David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Wazing For The Derech

If only Orthodoxy could waze directions for religion.

More than a handful of teens and young adult’s ‎could find their way back to a place temporarily lost to a sub culture of transitory behaviors clouded in a well-traveled road of anti-religion anti parent anti-establishment protestations.

Short of two decades ‎ago, the global Orthodox Jewish community has more openly grappled with social conflicts wherein the worlds of addictions and generalized rebelliousness have collided with more traditional and rigorous disciplined doctrine.

At times this was fostered by parental belief that there is only one traveled road to religious adherence. When a child chose a different path (and sometimes more lenient path) the ensuing conflict with parents led him to a secular highway.

Added with an important open discussion of sexual abuse led to an opportunity of healing for many victim survivors and long overdue prosecution of hidden yet brazen offenders.

Herein the tag line of the past clothing outlet Syms – “An educated consumer is our best customer,” may be best said for arming parents and children to be vigilant.

OHEL has for decades been steadfast in broadening community awareness of social issues most notably stigma associated with mental health.

A byproduct of the Orthodox Millennials social revolution was its lexicon. Beyond the transformative new linguistics in technology a new wave phrase cemented a negative stereotypical youth sub culture. Known as the off the derech boy or girl, aka OTD, these youths willfully accommodated what they were charged with. We referred to them as off the derech, too often only by their appearance, obligingly off the derech they traveled.

James Dean meets Dirty Harry ‎meets Off the Derech Moshe or Chavi. Call him or her a name s/he will become that name even if they  didn’t start out that way.

It’s long overdue we dropped the term Off The Derech. ‎This is not about political correctness. It‎’s about respect. While it’s true youth have to respect their parents and elders before they are due respect, to give respect you have to get respect too. Name calling is demeaning conveying a lack of respect ‎to our youth. ‎ Our community has become much too comfortable with this term.

Who amongst us wants to be labeled?

Generation Z, today’s tweens and teens needn’t grow up with this phraseology as a truncheon on their back.

In the intervening days of Succot called chol hamoed it is customary for Chasidim to wear their long black coats and shtreimels.

There he was in shul every morning a twentysomething wearing his ‘yom tov levush’ a shtreimel and long coa‎t. One day accompanied by a blue sport shirt and brown loafers another day with a pink Polo and sockless sandals.

Surely this young man entering any shteebel in Boro Park, Williamsburg, Bnei Brak or ‎Mea Shearim would draw frowns of ‘where did he go off the derech’.

Possibly he was merely expressing his freedom in garb or even shedding obligatory ritualized clothing conformance.

Who cares?  Beneath the pink shirt and sock-less sandals remained a true chasid. ‎Davening, learning, not missing a beat of chassidus save a notable white shirt. Too many stares or a misspoken phrase could easily beget a happy young chasid at his own pace into a once was chassid. ‎

A fifteen year old who is lost in his or her world of self absorbed even narcissistic or nihilistic behavior has indeed traveled off the right road. ‎One thousand years ago the great sage Rav Huna referred to it as ‘self love’.

More recently Fredrich Nietzsche may have aptly defined some of these youth; nothing really matters except for their own personal preferences.

So who must conform to whom?

These youth looked to step off the platform unto the right train. Most got on and continued to their next stop in life. Some fell into the open space between the platform and the train doors and hurt themselves badly.

And, unfortunately some fell unto the third rail.

Many adults  too wander off or even get lost at various life stages.

People divorce and remarry to find lost love.

People change jobs to erase inertia or secure financial stability.

And, in the most mundane,  people use navigation, apps, waze to find the right road to travel. ‎

Yesterday’s, today’s and even tomorrow’s youth will get lost hopefully not veering too far.  Let’s refer to them as ‘searching for the derech’ not as off the derech. Or better yet refer to them simply by their name with no additional commentary that may be 100% wrong or 100% hurtful.

Our calling them by their rightful name and not use some stigmatic off the cuff words may be the best app you can give these youth to eventually waze themselves unto the right derech.

Just imagine how many parents would pay a small fortune for such an app for their son or daughter now searching for the derech.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.
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