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