Dr. Harold Goldmeier is someone I knew from Chicago. I consider him a friend and I think he would say the same about me. Dr. Goldmeier is retired and along with his wife made Aliyah a few years ago. I also know two of his children. One is Rafi Goldmeier, owner and operator of the popular blog, Life in Israel. The other is Shaya who lives in Chicago and was an active participant on this blog a while back. I do not know his other children at all. One of whom is the subject of a poignant article by her father in the Times of Israel.
Harold’s daughter is no longer observant. The description of how that happened is both sad and enlightening. It tells a story of grief, sorrow, and love. A love that overcomes the grief over a child going what has come to be called ‘Off the Derech’ (OTD).
The process was slow but complete, Reading the reaction by her parents to the slow process of slipping away from their religious values was gut-wrenching. What is unique in this particular case about this unfortunately increasing phenomenon is that the Goldmeiers did not throw her to the wolves. They did not expel her from the home. They did not sit Shiva on her — or in any other way reject her. Their doors remained open. That was the advice they had gotten from a therapist they were seeing in order to better deal with this problem emotionally.
I know this is speculation on my part. And by no means should this be seen as a criticism. I hope the Goldmeiers do not take it this way. Hopefully, based on how this story is told, I think they might even agree with me. If not. I’m sure I will find out real quick.
The trek their daughter took should be seen in the context of the trek her parents took. They had gone from being Modern Orthodox to becoming what Dr. Goldmeier calls Charedi-Lite. Which he describes as sending their children to Charedi schools but keeping the television. I guess they felt Charedi Hashkafos are Emes. But at the same time did not feel the need to throw out the TV.
If I had to guess the Goldmeiers did not give up all the values of Modern Orthodoxy either. So the values their children saw in the home combined with what they knew about the ‘outside’ world were in conflict with the ones taught in their Charedi schools. Values that I assume the Goldmeiers wanted for their children, even if they were not completely into them at home. The result was rebellion in at least one child. As Dr. Goldmeier puts it:
As adults, they now tell us they chafed at school rules and regulations, imposed to cloister them (and protect them) from the poisonous secular world.
Without saying so explicitly, the message seems clear to me. You cannot have a set of values at home only to have them disparaged by your teachers in school. Not that the parents disagreed with the Charedi values their children were being taught. I’m sure they mostly respected and accepted them -wanting them for their children. But their children were obviously exposed to a modern world that was not like that which was acceptable in their schools. A world they very likely knew their parents had come from. That is never a good recipe for success.
Dr. Goldmeier continues by comparing his daughter to Chaya Deitsch the OTD author of Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family. Dr. Goldmeier describes Chaya’s excursion away from observant Judaism:
Chaya recounts the small awakenings, like how impressed as a youngster she was with her Modern Orthodox relatives seemingly so comfortable in their religious skins. Each transgression takes her deeper into the secular world: wearing pants (a very cute story about fit and style), having coffee in a non-kosher shop, forsaking the kosher cafeteria in college, first for breakfast and then for other meals.Deitsch grew up a voracious reader and keen observer of the world outside her bubble. Her parents worked with her recognizing early that Chaya was different. They did not go nuts when she wanted to apply for college, but negotiated with her. I think it is why she is healthy, a survivor, and productive citizen. She loves her Manhattan life and visiting her family in the old neighborhood.
He concludes with the fact that his daughter — although still not observant is very close with them and now — among other interactions — comes around for Friday night dinners.
There are many things that can be learned from this story. One is that when a child goes OTD, it is a far better choice to remain close with them than to alienate them. That worrying about what other people think about you or your OTD child is not important.
Another lesson is that insisting on your own Hashkafa to the exclusion of other Hashkafos can do great damage. Coming from a Lubavitch background, Chaya marveled at how comfortable Modern Orthodox Jews were in their religious skins. Had Modern Orthodoxy been an option for her early in her education, she might still have been observant today.
The most important lesson is in the area if prevention. I think it is vital to send your children to the schools that most closely reflect your Hashkafos. The less contradictions one sees between the two, the less likely they will rebel against the values of the home. Or the school. Or both.
Contrast this story with those told by fellow travelers on the OTD road whose parents, teachers, and communities literally expunged them from their worlds. These are the ones that all too often end up in the street abusing drugs and alcohol. In the more extreme cases – they are ill prepared to deal with the outside world not having any experience with it – and not enough of an education to find a decent job. These rejected Jews can and often do develop serious emotional problems that sometimes end in suicide. No chance to return when that happens.
We religious Jews want all of our children to follow in our religious footsteps. But the path of those footsteps needs to be as broad as possible so that every child can find a religious niche in which they can feel comfortable. Because if you raise your kids with a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude then in far too many cases they will choose the highway. One that is very dangerous.