A Challenge for Our Time

By now it is fairly common knowledge that non Orthodox Jews are abandoning Judaism in unprecedented numbers. The oft quoted Pew study statistic of 70% of non Orthodox Jews marrying out tells us this story. That is bad enough. But what about Jews that were raised in Orthodox families that are leaving in numbers far greater than anyone knows or cares to admit? It may not be 70%.  But the numbers must be huge.

If I recall correctly studies have shown that there are more people leaving Orthodoxy than are coming in. Kiruv programs have been successful in bringing to observant vast numbers of Jews not raised in observant  families. I’ll bet that there is not an Orthodox Jew anywhere in the world that does not know at least one person from a non Orthodox background that has become observant. We call them Bal Teshuvos or BTs. But I don’t really like that term. Should we not all be Bal Teshuvos? …ridding ourselves of sinful behavior?

I prefer not call them anything but observant Jews. No other label need be. But I digress. The point being that there are probably even more Jews from Orthodox families that decide to do abandon their beliefs and thereby observance. These are not bad people. But for a variety of reasons could no longer remain in the world in which they were raised. In some cases it is physical abuse. In some case sexual abuse, in some it is emotional abuse.  It could be something as simple as not being motivated by what they learn in school. Or having untreated ADD or ADHD. Or maybe they are just  indifferent to the Chinuch they get. Or have personality quirks.

Perhaps a feeling that they are being ignored in favor of the top students in the class.  Even parents can be unwittingly guilt of not paying sufficient attention to a child. Especially in big families. And even more-so when one child gets an undue amount of attention for good or bad that draws attention away from a child that needs it and doesn’t get it. And in still others it is not having serious questions about God and religion answered. It could be any one or combination of these and other reasons.

Is there anyone that is doing anything about that? There are tons of Kiruv organizations, many of them highly successful. Chabad and NCSY – just to name 2 of them more successful ones. But can anyone name a single organization that reaches in? That deals with Orthodox children are turned off from Judaism.

There are some people that indeed are trying. Allsion Josephs is one of them. But even a person as talented and dedicated and she is, cannot do it alone. How many people know at least one person from an Observant family that are no longer observant? I know several. And that’s without even thinking about it too hard.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is one person who cares. And he is someone that acts. I am pleased to host a few words by him and a link to asurvey he devised that will help him better understand why people leave observant Judaism.

Rabbi Horowitz is a unique individual in the sense that he thinks out of the box and at the same time has the ears of many of the rabbinic leaders of the Agudah Moetzes. I urge everyone to take this survey. His words follow:

The last time that you cancelled a credit card, you probably received a phone call from a representative of the company within a week or so. The individual asked you why you took your business elsewhere and if there is anything he/she can do to encourage you to reconsider your decision to sever your ties with their company. 

This phone call is part of an overall ‘exit interview’ strategy, which serves a very important function in the effective execution of a company’s business plan. After all, if you decided to cancel your credit card due to poor customer service, excessive fees, or steep interest rates, it is safe to assume that many others will follow your lead.

Well, over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere.

Those were the opening lines of Exit Interviews, an essay I wrote in Mishpacha Magazine eight years ago on the importance of investing time and energy to find out – really find out – why kids and adults abandon Yiddishkeit (My next essay in Mishpacha described the street scene and my concerns that things were escalating.)

We all, this writer included, come with our biases and life experiences which lead us to conclusions that may be incorrect or at least only partially correct. A special education teacher may say learning disabilities are the leading cause of kids abandoning religious practice, a marriage therapist will say it is stress at home and an activist for abuse survivors will say it’s child molestation. (Several years ago, I posted what I think to be Top Five Reasons People Abandon Yiddishkeit).

But to the best of my knowledge, no one is really asking the children or adults themselves! I strongly feel that educators, community leaders and parents need the information that Exit Interviews would reveal.

As a small start, we created this survey to start collecting feedback from NLO (No Longer Observant – I personally don’t care for the term “Off The Derech”) people, their family members and others who are knowledgeable about this subject.

Kindly take a few minutes to complete this survey. You can also help this effort by emailing it to someone who can add value to this survey and by posting the link on your social media.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.