Sunday, July 10, 2016

OTD Then and Now - What Changed?

Mishpacha editor, Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Rabbi Moshe Grylak, is someone with whom I agree most of the time. I have great respect and admiration for this Charedi editor of Mishpacha Magazine. He has his finger on the pulse of the Orthodox Jewish community and does not shy away from telling it like it is. Even if it goes against the conventional wisdom of his religious peers. His series of editorials on young people going OTD in the Charedi world a couple of years ago was a great example of that. He was one of the few Charedi journalists willing to admit and discuss the problem that was happening right before eveyone’s eyes in cities like Bnei Brak.

As I said in a post about it a couple of years ago: 
When a child is rejected by parents and community for whatever reason, that will be devastating to them. They feel a tremendous amount of pain and guilt. What kind of rejection? The kind where a parent actually asks a rabbinic leader to pray for their child’s death. Lest anyone think this is extreme and doesn’t happen, here is the pertinent quote from Rabbi Grylak’s 2nd Mishpacha editorial:  
Rav Steinman (was) asked… if anyone had come to him yet to ask him to daven that their son should die. The rav was taken aback by the question, naturally, and then Rav Steinman told him, ‘This week, 15 fathers came to me with this request regarding their sons who had gone completely off the derech.’ 
With such insight, compassion, and understanding about the kind of rejection many of those that go OTD get from their families in the Charedi world, I was surprised at the approach he took in a more recent case of someone that went OTD. His latest editorial had an almost opposite reaction to the saga of Esti Weinstein, a 50 year old formerly Charedi woman who - after going OTD about 8 years ago - committed suicide.

Rabbi Grylak was upset by the media coverage, which he termed sensationalist. Characterizing her family as heartless examples of Charedim that are ‘cruel, inhuman  and entirely apathetic’ to those from their community that have gone OTD.  Which at the end of the day, he noted, was not true as  reported by a secular journalist who did a little research about what really happened including an interview with Etsi’s father.

Instead of rejection, what was seen at the funeral was a compassionate, loving, and grieving father. A family that acceded to the requests of their daughter who had communicated her wishes to the the one daughter she had a relationship with. Which was to have music and flowers at her funeral. Which are not Jewish customs. They had music. And flowers.

I agree that sometimes the media gets it wrong. But I’m not so sure that was the case here. At least not entirely. Yes the family grieved the loss of Esti. And they did love her. But the fact is that Esti left the fold, and they were not accepting of her that way. 

In his eulogy for Esti, her father said that he would always remember her as she was during the first 43 years of her life ‘when (she was) pure’.

The pure daughter. Not the ‘defiled’ one at the end of her life.

One of her 6  daughters (out of 7) that remained observant spoke and said  she would ‘forever remember the bitter day (her mother, Esti) left the house’. This does not sound like the words of a forgiving daughter – even after her mother took her life because of their alienation from her and sisters. Only only daughter that spoke about the loving mother she had. - was the one that went OTD with her.

Rabbi Grylak also rejected the Takanos (strict and oppressive rules governing sex in Ger Chasidus) as having any part in this. But this is exactly why Esti left her community. Those rigid takanos! She spelled it all out in a book she wrote before she died. And then there was gut wretching suicide note she wrote before she died explaining that the estrangement from her daughters caused her so much anguish that she could no longer go on with her life.

I don’t know why Rabbi Gryalak shows so much understanding  about how parents in the Charedi world deal with children that go OTD in his original series of editorials  - and then turns right around and takes umbrage at the fact that the secular media assumed the very same thing about Esti’s Charedi family. Was it really bias, as Rabbi Grylak suggested? Or do they see the same thing Rabbi Grylak saw a couple of years ago?

Perhaps Rabbi Grylak would be wise to review his own series of editorials on OTD before accusing the media of making biased and unfair negative assumptions about his community. Since he had those very same assumptions himself.