My year of giv­ing — and get­ting! — ad­vice in the JC

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

THIS WEEK, my col­umn is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from all my other columns. But, date aside, this has noth­ing to do with Pe­sach. It’s be­cause it’s ex­actly one year since I be­came the JC’s first agony aunt. I thought I’d use this an­niver­sary as a good time to re­flect on what I have learned — and been sur­prised by — over the past year.

And I have to ad­mit, you, the JC read­ers, have sur­prised me. When, a few years ago, I wrote an ar­ti­cle about why so many agony aunts through­out history have been 8NÿR\Q 7 ]KUTNM KLX^] ]QN YK[]Rû^lar his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural tradi]RXW\ ]QK] VKTN MR\YNW\RWP KMþRûN the per­fect vo­ca­tion for a Jewish woman. But un­til I be­came this news­pa­per’s agony aunt, I didn’t an­tic­i­pate how be­ing Jewish would also colour the read­er­ship, or your re­ac­tions to my words.

øX^ TWXÿ ]QN XUM 8NÿR\Q SXTN “Two Jews, three opin­ions,” well that pretty ac­cu­rately sums up the re­sponse I’ve had to my col­umn. 8ò [NKMN[\ URTN ]X LN QNK[M KWM āX^ URTN ]X KW\ÿN[ LKûT \XVN­times with praise, some­times with crit­i­cism, but usu­ally with a new opin­ion al­to­gether. “What you should have said was x!” “Why didn’t you men­tion x?” “I to­tally MR\KP[NN ÿR]Q Ā KWM MXW´] ]QRWT R] has any place in the Jewish Chron­i­cle.”

And, of course, much of this cor­re­spon­dence has been con­tra­dic­tory, prov­ing that you can’t please ev­ery­body all of the time. Es­pe­cially when they’re Jewish.

Be­lieve me when I tell you, [NûNRþRWP ]QR\ ]āYN XO ONNMLKûT ° while gen­er­ally very wel­come — is a novel ex­pe­ri­ence.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been an agony aunt on sev­eral di­verse pub­li­ca­tions, both in print and on­line, for teenagers and for adults, and I can hon­estly say that, aside from the odd po­lite email, 7´þN QKM þN[ā UR]]UN ONNMLKûT K] KUU ° let alone ad­vice on how to do my SXL LN]]N[

What I’ve found even more sur­pris­ing is that much of my JC ûXU^VW ONNMLKûT QK\W´] Kû]^KUUā been sent to me. It’s been passed on by word of mouth, via friends and fam­ily, be­cause — in the JewR\Q ÿX[UM ° NþN[āLXMā TWXÿ\ \XVNLXMā ÿQX TWXÿ\ \XVNLXMā ÿQX TWXÿ\ \XVNLXMā NU\N ÿQX TWXÿ\ āX^¨ KWM ]QK]´\ RO āX^´[N not di­rectly re­lated to them! =YRWRXW\ XO Vā ÿX[T QKþN LNNW shared at sy­n­a­gogues, at bar­mitzþKQ\ LXXT P[X^Y\ KWM ûXVVR]]NN meetings. I be­lieve one strongly û[R]RûKU XYRWRXW ÿK\ NþNW ONM LKûT to me after a rel­a­tive bumped into some­body at a funeral at Bushey Ceme­tery.

But what isn’t sur­pris­ing is that ]QN VKSX[R]ā XO ]QN Y[XLUNV\ 7´þN re­ceived are the peren­nial type, which af­fect ev­ery­one in our so­ci­ety what­ever their re­li­gious or û^U]^[KU LKûTP[X^WM* Y[XLUNV\ form­ing or main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships; fam­ily dis­putes and friend­ship is­sues; lone­li­ness; par­ent­ing con­cerns etc. But I have also had to deal with sev­eral prob­lems that are spe­cific (in their de­tails, K] UNK\] ]X 8Nÿ\* R\\^N\ ÿR]Q UNþNU\ of re­li­gious prac­tise; dilem­mas about cir­cum­ci­sion; con­flict over VK[[āRWP X^] VKTRWP KURāKQ KWM so on. It is of­ten these let­ters — in YK[]Rû^UK[ ]QN \^LSNû] XO ûR[û^Vci­sion — that gen­er­ate the most di­verse, crit­i­cal opin­ions. As an agony aunt, ad­vis­ing on these ]āYN\ XO Y[XLUNV ûKW LN ][RûTā =WN XO ]QN ^W\YXTNW ³[^UN\´ XO Vā [XUN R\ WX] ]X KYYNK[ ]X LN S^MPN­men­tal. When it comes to re­li­gion ° KLX^] ÿQRûQ 7 URTN NþN[āXWN else, have strong opin­ions and ONNURWP\ ° ]QK] ûKW LN ][RûTā

2NRWP K\TNM ]X give my opin­ion and ad­vice to peo­ple, on what are of­ten in­ti­mate or dif­fi­cult sub­SNû]\ R\ K Y[RþRUNPN One thing that has been dis­ap­point­ing is that I haven’t re­ceived the vol­ume of let­ters I’d hoped for. Sev­eral peo­ple have ad­mit­ted to me that they have been put off writ­ing to the JC be­cause the com­mu­nity is so small and so close. Please be K\\^[NM ]QK] URTN āX^[ MXû]X[ X[ ther­a­pist, any­thing you tell me R\ ûXWORMNW]RKU 4þNW RO āX^ TWXÿ my mother, or my brother, or are a friend of a friend, I will not tell them it’s your prob­lem.

But if you re­ally don’t want VN ]X TWXÿ āX^[ WKVN āX^ ûKW send me an email anony­mously, us­ing a generic email ad­dress, or you can even — rad­i­cally oldOK\QRXWNM 7 TWXÿ ° ÿ[R]N VN K let­ter. You can choose to leave out RMNW]ROāRWP MN]KRU\ X[ 7 ÿRUU ]KTN them out for you, as I have done in the past.

BQKWT āX^ OX[ PRþRWP VN K glimpse into your lives over the past year. I hope that I’ve helped you and, in the years to come, will con­tinue to help you. Or, at the þN[ā UNK\] 7 QXYN āX^´þN NWSXāNM read­ing the col­umn. Please do send in your prob­lems! I get praise, ¼KûT and to­tally new an­swers

Con­tact Hi­lary via email at agony@ thejc.com, anony­mously or not. Or write to her at 28 St Al­bans Lane, Lon­don NW11 7QF

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