Seven, Eight, Nine …

One of the advantages of living in a metropolitan area with a large Orthodox Jewish population is the existence of a ‘Minyan Center’ – a synagogue where one can find a quorum for prayer at almost any hour of the day or night. If the hour is late and ten adult males are not present immediately, one individual usually waits outside the shul and cajoles passers-by to enter and form the requisite quorum. A minyan is a spiritual gathering, where individuals take time from their hectic days to join in prayer and bring meaning to their lives. In the course of human events, there are many other types of gatherings. People band together for comfort, for camaraderie, to share common interests and hobbies.

What motivated me to write my first article on at-risk teens in 1996 was my observation that the disenfranchised young men and women who were not achieving success in our school system were beginning to ‘make their own minyanim.’ Now, eleven years later, I am watching this happen on a much larger scale and I am shaken to the core in fear of what I see coming in the years ahead – unless we go backwards in time and recapture the ‘chinuch hayoshon’ in which my generation was raised. One where every child felt valued and appreciated, where there was a more balanced curriculum, where there was an allowance for diverse life/career paths among boys and girls, and perhaps most importantly, where there was a far greater tolerance level for diversity of thought and appearance. That, my dear readers, is what is driving me to write this series of columns. Allow me to explain.

For three decades or so, until the early 1990’s, kids who dropped out of our Yeshiva/Beis Yaakov system and became non-observant were doing so quietly and unobtrusively. A boy here. A girl there. Perhaps two or three at a time. In the aggregate, the children who left school may have been a significant number, but there were not enough to ‘form a minyan’.

About 1995 or so, a number of cultural changes occurred that transformed the at-risk phenomenon from isolated individuals to more of a trend. Our population grew exponentially, b’eh, swelling the number of adolescent children in our school system. At the same time, schools began responding to parental pressure by significantly raising their acceptance standards and lowering their tolerance level for non-conformance to societal norms. These two factors combined to create a huge increase in the number of ‘drop-out teenagers’ in our community. Once that happened, the kids began forming their own informal social support groups where they ‘hung out’ together and provided each other with the acceptance and solidarity that had heretofore eluded them.

Then, seemingly overnight, a sociological phenomenon occurred. A ‘tipping point’ was reached and the kids no longer felt intimidated by the social constraints of our frum society. Suddenly teenage boys and girls who were raised in observant homes – some whose parents were very distinguished members in our community – were openly flaunting their rejection of Torah values. Things hit rock bottom and were thrust into the public eye when dozens of frum teens – many of them clad in white shirts, dark slacks and wearing yarmulkes – began gathering each Friday night on Ocean Parkway (a main thoroughfare in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn) smoking cigarettes and ‘hanging out’ while frum couples strolled by after their Shabbos evening meal. What happened? The kids discovered that they had their own minyan, which changed the entire dynamics of their social status.

Our community responded magnificently by creating a host of diverse intervention and prevention programs to help these children – and their younger siblings. Special schools were created for at-risk kids, and support groups for their parents.

So why the worry, you ask? My fear is that there are far, far too many ‘outer ring’ children who are in danger of heading for the exits. As I pointed out in the previous column(s), over the past ten to fifteen years we have dramatically raised the bar for entry to our schools. That inadvertently results in disenfranchising a portion of our children.

One, Two…

The shift over these years from a balanced kodesh curriculum to an almost gemorah-only learning program, which is a virtual Gan-Eden for those who love learning gemorah, also excludes a portion of our boys from the ‘inner-ring’ of our community.

Three, four…

Finally, many mainstream schools are becoming – or being forced to become – far less tolerant of the misdeeds of children nowadays. This is causing an explosion in the number of our children drifting to the ‘outer rings’ of our society. Many of these kids may still be in our schools, but they do not really feel connected.

Five, six…

Most frightening of all, from my perspective, is the interactive nature of the Internet, cell phones and PDA’s. Kids who aren’t making it in our schools don’t need to go to Ocean Parkway to find comfort and friendship. They are already finding each other over the airwaves. The nature of the rapidly evolving technology will allow them to more efficiently and effectively communicate with each other – all around the world. Things have not reached the tipping point – yet. But all the warning signs are there. And when and if that happens, the snowball may roll completely out of our control.

I pray to Hashem that my fear is misplaced. But all I see from my vantage point is a rapidly growing group of children who are not finding success in our school system. They are searching for friendship and a sense of belonging. This basic need will be fulfilled somewhere. The question is only where that place will be.

Seven, eight, nine…

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

This Post Has 51 Comments

  1. Robert – Sharon, MA – rrubovits@sassds.org

    I commend Rabbi Horowitz for a powerful and thought-provoking article. While I certainly agree that technology has diminished whatever social pressure the frum community has, and this allows more of the “outer ring” to form their “own minyan,” I wonder about the other two – gemora as receiving new primacy and less tolerance of “misdeeds” of our students.
    I did not grow up in the 30’s, but were our yeshivas then so much more “balanced” in their curriculum? I am no student of the history of Jewish pedagogy, but it sure seems that gemorah has always held the main stage in our yeshivas; perhaps in some generations a little more, and perhaps in others a little less, but today doesn’t seem so aberrant. Was Volozhin so much more tolerant of “deviants” (be they mussarniks, chassidim, etc.) than we are now? If anything, I have a sense that they were much more harsh and unforgiving of deviant behavior, due to the intense pull of the haskalah. If anything, the American ethos of “live and let live” has been slowly but surely absorbed by more and more in the frum community (for good and ill).

    This is not to say to our curriculum should not be more balanced and that we should not treat all Jews with ahavas yisroel. Rather that I’m not sold on the theory that correcting 2 of these 3 areas will solve 2/3 of the problem.

    I smells to me like the problem stems from the whole culture of permissiveness in which we find ourselves. I’m not so sure the neviim were doing anything wrong as the people were swept up in avodah zara, or that the Baal HaFla did anything wrong as the haskalah swept through Germany. HaShem sends each dor its test – and we need to meet ours head on. But we shouldn’t think that it can all be fix by changing the way things have been done up to now.

  2. Anonymous

    Perhaps the schools are raising their standards because they can and not because of parental pressure. It is simple supply and demand. Every well-regarded school will receive many, many more applicants than available slots. The schools simply choose the “best” for their school. This is to be expected and I would not consider it evil in any way.
    If this is the cause, how is it countered? We can’t ask people to stop having so many children; we need to BUILD MORE SCHOOLS and expand the current ones. I would estimate our RW Orthodox communities are growing by over 150% every 20 years (Average family 5-6 kids with a > 90% marriage rate). That will require a doubling of school capacity every 15 years or so. Are we prepared for this?

  3. “Frum” is perceived by our youth as a culture, those for whom this culture works, for those kids who always got good grades, who never experienced the hypocricy of it all, who get set up from infacy in a coddled cacoonlike environment in which they can expect to marry “balebatish”, are less likely to rebel- they have it all worked out and can continue competing with the rest of the establishment upon the fine details of whether or not to eat from a fork which has been dropped chas v’sholem on the floor on Pesach. The losers now have a community of alternatives. Who are the real losers?

  4. Anonymous

    Yeshivas need to institute vocational programs in all high schools.If a student can succeed in a career oriented activity in the afternoon he/she will be motivated to come to Yeshiva in the morning. An extensive study of Halacha should be a major part of a reluctant learner’s Torah curriculum.When a student takes an active role in researching a halacha that law will become very important to him/her thus,decreasing the chances of him/her of violating that halacha. It makes sense to conclude that we would have many more frum young men “available” for Shiduchim if our community had been more accomodating to the emotional,educational, and spiritual needs of boys who were a little wild or different. Count to one hundred and compliment a girl three times before you tell her that her clothes are not Tziniusdik.The girl your save may become the mother of Moshiach.

  5. Since this article seems the same as 139, I’ll repeat a comment I posted for that article.
    Where are the mommies?

    Seems to me there’s a glaring omission. I am wondering whether you, and we in the frum world, are brave enough to discuss our children and various problems but are afraid to address one of the major issues that affects them.

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s we did not have a crisis with our youth. Yes, there were children who went off, but I think – correct me if I’m wrong, that by and large, frum parents raised frum children who remained frum, many even becoming frumer than their parents.

    I can’t give you the precise figures, but back in the 60’s and 70’s, most frum, American mommies were home raising their family. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss wrote an article in 2000 saying that he did a poll among his seminary students. When he started teaching in 1985, 80% of the mothers of the girls he taught were full-time homemakers. Today he says, it’s the other way around, with 80% of mothers working full time. He understands that some have no choice, that was always the case. Whether for valid reasons or not (that was not the issue), he was observing that parents, particularly mothers, are not available for their children as they used to be, not physically available (like not being home when their children come home from school, or even when home, not having time for their children), and not emotionally available because of having to juggle so many responsibilities

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s, most mommies were home when their children came home from school. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, mommies did not drop off infants at babysitters. They didn’t drop off toddlers at daycare centers. Some children (gasp) were home till age 3. When a 2 and a half year old went to a playgroup, it was for a few hours, not 8-2, or 3 or 4 or beyond.

    When a 3 and 4 year old went to school, it was for a few hours a day. As recently as the early 90’s, a 4 year old’s day in school was from 9:30-2:30 – 5 hours. How many programs will you find for a 4 year old these days with such short hours these days?

    Rabbi Manis Mandel a’h believed little children should be home with their mothers and he resisted having a preschool for a long time until, inevitably, Y.O.B. opened one because mothers were sending their children out anyway.

    Mommies are told that babies need to socialize, that they are depriving their toddlers of stimulation if they don’t send them out. Mommies of two year olds are asked by other mommies where they’re sending their toddlers to playgroup and are looked at askance if they have no intentions of sending them anywhere. Mommies who want to get together with other mommies and their children don’t have many options since most people have bought into the daycare system. Mommies are told they have a life too and if they’re happier sending their toddlers out, that’s good for the toddler. These and other lies are rarely, if ever, addressed in our frum circles.

    I think we need to discuss what messages we are giving our daughters. That they have to pick a career (preferably one they can get either online or through some frum, accelerated program) so they can either support their husbands or help pay tuition while others raise their children? Should we expect our children go grow up emotionally stable and bonded with their parents if they are being raised by others from infanthood? Should we be surprised when children abandon the religiosity of their parents and express resentment, hurt, and grievances about them when they never fully bonded with them? Should we expect our children to give us nachas when lectures, workshops, articles and books for the frum oilem regurgitate current psychological ideas on parenting which are not Torahdig? Psychology was called avoda zara decades ago. Has it gotten any better since then or do we now have more and frum therapists espousing secular ideas to us?

    I think that without addressing the hot topics of mother’s role and what a real yiddishe mama is all about, discussing whether girls in school are being groomed to be yiddishe mamas or working women, and where psychology is leading (or misleading) us, you are missing crucial components in this discussion.

  6. Yes M…again, i agree with you totally. One way to get at least some mommies back home (at least for the first crucial years of a child’s development) is to get back to the concept of husbands/fathers supporting their families from day one. This means that single young men have to go for training in some field BEFORE they are married. If they want to learn for a year or so afterwards, at least they will be prepared to get a job the day that they need to…and not start some educational process AFTER they are married for a few years. We need parents of young men to force their sons to attend college (there are frum ones) or other programs to train them to make a living – and stop worrying what the rest of the world says. They can still learn for the majority of their day. We need parents to tell their daughters that they should marry boys who can make a living because they are fulfilling the kesubah – and not worry what the rest of the world says. (If more parents would stop “buying” husbands for their daughters it would help the situation.)

  7. Unfortunately,far too many yeshivos , BYs and day schools on the elementary and high school level have evolved from community institutions into private schools with either a one track only curriculum or a dfferent tracks of Torah studies. The anecdotal evidence in our communities supports the conclusion that many children are not being served either by their parents’ lack of parenting skills, schools whose teachers can’t handle hashkafa based questions, curriculum that does not reflect an age appropriate starting point and a communal pressure for conformity. It is therefore, no small wonder that the system in its present configuration will continue to yield some great graduates, some average students and an entire culture that will have bitter memories and be at risk for anti social behavior. One cannot help but shudder at the fact that some of the drop outs from the European cheder system became Communists and worse.

  8. One wonders why all schools start boys with Talmud way before they are ready to handle the structure,logic and language of the subject. One wonders why the advice of Chazal in Avos for an age appropriate curriculum has essentially been jettisoned in favor of one statement in a Medrash that notes that 1,000 enter a Beis Medrash, but only one leaves capable of rendering Psak.

  9. Rabbi Horowitz and M write the truth.
    Jewish mother jokes are stale. How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? None. She says, Don’t bother, I’ll sit in the dark.

    Its not funny anymore. The Jewish mother has been tuitioned out of existence.

    Nearly every one of our communal problems can be traced back to one issue: the unconscionable high cost of yeshiva education, forcing mothers into the workplace, overlooked children, domestic violence, divorce….

    Both the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel devoted special issues of their magazines, Jewish Action and Jewish Observer, to this problem. The Jewish Observer issue was entitled, “The Tuition Dilemma”.

    I disagree strongly. It is not a dilemma. It is a problem that can be solved with great, firm communal resolve. Tuition Superfunds, “Jewish taxes”, government support and other ideas need to be placed on the drawing board, and implemented. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot more at risk children pedestrian traffic on Ocean Parkway.

  10. Rabbi Horowitz, Your article was both captivating and frightening. May I share just 2 thoughts. 1. You wrote:
    “Finally, many mainstream schools are becoming – or being forced to become– far less tolerant of the misdeeds of children nowadays.”

    I have heard both of these in my experiences in our schools. Menahalim find themselves caught between their boards of directors and their desire to work with “difficult” children. I’ve tried to help them walk the tightrope and tolerate the stress of being on it. “This is causing an explosion in the number of our children drifting to the ‘outer rings’ of our society. Many of these kids may still be in our schools, but they do not really feel connected.”

    I’ve found that many of them feel rejected and they hate the “derech” for rejecting them. I’ve tried to help rebbeim reach out to these children. 2. It was heartbreaking for me to hear the mother of a child say she realizes that their “Shabbos table is torture for [this child].” B”H that Shabbos table has changed. How many others haven’t. Be well.

  11. Iust want to repeat again that the fault does not lie with the yeshivas, but rather with the parent bodies. The parents are demanding more elite schools with higher curriculums and if the schools don’t respond they soon find themselves with no students. Every school in Boro Park or Lakewood that had a relaxed entrance policy ended up closing within a couple of years. Until the general public realizes their achraius to Klal Yisroel there is very little school principles can do.

  12. Robert (re: first comment in this thread)
    I keep hearing the question: “Did we really move to more gemorah learning?”

    The answer is a resounding yes. Just ask any rebbi who has taught for more than 15 years. This is for all ages.

    And your question about Volozin is also comparing apples to oranges (chulent to kugel???). Volozin and all other yeshivos of that day were for a tiny percentage of bachurim. Most 13 year olds were working full time. Don’t trust me?? Do the math — numbers don’t lie. Add up the total number of Yeshivos in those days and the number of bachurim. It was 5% of the population, or less.

    Who do you think went to Volozin?? The best — and most motivated.

    What we have done is taken that curriculum and given it to ALL our sons. And those who aren’t cut out for that — well, they belong in an at-risk school. No they don’t!!!! They should have a different program — in OUR schools.

    This won’t happen if our parents won’t send to such a school. (OK; I’m getting off the soapbox)

    Yakov

  13. Another great article.
    Thank you M for writing your comments and expressing what many of us don’t have the words to express. And thank you to Elliot Pasik for point out that we NEED to solve this tuition problem. There are parents in my community who look for help until 7 or 8PM at night because they are busy with work. This means that nearly every waking hour someone besides the mother (or father) is with the children. I’m afraid that the lack of child/parent contact the media reports on for general society is an issue in many of our own households too. Fortunately, we have Shabbat. But we still need to re-evaluate how we spend our time. I imagine this scenario I presented is commonplace in many communities.

    The fact that my son was asked by another kid at the park (after introducing his Mommy), “so where is your nanny?” should send chills through us all. What am I, chopped liver?

    Mommies are told that babies need to socialize, that they are depriving their toddlers of stimulation if they don’t send them out. Mommies of two year olds are asked by other mommies where they’re sending their toddlers to playgroup and are looked at askance if they have no intentions of sending them anywhere. Mommies who want to get together with other mommies and their children don’t have many options since most people have bought into the daycare system. Mommies are told they have a life too and if they’re happier sending their toddlers out, that’s good for the toddler. These and other lies are rarely, if ever, addressed in our frum circles.

    This mirrors my experience to a “t.” We have even been chewed out by someone for our choice.

    I realize that many mothers need to work. Others do not and some are not making money by going out to work. But the facts on the ground is that NOT working is rarely even an option for young ladies and that is sad.

    What would be fantastic would be to educate young people about finances. Sadly enough, many young people are clueless about taxes, savings, debt, and more.

  14. Why are kids from frum homes, some dressed in white shirts etc. smoking and hanging out on Friday night with their friends rather than enjoying being with their families? You think this has to do with their negative yeshiva experiences?! I think it has to do with their negative or lack of positive HOME experiences. If you keep on focusing on curriculum and entrance requirements without focusing on the HOME, you are missing the boat.
    If a child loves his home, loves spending time with his parents and siblings, identifies with his parents’ values, has friends but prefers spending time with his family over friends (think Chol Ha’Moed which is coming up – does a child look forward to a family trip or to a trip with friends?), then even if his rebbi isn’t that great and the curriculum doesn’t meet his needs, that child will NOT be hanging out on Ocean Pkwy.

    HOME, HOME, HOME what is going on at HOME??????

    People (Rabbi H?) are afraid to address this because it’s too PERSONAL and who wants to be considered JUDGEMENTAL, the dirtiest word in our lexicon today. It’s much SAFER to rail against impersonal mosdos, but if we ignore the core issue, what’s the point in discussing this?

  15. Most normal teenagers prefer to “hang out” with their friends.Parents need to put effort into establishing “a safe home” where the teenagers can nosh, talk, and play games.The teenagers may even become mature enough to start their own learning groups.We need to provide teenagers with opportunities to have fun in a kosher environment

  16. Many boys of today are sent AWAY from their homes during high school and beyond to dorming yeshivas, so it is hard for them to stay connected to their families in a personal way when they are only home once in a blue moon. Perhaps if this trend of sending AWAY would come to stop, then parents and children would have more time to bond together on a daily basis.

  17. Sorry, anonymous, you THINK it’s normal because we have absentee parents today so yes, sadly, it has become the norm. Friends are needed and should be cultivated, but if home is just the place to grab a bite and catch some sleep between hanging out with friends, let us not be surprised by the problems we are experiencing.
    As a high school teenager I had friends, we got together, but home was where it was at. Rabbi Horowitz has written about the importance about making your HOME a place where your kids want to be.

  18. If you want to be practical, I stated before when M asked “Where are all the mommies?” The Rashei Yeshiva know where the mommies are and they have the power to change the trend. It would be courageous. It would be unusual. It would be true Torah leadership at its best. My comments come from a place of respect and hope. But if we do not enmass ask our leaders to push for change, very little change will occur where it is sorely needed. Any suggestions about how to reach our Rashei Yeshiva other than going individually to speak with them?

  19. M, we need to change both. Changing just one will likely not make many changes.
    People can be driven away from judaism on account of a poor school as well as on account of a poor home.

  20. If the family is strong. If the kids love their family and identify with their parents’ values, then it’s highly unlikely that they will veer from those values.
    A child is causing his parents grief? flaunting his/her lifestyle that goes contrary to his/her parents’ values? Something is greatly amiss in the relationship between that child and the parents and the problem didn’t start last week week, last month, or last year.

  21. Rabbi Horowitz, I will grant you the increase in focus on gemora learning nowadays and that a curriculum that was built for a select few is now used for the masses. But if that is the case, what has caused the increase over the past generation? They also were using Volozhin as their model. Is it solely the parents pushing for it? Why were they not pushing for more gemora in the last generation? My point about Volozhin was not to curricullar, rather your contention that today we give little “breathing room” to the “outer edge.” My point was that I do not think that this attitude is particularly new. True, its effect are more dramtically felt due to the observations you made (internet, etc.). But sadly I do not think we are so much more poorly adept at ahavas yisroel than we were in the past. Again, thank you for your thoughtful reflections and have a great Shabbos~ Robe

  22. I give up completely. The emphasis of the Yeshivos has changed, but so have the homes. The Frum world is completely different today than it was in the last generation. If no one answers my question then I will stop posting at this site. I asked how we could work together to help make changes at the top (the Rashei Yeshiva) where so much of this begins and ends. The attitude of Yeshivos, the new trend of mothers of multiple young children working to support their families for years and years, the trend of sending most 8th grade boys away for high school no matter whether they live in a Torah city or not, the absolutely heartbreaking Shidduch crisis can be addressed and improved by our leaders and our somehow getting the message to them that we need these things to change, that the current Frum world is not all rosy. So far only the materialism, the technology, and the Tznius issues have been addressed. Frankly those were the easy ones, those are all quantifiable and somewhat easy to monitor as they are visible. They also take less effort to change. They are not as complicated because they do not require communal change, they merely require individual change which can be difficult, of course, but not as difficult as changing our Yeshivos, our attitudes toward Kollel and Parnasa, mothering, and Shiduchim. So, if someone has any thoughts on how to accomplish what I have asked, let me know. If not, just continue to talk in the air with no hope for change in sight.

  23. Please don’t give up, and continue addressing these crucially important topics as Kollel and Shiduchim. I’ve been reading your posted comments for some time, and you are so correct, it’s good to know that there are some of us out there, that truly understand the meaning of being Frum. It’s not about how much Gemara one has learnt, but rather what acts of kindness did one have to their fellow-jew, how one acts in public, is a Husband providing for his family, or did he spend the undergraduate and graduate college years in Kollel, and as a result will struggle with parnassa for the rest of his life. Learn a trade or regret it for the rest of your life. How many marriages have ended in divorce over financial difficulty? But does the Frum Community learn from these mistakes? No, they will always shift blame on something else. TB – Please continue your fight! Hopefully, at minimum, your comments create some awareness for some readers who just don’t get it.

  24. Are there any frum social workers, psychologists, mental health professionals who read these articles? If so, can you please comment on whether the fact that mothers are not home raising their children (at least in their early years of development) because they are out working to support their families, and that many frum young men have not prepared themselves to support their families before they are married, is causing major Shalom Bayis issues? If this is the case, perhaps you, as professionals, can go to the powers that be and suggest that the system has to change. Perhaps you will have more power than tb, M, or myself – who keep writing our comments on this website but are just spinning our wheels.

  25. Goldy wonders what professionals think. In my view, there is no question that a two-income home, wherein the parents are much less available to ‘parent,’ problems are much more likely. But it’s more complicated than that….. While my colleague Mr. Pasik is correct, the tuition crisis is not the only explanation. There are also rising expectations: people insist on having items and vacations that were not even dreamed of by most of our parents, and certainly not our grandparents…..As pointed out above, technology enables at-risk teens to create a virtual community, online, and via textmessaging, etc, which replaces a real community, and encourages their deviance…..We as a community have to offer teens what Richard Altabe and others have tried to do, via mentoring, via providing ‘safe’ places to meet and unwind, play ball, hang out, and talk about their fears, experiences, dreams, whatever…..Shuls and schools have to allow these kids to play basketball instead of renting the gym to clothing outlets all the time…..Martial arts and other extra-curricular activities to build self-esteem have to be supported instead of shunned…..More schools have to copy Far Rockaway’s Darchei Torah, with vocational tracks, and less of an elitist approach…..And people need to smile every now and then (more now then then) at the teens in our midst, and treat them with the respect they deserve as tselem Elokim.

  26. Issue 151 – Seven, Eight, Nine …
    A Virtual Ocean Parkway
    by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
    This article orignally appeared in Mishpacha Magazine
    Rated by 26 users | Viewed 16406 times since 3/21/07 | 51 Comments
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    3/21/07
    One of the advantages of living in a metropolitan area with a large Orthodox Jewish population is the existence of a ‘Minyan Center’ – a synagogue where one can find a quorum for prayer at almost any hour of the day or night. If the hour is late and ten adult males are not present immediately, one individual usually waits outside the shul and cajoles passers-by to enter and form the requisite quorum. A minyan is a spiritual gathering, where individuals take time from their hectic days to join in prayer and bring meaning to their lives. In the course of human events, there are many other types of gatherings. People band together for comfort, for camaraderie, to share common interests and hobbies.

    What motivated me to write my first article on at-risk teens in 1996 was my observation that the disenfranchised young men and women who were not achieving success in our school system were beginning to ‘make their own minyanim.’ Now, eleven years later, I am watching this happen on a much larger scale and I am shaken to the core in fear of what I see coming in the years ahead – unless we go backwards in time and recapture the ‘chinuch hayoshon’ in which my generation was raised. One where every child felt valued and appreciated, where there was a more balanced curriculum, where there was an allowance for diverse life/career paths among boys and girls, and perhaps most importantly, where there was a far greater tolerance level for diversity of thought and appearance. That, my dear readers, is what is driving me to write this series of columns. Allow me to explain.

    For three decades or so, until the early 1990’s, kids who dropped out of our Yeshiva/Beis Yaakov system and became non-observant were doing so quietly and unobtrusively. A boy here. A girl there. Perhaps two or three at a time. In the aggregate, the children who left school may have been a significant number, but there were not enough to ‘form a minyan’.

    About 1995 or so, a number of cultural changes occurred that transformed the at-risk phenomenon from isolated individuals to more of a trend. Our population grew exponentially, b’eh, swelling the number of adolescent children in our school system. At the same time, schools began responding to parental pressure by significantly raising their acceptance standards and lowering their tolerance level for non-conformance to societal norms. These two factors combined to create a huge increase in the number of ‘drop-out teenagers’ in our community. Once that happened, the kids began forming their own informal social support groups where they ‘hung out’ together and provided each other with the acceptance and solidarity that had heretofore eluded them.

    Then, seemingly overnight, a sociological phenomenon occurred. A ‘tipping point’ was reached and the kids no longer felt intimidated by the social constraints of our frum society. Suddenly teenage boys and girls who were raised in observant homes – some whose parents were very distinguished members in our community – were openly flaunting their rejection of Torah values. Things hit rock bottom and were thrust into the public eye when dozens of frum teens – many of them clad in white shirts, dark slacks and wearing yarmulkes – began gathering each Friday night on Ocean Parkway (a main thoroughfare in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn) smoking cigarettes and ‘hanging out’ while frum couples strolled by after their Shabbos evening meal. What happened? The kids discovered that they had their own minyan, which changed the entire dynamics of their social status.

    Our community responded magnificently by creating a host of diverse intervention and prevention programs to help these children – and their younger siblings. Special schools were created for at-risk kids, and support groups for their parents.

    So why the worry, you ask? My fear is that there are far, far too many ‘outer ring’ children who are in danger of heading for the exits. As I pointed out in the previous column(s), over the past ten to fifteen years we have dramatically raised the bar for entry to our schools. That inadvertently results in disenfranchising a portion of our children.

    One, Two…

    The shift over these years from a balanced kodesh curriculum to an almost gemorah-only learning program, which is a virtual Gan-Eden for those who love learning gemorah, also excludes a portion of our boys from the ‘inner-ring’ of our community.

    Three, four…

    Finally, many mainstream schools are becoming – or being forced to become – far less tolerant of the misdeeds of children nowadays. This is causing an explosion in the number of our children drifting to the ‘outer rings’ of our society. Many of these kids may still be in our schools, but they do not really feel connected.

    Five, six…

    Most frightening of all, from my perspective, is the interactive nature of the Internet, cell phones and PDA’s. Kids who aren’t making it in our schools don’t need to go to Ocean Parkway to find comfort and friendship. They are already finding each other over the airwaves. The nature of the rapidly evolving technology will allow them to more efficiently and effectively communicate with each other – all around the world. Things have not reached the tipping point – yet. But all the warning signs are there. And when and if that happens, the snowball may roll completely out of our control.

    I pray to Hashem that my fear is misplaced. But all I see from my vantage point is a rapidly growing group of children who are not finding success in our school system. They are searching for friendship and a sense of belonging. This basic need will be fulfilled somewhere. The question is only where that place will be.

    Seven, eight, nine…

    © 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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    1. If you can’t identify the cause, you can’t fix it. 3/21/07 – 12:33 PM
    Robert – Sharon, MA – rrubovits@sassds.org

    I commend Rabbi Horowitz for a powerful and thought-provoking article. While I certainly agree that technology has diminished whatever social pressure the frum community has, and this allows more of the “outer ring” to form their “own minyan,” I wonder about the other two – gemora as receiving new primacy and less tolerance of “misdeeds” of our students.
    I did not grow up in the 30’s, but were our yeshivas then so much more “balanced” in their curriculum? I am no student of the history of Jewish pedagogy, but it sure seems that gemorah has always held the main stage in our yeshivas; perhaps in some generations a little more, and perhaps in others a little less, but today doesn’t seem so aberrant. Was Volozhin so much more tolerant of “deviants” (be they mussarniks, chassidim, etc.) than we are now? If anything, I have a sense that they were much more harsh and unforgiving of deviant behavior, due to the intense pull of the haskalah. If anything, the American ethos of “live and let live” has been slowly but surely absorbed by more and more in the frum community (for good and ill).

    This is not to say to our curriculum should not be more balanced and that we should not treat all Jews with ahavas yisroel. Rather that I’m not sold on the theory that correcting 2 of these 3 areas will solve 2/3 of the problem.

    I smells to me like the problem stems from the whole culture of permissiveness in which we find ourselves. I’m not so sure the neviim were doing anything wrong as the people were swept up in avodah zara, or that the Baal HaFla did anything wrong as the haskalah swept through Germany. HaShem sends each dor its test – and we need to meet ours head on. But we shouldn’t think that it can all be fix by changing the way things have been done up to now.

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    2. School standards 3/21/07 – 12:48 PM
    Anonymous

    Perhaps the schools are raising their standards because they can and not because of parental pressure. It is simple supply and demand. Every well-regarded school will receive many, many more applicants than available slots. The schools simply choose the “best” for their school. This is to be expected and I would not consider it evil in any way.
    If this is the cause, how is it countered? We can’t ask people to stop having so many children; we need to BUILD MORE SCHOOLS and expand the current ones. I would estimate our RW Orthodox communities are growing by over 150% every 20 years (Average family 5-6 kids with a > 90% marriage rate). That will require a doubling of school capacity every 15 years or so. Are we prepared for this?

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    3. “Frum” a four letter word 3/21/07 – 12:49 PM
    Yitzchok – Brooklyn, N.Y.

    “Frum” is perceived by our youth as a culture, those for whom this culture works, for those kids who always got good grades, who never experienced the hypocricy of it all, who get set up from infacy in a coddled cacoonlike environment in which they can expect to marry “balebatish”, are less likely to rebel- they have it all worked out and can continue competing with the rest of the establishment upon the fine details of whether or not to eat from a fork which has been dropped chas v’sholem on the floor on Pesach. The losers now have a community of alternatives. Who are the real losers?

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    4. 3/21/07 – 1:22 PM
    Anonymous

    Yeshivas need to institute vocational programs in all high schools.If a student can succeed in a career oriented activity in the afternoon he/she will be motivated to come to Yeshiva in the morning. An extensive study of Halacha should be a major part of a reluctant learner’s Torah curriculum.When a student takes an active role in researching a halacha that law will become very important to him/her thus,decreasing the chances of him/her of violating that halacha. It makes sense to conclude that we would have many more frum young men “available” for Shiduchim if our community had been more accomodating to the emotional,educational, and spiritual needs of boys who were a little wild or different. Count to one hundred and compliment a girl three times before you tell her that her clothes are not Tziniusdik.The girl your save may become the mother of Moshiach.

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    5. Still asking: where are the mommies? 3/21/07 – 1:25 PM
    M

    Since this article seems the same as 139, I’ll repeat a comment I posted for that article.
    Where are the mommies?

    Seems to me there’s a glaring omission. I am wondering whether you, and we in the frum world, are brave enough to discuss our children and various problems but are afraid to address one of the major issues that affects them.

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s we did not have a crisis with our youth. Yes, there were children who went off, but I think – correct me if I’m wrong, that by and large, frum parents raised frum children who remained frum, many even becoming frumer than their parents.

    I can’t give you the precise figures, but back in the 60’s and 70’s, most frum, American mommies were home raising their family. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss wrote an article in 2000 saying that he did a poll among his seminary students. When he started teaching in 1985, 80% of the mothers of the girls he taught were full-time homemakers. Today he says, it’s the other way around, with 80% of mothers working full time. He understands that some have no choice, that was always the case. Whether for valid reasons or not (that was not the issue), he was observing that parents, particularly mothers, are not available for their children as they used to be, not physically available (like not being home when their children come home from school, or even when home, not having time for their children), and not emotionally available because of having to juggle so many responsibilities

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s, most mommies were home when their children came home from school. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, mommies did not drop off infants at babysitters. They didn’t drop off toddlers at daycare centers. Some children (gasp) were home till age 3. When a 2 and a half year old went to a playgroup, it was for a few hours, not 8-2, or 3 or 4 or beyond.

    When a 3 and 4 year old went to school, it was for a few hours a day. As recently as the early 90’s, a 4 year old’s day in school was from 9:30-2:30 – 5 hours. How many programs will you find for a 4 year old these days with such short hours these days?

    Rabbi Manis Mandel a’h believed little children should be home with their mothers and he resisted having a preschool for a long time until, inevitably, Y.O.B. opened one because mothers were sending their children out anyway.

    Mommies are told that babies need to socialize, that they are depriving their toddlers of stimulation if they don’t send them out. Mommies of two year olds are asked by other mommies where they’re sending their toddlers to playgroup and are looked at askance if they have no intentions of sending them anywhere. Mommies who want to get together with other mommies and their children don’t have many options since most people have bought into the daycare system. Mommies are told they have a life too and if they’re happier sending their toddlers out, that’s good for the toddler. These and other lies are rarely, if ever, addressed in our frum circles.

    I think we need to discuss what messages we are giving our daughters. That they have to pick a career (preferably one they can get either online or through some frum, accelerated program) so they can either support their husbands or help pay tuition while others raise their children? Should we expect our children go grow up emotionally stable and bonded with their parents if they are being raised by others from infanthood? Should we be surprised when children abandon the religiosity of their parents and express resentment, hurt, and grievances about them when they never fully bonded with them? Should we expect our children to give us nachas when lectures, workshops, articles and books for the frum oilem regurgitate current psychological ideas on parenting which are not Torahdig? Psychology was called avoda zara decades ago. Has it gotten any better since then or do we now have more and frum therapists espousing secular ideas to us?

    I think that without addressing the hot topics of mother’s role and what a real yiddishe mama is all about, discussing whether girls in school are being groomed to be yiddishe mamas or working women, and where psychology is leading (or misleading) us, you are missing crucial components in this discussion.

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    6. Right on, M 3/21/07 – 1:50 PM
    Goldy – NJ

    Yes M…again, i agree with you totally. One way to get at least some mommies back home (at least for the first crucial years of a child’s development) is to get back to the concept of husbands/fathers supporting their families from day one. This means that single young men have to go for training in some field BEFORE they are married. If they want to learn for a year or so afterwards, at least they will be prepared to get a job the day that they need to…and not start some educational process AFTER they are married for a few years. We need parents of young men to force their sons to attend college (there are frum ones) or other programs to train them to make a living – and stop worrying what the rest of the world says. They can still learn for the majority of their day. We need parents to tell their daughters that they should marry boys who can make a living because they are fulfilling the kesubah – and not worry what the rest of the world says. (If more parents would stop “buying” husbands for their daughters it would help the situation.)

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    7. Ignorance isn’t bliss 3/21/07 – 1:58 PM
    Steve Brizel – Zeliglaw@aol.com

    Unfortunately,far too many yeshivos , BYs and day schools on the elementary and high school level have evolved from community institutions into private schools with either a one track only curriculum or a dfferent tracks of Torah studies. The anecdotal evidence in our communities supports the conclusion that many children are not being served either by their parents’ lack of parenting skills, schools whose teachers can’t handle hashkafa based questions, curriculum that does not reflect an age appropriate starting point and a communal pressure for conformity. It is therefore, no small wonder that the system in its present configuration will continue to yield some great graduates, some average students and an entire culture that will have bitter memories and be at risk for anti social behavior. One cannot help but shudder at the fact that some of the drop outs from the European cheder system became Communists and worse.

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    8. Some thoughts about curriculum 3/21/07 – 2:02 PM
    Steve Brizel – Zeliglaw@aol.com

    One wonders why all schools start boys with Talmud way before they are ready to handle the structure,logic and language of the subject. One wonders why the advice of Chazal in Avos for an age appropriate curriculum has essentially been jettisoned in favor of one statement in a Medrash that notes that 1,000 enter a Beis Medrash, but only one leaves capable of rendering Psak.

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    9. Whatever happened to Jewish mother jokes? 3/21/07 – 3:11 PM
    Elliot Pasik, Esq. – Long Beach, NY – efpasik@aol.com

    Rabbi Horowitz and M write the truth.
    Jewish mother jokes are stale. How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? None. She says, Don’t bother, I’ll sit in the dark.

    Its not funny anymore. The Jewish mother has been tuitioned out of existence.

    Nearly every one of our communal problems can be traced back to one issue: the unconscionable high cost of yeshiva education, forcing mothers into the workplace, overlooked children, domestic violence, divorce….

    Both the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel devoted special issues of their magazines, Jewish Action and Jewish Observer, to this problem. The Jewish Observer issue was entitled, “The Tuition Dilemma”.

    I disagree strongly. It is not a dilemma. It is a problem that can be solved with great, firm communal resolve. Tuition Superfunds, “Jewish taxes”, government support and other ideas need to be placed on the drawing board, and implemented. Otherwise, we’re going to see a lot more at risk children pedestrian traffic on Ocean Parkway.

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    10. Scary and true 3/21/07 – 3:41 PM
    Yitzchak

    Rabbi Horowitz, Your article was both captivating and frightening. May I share just 2 thoughts. 1. You wrote:
    “Finally, many mainstream schools are becoming – or being forced to become– far less tolerant of the misdeeds of children nowadays.”

    I have heard both of these in my experiences in our schools. Menahalim find themselves caught between their boards of directors and their desire to work with “difficult” children. I’ve tried to help them walk the tightrope and tolerate the stress of being on it. “This is causing an explosion in the number of our children drifting to the ‘outer rings’ of our society. Many of these kids may still be in our schools, but they do not really feel connected.”

    I’ve found that many of them feel rejected and they hate the “derech” for rejecting them. I’ve tried to help rebbeim reach out to these children. 2. It was heartbreaking for me to hear the mother of a child say she realizes that their “Shabbos table is torture for [this child].” B”H that Shabbos table has changed. How many others haven’t. Be well.

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    11. 3/21/07 – 3:43 PM
    Littleme

    I just want to repeat again that the fault does not lie with the yeshivas, but rather with the parent bodies. The parents are demanding more elite schools with higher curriculums and if the schools don’t respond they soon find themselves with no students. Every school in Boro Park or Lakewood that had a relaxed entrance policy ended up closing within a couple of years. Until the general public realizes their achraius to Klal Yisroel there is very little school principles can do.

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    12. gemorah learning 3/21/07 – 5:44 PM
    Yakov Horowitz – Monsey NY

    Robert (re: first comment in this thread)
    I keep hearing the question: “Did we really move to more gemorah learning?”

    The answer is a resounding yes. Just ask any rebbi who has taught for more than 15 years. This is for all ages.

    And your question about Volozin is also comparing apples to oranges (chulent to kugel???). Volozin and all other yeshivos of that day were for a tiny percentage of bachurim. Most 13 year olds were working full time. Don’t trust me?? Do the math — numbers don’t lie. Add up the total number of Yeshivos in those days and the number of bachurim. It was 5% of the population, or less.

    Who do you think went to Volozin?? The best — and most motivated.

    What we have done is taken that curriculum and given it to ALL our sons. And those who aren’t cut out for that — well, they belong in an at-risk school. No they don’t!!!! They should have a different program — in OUR schools.

    This won’t happen if our parents won’t send to such a school. (OK; I’m getting off the soapbox)

    Yakov

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    13. Thank you 3/21/07 – 7:35 PM
    SephardiLady – orthonomics@gmail.com

    Another great article.
    Thank you M for writing your comments and expressing what many of us don’t have the words to express. And thank you to Elliot Pasik for point out that we NEED to solve this tuition problem. There are parents in my community who look for help until 7 or 8PM at night because they are busy with work. This means that nearly every waking hour someone besides the mother (or father) is with the children. I’m afraid that the lack of child/parent contact the media reports on for general society is an issue in many of our own households too. Fortunately, we have Shabbat. But we still need to re-evaluate how we spend our time. I imagine this scenario I presented is commonplace in many communities.

    The fact that my son was asked by another kid at the park (after introducing his Mommy), “so where is your nanny?” should send chills through us all. What am I, chopped liver?

    Mommies are told that babies need to socialize, that they are depriving their toddlers of stimulation if they don’t send them out. Mommies of two year olds are asked by other mommies where they’re sending their toddlers to playgroup and are looked at askance if they have no intentions of sending them anywhere. Mommies who want to get together with other mommies and their children don’t have many options since most people have bought into the daycare system. Mommies are told they have a life too and if they’re happier sending their toddlers out, that’s good for the toddler. These and other lies are rarely, if ever, addressed in our frum circles.

    This mirrors my experience to a “t.” We have even been chewed out by someone for our choice.

    I realize that many mothers need to work. Others do not and some are not making money by going out to work. But the facts on the ground is that NOT working is rarely even an option for young ladies and that is sad.

    What would be fantastic would be to educate young people about finances. Sadly enough, many young people are clueless about taxes, savings, debt, and more.

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    14. HOME! 3/22/07 – 9:09 AM
    M

    Why are kids from frum homes, some dressed in white shirts etc. smoking and hanging out on Friday night with their friends rather than enjoying being with their families? You think this has to do with their negative yeshiva experiences?! I think it has to do with their negative or lack of positive HOME experiences. If you keep on focusing on curriculum and entrance requirements without focusing on the HOME, you are missing the boat.
    If a child loves his home, loves spending time with his parents and siblings, identifies with his parents’ values, has friends but prefers spending time with his family over friends (think Chol Ha’Moed which is coming up – does a child look forward to a family trip or to a trip with friends?), then even if his rebbi isn’t that great and the curriculum doesn’t meet his needs, that child will NOT be hanging out on Ocean Pkwy.

    HOME, HOME, HOME what is going on at HOME??????

    People (Rabbi H?) are afraid to address this because it’s too PERSONAL and who wants to be considered JUDGEMENTAL, the dirtiest word in our lexicon today. It’s much SAFER to rail against impersonal mosdos, but if we ignore the core issue, what’s the point in discussing this?

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    15. A response to” Home” 3/22/07 – 11:09 AM
    Anonymous

    Most normal teenagers prefer to “hang out” with their friends.Parents need to put effort into establishing “a safe home” where the teenagers can nosh, talk, and play games.The teenagers may even become mature enough to start their own learning groups.We need to provide teenagers with opportunities to have fun in a kosher environment.

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    16. not home that often 3/22/07 – 11:52 AM
    Goldy – NJ

    Many boys of today are sent AWAY from their homes during high school and beyond to dorming yeshivas, so it is hard for them to stay connected to their families in a personal way when they are only home once in a blue moon. Perhaps if this trend of sending AWAY would come to stop, then parents and children would have more time to bond together on a daily basis.

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    17. normal? 3/22/07 – 3:52 PM
    M

    Sorry, anonymous, you THINK it’s normal because we have absentee parents today so yes, sadly, it has become the norm. Friends are needed and should be cultivated, but if home is just the place to grab a bite and catch some sleep between hanging out with friends, let us not be surprised by the problems we are experiencing.
    As a high school teenager I had friends, we got together, but home was where it was at. Rabbi Horowitz has written about the importance about making your HOME a place where your kids want to be.

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    18. Getting the mommies back in the house 3/22/07 – 6:00 PM
    tb

    If you want to be practical, I stated before when M asked “Where are all the mommies?” The Rashei Yeshiva know where the mommies are and they have the power to change the trend. It would be courageous. It would be unusual. It would be true Torah leadership at its best. My comments come from a place of respect and hope. But if we do not enmass ask our leaders to push for change, very little change will occur where it is sorely needed. Any suggestions about how to reach our Rashei Yeshiva other than going individually to speak with them?

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    19. M 3/22/07 – 8:03 PM
    yoni

    M, we need to change both. Changing just one will likely not make many changes.
    People can be driven away from judaism on account of a poor school as well as on account of a poor home.

    Report this Post
    20. possible but not likely 3/23/07 – 8:47 AM
    M

    If the family is strong. If the kids love their family and identify with their parents’ values, then it’s highly unlikely that they will veer from those values.
    A child is causing his parents grief? flaunting his/her lifestyle that goes contrary to his/her parents’ values? Something is greatly amiss in the relationship between that child and the parents and the problem didn’t start last week week, last month, or last year.

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    21. Response to “deviants” 3/23/07 – 9:22 AM
    Robert – Sharon, MA – rrubovits@sassds.org

    Rabbi Horowitz, I will grant you the increase in focus on gemora learning nowadays and that a curriculum that was built for a select few is now used for the masses. But if that is the case, what has caused the increase over the past generation? They also were using Volozhin as their model. Is it solely the parents pushing for it? Why were they not pushing for more gemora in the last generation? My point about Volozhin was not to curricullar, rather your contention that today we give little “breathing room” to the “outer edge.” My point was that I do not think that this attitude is particularly new. True, its effect are more dramtically felt due to the observations you made (internet, etc.). But sadly I do not think we are so much more poorly adept at ahavas yisroel than we were in the past. Again, thank you for your thoughtful reflections and have a great Shabbos~ Robert

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    22. Why won’t anyone address what I have been saying? 3/25/07 – 4:57 PM
    tb

    I give up completely. The emphasis of the Yeshivos has changed, but so have the homes. The Frum world is completely different today than it was in the last generation. If no one answers my question then I will stop posting at this site. I asked how we could work together to help make changes at the top (the Rashei Yeshiva) where so much of this begins and ends. The attitude of Yeshivos, the new trend of mothers of multiple young children working to support their families for years and years, the trend of sending most 8th grade boys away for high school no matter whether they live in a Torah city or not, the absolutely heartbreaking Shidduch crisis can be addressed and improved by our leaders and our somehow getting the message to them that we need these things to change, that the current Frum world is not all rosy. So far only the materialism, the technology, and the Tznius issues have been addressed. Frankly those were the easy ones, those are all quantifiable and somewhat easy to monitor as they are visible. They also take less effort to change. They are not as complicated because they do not require communal change, they merely require individual change which can be difficult, of course, but not as difficult as changing our Yeshivos, our attitudes toward Kollel and Parnasa, mothering, and Shiduchim. So, if someone has any thoughts on how to accomplish what I have asked, let me know. If not, just continue to talk in the air with no hope for change in sight.

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    23. Response to TB 3/26/07 – 11:25 AM
    Frum but Normal

    Please don’t give up, and continue addressing these crucially important topics as Kollel and Shiduchim. I’ve been reading your posted comments for some time, and you are so correct, it’s good to know that there are some of us out there, that truly understand the meaning of being Frum. It’s not about how much Gemara one has learnt, but rather what acts of kindness did one have to their fellow-jew, how one acts in public, is a Husband providing for his family, or did he spend the undergraduate and graduate college years in Kollel, and as a result will struggle with parnassa for the rest of his life. Learn a trade or regret it for the rest of your life. How many marriages have ended in divorce over financial difficulty? But does the Frum Community learn from these mistakes? No, they will always shift blame on something else. TB – Please continue your fight! Hopefully, at minimum, your comments create some awareness for some readers who just don’t get it.

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    24. Let’s hear from professionals 3/26/07 – 4:18 PM
    Goldy – NJ

    Are there any frum social workers, psychologists, mental health professionals who read these articles? If so, can you please comment on whether the fact that mothers are not home raising their children (at least in their early years of development) because they are out working to support their families, and that many frum young men have not prepared themselves to support their families before they are married, is causing major Shalom Bayis issues? If this is the case, perhaps you, as professionals, can go to the powers that be and suggest that the system has to change. Perhaps you will have more power than tb, M, or myself – who keep writing our comments on this website but are just spinning our wheels.

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    25. No question that two-income homes affect children, but many other factors 3/26/07 – 10:31 PM
    Leon Zacharowicz, MD, MA – New York

    Goldy wonders what professionals think. In my view, there is no question that a two-income home, wherein the parents are much less available to ‘parent,’ problems are much more likely. But it’s more complicated than that….. While my colleague Mr. Pasik is correct, the tuition crisis is not the only explanation. There are also rising expectations: people insist on having items and vacations that were not even dreamed of by most of our parents, and certainly not our grandparents…..As pointed out above, technology enables at-risk teens to create a virtual community, online, and via textmessaging, etc, which replaces a real community, and encourages their deviance…..We as a community have to offer teens what Richard Altabe and others have tried to do, via mentoring, via providing ‘safe’ places to meet and unwind, play ball, hang out, and talk about their fears, experiences, dreams, whatever…..Shuls and schools have to allow these kids to play basketball instead of renting the gym to clothing outlets all the time…..Martial arts and other extra-curricular activities to build self-esteem have to be supported instead of shunned…..More schools have to copy Far Rockaway’s Darchei Torah, with vocational tracks, and less of an elitist approach…..And people need to smile every now and then (more now then then) at the teens in our midst, and treat them with the respect they deserve as tselem Elokim.

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    26. The other side of the coin 3/27/07 – 3:57 PM
    Nechama

    Rabbi Horowitz, I think you write great articles and I thank you for getting all of us to think as well as to discuss. I understand where your previous commentators are coming from, but I completely disagree. Volozhin was only for 5% of the boys due to economic and geographic reality. The people of then, IMO would be very distressed if they knew we had the opportunities of today to learn, and yet we treated Torah study like any other subject – “only do what feels good”. Here’s why:
    Torah study keeps the world going round. “If not for My covenant day and night, I would not maintain nature”. When kids study Torah, they are fulfilling their obligation. They are also enabling all the wonderful acts of kindness in the world to happen. All the responsible professionals do not realize that they are making money in a world being supported by the Torah learners.

    What about bad Middos? Is the Torah study of those who aren’t noble worth so much? No. It isn’t. But the Torah teaches good Middos, so a person is in the best position to improve if he keeps learning Torah. (Rabbi Mordechai Miller, zt”l)

    Should a wife be pressured to juggle too many responsibilities? No. But a wife who doesn’t know her own and her children’s limitations, has got something important to learn. She needs to learn self-awareness, firmness, how to ask questions, and how to think out of the box. We need to teach ourselves and our children basic basic life skills.

    The wife of someone who learns Torah is assured of a very high place in the World to Come. We should be supportive of this.

    Torah study by someone whose mind is partly on his earnings (ie he works and is Kove’a itim) is absolutely not the same level of Torah study. Ask any Torah learner.

    When we speak of school’s pressuring children to learn too high a level of Gemorrah, or too much – I think it’s not the school per se, it’s the individual teacher who may be not reaching and teaching the boys in a way they can understand.

    Or perhaps it’s the teaching system not being “ladder based”; each set of skills building on the previous ones. In some schools, this is Boruch Hashem well developed. Of course any system is still only as good as its weakest link. We also have to optimize the teachers, the friends, the home, and the child’s individual personality.

  27. torah study uncoupled from work is virtualy useless and in the words of our holy sages from perkei avos “in the end ceases and leads to sin”.
    Rashi worked while he studied torah, are you to say his torah is less? are you to say what basicaly all the sages of the torah stated explicitly was the only way to aquire torah (and that all else was essentialy nothing but vanity) was not the right way to do so? how can you (or your bais yakov teachers) be so chutzpahdik?

    “he whos deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure, but he whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom shall not endure.” (avos 3.9) What do you think full time study sets him up for? when someone is studying he is not capable of making deeds. One can only make deeds when one is out and amoungst the world, because most everything you chose there is a mitzvah you can do, thus you are constantly occupied with g-d.

    “one should endure privation rather than depend on is fellow man.” “even if one is a wise man and a respected scholar, hre should engage in a gainfull ocupation, even a grimy one, rather than depend on his fellow.” (shulchan aruch yorah deah 255.1) “he who depends on anothers table, the world is dark for him.” (beitzah 32a)

    “learning from action [that means from doing, observing, and being out in the world, seeing the actions of people and learning from them] is greater than studying from books.” (brachot 7b)

    “one who does not teach his child a trade, teaches him to steal” (I do not remember where) Torah teaches us that everyone MUST earn a living, sage or no sage. Those who are capable should learn the entire torah prior to marriage, and then marry and earn a living for the rest of his life while he reviews his studies. He who cannot is required to learn the halachos and some chumash and novi, and it suffices for him. We are not giving a meaninful education to our children. Those who are good at talmud, great! those who are not, we need not push them because then we are preventing them from fulfilling their lot in life.

    And one who interprets the statement that the world exists only for the covenent to refer to torah is flat out wrong. It refers to all mitzvos, and that is why the lamed vav are termed lamed vav. Do you think that they spend their day learning torah? then they wouldn’t exactly be secret! They spend their day in a gainful occupation and follow all of hashems commandments. It is for them that the world exists, and they are the ones who support the covenent and the world. The rest of them could cease to exist and the world would continue. The world though also exists for the torah of young children who are not yet old enough to sin (I.E are not obligated in mitzvos). It DOES NOT exist on account of those adults who learn torah, according to ANY traditional authority whatsoever. “because the world is sustained only by virtue of the breath of little school children, for their breath is untainted by sin.” “???? ????? ????? ??’? ???? ???? ?? ??????? ?? ??? ??? ???? ??? ???? ?? ???” (hilchus talmud torah of the baal hatanya, quoting zohar, abaye, rambam, tur, shulchan aruch, bayis chadash, and more. are you going to argue that anything other than this preserves the entire world when this many rabbanim have already spoken to the contrary?

    The baal hatanya specificaly speak of how one who is unable to properly comprehend talmud should conduct himself, saying that it is a better mitzvah for him to work and earn a living that he can pay for his children to learn torah and for torah scholars to learn torah than for him to spend time in kollel.(3:4)

  28. Re your comment, Nechama,
    “Torah study by someone whose mind is partly on his earnings (ie he works and is Kove’a itim) is absolutely not the same level of Torah study. Ask any Torah learner.

    To paraphrase your comment: Child care by someone whose mind is partly on her job and who is physically at her job for many hours (i.e. she works and is Kovea Itim for her family, especially infants and toddlers) is absolutely not the same level of child care. Ask any Torah learner.

    To Goldy and Frum but Normal, Thank you for supporting me. Do you have any practical suggestions? Does Rabbi Horowitz?

    To Dr. Zacharowicz, “…there is no question that a two-income home, wherein the parents are much less available to ‘parent,’ problems are much more likely. But it’s more complicated than that…..” No one is denying that there are many factors that have led to the increase in at risk youth in our culture, but we must validate and address the fact that the absence of the mother in the home and the trend to send our sons away to Yeshiva no matter who they are and where they live is detrimental to our children and are key factors in their struggles. The other factors such as divorce/unhappy existing marriages, low self esteem and pressure at school can be better dealt with if parents were more physically present in their children’s lives as small children and at school age.

  29. That comment I made to Nechama should end with: “ask any child”

  30. I agree with what tb said regarding the benefit of parents in the home

  31. tb, i wish i had practical ideas of how to change the system but i don’t..but i still say that the more of us who speak out about this issue the more we are encouraging like-minded individuals to not be afraid to personally change things around in their own families – to not be embarrassed to have their daughters dating young men who are going to support them AND to not be embarrassed to have sons going to college (frum ones preferably). if more familiies will stop worrying what the others will say, slowly but surely maybe we can change this around (back to the supply and demand concept). yoni, your comments were excellent and i applaud each and every word. i do not know if you are married, but if you are i am sure you are a wonderful spouse, and if you are not yet married, i am sure you will make a wonderful spouse, b’ezras Hashem!

  32. no, i’m not married unfortunately, not allowed to look for several more years, basicaly untill i’m out of the secular college i’m at (for a handfull of reasons)
    but that you for the blessing.

  33. Thank you Yoni for your long and carefully researched reply.
    I don’t disagree with you that many men have to work. Most of my male relations do, and I think of them as responsible husbands. I also agree with you that people should try very hard to be self-supporting. “A human being carries his own weight”.

    I want to reprase my expressed view, with the aid of a saying:

    “Ideals are like stars. We may never reach them, but, like the navigator, we chart our course by them”.

    Our ideal should be to learn Torah as much as possible. As it says at the end of “Eilu Devarim” – “talmud torah is worth all the other Mitzvos put together”.

    Do we Daven to be guided as to how to make Parnassah with the minimum of effort so that we should have the maximum amount of spare time for Torah?

  34. Dear Tb,
    Thank you for your reply. I’m now more determined than ever to Be’ezras Hashem keep my sons home for as long as possible before sending them to sleep away Yeshiva.

    I also believe in mothers staying home with their children. I believe they can learn to bond even if they don’t feel it naturally.

    I also believe in free choice. This applies to the thought domain as well. One can choose to spend one’s time with children pre-occupied about Parnassah or anything else, if one chooses, or one can really be there for them. It depends on where one is up to emotionally, and also how good at splitting ourselves we are.

    a kosheren Pesach, Nechama

  35. yoni

    we daven for the maximum amount of time for torah, and to spend time with our children 🙂
    and of course, babies cry so that their husbands will get up and learn torah 🙂

  36. First of all Nechama, I wish you a Chag Kasher V’Sameach and I want you to know that I understand where you are coming from. I have many friends and relatives that agree with you. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to your ideals but…
    “Ideals are like stars. We may never reach them, but, like the navigator, we chart our course by them.”

    How many of our young frum women are charting their course by the ideal that they should be physically at home with their infants and young children?

    I believe that living a Kollel life is a lofty and worthwhile goal, but I do not believe that infants and young children should be left with caregivers or in daycare to help reach that goal. If one can learn full time until one’s wife becomes a mother, fine. If one can be supported so that one’s wife can stay at home with young children, fine. Otherwise, I’m sorry, but even Kollel is not an excuse for leaving infants and young children with caregivers and in daycare. If we do not reprogram our girls, then they will be guiding their lives by the wrong star.

    Rabbi Horowitz, I don’t understand what you are saying. Even secular studies show that the first three years in a child’s life are critical. Many of our girls are working full-time (6-8 hours) a day during this period in their children’s development. This is not an individual choice for a child. Because the system is set up so that our boys are not getting educated, they can’t find work even when the wives realize they want to get off this runaway train. I know many examples of this very situation. They are locked in. The ones who feel good about staying in this cycle, having infant after infant and giving them to others to care for don’t understand the effects on their children. These young women mean well, but are not doing what is best for their young children. Many families are not strengthening their home life so that their home is a place to hang out as Dr. Zacharovicz recommends. They no longer go on family trips because it conflicts with the Yeshivas. They no longer have family nights at home eating dinner together and talking because their boys are getting home so late each day and are stressed and overtaxed by the schedule of the day and lack of physical exercise. Their high school boys are often not living at home at all as I mentioned. Some families are allowing children to use handheld games and IPODs which further disconnect them from the rest of the family. Top prize at a recent learning program at my Shul was an IPOD. That was for half an hour of learning! What are we saying to our kids? We are not setting up environments where they can bond with their parents or family members. Why are we surprised that school, peer, and technology challenges are pushing many over the edge? Why are we afraid to address this with our Rashei Yeshiva? They set the tone in Yeshiva circles, don’t they? We are supposed to take our cues from them, aren’t we? Why would we not respectfully go to the top? Every organization’s reality begins with the environment set up by those at the top. This is not an indictment of them, although it could be. It is a practical suggestion.

  37. Malka Koretzky – Silver Spring, MD

    This isn’t directly related to the discussion- but here is something that has been on my mind… (if I may!)
    I am deeply troubled by our community’s inability to adequately prepare our youth for LIFE. School is an academic institution not a model that can allow for the training of the real world. Kind of like being thrown out of graduate school into an internship with little preparation for what lies ahead.

    I believe that women, especially, are taught how to read a ramban and not how to actualize themselves through giving to others in meaningful ways. My experience with “at risk” young women is that they are desperately seeking a way to just feel good about themselves.

    I have been throwing this idea around with my husband… What would it be like to have experiential tracks in our schools. For example, girls could organize from beginning to end the bris for a poor family; in that context students students learn about the significance of a bris milah. I really think kids today have the din of a baal teshuvah and must be taught the things that we take for granted they already know.

    I apologize if I have used this forum to discuss something that isn’t 100% related, but I was wondering if others had any opinions on this matter. Thank you very much.

  38. What does “actualize themselves” mean?
    What does “feel good about oneself” mean?

    Did Jewish women in any other time of our history seek to actualize themselves or feel good about themselves? If so, which era? I can’t think of any.

    If the focus is put upon “self,” as it is in our selfish, self-centered society, rather than on G-d and actualizing what HE wants and giving HIM nachas ruach, then we are way off track.

    As for the “experiental track” – could you give more details about this idea? What would the girls be doing all day, every day, for the entire school year? Who would be in this track? Would they do any text-learning?

    As for a “din of a baal teshuva” – our children are born needing to be taught everything, so how do they differ from baalei teshuva? Because they are growing up in a frum home in which they see and live yiddishkeit from the time they are born. What do you think we are taking for granted that they know?

  39. I think M did not understand Malka K’s comments. I believe that Malka K was saying that in many girls’ schools today the emphasis is on book knowledge – intellectual pursuits. For some girls, this may be fine, but other girls may need something else to keep them close to Yiddishkeit.There does not always seem to be enough emphasis on chesed, giving to others, being involved in others’ challenges and problems. There are girls who would rather run from shiur to shiur to increase their own knowledge and raise their own spiritual level – than go visit an elderly woman or visit the ill, etc. This is not to say that the former is not important, but the latter is just as important. The “Yiddishe mama” of years ago was a chesed-oriented, giving-to-her-family-and-others kind of person, more than a person who was exploring meforshim. In my opinion Malka was not talking about self-centeredness at all. (If I misunderstood Malka’s comments, I apologize to her.)

  40. As a girl, I single handedly arranged someone else’s Sholom Zochor (OK not a bris, but still, no mean feat). I helped tons of people in tons of ways. But the responsibilities of marriage and children Boruch Hashem still hit me like a ton of bricks.
    I think that this is because any Chesed that you don’t have to do, or people know about, it easy. It’s when you ought to do it, or when nobody sees you, that it’s really hard.

    I heartily agree with Malka that our girls’ schools should aim to produce well-balanced girls, not overly studious, yet not negligent of their scholastic responsibilities either.

    I agree that giving girls regular Chesed projects may be helpful. I would like to add though, that the main thing that will help them through life is learning to shoulder their own obligations. For example, helping one’s parents. Noticing that some friends struggle with schoolwork. Helping brothers and sisters, and grandmothers.

    I’m not saying that the school should be telling parents how to run their home, but the schools should be giving the impression by discussing time and again how important they believe helping at home is. The schools could find a way to honour those who do it. A guidance counsellor for those who have difficult relationships with their parents would also help.

    Just my thoughts as I take a break from cleaning the kitchen!

  41. hank you to responding to my previous comments- It’s so refreshing to have a kosher forum on the internet to discuss substantial topics.
    As for my pipe dream ideas: I thank Goldy for intuiting my thoughts. You see, as an academic student I enjoyed the standard educational curriculum and truly gained from my classes. However, having had recent experience with girls “on the fringe,” or as R’ Horowitz so aptly described it as the scene outside the wedding hall, Many students struggle academically and that acts as just another factor that sets them apart. And the truth is, when I think about how well I did in high school and seminary it doesnt make a drop of a difference if I will lose my temper with my kids, give my husband a smile or anything else. And, the fact is students who feel secondary in the academic setting may be far outstanding mothers, wives, and women in general! I feel the intense frustration of knowing that a system that is difficult for some- is not only difficult but can contribute to a poor self-image. When students who contribute meaningfully can feel good about themselves. I truy believe that YES girls need to feel actualized. I think roshei yeshivah are maybe at the level of just focusing on ritzon hashem and not on the basic level of feeling pride in one’s work. And to M, who posted something related to this, can you be 100% honest with yourself and not see that even when we do good things for other ppl (like making someones favorite dessert) you don’t feel an ounce of pleasure in having done something good- and that feeling feeds your sense of self and motivates you to do it again. I would love for our girls to have those good feelings bec.they ARE good girls looking to feel good about themselves! And they should. R Moshe Weinberger said on one of his tapes- our youth who are struggling should be paired up to help special needs children- its a win-win.

    May everyone involved with this area feel a truly inspiring Pesach- of feeling the freedom to let go of resentments and see the struggling ppl in our lives with a sense of love and an ayin tov. Chag Kasher V’Sameyach!

  42. I think that one thing that is important for these girls (and boys) is that we bear an open mind about what these girls succeed at. When we only value one or two things, like academic work, or being good at cooking etc, or chessed (although every girl and boy should be taught to be chessedik) naturaly some girls just are not going to be able to succeed. Some may be very unahppy with this acedemics, and others may be very unhappy with working in the home. To be sure they need to be able to do these things, but when they feel that they do them very poorly it hurts their self esteem.
    Before you say that that is what hashem wants of them, I want to remind you that in our times, a time with automatic everything, being a homemaker takes a fraction of the time that it took in past generations, and to force someone to idleness is shear cruelty. Torah teaches us that nothing is more damaging to a persons soul than enforced idleness.

    Every one needs something that they are good at and can take pride in. This helps build a persons self esteem, the praise one recieves for a good job is very benificial. I think that this is a major stumbling point for our children at risk. When they cannot find a valued niche in the community they can and will feel unwanted and rejected, and their behavior will show in kind. When they feel that they are making a valued contribution, they will not want to leave.

    Which comes down to that boys and girls should be allowed hobbies. Torah teaches us that all of our skills and talents should be used for the sake of heaven, and if I remember correctly, we will be called in to account for what we did not contribute to jewish life. Studying torah will not be a good enough excuse, nor will anything else. These talents should be developed in children, and should be used for the sake of jewish life. Artisticaly tallented children should be encouraged to paint or otherwise create art that is beautifull and will bring happiness to jewish families and decorate religious homes. Those who sew well and have good artistic sense should be encouraged to sew things like torah covers, parochet(im?) challa covers, or make beautitfull wedding dresses or anything else which makes people happy. Those who are good at caligraphy should be encouraged to (if male) go in to saferus, or (if female) go in to some other use of their tallent, creating beautifull peices of art and invitations etc. Those who are good at science should be encouraged to delve in to it, and those who are good at writing should be encouarged to write jewish books and stories for people to delight in. Those who are good at poetry should be encouraged to write beautifull poems and songs for people to read and be inspired in their service of hashem.

    All these tallents are what the kabbalists call “klipas nogah” and should be encouraged so that they can use them to beautify jewish life and make people happy. They should be encouraged to use their skills for holy things, even if just as a hobby so that they can find meaning in their judaism and satisfaction in their place in life.

    That is not to say that they should be poor parents or do poorly in school, but when they have something meaningfull to do they will be able to take the energy they get from those accomplishments and elevate it in to influencing the other things they do in life. It will make them happier people which will make them better fathers, mothers, learners, earners, etc. It will make them love hashem more and give them more enthusiasm in mitzvos. the benefites are enourmous and I do not think that we should be denying children the ability to dable in these things. The satisfaction from a job well done goes a long way to fixing the kind of self esteem problems that make kids become at risk kids and we should not be calling kids at risk just for engaging in these sorts of activites. Hashem made for us 12 tribes and yakov did not bless them all to study torah or all do the same thing. He blessed them all according to their skills and abilities, because each one was unique and contributed something completely unique to klal yisroel, without which we could never survive.

    I think that by denying kids this we are cutting off our noses despite our faces, and endangering the spiritual lives of normal wonderfull children. Once we lable them as “at risk” for having a hobby they can and will become truly at risk because that is what you expect of them.

  43. Malka, you bring up valid points, and Yoni, what you write is absolutely true. In fact, I’d add that not only should we give children the opportunity and encouragement to *express* themselves artistically, but we should also help them to *develop* talents further.
    Other people are not so artistic, but they still have extra-curricular callings. For example, some kids don’t have a real sense of where they begin and end, unless they engage in high impact sports or swimming. How cruel it is to not allow these peole to feel good about themselves. On the other hand most people don’t know much about sensory issues and how it can affect people’s lives in so many ways.

    Similarly reading for an emotional person is a wonderful thing. Miriam Adahan once said that emotional people have to give themselves permission to “waste time” reading – it is very rejuvenating to read a good novel.

    There is another side of the coin too, though, besides knowledge, understanding and positive attitudes towards people’s individualtiy. All this addresses the idea that self-esteem can be built by being successful.

    But another reason, in my opinion, that kids go off the derech has nothing to do with self esteem. It is a blockage in their hearts, a deep sadness that stems from somewhere. Sometimes the person suffered a physical trauma, and sometimes an emotional one. Sometimes the person doesn’t remember a specific thing that happened, they might have been too young, or the circumstances didn’t fully register in his or her consciousness. But deep down they absorbed a message -“I’m bad, or “there’s no place for me”, or “I don’t know where I am in all this.”

    Does anybody have experience with these kinds of feelings, blockages, thoughts? I know that there is a growing group of therapists claiming to do “energy release”. Does anyone know if this works for real people?

    A Kosheren Pesach to all

    Nechama

  44. Many moons ago when I was a teenager, I spent some time in my summers as an at-risk youth with others like me. I was a straight A student in high school, involved in Chesed, consistently respectful to my teachers. No one suspected a thing. I was a child of divorce and, although I lived in a very calm, happy home bolstered by the presence of my uncles and cousins I was different and I felt different. I was also a thinker, Hashem help me. I had questions in school that the teachers did not answer. Mind you, I didn’t really challenge them to much because I wanted them to like me. So I started experimenting in the parallel world of the at-risk youth. Here is what I learned from my two summers’ worth in this world. Many of the teenagers in Woodburne were from divorced homes, sons and daughters of Rabbis, from large families, learning disabled or challenged in their learning/studies and spoke openly of it. There was a segment that openly desecrated Shabbos. At 16, I was dumbfounded by that. I thought, “I’m here to go to the movies and hang out and have some fun. What on earth does that have to do with Chillul Shabbos?” Those kids were very angry. I saw that they also got involved in illegal activities and spent time in jail over the summers and later on. There was some drug use, but I only heard of it and never saw it. Those that were involved were part of another “circle.” Many of those in my circle, boys usually, drank whenever they could. Again, I didn’t get the need for that, but then I wasn’t in so much pain. To answer the previous question about pent up emotion from a source they may not know, I don’t think this is such a factor. I feel that many of the kids were very open about their struggles. By the way, I also remember them angrily venting about a molester they knew of in Yeshiva who then fled to Israel. While they never talked of their personal abuse, they spoke of revenge. I got the point. Again, this wasn’t my reason for being in Woodburne so I was kind of shocked at first. We used to sit under a tree in the bungalow colony where some of us worked. Here is what we discussed: Our parents and how they did not have time for us, how our fathers weren’t around a lot and had no idea what we were doing, Yeshiva/girls’ school and how horrible the teachers/studies were, divorce stuff, hypocrasy–that was a big one for me, other people. It was a place where we felt safe to discuss our feelings–even the boys–and not be judged. We talked and joked about our futures, our current mistakes. Flash forward 20 years: the boys in my “circle” are all husbands and fathers in the black hat world. I don’t keep in touch with them obviously so I don’t know how they are doing, but one is a Mechanech and seems to have a stable family. The others, I heard, are doing okay. Of the girls 3 out of 4 of us married black hat. One married Kollel. I don’t keep in touch with all, but I know that they seem to be doing fine. I chose not to marry black hat–the hypocrasy, you see. Interestingly, my husband had spent some time in this crowd in his early 20’s so he knew the language. He and I both agreed that while we were part of this crowd we aspired to better things, to college, to seeking answers, to not abuse our bodies with drink or drugs. We worried about those that didn’t. We agree that one of the reasons, a biggie, as to why we aspired beyond our situations, our doubts was our devotion to our families. Now, of those in the harsher circles, the angrier ones , their endings aren’t as pretty. Many left the Derech for good, a few could be heard about years later getting thrown in jail for some illegal activity, one has been confirmed dead of drug-related issues. Once or twice as a married adult I have happened on a hard-core at risk youth grown up who is living a black hat life. Sometimes, their kids, now teenagers, can be seen smoking and somewhat rebellious too. That isn’t everyone, of course. I’m sure there must be some successes in those circles. I know of one who is heavily involved in Kiruv. Over the years my husband and I have reached out to at risk teenagers. We have them over, we talk to them a bit more in Shul or at functions. We have been involved in organizations that reach out to them. Our goal beyond just being there for them is making sure they are aware that if they don’t fit into the mold of their Yeshiva, home, etc. that there is a place for them in Orthodox Judaism and that they should not give up on it. The angrier ones, the ones with real pain at home, need therapy too and we hope that those closest to them will ensure that they get that. My husband believes that they like him are not being shown the Simchas Hachaim involved in Frumkeit. They are being pushed down by a Yeshiva system that may not be for them, as Rabbi Horowitz and others here have said. My husband who struggles with ADD can relate to this. He wants these kids to find joy in Torah and Chagim, in Tefilah and Minhagim. He feels the schools and the parents are failing in that area. Although we are almost 40, we still go away to our parents for Pesach, but we both know that when we IY”H make our own Sedarim, we have the responsibility to invite as many of these outer circle people of all kinds to our table and give them a place to “hang out” with Simchas Hachag. Because if they are going to hang out under a tree somewhere or on a blackberry, etc. as Rabbi Horowitz points out, then we need to provide them with counter hang outs so they can hear other voices too. Have a wonderful, HAPPY, and Kosher Pesach! Thank you, Rabbi Horowitz, for talking about all this openly. I hope we all can come up with more practical solutions for these kids. We’re going on over 20 years of at-risk youth and, as you’ve said, we are headed in the wrong direction.

  45. Anonymous

    Will someone take the bull by the horns and finally address this issue honestly? Rabbi Horowitz, thank you for mentioning the topic; but I think the time has come for more honest discussion about the new world of instant conversation with anyone, and access to information about anyone. There seem to be stages of experimentation, followed by obsession with this tool of technology, and for frum kids, what seems like a point of no return. Of course, a genuine self-honest value search might change this addictive behavior. But I believe the reality is that the new global instant communication with anyone has irrevocably changed the sensibilities of most kids/young adults caught in it’s web (no pun). I would like to see some community leaders grapple with this issue by examining it more closely and exposing the “stages” of obsession, the changes in thinking and priorities that result, the diminution of religious values of those trapped, and perhaps a “beginner’s guide” to exactly how all of the rapidly changing tools are being used by the kids.

  46. Leon Zacharowicz MD MA – Far Rockaway NY

    Anonymous,
    As I alluded to in my post of 3/21, in my view the technological revolution has changed the situation dramatically, for better and for the opposite. Even professionals are not giving enough thought to this paradigm shift.

    Ask some children or teens how much time they spend with their technology (either the self-stimulating GameBoy kind or the interactive internet etc) and you may hear there are kids spending 10 or more hours daily involved in this. [When I am consulted about daytime fatigue in a teen, among the first questions I often ask the teen–questions no one has thought to ask, it seems–is what time he/she went to sleep, until what time was he/she online, etc.]

    Professionals and parents simply do not know the consequences of long-term involvement in such settings. How to deal with it is another matter, but I would suggest that first people need to find out how much they themselves, as well as their loved ones, spend online, text messaging, etc.

    It is also important to realize that young people are building an alternate community [as many adults have done, spending a lot of time on this and other blogs and web sites]. It is the responsibility of parents to find out who is part of your child’s life, in the ‘real’ world, as well as via technology.

    If a parent has no clue, than perhaps that parent needs to become a bigger part of his/her child’s life, and find out more about the child’s world.

    Gut Moed,

    LZ

  47. Yakov Horowitz – Monsey NY

    I do not think that the issue is “obsessive use of the internet and instant communication”
    The real issue is that this is how today’s kids talk to each other. period. exclamation point. as the kids would say, “deal with it.”

    The problem is that we are not dealing with it. We are “Taking it on the chin” and frum, especially charedi society is getting clobbered on the Internet.

    We have all the negatives (terrible filth our kids are exposed to) with none of the benefits (torah learning, charedi people responding in an articulate manner to the bloggers who challenge yesodos in emunah.)

    “Taking it on the chin” is the title of an article on this subject that I am working on.

  48. Leon Zacharowicz MD – Far Rockaway NY

    I find myself very much in agreement with Rabbi Horowitz. The technological revolution is a reality that nearly all of us (with possible exceptions such as enclaves in Meah Shearim and, l’havdil, in Amish country–but read the book RUMSPRINGA for issues their teens face).
    My point is that many parents and professionals are not even aware of how big a part such technology is playing in their children’s lives…and I might add in the lives of many adults.

    Ultimately, what keeps kids in the Amish fold–as noted in RUMSPRINGA–may be what will keep our children within our community: relationships.

    Parent is not just a noun…it is also a verb.

    And part of ‘parent’ is to ‘relate’ to relatives, including one’s children. Either we are part of their intimate lives and relationships, or our children will find other ways to find the relationships they need.

    Gut Moed,

    LZ

  49. I’ve always gotten pretty personal in my posts and I am going to do it again here so that others with small children who are just embarking on these decisions can learn from the possibilities of a technology-controlled existence. No bragging, just some insight into our world. My children live in a parallel universe that my husband and I have created for them. We do not allow gameboys or any other handheld gaming device. We allow limited computer gaming on the pc at home, but only games that we purchase and we have a library of about 7 or 8, 4 for each child of age to play. We impose strict time limits on their use. We allow them to watch T.V. on Sunday Mornings, a commercial-free station that is only geared to pre-schoolers, not the ones for older kids with commercials, or Channel 13–public T.V. We only got Cable this year for my husband’s business Internet use and we are going to watch this very carefully. We are uncomfortable with Cable programming. We will show videos occasionally, but only G-rated movies that we have previewed, that excludes most recent Disney movies which we find objectionable. Many times, there is a darkness and sophistication in these supposed children’s films that we don’t think our kids need. We seek out “old” movies like those we saw as kids and the wonderful DVD collections now available with ’70’s show compilations like the Brady Bunch and the cartoon series: Speed Racer. My 9 year old loves the Jetsons, by the way. We play board games and buy them plenty of building toys. We visit Historic Sites and go on many vacations together–mini-vacations work well for us. We like amusement parks too, but absolutely no carnival games. We allow them to play arcade games when we stay at hotels, but they are given a limited budget. My children attend a Modern Orthodox Day school and are with children who are exposed to more media as they would be in some more Yeshivish schools, but there are also a few who are similar to ours. We don’t know how much longer we can keep this up. We will probably have to ditch the Cable at some point. We know that. We are aware that the kids will hear about things anyway and will want some things that others have, but so far it is interesting to note how well the answer “no” has gone over. We got the biggest fight about the Gameboy (Afikomen, birthday) and we explained why we didn’t agree to it. They stopped asking a long time ago. We give them opportunities to play and recreate with as I mentioned. We know they haven’t hit puberty yet, but we also know that we have laid a pretty solid groundwork for them to see that they can relate without games and ipods, they can enjoy T.V. and video with limits, they can enjoy great times with us and the family, that includes long car trips where many have unfortunately resorted to personal DVD players. Oh, and don’t forget reading. My kids love to read. We screen those pretty closely too. We exist. It is possible. We are saddened by the loss of innocence and connectedness of the other children. These gameboys and ipods are poisoning our kids. The internet, by the way, with screening mechanisms is fine with us at some point. We know that the screening mechanisms aren’t foolproof, but I must tell you, we plan to be around them a lot. We always are. I’m confused. Why are our teenagers on the internet? Are they constantly left home alone? When we were teens, we were swamped with homework and a good T.V. show, or movie every once in a while was all we had time for. Our parents were there in the evenings, so when is this happening? Why can’t the computer be locked at night and the cell phones be given only for when they travel? Why are our kids so unsupervised? I know some really wonderful teens whose parents hang around a lot and offer options. They are growing up pretty nicely and know how to carry on a conversation. No one says there won’t be rebellions and stolen videos and such, but how can this get out of control if you don’t buy them the equipment and if you hang around with them?

  50. These days, people should take a test or get a license in order to have kids. There are people out there that shouldn’t have children. If this happens, we do not need to create special schools for at-risk kids and support groups for their parents or spend tax dollars on community centers and programs for at-risk kids.

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Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Founding Dean of Monsey’s Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Director of The Center for Jewish Family Life, conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops internationally, and sponsors the Bnos’ One on One Big Sister Program with branches in seven states and Canada. He’s the author of two books, published the landmark children’s personal safety picture book Let’s Stay Safe!, which has been adapted into Yiddish and Hebrew, and the Bright Beginnings Chumash and Gemara Workbooks which helps children acquire Judaic Studies skills in a fun-filled manner. Rabbi Horowitz received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education.