Rav Shlomo Aviner is one of the most revered Rabbonim in Religious Zionism. He is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Ateret Yerushalyim (formerly known as Ateret Cohanim) and the Rav of the city of Bet El. Although I have had some differences with him, I have also been in agreement with him on many issues. Most recently on his approach to modern technology.
But whether one agrees with his Hashkafos or not, there is not a scintilla of doubt that he is a great man. He is a Talmid Chacham, a Posek, and a leader that virtually everyone in the Religious Zionist movement looks up to. Religious Zionist Jews can easily point with pride to this man. That he is an Anav - humble in his ways; an Ehrliche Jew; and role model of leadership is an understatement. Even his Charedi detractors will I’m sure agree with that as will many secular Jews who have met him.
And yet he along with two other prominent Religious Zionist rabbis in Israel have fallen victim to the OTD (Off the Derech) phenomenon. Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rav David Bigman, and Rav Yoram Tzohar each have a daughter that has departed from the observant ways of their parents. So for those parents who have OTD children, you are not alone. There are some very prominent people who join you.
One may ask: How can I publicize something like this about such prominent leaders in Klal Yisroel, since it might be embarrassing to them? The answer is that they do not hide it. They willingly participated in a film that tells their story.
I watched the film. It is one of the most emotionally draining things I have ever watched. I saw lots of pain in this film. Not just the pain of the parents. But the pain of the three young women who are their daughters.
As Gil Student commented at the website where this film is located:
It took a lot of courage for the daughters to appear on this film. And a lot for the fathers and mothers, as well. Not too many rabbis would be willing to do that.
I think that is very true. I have read about such stories in the Charedi world. But they are always done anonymously. The embarrassment or fallout for them and the rest of their families must be too great for them to bear.
Most often when stories like this are told it is indeed the pain of the parents that is emphasized. But as I just pointed out I saw even greater pain in these 3 young women who rejected observance. The film does not go directly into why each one of them went OTD. Although in one case it is hinted that there were unanswered questions about the existence of God.
In all 3 cases, the free life they chose came at a price. They seemed to all love their families and even respect them. But they somehow did not buy into what they had been taught even though it seems like the rest of their siblings did.
I have to ask: Why? Why did they do it? Why have they left the faith? What compelled them to do so? Why them and not their siblings? It could hardly be dysfunction. The families did not look dysfunctional at all. If they were, some of their other siblings would surely have joined them.
It could hardly be what is commonly referred to as Prikas Ol – the desire to just be free of their Jewish responsibilities. There is too much pain in their eyes for that. They were each brought up in great homes, it seems. They were taught Halacha, Hashkafa, Jewish values, and ideology and they somehow just did not buy into it. So much so that they have openly chosen a non observant lifestyle.
During the course of the film one can see that the parents were not dismissive of them. The love was still there, the relationship still close, and there did not even seem to be any residual animus between parent and daughter.
That is what made it so sad for me: All that love. All that pain.
The parents must feel that they somehow failed the child. And the child feels that she has disappointed the parent.
These young women are not bad people. They do not seem to have troubled souls. Raised in a completely religious environment they somehow made a decision to live another lifestyle that does not include Mitzvah observance. Somehow the importance of that never attached to them. One can certainly not blame their home environment. It also seems from the film that these three leading Rabbonim were good parents.
One can speculate about some of the factors involved. The opening scene shows a video being played by Rav Aviner’s daughter, Tamar, that shows 2 animated figures walking in circles - one of whom is always in the shadow of the other.
Another segment deals with the pressure of being the daughter of a rabbinic leader – always trying to live up to the greater expectations of others because of who her father is. Maybe that kind of pressure was too much to endure. And after trying to live up to those higher standards expected of her she just gave up. I don’t know.
One thing I think I can glean from this film is that religious leadership has a price. One that a child may end up paying. The pressures that brings to bear on children can easily be underestimated and perhaps unaddressed by the parent. Going OTD can certainly be a result.
I have to give credit to both the parents and the children for allowing themselves to be exposed to the world. Perhaps we can all learn something about parenting – that is not immediately obvious even to the best of us.
I must also give additional credit to these parents for not letting go of their children. For still loving them and accepting them as they are. Not that they approve of their decisions. Of course they don’t. But that they can somehow live with it and perhaps even hope for a return to Torah and Mitzvos someday. They will also be able to have a positive relationship with their grandchildren and influence their lives in positive ways.
There is nothing to be gained by rejection. That will only cause estrangement and resentment. None of these young women are anti religious. One can, I think, detect a certain respect for it even though they have rejected it for themselves. Loving a child who went OTD can only benefit them. And you.