Teen Input on the Year in Eretz Yisroel
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
- “Please don’t tell our parents not to send kids to Eretz Yisroel! So many kids do well there!”
- “The time to straighten them out is when the kids are in 11th and 12th grade, not in Eretz Yisroel.”
- “After High School is the best time to go, since you can put your life on hold more easily at that time.”
- “The rebbeim (in some of the schools, primarily the ones who deal with at-risk kids) are in a tough spot, as the kids are ‘turned off.’ I’m not sure if that is a good idea for them to be so friendly with the kids, and ignore the ‘stuff’ they’re doing … but what else should they do; throw them out? Everyone did that that already and it didn’t work.”
- “There is no [legal] drinking age there; they don’t ‘card’ you (check your ID) there at all.”
As I mentioned in a previous column on this subject, I spent quite a bit of time interviewing a number of young men and women who recently spent time in yeshivos and seminaries in Eretz Yisroel. The people I spoke with range in age from 17 to 30, and run the gamut from high achievers to slightly-at-risk teens to recovering hard-core substance abusers. Their perspective should be required reading for all parents – and particularly those who will be sending their sons and daughters to Eretz Yisroel.
FROM THE MOUTHS OF … TEENS
I was impressed with their candor and the thoughtfulness in which they grappled with the issues that I presented to them. There were hardly any glib responses or off-the-cuff comments. And even those who started with one-liners and banter settled in for reflective discussion after a moment or two.
What was most striking about these conversations was the sense that the young men and women – almost every one of them – were agonizing over what I should be writing in these columns on the overall subject of sending post-high-school children to Eretz Yisroel. They all felt that there was great value in spending a year in Eretz Yisroel – for most of the kids. But they acknowledged that there are serious flaws in the current system that need to be addressed.
I will present you with some of the nearly universal feelings of those I interviewed, along with some of their individual comments.
Once again, several disclaimers: This is not a scientific study by any means, nor is it meant to be one. I have no formal training in statistical analysis. I have a ‘day-job’ as the Menahel of a growing yeshiva that takes the vast majority of my time, and as such, I did not have large blocks of time to devote to this matter. Having said that, I feel that I do have a pretty good sense of what the issues are, and I maintain that my role should be one of asking questions, not providing all of the answers.
WE THE PEOPLE
Almost all of the people I interviewed felt that:
- For most of the kids, it is a wonderful experience.
- Parents need to do their homework very, very carefully when selecting a yeshiva or seminary. Picking the right stplace is critical to the success – or failure of their child.
- Many or most 18 or 19 year-olds are simply not equipped to deal with the challenges of unfettered freedom 6,000 miles from home.
- Some children spin completely out of control – especially during the first 3 months of their stay – while their parents are in blissful ignorance in the States (this seemed to be a recurring theme, the chill-out-until-Chanukah-then-settle-down ‘thing’).
- Parents should not wait until the year in Israel to straighten out their kids.
- Above all, everyone agreed (sorry, parents) that most parents are ‘clueless’ as to what is going on while their kids are away.
SOME RANDOM COMMENTS
To go or not to go; selecting a school; realistic expectations:
- “The time to straighten them out is when the kids are in 11th and 12th grade, not in Israel.”
- “Kids want their parents to be involved in their lives.”
- “After High School is the best time to go, since you can put your life on hold at that time.”
- “The kedushah of Eretz Yisroel and the positive emotions it engenders often complicates the decision-making process regarding to-go-or-not-to-go. (Would you consider sending your child to Southern California, for example, if you knew that he or she had a 3-week unstructured intersession, or an unsupervised Motzoei Shabbos each week? RYH.)”
- “Parents often think the year in Eretz Yisroel will ‘straighten out’ their child, and point to the countless kids who in fact underwent profound change and growth during their stay in Israel. However, that is simply not always the case.”
- “I wouldn’t tell parents not to send kids since so many kids grow up and gain from the experience.”
- “Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask tough questions (regarding the school placements).”
Temptations and challenges:
- “Boys are far more immature than the girls – for the most part”.
- “The opportunity to do things wrong is there – much more so than at home.”
- “There is no (legal) drinking age, they don’t ‘card’ you there (check your ID).”
- “You can get whatever drugs you want.”
- “No kids under 17 should go under any circumstances.”
- “(Some) Kids are going to Israel knowing that they can get away with things there that they can never do at home.”
- “These things (substance abuse) happens to good families and good kids also.”
- “In the beginning, it is hard to tell (if someone is ‘using’), since the kids can keep it together at first.”
- “The nature of Israel experience is that there is lots of freedom. Kids need to be ready for that level of freedom. Parents need to prepare their children to behave responsibly without 24/7 supervision.”
- “Schools in the States (in 11th and 12th grades) need to prepare the kids for the experience; to tell the kids about the growth possibilities – and the challenges.”
Schools and faculty members
- “Schools must be involved in what goes on after hours.”
- “The prevailing attitude (in some of the schools is), ‘do whatever you want until Chanukah’, and then we will work with you.”
- “The rebbeim (in some of the schools, primarily the ones who deal with at-risk kids) are in a tough spot.”
- “The onus [of responsibility] has to shift to the [Israeli] yeshivos; parents are 7 hours and 6,000 miles away, how could they know what is going on?”
- “Kids who come from homes where the parents didn’t let them to anything at all and were overprotective are the worst behaved once they get to Israel”.
© 2003 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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