Words That Flow Like Water
Apart from the happy ending, Yanky's story was typical
Wednesday, March 06, 2019
any have been motivated by personal tragedy to try and spare others from what they suffered. Rabbi Yosef Ekstein, for instance, lost four of his first five children to Tay-Sachs. He subsequently founded Dor Yeshorim for pre-shidduch genetic testing, a service that has almost eliminated Tay-Sachs from the Orthodox community.
Yanky Kaufman's story is a bit different. He succeeded in curing himself of a severe stutter, and in the process discovered a quick, natural method that has already helped cure hundreds of other stutterers.
I first met Kaufman, 30, in Lakewood, where he now lives, a little over a year ago. Had I not known from a shoel u'meishiv to whom he was close in the Mirrer Yeshivah in Jerusalem how severe his stutter once was, I would never have believed it. I could not discern a trace of a stutter in the nearly two hours we spoke. He was both articulate and confident, and thoroughly enjoyed speaking.
Yet apart from the happy ending, Yanky's story was typical of stutterers everywhere — filled with daily humiliations, often accompanied by teasing and bullying.
Stuttering is not just one aspect of the stutterer's life; it often takes over that life completely. One's thoughts are continually occupied with anticipating potentially humiliating situations and avoiding them. From the early teenage years, one begins wondering how he or she will ever find a spouse, not to mention the more pressing question of how to maintain a chavrusa.
Among the most terrifying questions are ones requiring one- or two-word answers: What's your name? Where do you live? One young man struggled between four and six minutes every time he was asked his name. For years, he gave another name, Moshe Moskowitz, which for some reason he was able to pronounce.
Aliyos in shul are a particular torment. A mother from Manchester, England told me how her son did not receive an aliyah at his bar mitzvah. A friend of Yanky's once told the gabbai he was a Levi to avoid being given Shlishi, but at the cost of never being able to return to that shul lest he be given Levi. A chassid in his thirties relates how he never flew on an airplane in his life — not from fear of flying but of Bircas Hagomel when he arrived safely.
For 20 years, Yanky went to a long list of top speech therapists in both America and Israel, and his parents spent tens of thousands of dollars on his therapy. Some of the methods offered promise in the therapist's office, but they proved incapable of translation to the real world.
Such repeated failures are typical. The mother from Manchester told me that in researching therapists around the world, she did not come across one (other than Yanky) about whom at least one former client did not describe the therapy as a disastrous failure.
Out of desperation, stutterers will try anything. A middle-aged businessman from Monsey, whom Yanky cured, told me how he was once instructed not to utter a single word for four months. He spent the entire period alone in his room lest he'd inadvertently speak to someone. For davening, he only read the words with his eyes (based on the psak of one of America's leading poskim). Six hours a day, he practiced repeating certain vowels. That therapy actually did work well enough for him to marry, but shortly thereafter he began to revert to his former stuttering.
Even the methods that work in the therapist's office prove either too artificial — e.g., elongating every word, banging on the table as one speaks — or too complicated — e.g., inhaling every four seconds and speaking to the beat of a metronome — and the exercises too onerous to be sustained for long.
YANKY ACTUALLY HAD it better than most stutterers, despite being known as "the stutterer" at camp. He learned well, had friends, and possessed a natural wellspring of self-confidence. He became close to Rav Yisroel Belsky in the Camp Agudah masmidim program and learned with him b'chavrusa for several years. (A fellow camper once told him that he saw Rav Belsky crying when Yanky left his office over Yanky's stutter.)
Later he had a chavrusa with the Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. The latter had already been stricken with Parkinson's disease that made it difficult to speak. Yet at their first meeting, Rav Nosson Tzvi said the Gemara for close to three hours to spare Yanky the pressure.
Yanky's big breakthrough came only after marriage. His father-in-law called him from America and asked him to give chizuk to an Israeli bochur who had dropped out of yeshivah due to his stutter, and was experiencing severe emotional problems. Yanky was surprised by the request, as he still stuttered himself.
But he spent the night before the meeting not only thinking of words of encouragement, but also contemplating everything he had learned over the years about speech. Suddenly, a new method for curing stuttering formed in his mind.
He tried it out the next day with the bochur and achieved good results. And again the next day. But he was not fully convinced he was on to something until he and a friend walked into a shul kiddush the following Shabbos and the rav interrupted his derashah to ask Yanky his name, where he lived, and where he was from. Yanky's first reaction was panic, as such questions had always proven a torture, but he answered them all fluently.
Shortly thereafter, he began working with clients, but he wondered whether he, as someone acutely aware of the pain of stutterers, could take money for his efforts. He went to his rav, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, to describe his work and ask the question. But even before he asked, Rav Berkovits answered the question: "Baruch Hashem, with this gift you'll be able to help many and earn a parnassah with which you can stay in kollel learning for many years."
YANKY SENT ME a before-and-after-video of 12 men of varying ages and backgrounds with whom he did an eight-day Smooth Speech Solution retreat. The initial moments are hard to watch: a chassid struggles for close to a minute to answer "Monticello" when asked where he is if from; a thirty-year-old avreich stares blankly for a long time when asked where he learns.
Yet, miraculously, by the end of the retreat, each participant is davening fluently from the amud, giving a dvar Torah or chaburah, and freely discussing with his newfound friends some of the tortures he has gone through. The transformation is complete. One young bochur gesticulates during one of his presentations like an experienced orator and with a smile on his face. At the end, each introduces himself to Rabbi Shlomo Gissinger of Lakewood, and to Rav Yerucham Olshin, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha.
Two points stand out from the participants' discussion of Rabbi Kaufman's method and their gratitude to him. The first is how natural, simple, and quick the method is. The first stage of the program takes only four meetings of approximately 45 minutes over a period of a week.
The Monsey businessman (who did not participate in the retreat) emphasizes to me how easy it is to get back on track using the method if one falters momentarily. He recently gave eight hours of virtually non-stop online presentations for his company. And he was not even nervous beforehand.
The second point goes to something Kaufman tells me over the phone: "Even after curing the stutter, there still remains the stutterer, with all the built-up anxieties and pain of a lifetime." Yanky's shared experience as a lifelong stutterer comes into play in the follow-up stage of the treatment. "He knew exactly what I was thinking, even without my saying it," says the Monsey businessman. "The other therapists only addressed the mechanics."
Usually when I complete a piece, I wonder whether it will have any impact, and if so, whether it will be direct or only indirectly down the line. This time I know that I have provided information that offers a cure for a lifetime of pain and suffering for some readers and their loved ones.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Jewish Ethics, Personalities
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