We read your “Making Aliya” column (Click here for link) with interest and sadness as we made aliya several years ago and our eldest son never transitioned well to Israeli society. If you must know, he never really did well in the American yeshivos he attended before we made aliya. He is very charming, restless, and just is not cut out for a rigorous school day where he needs to sit still for so many hours.
He is eighteen now and we have a great relationship with him despite all his ups and downs. He is begging us to let him join Nachal Charedi, the Israeli unit dedicated to frum boys. As much as he does not feel comfortable in Israeli schools, he says that he would like to help protect his country. (He began talking about it during the Lebanon war last summer.)
We got very conflicting information about the program. We heard that some kids really turned around in the Nachal Charedi program. However, we are getting mixed messages from our friends. (We live in a charedi community and consider ourselves a charedi family.)
We know this is a controversial topic here in Eretz Yisroel, but we read your columns regularly and like the way you honestly address such topics. We would very much appreciate your thoughts and guidance.
Names withheld by request.
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Before we address the pros and cons of the placement of your son in Nachal Charedi, it may be helpful for you to take a step back and reflect on the broader question of how to decide if your teenage son is in need of an alternative to the mainstream Yeshiva system.
I always advise parents to separate the two phases of their decision-making process: 1) should we look for an out-of-the-box plan for our child? and if yes, 2) what should that be? This approach may be all the more valuable in this case in light of the fact that, as you noted, there is ‘controversy’ regarding the Nachal Charedi program. Sometimes the static emanating from the evaluation of a particular program or setting distracts from the evaluation of your child. (Please see my comments at the end of this week’s column for some info on Nachal Charedi.)
The best place to start answering the first question is to meet with your child’s mechanchim/educators. They are best positioned to get a ‘good read’ on your son, having observed him in a school setting. Speak to an administrator who has had the opportunity to know him over the course of time and at least one rebbi/teacher who interacted with him more personally over one school year. What you are probing for is some insight into patterns that emerged during your child’s unsuccessful school experience. I have found that parents are often uncomfortable reaching out for guidance to these educators if their child was a poor student or discipline problem – for fear of being rejected. However, you need not worry, as the vast majority of educators will be glad to give you the time to help plan for an appropriate setting for your son. If your son went for counseling, if there was a mashgiach (dean of men/guidance counselor) or school psychologist that he developed a relationship with, that individual would be an excellent person to accurately evaluate your son’s placement. Another very helpful item on your to-do list is to meet with your Rav and request his guidance with this matter. I would suggest that you read Answers About Questions – a primer on the often-misunderstood concept of how to seek rabbinic advice effectively.
To keep things simple, the question that you want these individuals to help you answer is, “Should we be looking for another Yeshiva setting, or is it time to consider an alternative program?” In other words you need to know if there were reasons that the previous school(s) did not work that may change with a fresh start or a slightly modified school setting – or is your child among those for whom school just isn’t working and probably will not work regardless of where you decide to send him.
I would also strongly recommend that you get him evaluated for ADD (attention deficit disorder). All three of the qualities noted in your question, “charming, restless, not cut out for a rigorous school day” are classic ADD symptoms. (Please review the list of 14 ADD attributes and an informal self-test in part two of my Q&A column on ADD.)
Please do not think that it is too late to screen for learning disabilities in one’s late teens. Even at this late stage in his school life, it will be very helpful for him to have this information. A positive diagnosis of attention deficit will help him understand why his previous school experiences were less than positive – and will allow him to compensate for his ADD with medication and/or counseling. In fact, many adults pursue helpful ADD intervention in their 30’s and 40’s – often after strained marriages and/or failed careers. Just remember that as painful as it has been for you as parents to watch your son struggle through school, your son bore the brunt of the discomfort and agony. (Click here to review all 3 columns on ADD: ADD #1, ADD #2, and ADD #3)
If your meetings and ‘homework’ leads you to the conclusion that another school setting will probably meet with failure, then you need to decide which course to chart for your son. In previous generations, the thinking among many was to leave an unsuccessful young man in his late teens [even] in an unproductive yeshiva/school setting where he will be surrounded by other yeshiva boys and not succumb to negative influences. Many still feel that way. However, I strongly feel that in today’s climate with such easy access to all sorts of vices, and the technology that brings these temptations quite literally to a teen’s fingertips 24/7, having a young adult in an unproductive setting is the greatest danger to him – far more so than the challenges that he will inevitably face in a less sheltered but more productive environment. (Please read Helping Your At-Risk Teen, especially the analogy to starting a car in the morning.)
Since I started Project YES a decade ago, I have had the zechus (privilege) of having regular and ongoing consultations with the leading gedolim of our generation in designing protocols for assisting parents in making these tough choices. The above lines reflect their sage advice and da’as Torah.
Especially if your due diligence leads you to believe that an alternative setting is right for your child, I plead with you to please, please ignore your neighbors and societal pressure and l’maan Hashem do what is right for your child. I have seen far too many children sacrificed on the altar of “what will the neighbors say?” Keep your eye on doing what is right for your child. That’s all that really matters.
Next week: Information on Nachal Charedi, and more on keeping your child happy and productive while in an alternative setting.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Dear “Names Withheld”:
In order to provide you (and our readers) with information on Nachal Charedi, I reached out to my friend David Hager who lives in Los Angeles and is very active in Nachal Charedi. He got me in touch with Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow who serves as the director of the ‘Amuta’, an official civilian organization that is the liaison between Nachal Charedi, the Israeli Defense Force and the Ministry of Defense.
I prepared a list of questions for Rabbi Klebanow about Nachal Charedi. His answers to these questions – and my comments – will appear in this space next week. Feel free to post other questions to Rabbi Klebanow in the comment section of this column. He will be reviewing them and will respond – either directly or through me in next week’s column.
- What is the historical background of the Nahal Haredi?
- What is the duration of Nachal Charedi service?
- What does the typical Nachal Charedi soldier do after his term of service?
- What is the profile of someone who is likely to be successful in Nahal Haredi?
- What is the profile of someone who is likely to be unsuccessful in Nahal Haredi?
- What is the percentage of haredim in the Nahal Haredi?
- How can parents see the environment in which their children are serving?
- I understand that Nahal Haredi is a combat battalion – are there other positions for applicants who don’t want to serve as combat soldiers?
- Does one need to be observant to enlist?
- Are there requirements for davening and learning?
- What is the percentage of Nachal Charedi soldiers who drop out of the program?
- What are some common misconceptions about Nahal Charedi?
In the meantime, here is some contact information:
Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow
General email: firstname.lastname@example.org
General info line 972-2-653-6043.
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