Sending Your Teenage Son or Daughter to Eretz Yisroel
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Over the past few decades it has become the norm for many or most of our sons and daughters to spend a year or two, post-High School, in Eretz Yisroel. For the vast majority of our youngsters it is a remarkable period in their lives, an uplifting, life-altering experience, as they grow spiritually and emotionally, gain a sense of independence, and carry memories of their moving experiences of studying in our Holy Land for the rest of their lives.
Having said that, I think it is imperative for parents to become more educated as to the enormous benefits of ‘the year in Eretz Yisroel’ – and the significant challenges that your children will face during that time.
MY ROLE IN THIS PROCESS – AND YOURS
I think the most productive role that I can play would be to:
1) Empower parents by framing the questions and issues that will enable you to make appropriate decisions for your children.
2) Share with you some of the wisdom of experts in the field – mechanchim, educators and mental health professionals.
3) Cut through some of our collective denial by offering you some facts on the ground and sharing with you the perspective of our teenagers.
For the purposes of this discussion it is most helpful, I think, to consider the collective body of our teenagers as a continuum ranging from quiet, respectful, obedient children, who are well adjusted, and high achievers at school. At the other end of the spectrum would be youngsters who are unfortunately addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, defiant, and to date, unproductive in school. Obviously, most of our children fall somewhere in between these bookends.
I prepared an evaluation sheet for parents to use in the process of evaluating the risk level of their child. (It may also be a good idea for your child to complete this form independently as a form of reflection and self-evaluation.) Getting a reflective, honest read on your child can be a very helpful tool in evaluating his or her readiness to spend months and years away from home. In my next column, I will discuss in detail many of the issues and attributes raised in the evaluation sheet – and their ramifications for your child. Please note that I purposely did not assign acceptable final scores or values for this sheet. I leave that for parents to do. But be aware that for each of these questions, a lower score means that your child is in a ‘lower risk’ category. (This only means that the risk is lower, not that there is no risk. Away from home, substance use, abuse, and dependence happen to high achievers, who, while under the care of their parents did not have a history of drug use, according to Lewis Abrams, LCSW, CASAC, Executive Director of the Yatzkan Center. He advises parents to carefully check the level of supervision in the schools their children attend and to maintain contact with their kids – and a school person they have confidence in – throughout the ‘year.’) A higher score on this evaluation sheet means that your child is at greater risk of spiraling downward in Eretz Yisroel or in the States if not placed in a setting that provides solid education and appropriate supervision.
THE FAR SIDE
Before I share the evaluation sheet with you, I would like to clearly state that, in my opinion, any teenager who is addicted to drugs is a choleh sheyesh bo sakanah (one who has a potentially life-threatening illness), one who needs a professional drug rehabilitation center, not a yeshiva – certainly not one that is 6,000 miles from home. You would not consider removing a stage-four-cancer patient (G-d forbid) from a hospital in order to send him to a yeshiva. To quote Dr. Bentzion Twersky, “Alcohol and drug abuse is a disease. It is a fatal illness that begins with casual or experimental use of a chemical for its mind-altering effects. It rapidly becomes an addiction, which involves loss of control over the substance or behavior, and eventually leads to self- destructiveness.”
It is important to understand that drug use also follows a continuum, from experimentation to regular use to dependency and addiction. Not everyone who smokes marijuana is a hard-core addict. But if your child is addicted to drugs, please seek professional help immediately. And seek the help of people who are trained specifically in the field of substance abuse addiction. A Rabbi has a crucial and significant role in assisting an addicted child or adult. He can offer moral support, spiritual guidance, and answer any halachic questions that will inevitably arise as a result of the treatment of the addiction. Rabbis (this writer included), however, and yeshivos are not equipped to deal with or heal people who are addicts. If you are not sure if your child falls into the category of a hard-core user, please go to a trained professional for his or her advice.
Assessing Your Post-High School Child
(And his or her readiness for a year in Eretz Yisroel)
- has done very well in school.
2. has done well in school.
- is an average student.
- is a poor student, whose grades are dropping.
- has failed many subjects throughout school.
My child can best be described as:
- loves to learn – spends lots of after-school-hours learning
- studious and conscientious.
- having average studying habits.
- being uninterested in school.
- having significant learning disabilities.
Connection to Judaism
- My child observes all mitzvos meticulously.
- My child is fully observant.
- My son would not daven with a minyan if there was no social pressure or if school was out.
- My child would not daven at all if there was no supervision.
- My child feels no connection, but we are hoping the ‘the year’ will turn him around.
Attitude to authority figures in previous schools
Over the past 5-6 years, my child:
- got along well with all school faculty members – still maintains close contact with a former teacher.
- got along well with most school faculty members.
- got along well with the (few) school faculty members that he or she respected.
- had constant run-ins with school faculty members.
- never did well in school, was suspended many times and switched schools.
- is rather subdued.
- tends to follow wild friends, but is not a leader.
- is looking for ‘a buzz’ (thrill), loves to party and goes ‘clubbing.’
- is sadly out of control.
My child is:
- mature beyond his or her years – deserves my complete trust.
- average in maturity – I need to keep a careful eye.
- a bit irresponsible – needs close supervision.
- very irresponsible.
My child wants to go to Eretz Yisroel to:
1) grow spiritually.
2) be with his or her friends.
3) have a great time.
4) get away from home.
My child is:
1) 21 or older.
4) below the age of 17.
Hobbies and Sports
My child has:
- many hobbies and loves to play sports, spends his or her spare time productively.
- some hobbies – usually spends his or her spare time productively.
- very few interests; we are worried about how he or she is spending free time.
- basically has no recreational interests.
- never smoked.
- has an occasional cigarette.
- smokes socially – in a crowd.
- smokes regularly, but claims that he or she is not addicted.
- is a heavy smoker.
- never drinks
- has an occasional drink – or 2
- drinks quite a bit on Shabbosos and at weddings, but no other times (we hope)
- drinks heavily on Shabbosos and at weddings, gets drunk from time to time
- is a heavy drinker, gets drunk repeatedly and intentionally
© 2003 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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