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Risk Factors for At-Risk Teens 1
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Chicago Community Kollel

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11/17/06

Rabbi Horowitz:

With all the talk in recent years about at-risk teens, I often wonder what the risk factors really are. Everyone I speak to seems to have an opinion – with many of the items mentioned being contradictory to each other! I have heard that the main culprits are bad friends, Internet, poor parenting, uninvolved parents, overly involved parents, too much pressure, not enough demands, on and on ….

Others say that the teen crisis is a ‘gezeirah,’ an edict from Heaven, which would seem to indicate that there is little that we as parents and community members can do. Rabbi Horowitz, do you agree with that notion? I for one, hope that this assessment is incorrect. For if it is a gezeirah, what are we to do?

I would be most appreciative of you sharing your thoughts on this subject. Your reputation for candidly addressing topics of interest to the Jewish community makes me hopeful that you will pull no punches and address my question in the forthright manner in which you write these columns.

With much respect,

Dovid

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Dovid:

Each and every child who abandons the faith of his or her parents represents a sea of tears and an endless string of sleepless nights for their family members. Today’s parents have challenges that no previous generation had to deal with – eroding morals in the general population, the exponential growth in technology, Internet, unprecedented freedom; the list seems to go on and on. But virtually every generation has had its unique difficulties. Raising children has never been easy, and no generation throughout our glorious history has been spared the agony of children deviating from the path of a Torah life charted by their parents.

Viewed from a historical perspective, the ‘drop-out’ rate from Orthodox Jewry in the past fifty years is far lower than it was during the tumultuous hundred years that preceded the generation of our parents – from 1850 to 1950. I would estimate that during the past few decades, about five to fifteen percent of children from observant homes left Yiddishkeit – which is far more than we would like to admit or believe. But bear in mind that the ‘drop-out’ rate was much, much higher in the Lower East Side at the turn of the century, in Yerushalayim in the Thirties and Forties, and in many Chassidish, Litvish, and Ashkenasic communities in pre-war Europe during the height of the haskalah – when communism, pogroms, and grinding poverty decimated the ranks of the frum community.

We make a strategic error, though, when we confuse challenges with gezeros. An earthquake is a gezera. Some illnesses may perhaps be considered gezeiros. A Torah Jew accepts, or rather tries to accept, a gezeirah with dignity and grace as the will of Hashem. Challenges, on the other hand, need to be honestly analyzed, addressed and overcome. Throwing up our hands and claiming that a challenge is a gezeirah often avoids the type of brutal and candid reflection that produces effective solutions. In fact, it is my experience that this mindset results in confused, reactionary and ineffective responses to challenges – often making a bad situation worse.

Dovid; you asked me not to pull any punches. Permit me then, to give you a brutally candid, real-life example of what I am referring to in the previous few paragraphs. Imagine that you live in a community where a few boys and girls have strayed from the path of Torah and engaged in at-risk behaviors. Parents and educators grow increasingly apprehensive and look for solutions. The question on everyone’s mind is how to address the concern that this may happen to their child(ren).

I would think that the wisest thing for community leaders to do would be to take the approach that a success oriented business owner would take in response to slipping market share. Commission a professional study, conduct exit interviews with customers who have taken their business elsewhere, and then sit down with the leadership team of the business and develop effective strategies to reverse the trend.

Over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere. They were looking for respect and understanding. Acceptance. Safe and nurturing home lives. Hands-on parents who offer unconditional love along with their guidance. Caring educators who dealt with their admitted misdeeds gently and privately (firmly was OK). The ability to be a bit different without being labeled or judged. More time for hobbies and more recreational opportunities. On an educational level, I can tell you some additional things that they needed. A slower pace of learning. More skill-based teaching (#1, #2 and #3). Visual and diverse learning (#1, #2, #3) .

With this in mind, I would think that the frightened parents in the community ought to shorten the hours that their children are in school, offer more extra-curricular activities, clamor for more tolerance, invest in the educators of their children, and boycott the schools that dismiss children for misdeeds. The community leaders would do well to meet with the mental-health professionals and those who deal with the ‘at-risk’ teen population, perhaps even with the troubled kids themselves, and listen – really listen – to their advice. I would love to tell you that this is happening. It pains me to report that this is usually not the case. Those of us who deal with at-risk kids are consulted in firefighter mode by desperate parents and educators – but little time and energy is being spent in fire prevention. They are asking us what to do with the at-risk kids, but not what we think should be done for all our children.

In many communities, I’m sad to report, exactly the opposite is happening. School hours are getting longer and longer. Kids have less time and opportunity to engage in desperately needed recreational activities. In fact, in some communities, normal sports activities are frowned upon or outright banned – sometimes for children above the age of ten years old!! Greater demands are being made on children. Schools that dismiss children are valued and pursued. Acceptance criterion for high schools is getting increasingly more challenging. On many occasions, I have clearly stated that in today’s climate I would probably not have been accepted to any ‘normal’ high school when I graduated eighth grade thirty-three years ago!!

Most peculiar is the reaction of parents who respond to their fears by striving mightily to place their children in the most rigorous programs – the ones with the longest hours, the least in the way of recreation, and with the most strident demands on their children. The thinking is that their children will be safe there, as the ‘chevrah’ will be better and the ‘at-risk’ children will be excluded from those elite schools. However, this thinking is terribly flawed. For there is no guarantee that their child – or one of their children some time in the future of their family life – will not be one of those children who will need some adjustment, tolerance, or understanding. So, in effect, the parents are raising the bar – and the ante of this very high-stakes gamble – by opting to send their child to a program that purports to produce a ‘metzuyan’ or ‘mitzuyenes’ (exemplary children). But at the same time, they are greatly increasing the odds that their child may find the train running away from him or her. And, in all my years of dealing with the at-risk teen population, I have not noticed that the elitist schools have any lower percentage of kids abandoning Yiddishkeit. All the more so if you include those who were asked to “find another school,” midway in their school experience.

Dovid; I will close this column by quoting the words of my very wise grandmother a’h. She often would remark that, “ales mit a t’si toig nisht.” Loosely translated, that means that anything overdone is bound to backfire.

Her grandson’s advice mirrors that thought. If I may use a baseball analogy, when raising your children, don’t swing for the fences. Just try to make contact and get on base. Trust me, you will score more runs that way. Keep in mind that most mighty swings result in strikeouts.

And, l’man Hashem, keep your eye on the ball.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Continued next week



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Risk Factors for At-Risk Teens 2


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1. Gezeirah from Heaven or from us?     11/17/06 - 1:33 PM
Tanya Flig - Los Angeles - tanyaflig@yahoo.com

I cannot take credit for the following insight to myself, but big Rav in our community gives many classes on mussar. He made a very interesting point. When things are well it's always our acheivment. However, when things are bad we always look for reasons outside of us. For example, people that have shalom bais problems they'd rather start checking all mezuzos in their homes than themselves. We are way too quick to blame everything on Hashem. May be time has come for us to look inside ourselves, inside our communities and see what WE're doing wrong. There is an excellent book by Faranak Margolese "Off The Derech". She did extensive research on this issue, interviewed many Rabbaim, teachers, and teens that went off the derech. So before we "check our mezuzos", let's ask our teens why they go off the derech. As ba'alat-tshuva I also had moments when I started questioning this life-style. And these moments were caused not by "bad mezuzos" but by behaviors of the frum people. At some point I realized that even frum people are just humans and Yiddishkeit is the process of constant growth and work on yourself. However, we have to always keep in mind that since we proclaim ouirselves as people fulfilling G-d's will we're always held upto the much higher standard. And when our teens see that quite often our actions do not reflect our statements, they start questioning Yiddishkeit itself. For teens everything is either black or white, they don't have shades in between. So let's not blame their going of the derech on Heaven and sit doing nothing thinking that we have nothing to do with it. I'm sure our mezuzos are fine. Let's check ourselves and change ourselves and let's show teens as Faranak Margolese said that no matter how good secular world is, ours is even better.


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2. It's a combination of many factors     11/19/06 - 1:33 AM
Jay - Brooklyn

There are two primary factors in my opinion:

1. An absolute obsession with Gashmiyus (which inundates our lives in a way that has never manifested itself ever before in history.

2. Instead of "kabeid es avicha v'es eemecha" it has become "kabeid es bincha v'es bitcha"


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3. The Difference Between Today And Yesterday     11/23/06 - 4:05 PM
Avigdor

Yesterday's children left the fold out of "lack" of knowledge; parents were indifferent and many were uneducated in Torah themselves.

Today's children leave because of "knowledge"; they hate what they see, the hypocrisy, the false value system and lack of morality by the "prominent" people, are a leading cause for children to rebel against a system gone amok.

Almost in every case a child rebels, it's for a reason, when analyzed, is almost understandable.


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4.     11/23/06 - 4:12 PM
Elliot Pasik - Long Beach, NY - efpasik@aol.com

Powerful.


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5. So so True!     11/23/06 - 4:23 PM
Anonymous - Brooklyn

You have laid the painful truth with unbelievable clarity. This should be printed in the Hamodia, Yated, Jewish Observer, Mishpachah and anywhere that Jewish parents look for the truth! Cancer is a gezeirah, the shidduch crisis is a gezeira but kids at risk is happening for a reason. I have a neighbor whose son, 5th grade, is in a yeshiva where he comes home 7:00 daily, never has vacation, finishes school one day and starts intensive summer daycamp the next day, began learning gemarah in third grade, without learning much mishnayos first and is under unbelievable pressure. From conversations with family and friends in Eretz Yisroel, the yeshivos there follow the same pattern. When are kids allowed to be kids? When can they be free to develop and grow and love Yiddishkeit if their lives are no fun to live? Some children can handle it, but others are doomed to failure from the start. There needs to be a change!


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6. Avigdor - I disagree     11/23/06 - 6:45 PM
Tzvi - Brooklyn

You said: "Almost in every case a child rebels, it's for a reason, when analyzed, is almost understandable."

The "hypocrisy" that they see is not the cause for them to rebel. They may give it as an excuse. This is because their suffering is too painful for them to bear and hence the need to blame someone else for their problems in coping with their Yetzer Harah.

If you sit down and talk with these boys, they will tell you that it's mostly because they couldn't reign in their taavos. The only way to control the taavos is with limud haTorah. These boys aren't successful in their learning and therefore their taavos are out of control.


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7. Thumbs Up!     11/23/06 - 7:58 PM
Sarah - Brooklyn NY

Rabbi Horowitz- you've done it again! When I was a teen I had a very tough home situation. My mother, who had been outwardly healthy for 40 yrs, developed some mental issues and I was verbally abused a lot. However, my father compensated for it by being the most loving father. He arranged to work at home so he could spend time with me when I came home. He took all my issues seriously. He bought me gifts behind my mother's back. He complimented me to no end.

I grappled with many sfeikos. I grappled with the taivos to join a world that looked wonderfully enticing. However, THE LOVE I HAD FOR MY FATHER HELD ME BACK. I knew any wrong I did wld hurt him AND I LOVED HIM TOO MUCH TO HURT HIM.

I am now in the field of education for 5 yrs-- not a long time-- but enough time to make some observations. I teach a middle school grade. These children are children in every sense of the word. However, they are worked harder than many adults are. They wake up 7am eat some sort of breakfast and are in school at 8:30. They stay in school until 4:30. My goodness-- that's a full adult workday! When teaching, I use different methods but there is one method that is the bottom line-LOVE. RESPECT. AND CONSISTANCY. In one of the yearbooks of my students, they rated each teacher on a report card. I got 3 F's: Fair, FIrm and Friendly. Children see right through us adults--- they are mind-readers--- I cry, plead with anyone in the education world: Be fair. Would you tolerate being accused? Would you tolerate not being given a fair hearing? Always assume INNOCENCE not guilt as that';s what it is most of the time-- and if you're wrong and assumed innocence when the party was guilty-- it won't cost you anything. It'll earn you respect and another yiddishe neshama not getting lost.

Rabbi Horowitz- I think if you can respond to some of the comments it wld greatly enhance this terrific forum!!!! Thanks again for bringing up issues all the time- that nobody else dares to.

Avigdor- I can't believe a teen at risk wld say it was the taivos alone that shlepped him out of our frum world. Is this your percpective or is it the teen's? Sure, we all have scapegoats and like to blame our situations for who we AREN"T but many times, there is some truth to it.


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8. In case you want to hear from someone who left     11/23/06 - 8:37 PM
Veganovich:

I was not an at-risk youth in the manner that mainstream society defines it; I did not drop out of school, take drugs, engage in risky or unhealthy sexual behavior, etc. However, I was an at-risk youth by your definition, since you define being an at-risk youth and leaving Orthodoxy as one and the same. I grew up Charedi, but I am now an atheist. I am not sure if you will post this, but since you profess to be interested in hearing from those who left, I thought I’d give it a try.

Whenever Orthodox people hear I left, they immediately assume that I had some horrible experience, which made me bitter towards Orthodox Judaism. They ask me if I was angry at my parents, abused by a Rebbe, turned off by hypocrisy, materialism, etc. What they never assume is that someone can be a skeptic by nature, and not believe something simply because an authority figure tells him or her to do so. But that was the case with me. I sat in Yeshiva and I could not believe that what I was learning was true, I was amazed that others did. I was aware of the profound differences in belief between Orthodox Jews and scientists about the origin and age of the world. Even though I did not have a great understanding of evolution or other scientific concepts, (needless to say, given that I was in a Charedi school there was not much of a secular education,) I figured if scientists believed in it, it must be credible. After all, it was scientists who put people on the moon, not Rabbis. Thus, they must have a better understanding of the world.

I am curious as to how you understand the Haskalah. Do you think that the sudden increase in those that let Orthodoxy did so because they wanted understanding, respect and a shorter school day? Or do you accept that in that case, newer competing ideas made it harder or people to accept a literal understanding of the faith they were taught?


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9. Resources for "Veganovich"     11/24/06 - 12:18 AM
Shlomo

To the previous commentator:

I would highly recommend a fantastic book by an Orthodox Rabbi, R' Natan Slifkin, on the subject of evolution and the origins of the universe.

He demonstrates that the concepts of Darwinist evolution and an ancient universe are not only compatible with the Jewish concept of God, but make His might and majesty all the more apparent in this world.

The book is entitled "The Challenge of Creation" and can be purchased through Amazon.com.

Hatzlacha.


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10.     11/24/06 - 7:26 AM
Paul Shaviv - Toronto - pshaviv@chat-edu.ca

Rabbi Horowitz: Thank you for this posting. As Head of a large Community High School, I see perhaps fifteen or twenty students per year applying to our school who are coming from Haredi schools and yeshivot (both boys and girls). They are wonderful boys and girls. Typically, these students have 'bounced' around several schools already. Typical of these cases are: 1) these students are penalized because they do not or cannot 'conform', in either externals (blue shirt instead of white; desire to wear hair in a certain way; families do not 'fit') or internals ("asking questions"). 2) very often their English *and Hebrew* skills are functioning way below the normal level. Sometimes this is because in, say, Grade 3 they missed a few days' school, no-one ever checked that they made up knowledge that they missed, and their difficulties just compounded from there. I have on several occasions found fifteen and sixteen year-olds, graduates of years of Haredi schools, who cannot read Hebrew 3) in all cases, including the last, their report cards often show high marks for Kodesh and Chol subjects...... 3) they have been expelled or 'asked to leave' without any due process, generating burning resentment and anger.

These are major tragedies at personal and community level. I would be very happy to be associated with any initiative to address these issues.

-- Paul Shaviv, Director of Education TanenbaumCHAT, Toronto


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11. more for "Veganovich"     11/24/06 - 11:25 AM
Shloime - Brooklyn

You youself state that "I did not have a great understanding of evolution or other scientific concepts". If you will seriously and objectively study Torah and science you will see that there are no contradictions. Just the opposite every day science comes out with new findings that are already stated in the Gemorah for thousands of years. Those things that do seem as real contradictions have been clarified and explained by some great and frum scientists. I recommend that you read the book "Genesis and The Big Bang" by Gerald Schroeder, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (don't remember the author but I think it is published by Felheim), Permission to Believe, Permission to Receive both by Lawerence Keleman, and many other great books. Don't sell your heritage which your parents and grand parents have sacrificed themselves for three thousand years for what you "think" are contradictions, do your homework first. Don't forget that the same G-d that wrote the Torah also created science and nature and hence cannot possibly contradict each other. As Einstein is quoted to have said "Whoever claims that religion contradicts science, has no understanding of religion or science". I would also suggest that you go a Gateways seminar to research the truth about these "contradictions" (http://www.gatewaysonline.com).


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12. Skeptic by Nature     11/24/06 - 11:33 AM
Baruch Horowitz - Brooklyn, NY - borhowitz@yahoo.com

"What they never assume is that someone can be a skeptic by nature, and not believe something simply because an authority figure tells him or her to do so."

Veganovhich,

I am not an expert on why people " go off the derech", but I think that you have a good point. Belief can be a factor in of itself, whether or not it is the sole factor in determining why a person becomes less observant. Although Rav Chaim Brisker said in one case that questions are merely "teirutzim", nevertheless, I think that in some cases at least, it can certainly be a significant factor in of itself.

You address the question of someone who is "skeptical by nature". There is also the "nurture" issue, i.e., the environment. I think that the Rambam, in one of his letters, wrote that Jews naturally have a certain tendency for emunah which can be built and expanded upon, i.e., the concept of "pintle Yid". A Gadol was asked about this Rambam: we see that people do have doubts, and if I correctly recall, he attributed it to the fact that people are exposed to an environment which is not conducive to belief, and therefore, the natural tendencies are stymied. I also recall seeing from another source that there is an opposite nature in a person: in the midbar, the Bnei Yisrael were "am kshei arof", and they tended to question. I was wondering if Rabbi Horowitz can address this here, or in a future column.

Personally, I have been a "thinking" type since I was a young boy, and I have thought about many emunah issues at a young age. I think the Rambam and other rishonim were also thinking types as well, as was Yisro and Avroham Avinu. I don't think that there is anything wrong at all with having this nature. Thinking types need to have their questions addressed in an intellectually rigorous manner, but they also have to be able to move on, and benefit from the experiential aspects of Yahadus.

Kol Tuv


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13. Response to Shloime - Brooklyn     11/24/06 - 1:16 PM
Veganovich: - New York

I do not mean to change the topic of the post from why people leave to whether there is a god, but since others made it an issue, I feel compelled to respond.

With regard to me reading Slifkin or anyone else, I am not a scientist, and I do not see what would be the point. What I do know is that the more one is scientifically literate, the more likely one is to be an atheist. In a survey involving 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences; half replied. When queried about belief in "personal god," only 7% responded in the affirmative, while 72.2% expressed "personal disbelief," and 20.8% expressed "doubt or agnosticism." The highest rate of belief in a god was found among mathematicians (14.3%), while the lowest was found among those in the life sciences fields -- only 5.5%.

It is also true that belief in god and fervor of belief is substantially higher in third world societies like Haiti and Iran than it is in advanced societies like Japan and Sweden. The claim that science and orthodox religious belief are harmonious is belied by the fact that Charedi yeshivas feel the need to suppress the learning of science. In my nieces’ Bais Yaakov, students are not allowed to answer questions on the biology regent’s exam related to evolution, and the teachers will mark them wrong even if they fill in the correct answer.

Further, attempts by the likes of Slifkin to reconcile torah and science are always done by deciding that certain things in the torah are not literal. For example, either the world is less than six thousand years old or it is billions of years old. I’ve heard many orthodox people reconcile it by saying a day in the torah does not mean a literal day. (I believe Slifkin does that as well, but I am not sure.) The problem with that is that it means everything you believe to be literal is only temporary. As new scientific knowledge is gained, you will have to reinterpret that which you currently believe is literal into a metaphor or other non-literal belief. I believe in intellectual freedom rather than censorship, but the rabbis who banned Slifkin’s book are correct in their awareness that his attempts to reconcile science and torah undermine the belief that the torah is the word of god, as he needs to create new doctrine to reconcile the two.

....

**Edited


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14. On science and religion     11/25/06 - 8:17 PM
Shmuel

I believe in God but Veganovich has a point. Let's face it: there's a lot of material in the Talmud which is absolutely irreconcileable with modern science. Rabbi Slifkin has written a lot about it, as have others, and it's been a major topic on the blogs. ....

Sure, some may fall away because of wanting a less restrictive life, but I'll bet lots of kids in Yeshiva circles check out because if they're not up to snuff in learning, they're made to feel like trash. Not a way to keep your customers in the lifestyle. At least Chasidim make an effort to find them a place---Litvacks have much to learn from them.

**Edited


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15. Discussions on this site     11/25/06 - 9:52 PM
Yakov Horowitz - Monsey, NY

Dear All:

Thanks for your comments and thoughts on the column.

I am a firm believer in free and open dialogue, and that is why I am allowing instant posting of comments on the articles that I’ve written.

But I am honestly not comfortable with a discussion about fundamental concepts of emunah on my website. This is not an anonymous blog. This carries my name and I feel that comments that call into question the veracity of the words of our sages/gemorah ought not to be raised or left on the site.

As such, I reserve the right to edit all or parts of comments that i feel are not appropriate for the site. I will insert ... where edits have been made, and note at the end of the post that the post was edited.

Veganovich, I think the fact that you abandoned the practice of religion due to issues of emunah is very relevant to the article, but not the particulars of what these issues are. (BTW, in previous columns – search for science for link – I have mentioned that suppressed questions about “faith-based” matters do result in people abandoning the practice of Yiddishkeit and I always encourage educators and parents to allow these questions to be asked – and answered.

I think that these are very important discussions, but they should take place ‘off-line’ (pun intended.). Veganovich, Shlomo; please feel free to use this site to exchange emails and discuss these important topics.

I would like to leave this site for much-needed dialogue about the issues raised in the columns I have written, and I would appreciate having the discussions take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other – and the words of our chazal.

Thank you for your understanding.

Yakov Horowitz


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16. Forums     11/26/06 - 6:28 PM
Baruch Horowitz - Brooklyn, NY - borhowitz@yahoo.com

Rabbi Horowitz,

I understand and appreciate your policy. I think many people agree that a person's questions need to be addressed; the issue is finding the proper forum. If I may expand a bit, beyond strictly parenting or Torah/science issues(I understand the former is the goal of your forum):

A tzibbur, organization, or classroom is made up of a diverse group of individuals with different needs. Some people would benefit from a discussion of a particular topic, but others would be harmed by it. This is applicable to issues beyond Torah and science as well.

I don't have a problem with a Rebbe in a classroom giving a general answer to a question, and then telling a student that he will discuss it further privately, or referring him to someone who specializes in the topic.

The same is true with community organizations or Jewish newspapers and periodicals. They try to include as diverse population as possible, but they have their limits("smol docheik v'ymein m'karev"). Certain topics would be of benefit for some people, but would harm others.

Blogs give people who may not fit in neatly to any of the groups served by some of the above periodicals and organizations, a chance to have discussions on important topics. The downside is that these forums are sometimes abused, as bloggers know.

I am hoping that in coming years, there will develop forums which would take the place of blogs. Perhaps closed e-mail groups, or small schul discussions which could be moderated by three Rabbonim representing broad Torah hashkafos. This way, needs of this group of people who don't fit neatly in, would be able to be fulfilled, without harming the more insular people, or without some of the excesses or disrespectful comments which sometimes appear on even the best blogs.


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17. not spiritually motivated     11/27/06 - 3:59 AM
Disappointed but resigned

Another reason for children dropping out of religion is what I see in my son. He was in a yeshiva high school for two years where he managed (the bottom half of the higher of two classes), but the teachers didn't like him, the lessons were boring and we couldn't see any love for yiddishkeit. If no-one reminds him he doesn't bother benching and if he's at home by himself I suspect he doesn't daven. All this is not because he's anti, just because it's not important to him.

In the meantime we sent him to a new school where there is no Gemara but a lot of Jewish studies, the lessons are interesting, and the teachers care. There are no religous rules, so he has stopped wearing tzitzit. For me now it is more important that he appreciates the positive side of Judaism without being forced and eventually rebel.


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18. how much is too much     11/27/06 - 1:07 PM
Rahel - Far Rockaway, NY

the whole discussion up there threw me off the comment that children need more recreation and down time - how much is too much how much is laziness my son got into baseball and we left that alone now, is football season this is for a much "mature" crowd - the commercials attest to this and the half time show i have asked him to please stop but he still seems to need this outlet but baseball is over - am i picking the wrong fight?


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19. Shabbos is coming!     11/30/06 - 10:16 PM
Kayla - Brooklyn, N.Y.

Rabbi Horowitz, thank you for your courage in expressing your terrifying outlook for the future of our precious Yiddishe kinderlach. I can't help it. No matter their age, that's what they all are to me. My heart breaks for the tortured neshomos symbolized by poor, poor Veganovich.

You may not see the connection, but here I am reading these postings with my challos rising in the oven and my husband just arriving home after a long day's work followed by a long shopping trip for all the wonderful Shabbos foods. I will prepare them with tremendous joy l'kovod Shabbos. What sadness there must be for a yiddishe neshama that is being deprived of this exaltation and bliss.


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20. Shabbos Connection     12/1/06 - 1:37 PM
Baruch Horowitz - Brooklyn, NY - borhowitz@yahoo.com

I see a connection as well. Last year at the Agudah convention, Dayan Dunner spoke about the importance of the Shabbos table. One source I've seen, quoted the speech:

" To deflect the spiritual dangers in our own culture, we must erect a solid barrier of kedushoh — an effort, the Dayan declared, that best begins at our own Shabbos tables, where opportunities for imparting important spiritual lessons and values to our children abound."

This year, Rav Matisyahu Salomon also mentioned the Shabbos table. From the Yated writeup:

" One suggestion he offered for accomplishing that immunization was to be extremely careful that our Shabbos tables be filled with simcha shel mitzvah and words that bespeak ahavas talmidei chachomim, not, cholila, anything that might be construed as the opposite..."


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21. A dose of tolerance     1/26/07 - 11:48 AM
Sara - Monsey

Paul Shaviv's response was of particular interest to me. It seems like so many of the mechanchim are striving to implement programs such as Tznius, and Shmiras Halashon. What is lacking is focusing on Bein Adom Lechavero. Is it so important that a boy or girl conform 100% to a set of rules (which by the way is constantly changing and becoming stricter and stricter), so long as they are within the halachic guidelines? Just because the "look" is not appropriate? How about a mechanech/mechanechet who tells a child not to associate with another child because they are a "bad influence" on them. Instead of putting down the child who has some issues, why not expend your energy trying to bring that child closer to Yiddishkeit by showing some flexibility and tolerance and understanding. What type of message do you think you are projecting to both the child you are telling who to pick as friends, or the child you are pushing away? I find that you can have a very positive influence on children by being friendly to them, showing them you care, even if they are not 100% conformists. The love you share with them, and the acceptance that you give them, may be the reason they stay on or go off the derech.

I also read with interest on how many kids are thrown out of schools without due process. That is another one of my pet peeves that I see happening all too often. Children get thrown out for a variety of reasons, some more justified than others. If a school is out of control and the teachers cannot discipline the children, sending the child out of school is a recipe for disaster. Where is this child supposed to go? How could you blame that child for going off the derech when he is treated with such disdain? Why can't the schools implement a discipline policy where the school, teacher and parents are accountable. Try not to think the worst of people. Be Dan Lekaf Zechut. Teach your children to be tolerant of others..that doesn't mean they have to be like them, but they shouldn't mock or disassociate from somebody that is "not like them". You don't realize the impact you can have on a child by showing some compassion.


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22. re: bein adam l'chaveiro     1/27/07 - 8:48 PM
tb

I agree wholeheartedly with Sara. Bein Adam L'Chaveiro is way down on the list these days and the paranoia about Hashpaah Raah has allowed Jews in some black hat communities to completely divorce themselves and their children from other Jews. Not necessary and definately destructive to the notion of Ahavas Yisrael that we speak about and hear about so often. As I've stated before, how on earth can you love someone you do not know at all?!!!


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23. Excellent article!!     3/28/07 - 5:50 AM
Laura Ben-David - Neve Daniel, Israel - bendavid.laura@gmail.com

So insightful, right on target! All parents of teenagers and educators should read this!


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24. At Risk Of What?     4/13/08 - 11:19 PM
Dina - Monsey

Like Veganovich, I left Orthodox Judaism. Not out of anger, but because it simply didn't work for me. It did start off by being turned off, I'll admit. But I took my time and did my research.

One major problem though is that many Orthodox teens think they either have to follow a hugely restrictive set of rules or go completely secular. There is a middle ground called Modern Orthodoxy and I may have gone that route if I had seen it as viable at the time.

The normal off the derech kids are completely overlooked. The ones that don't do anything outrageous. The ones that aren't doing drugs or having sex - they're just quietly thinking, reading their books and silently plotting to leave as soon as they are old enough and have enough resources.

Those are the ones that should really scare the Orthodox community. There are troubled teens in all groups. But when the smart, thinking teens are the ones who are driven away, that's when you know something is seriously wrong.

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