In 2018, Dr. Vladimir Zelenko published an autobiographical book Metamorphosis, in which he talks about how he, being a completely non-religious young man, came to faith, and how he overcame a serious illness. The book has multiple positive reviews online and was well received by the readers all around the world.
Today, we are publishing the fifteenth and the sixteenth chapters of the book.
Soon, I was introduced to Rinat Lustig. Rinat had been raised in Eretz Yisrael (Israel) and had lived in New York for the prior ten years. She was forty-one years old and worked as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. We spoke on the phone several times and agreed to meet. After our second date, I knew I would marry her. Rinat was a breath of fresh air. I enjoyed talking to her and found her to be brilliant, mature, and extremely intuitive. She was sincerely religious, modest and very well versed in Jewish knowledge and law. The Talmud states that the quality of a man’s second wife is according to his deeds. I must have done some very good things to merit Rinat. It is my personal feeling, that G-d rewarded me for not using a “get” as a weapon. I became spiritually and morally free to search for and find my new wife.
After dating for a few weeks, I wanted to introduce Rinat to my family and close friends. My concern was that since I was so recently divorced, perhaps my thoughts and feelings were clouded and compromised. I brought Rinat to Monroe and she met my parents. We all had a pleasant brunch and I could tell that Rinat made a positive first impression on my parents.
After meeting my parents, I took Rinat to meet the Satmar Rebbetzin, Mrs. Sosha Teitelbaum, in Kiryas Joel. The Rebbetzin and Rinat immediately hit it off and they had a long and deep conversation. Afterward, the Rebbetzin told me privately that I should go out with her another ten times but that she feels she is a good shidduch (match) for me.
Next, I took Rinat to meet Moshe Shmeil and Chana Landau from Refuah Helpline. They are remarkable people who sacrifice much in their lives to help Jews worldwide. Refuah Helpline is a medical referral service that aggressively advocates for patient care. I have worked with them professionally since my arrival to Kiryas Joel. Whenever I diagnosed a patient with a serious illness, Refuah Helpline would dedicate their expertise and connections to get my patients the best care in the world.
Mrs. Landau knows more medicine than many doctors know and can gain access to world-class specialists in real time. They have been my very powerful partners in helping Jews. The Landaus invited us for dinner and immediately clicked with Rinat. They were extremely impressed with her and told me that I should grab her as fast as possible.
Many Orthodox Jews prefer to refer to Israel as the “Land of Israel” or “Eretz Yisrael,” due to the teaching that only at the point of the Redemption from the Jewish People’s exile will we then have a true and G-dly reestablishment of the Jewish homeland. ↩︎
Finally, I took Rinat to meet Moshe Aron Steinberg. We have been best friends for a long time. Our bond has been forged through saving countless Jewish lives together for over fifteen years. Moshe Aron has been a constant source of support and encouragement for me for as long as I have known him. I feel and trust that the advice he gives me is altruistic and pure. After meeting Rinat, he told me that he was very impressed with her and that she is a good match for me.
After introducing Rinat to my parents and trusted friends, their consensus opinion confirmed my deep instincts about her. My judgment and feelings about Rinat were accurate and precise. She was an amazing woman, and I would be fortunate to have her as a wife.
The next step of our courtship was to fly to Eretz Yisrael to meet Rinat’s family. We flew to Israel and spent Shabbos in Rechovot with her family. I met her parents, siblings, grandmother, and close friends. After making a positive impression on them, Rinat received approval from her mother. I asked Rinat to marry me on the way to the airport going home. Hashem had blessed me with a smooth transition to the next stage of my life.
When we arrived in New York, we received hundreds of congratulations. It was very exciting news, especially in Kiryas Joel. My office was inundated with countless calls from my patients and friends. It seemed to me that the community had felt the pain of my divorce and now the elation of our engagement. A very intuitive patient once told me that I am “a family member to two thousand families.” Going through this life change, I realized how many people opened their hearts to me.
There is a well-known teaching in Ethics of Our Fathers that states, “Rabbi Chanina the son of Dosa would say, ‘One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to G-d.’”
Talmud, Tractate Avot; also known as Pirkei Avot. ↩︎
When it came to planning our engagement party, Rinat and I agreed to make it in Monroe so that the community could participate in the event. I was very excited to introduce my new kallah to everyone. The event took place at the home of my good friend, Shmiel Meisels. Hundreds of people came, including the Rebbetzin Sosha Teitelbaum and many other leading rabbinic figures from the community. Everyone who met Rinat was extremely impressed by her modest and regal demeanor.
I was amazed at how Rinat handled the pressure of meeting so many new people from a community that was foreign to her. She greeted everyone with poise and sophistication. I was relieved that she was able to acclimate herself to being in the public sphere. I hold a public position and that leads to scrutiny of people close to me. It takes a special type of person to thrive in such an environment. Rinat was a perfect partner for me in so many ways.
My three older children—Yitzy, Esther, and Eta—also came to the engagement party. It was the first time that they met Rinat. I wanted to wait until I was engaged before involving my children. Getting divorced was a very difficult change for them. I did not want them to experience any more unnecessary disappointments. For this reason, I waited to introduce Rinat until we were officially engaged. The next week, she met Nochum, Shmueli, and Mendy.
The older kids seemed to feel very comfortable meeting my new kallah. They were genuinely happy and excited for me. The three younger kids were confused regarding this new person in their lives. They were somewhat distant and with drawn around Rinat. They were not sure what my getting engaged meant for them. I know that they were still hoping that I would remarry their mother. My engagement put an end to that fantasy and I am sure that was very painful. It would take time for them to get used to the new reality.
Six weeks later, we flew back to Eretz Yisrael to get married. The chuppah ceremony was a very private affair. It was held at a private location in Jerusalem. There was a minyan of men and a few family members. Rabbi Gafne came from Tzfat to be at the chuppah with us. For the actual chuppah, we used my new tallis (prayer shawl) which I now use every day during davening. The ceremony was very simple and holy. It felt like a chuppah from a few hundred years ago.
Getting married in Eretz Yisrael was amazing. The day before the wedding, I went to pray at Kever Rachel (Rachel’s tomb) and drove to Tzfat to use the Arizal’s mivkeh. The morning of the wedding, I went to pray in Hebron at Maaras Hamachpelah It was a surreal experience to pray on the day of my wedding and ask for brachos for our new life from Adam and Chavah, Abraham and Sarah, Yitzchok and Rivkah, and Yaakov and Leah.
The wedding reception took place in a beautiful restaurant in Jerusalem. Rinat’s family came from all over Israel. My parents and a few close friends came from Monroe and Monsey. However, my children were not at the wedding. A mentor and a psychologist told me that it is more proper for them not to come. The rationale was that since the wedding was taking place only a few months after the divorce, it might be very difficult for them to properly process the event. I am not sure whether I agreed, and it pained me not to have my children there, but I followed the advice of the professionals. The day after the wedding, we traveled to Venice, Italy for a few days.
When Rinat and I returned to America, we moved to Englewood, New Jersey. Englewood was about halfway, in travel time, between Monroe and Brooklyn.
Rinat still had an active practice in Brooklyn and needed to commute there several times a week. I suggested that Rinat become my practice’s psychotherapist. I knew she would be a good fit. She speaks Yiddish and understands the unique nuances of religious Jewish life. In addition, she is a great listener and incredibly intuitive.
I had selfish motives for wanting Rinat to work with me. My schedule was very busy, and I was concerned that I would not have enough time to spend with my new wife. I wanted to drive to and from work with Rinat. We could also have lunch together. Therefore, after a few months of marriage, Rinat became my psychotherapist (pun intended).
The patients referred to Rinat absolutely loved her. Her schedule filled up very quickly and there was a waiting list to see her. I was very happy that my new wife was integrating herself into various aspects of my life.
Arizal:Acronym—the“Ari”(lion),ofblessedmemory(zichronolivrachah)— for Rabbi Isaac Luria (sixteenth-century Jewish mystic). ↩︎
Maaras Hamachpelah (lit., “double tombs”): The “Cave of the Patriarchs”— the ancient burial cave for the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish
People: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. ↩︎
I started seeing my children twice a week after work. We would have dinner together and then go to the park to play. I was really struggling with parental guilt. It pained me that I was not living with them and seeing them every day. My divorce and remarriage happened so quickly that no one, including me, had time to fully process what had happened.
The children had so many emotional, psychological, and material needs. It was my responsibility and top priority to make sure that they had the resources to thrive. Rinat understood and strongly encouraged consistent visitation. She felt that after so much recent change, they needed consistency and routine.
Whenever I came to pick them up, they ran to me with such enthusiasm and happiness. It touched me deeply and reassured me that my children wanted to have a close relationship with me. As King Solomon writes, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” It was amazing to see and feel that my deep love for my children had penetrated their hearts over the years. During this time, the “civil” divorce process was still going on. I recently decided to forgive and let go of anger and negativity. This is for reasons that I will explain shortly. Anger is a consuming fire that destroys oneself and the world around you.
All I want to say about the civil divorce process is that it caused me a lot of aggravation and wasted time and money, and it put unnecessary strain on my new marriage. I give Rinat a tremendous amount of credit for her patience, tolerance, and support.
In addition to seeing the kids during the week, they also started coming to our apartment for Shabbos. The first Shabbos when I had the kids, all six came. It was as if a tornado hit the apartment. Rinat is an extremely organized person and our home is always immaculately clean. She also had not yet experienced having her own children. This created a complex situation that I did not know how to do deal with. My parental guilt was weighing on me and I wanted to accommodate the children’s desire to be at my house.
Simultaneously, I wanted to respect and fulfill my wife’s wishes. At times, this created difficult choices between the needs of my wife and that of my children. It felt as if I was being torn apart in two.
Proverbs (Mishlei) 27:19. ↩︎
I was sharing my feelings with a very close friend of mine, Yoel Wagschal. Yoel is also my accountant and former gabbai for the Meditziner Rebbe. I explained to him how difficult it was for me to manage conflicting needs of my wife and children. He advised me that I should focus on my wife’s needs.
I was in a new marriage and needed to build an everlasting and unbreakable foundation for the relationship. Once this was solidified, I could then begin to integrate and blend my children into our new home. This advice made sense to me. If my marriage was strong then it would naturally create a positive dynamic for my children. After discussing the situation with my wife, we agreed that two different kids should come for Shabbos, every other week. This rotation schedule created a much more manageable environment for everyone, including myself.
I recently asked Rinat, somewhat jokingly, if she was ready for the kids to live with us. She answered me with the following question: “Are you ready to parent?” This simple question has caused me to do a lot of painful soul searching. My understanding of parenting was to shower my kids with unconditional love, build up their self-esteem, and provide for their material needs. When I was having my kids with Sima Chana, I was very busy in residency and then building my career. I worked between seventy and eighty hours a week and was not involved in the daily upbringing of the children. I regret this now and feel that I missed very valuable opportunities to bond with and teach my children.
Fortunately, a person can learn and change. Now, when the kids come over to my house, I am involved in the “small” things of providing care for them. For example: I feed them, bathe the boys, make sure they brush their teeth, dress them in pajamas, learn the Torah with them, say Shema, and put them to bed. As I am doing these things with the children, I feel a new type of unique joy and fulfillment. A new dimension to parenting has opened for me. I find it bonding and nourishing for the children and for myself. I have Rinat to thank for pointing out areas of improvement regarding my parenting.
With time, the younger kids have warmed and opened to Rinat. They have accepted her as my new wife and are slowly letting her into their hearts. This can be seen by the warm hugs and conversations they have with Rinat. From Rinat’s end, I also see a genuine connection and concern for their wellbeing. This dynamic is still a work in progress, but I am optimistic that Rinat and the kids will have a warm relationship. I cannot accurately put into words how important their bond and connection is to me.
After my civil divorce settlement was finalized, I found it much easier to effectively coparent with my ex-wife. The children really benefit from seeing both their parents being able to work together regarding parenting. The kids are still so young and have so many diverse needs. It requires constant vigilance on our part to make sure that they continue to thrive. I still have a raw wound in my heart from the pain that they experienced and are probably still experiencing because of the divorce. I would much rather suffer myself than to see my children in pain. “A parent is only as happy as their saddest child.”