By Elisha Ferber, Matzav.com
I address this to Matzav.com readers for their thoughts on the ever disturbing trend of kids in our communities going off the derech.
There is a misnomer, I believe, when it comes to analyzing the trend of kids going off the derech. I have heard many people, including so-called educators and some commenters on Matzav.com, claim that the more sheltered children are, the more prone they are to go off the derech. I agree that there are people who are driving kids off the derech. These are the people – to take one recent example – who are telling girls not to wear makeup on their wedding day (see the story from yesterday here on Matzav.com.) These are the people who prefer to forbid everything in sight, as opposed to presenting Yiddishkeit as the beautiful lifestyle it is. There are people and yeshivos that aren’t recognizing the needs of our kids and responding appropriately to them. There are those who just don’t get it.
But then there are those who do. We do have people who are sterling role models and can imbue our kids with the right message and attitude. My nephew was fortunate to attend the Philadelphia Yeshiva where he witnessed the hanhagos of the rosh hayeshiva, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, and his son, Rav Shalom Kamenetsky. His father always told him, “Watch Rav Shmuel, and watch Rav Shalom. These are the people you should try to emulate. They are true representations of Torah and what Hashem wants us to be.”
But I digress, dear Matzav.com readers.
Getting back to kids going off the derech… I have heard so many times that it’s the “yeshivishe” kids who go off the derech. (Others say it’s the chassidishe kids, but I will not comment on that, because, being Litvish myself, I have limited knowledge of the trends in the chassidishe kehillos.)
To be clear, the claim that yeshivishe kids go off the derech more than, say, Modern Orthodox kids do is simply misleading for numerous reasons. The main reason is because those who go off the derech do what any Modern Orthodox kid does “beheter.”
A good friend of mine, a social worker of our community, attended a conference of Orthodox therapists. She was surprised to learn that problems with off-the-derech kids are much, much worse in Modern Orthodox communities. Whereas our unhappy boys mostly rebel by wearing colored shirts and sneakers, or even going to the malls or the movies, the Modern Orthodox kids aren’t satisfied until they’ve sunken into drugs and more. And you know what those kids, who were raised on TV, unlimited internet, etc., say to their therapists? That their parents were so terribly restrictive, so fanatical and old-fashioned, that they had no choice but to rebel.
Of the very few yeshivish or chassidish off-the-derech kids who went all the way, so to speak, with chillul Shabbos and tarfos r”l and other aveiros chamuros, most did teshuvah after a few years and settled down on a Modern Orthodox level or came back all the way. One reason is because they’re unequipped to deal with the world out there. I’d say that at least 90% of them are kids from broken homes or boys with learning disabilities that weren’t adequately addressed. Their secular education is almost non-existent and they’re not smart enough to get ahead. So they come back to our communities.
A smart kid from a good home in our communities going off-the-derech is almost unheard of. Can it happen? Yes. But it is rare. The overall off-the-derech rate is a small percentage. Granted, every boy who leaves our path is one too many, but in the vast majority of cases, their rebellion stemmed from a family problem, a learning disability, abuse, or something of that sort.
So when we discuss the issue of teens at risk and kids going off the derech, let’s keep this all in perspective.