, they came to that, or in my treatment, we were only able to speak to our parents every other week for an hour with the therapist listening in. Every week, they made a time that they were both completely available, that it was just for me. Or my father is a very busy man, and every Tuesday he makes this time that, at 6:30, he’s available for me to do this Torah Tuesday. Throughout my whole life, I saw it. And now it’s a day-to-day basis, I call them all day just to say hi, I drive them crazy, I literally do.

Daniel Grama:

You always joke is crazy. Now this is a good crazy,

Aliza Grama:

Yeah. Never did I remember, I was in a treatment once, in a sober living. And I was thinking that my mom had just called me, and I was like, “Do you need something?” And she was like, “No, I just called to say hi.” And I was like, it blew me away because it’s something so small. But a year ago, my mom was never just calling me to say hi, it’s like, “Where are you? Who are you with? Are you okay? Are you safe?” If I even answered the phone. But now we just call to say hi, I see little signs every single day. I know they love me unconditionally and I know I’m not perfect, I still mess up. And they’re always there for me. And back then I didn’t always realize, but they always were there for me.

They sent me to therapist after therapist, the amount of money they spent, they sent me to a program in Israel for four months, which was amazing. And they sent me to a school in New York. They’re always sending me places that would help me, or I always wanted to run away from LA or run away. They always accepted when I would want to bring friends over, and I could go on and on and on about how actions speak louder than words. And I’m bad at expressing myself, but by me wearing a skirt, or just I bought my mom a present the other day, just to show her that I love you and I know you love me.

Daniel Grama:

I think it’s interesting that, it’s probably a very powerful lesson as a parent, and for parents. There may not be a seminal moment. It may not be the one plane ride to Texas or the one phone call, but sometimes it’s the consistent notes that fill up a folder, that say time and time again, I love you then, I love you now, and I’ll always love you. I think that’s what Aliza was saying in a very powerful way, it’s a great lesson. It’s great for me to hear that and to understand that. And we always like to find that one aha moment, that one thing can say, “Oh, that’s what made them frum, that’s what made them great, that’s what made them come back.” It’s not always like that.

Aliza Grama:

But I also got very lucky because thank God, I got very special parents, not every parent reacts to their children how my parents did. I have friends that got kicked out of their houses and didn’t talk. And if there are any parents that are struggling with a daughter like me, reach out to me. But I’m just saying, from a child’s perspective, to tell their parents, I would just say to love them unconditionally and show them that love, and just be patient with them and understand that, at the end of the day, you wanting them to be a certain way, it’ll just push them further.

David Bashevkin:

So I want to globalize because the question that you’re coming to address is really advice that you would give to families going through something similar, and maybe even broader, not something similar, but how can parents be more supportive of their kids who are different than them religiously? Parents need boundaries, they need expectations, it’s a part of any parenting life. The goal can’t just be, don’t have any rules, that could sometimes obviously deteriorate. So what advice, I would ask Rabbi Grama, would you give to parents to be more supportive of kids on their trajectory, reflecting on your own? And Aliza, maybe you could speak a little bit more afterwards of what children can do to help their parents understand what they’re going through, which is hard now, because your journey began when you were younger and you maybe didn’t even have the language yourself to understand what you were going through. But how could each side, when there are religious differences that begin to bubble up in a family, what steps could each side take to cultivate an environment of more understanding?

Daniel Grama:

Look, it is a very important question, and I think a lot of times it could be subjective to each family dynamic. I think the first thing you have to recognize is, when we talk about that we want our children to be religious, so let’s define religion. We define religion obviously by the taryag mitzvos, etc. But there’s a very strong part of religion that says that we have to love Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s children and help them become the best that they can be. And if that’s part of religion, that may be my avoda for that specific child. So yeah, for one kid, I have to make sure he says a good chaburah, for the other girl I have to make sure that she’s saying her day of tehillim, and for this child I’ve have to make sure that she’s healthy within herself, because that’s what the religion is demanding from me.

It may not include shabbos right now, it may not include tznius right now, may not include kashrus right now. But their chinuch is that. I think we have to also understand, as I said before earlier that we have to sometimes change our expectations, that’s the bottom line. We also have to realize that, and this I think I beat myself up a lot at the beginning, and I’m sure a lot of parents do. And it probably is a cause for a lot of aggravation between a child and a parent, is we end up blaming ourselves for what happened, and therefore we resent that child for causing us that sense of guilt. So I realized that it may not be my fault, but it’s my responsibility. Just like a person who goes through, an addict, they may have turned to addictions and have become victimized about something or another, that may be true, that may not be their fault, and this is what they’re taught, but it’s their responsibility to try to get out of that situation.

We as parents have to realize also, it may not be my fault why my child is doing what they’re doing, deviating to that degree, but it’s my responsibility to help them. And I think as well it’s also important, I’m a non-believer of the understanding of unconditional love without any type of guideline, any type of expectation. I think that a lack of expectation can sometimes be almost more damaging than too much expectation. And I think that’s, as Aliza mentioned, she always felt the unconditional love, but she also always knew that we had expectations from her, certain things, how you dress by the shabbos table. I remember sitting by the therapist, with one therapist she was at, number 474? I don’t remember anymore.

And we talked about, it was very meaningful for me, it was very hard for me to, let’s put it that way, to be making kiddush Friday night and knowing that my daughter is in her room watching something on her iPhone. I just wanted her to come to kiddush, and every Friday night I’d knock on her door and say, come Aliza, come for Kiddush. “I’m coming,” I get all the rhetoric and all the answers, and my family’s waiting by the shabbos table, and I’d say we have to wait. Inevitably, she would come, sometimes begrudgingly and sometimes not always the most tznius. But she understood that we have certain expectations from her. And I would say to her, “This is what makes me happy, this is what’s meaningful to me.” And the reason why it was meaningful to me, a) it would be hard for me, but b) I wanted her to know that we still include her in our shabbos.

We have a small guest room, guest house. And at one point my wife said, maybe Aliza should move back there, or just be inside the house, the kids. I said, absolutely not. I said, because we can’t separate her from the family. If we separate her from the family, who knows what else we’ll separate her from. So let’s keep her inside the home, we’ll navigate it, we’ll suffer it. We’ll ride that wave as well. And these are things that I think sent a message that within the unconditional love of the life that she’s living, there’s also part of unconditional love that says that we have certain expectations from you, because we actually believe in you. I believe that you are a girl that can connect to a kiddush on a Friday night. I believe that you are a girl that can dress appropriately and show respect to your parents, I’m believing in you.

And not to provide that to a child I feel is so damaging. And I’ve had this conversation with my wife a hundred times, and we always look back and say, was there ever a therapist throughout the entire experience, again, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, trauma specialist, addiction specialist, everyone, did anyone ever say to us, just let it be, just let her do what she want, jus love her, don’t… Not one. And I think that it’s okay for parents to be able to communicate an expectation to the child. The child will respond how they respond, as long as you are being fair. And if you’re not sure if you’re being fair, be guided and ask your shaylos, ask your questions, listen to other people, rabbanim, who know these things, to therapists who understand it, and show the child that you’re not doing it to hurt them, because that’s just what you expect from them. They’ll come begrudgingly, but eventually they’ll come around. Again –

David Bashevkin:

They’ll come lovingly.

Daniel Grama:

And they’ll come lovingly. And I think it’s a fine balance, but I think it’s an important balance.

Aliza Grama:

And this wasn’t overnight, it took me a while to get where I am. I come to the shabbos table now. I used to come home from wherever I was, and he would be leaving to shacharis in the morning, or I still know when I got a tattoo, it broke my mother’s heart. And then I thought I would get disowned, but I didn’t –

Daniel Grama:

She tried hard.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah. I was like, “Let me get another one, this one didn’t do it.” Will the second one do it? But they never ever abandoned me, or I was never alone ever.

David Bashevkin:

I find your story incredibly moving. And I think families, whether it’s a child or a family where addiction or trauma plays a role, or really any family that has differences, big or small, I think the message and the healing and the work and the effort through disappointment, expectations, difficulty, embarrassment, all those emotions that I think it’s so heroic that you’re able to talk about them so openly now, is really an incredibly inspiring and instructive and constructive message to be able to sit like this together. At the end of every interview, I ask a little bit of quicker questions. No pressure, feel free each of you to jump in.

I’m always curious for great book recommendations. Whether it’s a book recommendation on Aliza, your experiences, having gone through the trauma and addiction that you’ve been through, or Rabbi Grama, raising children, or dealing with a child who was struggling with addiction. What book would you recommend to our audience who wants to understand a little bit more of the world that you’ve been through? And you don’t have any pressure to recommend the same book. I’m going to assume that you still love one another even if you recommend different books.

Aliza Grama:

Very debatable. No, I’m not a big book reader at all, but there is one book, and I connect with it because it’s called The Body Keeps the Score. It talks about how the brain reacts to trauma. How, for example, sometimes there’s traumatic experiences you only remember later on in life, and it’s because the mind, the brain, it’s so traumatic that the brain pushes it down.

David Bashevkin:

And we’re going to link to that.

Aliza Grama:

When it feels like you’re strong enough, when the brain feels that the body is able to handle it and the body is strong enough or mature enough, that’s when it may or may not come back. So that’s just a book that I enjoyed, which explains trauma through the brain, through the mind, body –

David Bashevkin:

Wow. Again, just for our listeners, it’s called, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that the psychologist who treated Darrell Hammond, the famous broadcaster for Saturday Night Live, I’m going to fact check that just to make sure I’m correct on that. But we will link to that book. Rabbi Grama, what is a book that you would recommend to understand this process?

Daniel Grama:

Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good answer for that, I’m not a, I don’t want to, I’m not a big believer of these quick self-help books. I find that they sometimes offer some good insights, sometimes they don’t, maybe because I’m in the field a little bit myself. I did a lot of speaking to people, I did a lot of that. Risking seeming overly frum, I found tehillim, and my wife found tehillim, very helpful, not to guide us, but to calm us and to give us a sense of hope of just to carry on, just to have a Dovid Hamelech sense of faith in Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we’re going to get through this. Because it’s real gehinnom sometimes to go through what we went through. I don’t want to say any of the horror stories, but it was hard. It really was hard.

David Bashevkin:

No one ever needs to apologize for recommending tehillim as a source for that cathartic spiritual space, to take our emotions and filter them and having a window to share them. I think that’s an absolutely moving book, and one that I hope our listeners take a moment and not dismiss that as a cheap answer. I think that’s one of the richest answers I certainly, I have ever heard. Let me ask you my next question, if you were given a sabbatical, fully paid, each of you, fully paid sabbatical for a year or however long it took to write a PhD or book, what do you think the title of that PhD or book would be?

Aliza Grama:

I love money, so I would do it in a second. But I think for me –

Daniel Grama:

It can’t be a book on shopping.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah, right. I think for me it would be a book explaining, like the halachos we have in Judaism, explain why… When I had the questions in Bais Yaakov and the teachers didn’t have answers, so they would just push them down, explain why every, because every law we have, there’s a reason behind it, I think besides shatnez. But I think there’s a reason for all of them. And I think teachers who are working in frum schools, and if they, for example, have a student who’s struggling with some stuff, they should know the answer so they can tell it to the teacher instead of just doing it because they do it because that’s how they grew up. So having answers to the kinds of questions that girls who are growing up frum, and they’re doing everything –

David Bashevkin:

Specifically for women –

Aliza Grama:

Or men, I’m sure men have the questions too. But yeah, specifically for women who are growing up and they’re struggling with some of the reasons, and when they ask a teacher or somebody and the person doesn’t know why, we can write down all, that it’s okay to have these questions. And it’s okay to not know why and you’re just doing this stuff because that’s how you grew up with. I always felt uncomfortable asking these questions because, maybe they think I’m this, that, the other. But it’s okay to have questions, it’s okay to get the questions answered as well. But when I was growing up in ninth grade in Bais Yaakov school, I never got answers, because they didn’t know answers. They didn’t know how to react to my questions because they were too late.

David Bashevkin:

Aliza, I am going to start the GoFundMe page and hopefully I’ll check in in a couple years and I will be the first purchaser of your book. I think that’s very beautiful to write the book almost that you wanted when you were a teenager, to be the person, to become the teacher you never had, I think is something quite moving. Rabbi Grama, if you got a great deal of money and were able to take a full sabbatical, no responsibilities, just to write either a PhD or a book, what do you think the title would be?

Aliza Grama:

How much money? No, I’m just kidding.

David Bashevkin:

You want details.

Daniel Grama:

Right, before she signs the contract. I will answer the question but I just want to insert that I know that Aliza felt that a lot of times the teachers didn’t have the answers, and as a teacher myself and a person who does pat myself on the back and be able to –

Aliza Grama:

You always have the answers I always ask you. But I’m saying like –

Daniel Grama:

I think sometimes at that point in life, she was unable to hear the answers. So that may play into… She’s kind of for the folks down in radio land, she’s kind of waving a hand in doubt.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. We can follow up with the answers and the book on shatnez that [inaudible] she will write one day. But –

Daniel Grama:

I would probably want to write something about parents and educators to understand, we said before when children are acting in a certain way, what that’s reflecting inside of them, and how to tap into that and how to process that. Because I really believe, both as an educator who sees teens every single day in the classroom, and as a parent, there’s a reason why people react in the way they react. There’s a reason why kids behave in the way they’re behaving. And we just gloss over that, and we focus on the behavior of the moment, and that may –

David Bashevkin:

On the reaction.

Daniel Grama:

On the reaction that may need to be dealt with. But if we had more awareness, a little bit more sophistication to understand, and I’m not saying every parent needs to become a psychotherapist, but just to understand that there’s a reason why this child is doing what they’re doing.

There was a beautiful story with Rav Aryeh Levine that he was once speaking to a rabbi, the old Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, he saw two kids during recess. One was sitting down on the ground outside, and one was doing something else. And he asked the rabbi, “Do you know why the kid is doing that?” He says, “No.” And he said, well happens to be that child’s parents are going through A, B and C, and the other child… And he was giving them a lesson to where they understand that there’s reasons why children behave in ways which are a little bit deviant from the norm. Not necessarily bad, just acting not in the norm. And when you see these type of things happen, that should be an immediate red flag for every parent, every teacher, every person that there’s something going on inside that little child.

David Bashevkin:

That there’s a bigger picture.

Daniel Grama:

There’s a bigger picture. And we have to learn that skill set and how to develop that awareness.

David Bashevkin:

My final question is probably the easiest of tonight. I have long been a terrible sleeper. I always like to ask my guests, what time do you go to sleep? And what time do you wake up in the morning?

Daniel Grama:

You go first.

Aliza Grama:

Well, I go to bed very late. I usually fall asleep about one or two, but I wake up at about six o’clock because I have to be at –

Daniel Grama:

Well, now she does.

Aliza Grama:

Yeah, I have to be at work at seven.

David Bashevkin:

Wow kenaynehara. I am a night owl and I come from a home, we’ll have to do a separate podcast episode, not on religious familial differences, but sleeping differences within one family. I am a night owl and my father wakes up at 4:00 AM, and I’ve tried a million times to start waking up earlier, never did it. And any time I wake up late, which I do when I go to sleep very late, I wake up with that sense of guilt, knowing that my father’s been up for half the day already. Rabbi Grama, what time do you go to sleep, what time do you –

Aliza Grama:

One second, when I’m not working, I’ll sleep till 1:45 PM –

Daniel Grama:

Yeah, she makes up for it. I daven netz for the last five years baruch Hashem. So I typically get up around 5:30. In the early years, a couple years ago, it was more 5:05, 5:10. That’s my moment of solace and quiet where I can learn and daven and whatnot. Going to bed as I get older has gotten a little bit earlier, but typically it was more by the 12, 1 time.

David Bashevkin:

That’s not a lot of sleep my friend.

Daniel Grama:

No, not smart. I don’t recommend this to the listener, but more recently, I’d probably say 11, 11:30 is the more targeted time.

David Bashevkin:

Rabbi Grama, Aliza Grama, I want to thank you so much. All of our conversations on 18Forty are always fascinating. I think this conversation was not just fascinating, but had an emotional depth, a rawness and a vulnerability that I don’t know that I could find the words to adequately express my appreciation. I hope our listeners find it as constructive as I did, but thank you both so much for spending your time tonight.

Daniel Grama:

And we thank you very much. I can say that we definitely touched upon things that even she and I did not have a chance to really explore and express ourselves. So we thank you really for that opportunity, you were able to watch our faces at times throughout the conversation, and I could see her eyes at times and it was a powerful experience. So we thank you for that. And if be’ezras Hashem if it can help anybody, even for one Jew out there, then it was worth all the time of the world. Thank you.

Aliza Grama:

I always… Thank you so much for having us. My father told me a while ago, he said, “The idea of sharing is to impact somebody for the positive.” And even if we impact one person, it’s worth it, even if that person is ourselves. And one more thing, if there’s anyone listening that is a girl or a guy or anyone that’s struggling and wants some help or anything or to know what I went through and how I got to where I am, you’re more than welcome to reach out.

David Bashevkin:

Absolutely. And we’ll put information to allow people to connect. We get tons of feedback and emails from our readers, and we’ll put up more information on our website at 18Forty, that’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org. Thank you both so much for our conversation.

Daniel Grama:

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. God bless you.

Aliza Grama:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

David Bashevkin:

I was especially grateful to Rabbi Grama and Aliza for joining us in conversation, and what they do together in bridging their world is so incredible. I think the takeaway for me, and this is really a theme in so many of the conversations this month, is negotiating between the world of disappointment and understanding that a parent can be disappointed in a child. A parent doesn’t have to pretend or feel embarrassed, the notion of being embarrassed about a child, and being able to have the vocabulary to share your feelings, a parent to child, child to parent, and using words like disappointment and embarrassment in healthy, constructive ways is not always a bad thing. Like sometimes we avoid the word, we don’t say we’re disappointed, and instead say it with our tone and our language and our body language and our actions and all that stuff.

And sometimes it ends up so much worse than being able to kind of sit together as a family, the bond of parent to child, which to me, there are few things more sacred in the Torah world, in life, than the bond between a parent and a child. And to see Rabbi Grama and Aliza being able to reach out to one another through all of the traumas that they’ve each respectively been through and find a way to negotiate together with purpose, with meaning, with mutual support and love, is something I found so deeply moving, and I hope something that you found constructive in all of your lives.

So thank you so much for listening. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of shnorring, so if you enjoyed this episode or any episode, please subscribe, rate, review. Tell your friends about it. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, or some of the other great topics we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s the number 1-8 followed by the word “forty,” F-O-R-T-y.org, 18forty.org. You’ll also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. Stay curious my friends.