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Issue 183 - All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

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By now, we are all familiar with the condition known as “A.D.D.” – an acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder. (Click here, here and here for columns on ADD). In the broadest sense, it reflects the difficulty or inability of an individual to sustain the level of concentration necessary to function properly – in school, at work, or in other arenas of social interaction.

Although the term most often bandied around with regards to this disorder is A.D.D., the type of attention deficit that is most recognizable is actually A.D.H.D. – the "bouncy" type – with the additional letter ‘H’ representing the hyperactivity component. Children and adults with A.D.H.D. fidget, squirm, and often interrupt others during conversations. (They are also far more likely to be high-energy, optimistic, charming and generally fun to be with).

A.D.D., (without the letter ‘H’) is commonly known as the ‘Inattentive Type.’ Kids and adults who have A.D.D. without the hyperactivity are pleasant people to be around but are forgetful and seem to be ‘daydreamers.’ However, since high-profile hyperactivity is not present in their form of attention deficit, they don’t draw attention to themselves, and often slip through the cracks undiagnosed and untreated.

If you think about it, there is a similar duality of sorts as it pertains to the ‘off-the-derech’ phenomenon. I classify them as O.T.H.D. and O.T.D – ‘off-the-derech’ with hyperactivity and ‘off-the-derech’ without the hyperactivity.

We are all familiar with the O.T.H.D. profile. These are the off-the-derech kids who capture our attention with their hyperactivity; engaging in high-profile rebellious acts such as hard drinking/drug use, dropping out of school or dressing in ways that defy our communal norms.

But there is a parallel, rapidly growing off-the-derech phenomenon that is going unnoticed and unaddressed – the O.T.D. kind without the hyperactivity. These are kids who are just going through the motions in our schools and public spaces, but are not spiritually connected to our Torah.

I am getting a new wave of parents begging me to speak to their children. The profile is chillingly similar: 13-14 years old boys and girls. High achieving in school. Well adjusted, with no emotional problems. They just don’t want to be frum. Period. They are eating on Yom Kippur, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping kosher; et al. No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling. Some have decided to ‘go public’, while others are still ‘in the closet’. In some of the cases, their educators have no idea of what is really going on, as many of the children are consistently scoring well on their Hebrew and General Studies tests.

Rabbis Mordechai Becher and Chanan (Antony) Gordon wrote about a similar phenomenon occurring with frum grown-ups in their excellent Adults at Risk column in a recent issue of The Jewish Observer. They discussed meeting frum adults who had significant emunah questions that were suppressed and therefore not addressed in their formative years, those who felt spiritually and educationally unprepared for their inevitable encounter with the secular world, and those who were presented with a spurious negative view of non-Jewish people that, once disproved by their experience in the workplace, brought into question all lessons taught in their yeshiva years. The writers aptly described these adults as, “all dressed up with nowhere to go” – meaning that they had all the external trappings of observant Jews but were spiritually hollow.

Are these ‘O.T.D.-without-the-hyperactivity’ children isolated blips on the radar screen or are they ominous signs of a growing trend? Only time will tell. But as much as I hope it is the former, from my vantage point, it is feeling more like the latter. In the past four months, I got about ten calls to my home from parents whose children fit the profile that I described above, and our Project Y.E.S. office got an additional 5 calls of this nature. With that small slice, just do the math and try to figure out how many kids like that are in our school system. I can only tell you that in my twenty-five year of working with at-risk kids, this is a new and frightening experience for me.

Addressing this ‘O.T.D.-without-the-hyperactivity’ phenomenon head-on will take courage – real courage. Because this issue will not be solved by creating more at-risk schools and/or programs for these kids. To proactively reverse this trend, we will need to become improve the way we transmit our precious mesorah to all our children.

More in my next column.

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