Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Kids at Risk: Part Two

There has been a very gratifying response to my last post with respect to the phenomenon of children who come from Charedi backgrounds and never-the-less opt out of observance... sometimes far out!

In the last post I emphasized what I see to be the major source of the problem and a proposed solution. In this article I want to address the phenomenon of Modern Orthodox kids who drop out. Unfortunately this too is a big problem. But I think the solution to this one is not a change in the system but a change in attitude on the part of the vast majority of Modern Orthodox... those whom I like to call MO-Lite. They need to be changed. MO-Lite are at best Orthoprax and do not have a strong allegiance to a Hashkafa, other than paying lip service to it. Their emphasis is on lifestyle choices rather than on Mitzvah observance. This does not mean they are not Shomer Shabbos. They generally are. But the emphasis is definitely on the “Modern” and not the “Orthodox”. Many of MO-Lite are therefore lax in their Mitzvah observance not paying sufficient attention to important minutia of Halacha. In some cases it is due to ignorance... a lack of a decent education in Halacha and/or Hashkafa. In other cases it is just a lack of caring about Mitzvah observance and even though there is such Mitzvah observance in the home, it is minimized whereas popular culture is emphasized.

The “American Dream” is what is chased and getting into the right university is the most important thing a child can achieve. MO-Lite is often so immersed in popular culture that there is hardly any room for a Torah orientation in the home. Aside from keeping kosher and going to Shul on Shabbos, there is very little for a child to emulate in the way of a Torah lifestyle. The child in the home sees a modern family that differs little from the images portrayed on TV. Often in these homes Rabbanim and even Gedolim are denigrated. Children learn from their parent s behavior. If a parent calls a child’s Rebbe or school principal an imbecile, that child is learning behavior. If a parent says that a Kollel Yungerman should instead be working for a living instead of siphoning off the community’s largess, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what kind of an attitude this child will develop.

If children from homes like these are pushed into environments like an Ivy League campus and become immersed in the hedonistic lifestyle so rampant there, is it a wonder that a child can find drugs and free sex so enticing and so easily fall into that lifestyle? If a child has no meaningful grounding in a proper Torah Hashkafa in his home and has only had a more or less meaningless Orthoprax type upbringing, then such kids have little holding them back from dropping out.

Of course I’m sure that the dropouts are still in the minority even amongst the MO-Lite. Many children do get some proper Hashkafa education whether it is from a beloved Rebbe in school ...or a summer camp experience... or after school group like Bnei Akiva or NCSY. I don’t know what the numbers are but a Jewish education of even the most modern kind, can and does prevent dropouts from families of even the “Litest” of MO. It is also quite true that the seriousness of Mitzvah observance is not the same in all cases. Many MO-Lites are more serious than the description I gave above and give good messages to their children too. Many of these parents may only be MO-Lite for lack of proper education themselves and would be Centrist if they knew how to be.

The one Orthodox group in which I believe that there is the least dropout rate are the serious Centrists. We are a small group but if one were to do a study of the children of serious Centrists I would be willing to bet that the percentages of dropouts are the lowest. That is because by nature, Centrists are serious about Mitzvah observance and Torah learning. We emphasize Torah learning and give Torah authorities their proper due. Although we will often strongly question what certain Gedolim say or do, we never the less give them proper Kavod and never denigrate them... Not Gedolim, Avreichim, Rabbeim, or any other of the Klei Kodesh. And we are strong believers in Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko. We provide an environment where a child can flourish in his or her God given talent.

This does not mean that there are no dropouts at all amongst Centrists? I’m sure there are but I would say that the Hashkafa itself is not at fault. Those who drop out do not do so because of the system. A good boy or girl can be enticed away from his good upbringing even in a Centrist home. But I think it is the exception rather than the rule. In a true Centrist home the parents are living role models for their children. What they preach, they do.

I know that I’m tooting my own horn here but I really believe that a Hashkafa that is open rather than insular and that has options available and encourages options that are appropriate for their children will almost certainly produce healthier and happier adults who will run to, and not away from... a Torah lifestyle.