Dr Judith Guedalia

'Off-The-Derech' From Off-To-The-Side: A Different Perspective

Dr. Judith Guedalia © 2008 and Mr. Chaim K.

"Don't make me into some kind of "Hacham b'Leila." Literally this means a wise-man-of-the-night, figuratively, advice by happenstance, or someone whose input isn't based on professional achievement, but rather, "serendipity" and as such, should not be given credence.
_option_option_option How about, just a clever insightful person, I venture.
"I don't know anything everybody else doesn't know," says Chaim K. as we are discussing the "Off-The-Derech" phenomenon.

I hate to disagree with you, I say, but you have taught me over the years, that you see things quite differently, and frequently more astutely, than the average "bear."

"Now you're calling me a bear! When will this abuse of a handicapped person end?" he winks.
Seriously, I go on, as an observer you can't be beat. I truly am convinced that the fact that you have been forced to sit in your wheelchair, so unrelentingly, has had at least one benefit. You have become a very keen observer of the world around you, both concretely - what you visually encode, and metaphorically − the information you intuit.
The holiday of Shavuot commemorates Matan Torah − when we should prepare ourselves for receiving the Holy Torah; we are in a mess, not unlike our Forefathers, in the desert, after having won a miraculous battle against the Egyptians of old. The process of receiving the Torah last much longer than Moses "just" receiving it amid a "sound-and-light-show" that is the dream of Hollywood's "FX" (special effects) aficionados.
On Shavuot, Moses received the Torah; He saw that the bedraggled group he brought forth under Hashem's miraculous aegis was painfully lacking in "Faith," so much so that by forming the Golden Calf they desecrated the first and second of the 10 Commandments − even before they had them in hand! Then, before all of the Children of Israel, he broke the tablets signifying "the deal is off." The date is the Ninth of Av, a date - to (leHavdil)quote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt − "that will go down in infamy." The two Holy Temples were also destroyed on Tisha B'Av; The Spanish Expulsion of the Jews was on that fateful date, as well (see Book of Our Heritage By Eliyahu Kitov, Feldheim Press).
After 40 days of interceding, praying, fasting and doing teshuva, Hashem gives us a "second" chance, and Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai with the Holy Laws, not on Shavuot but rather, on Yom Kippur.
Sixty years since the establishment of Israel's Statehood and international recognition and economic prosperity that the original Zionists would never have imagined, we are in a mess. The country is in turmoil both from within and without. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Jerusalem, where you can't go up or down a street without bumping into a demonstration of some sort.
City garbage bins are being burned on one block to express annoyance at something; people dressed in green bemoaning the erosion of our "green spaces" and the veritable air we breathe; a marching band of tourists is going down, another holding Israeli Flags. Women dressed in black are mourning relatives killed in Lebanon and fearing more will be killed in Gaza.
Knitted kippa clad and long braided teens are dressed in orange, waving flags reminding us that they were uprooted from their homes in Gaza and Gush Katif; secularists, many "tattooed" and "pierced" and heads shaven, are shouting profanities on the side. Yet another group, this one is very protected by police in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood where they insist on conducting their march, carrying a "rainbow" of balloons and banners demanding that the "community" accept what the Torah considers utterly unacceptable − same sex marriages, and worse!
We seem to be in a conundrum of what is right-is-wrong and wrong-is-right; left-is-wrong; right-is-right; the middle-is-REALLY-wrong, as compromise is denigrated/defiled/decried and generally opposed by every position on the spectrum.
And then, from the ridiculous to the sublime, there are the "black yarmulkes," which should just be a benign symbol of acceptance and responsibility to G-d's presence. But no − born is yet another new form of discrimination and division. Are the wearers concerned that their black velvet kippot have a fabric band on the binding or, dafka − not? Is the kippa black leather or black knitted? (A rarity.)
So obvious is one's identity with a kippa that Chaim K. relates the following story: "A young man in my neighborhood was walking around with a kippa with a seret (ribbon-like piping or band) and one day an elderly neighbor saw him with a yarmulke without a band. He went up to the teen and said: 'You started to walk around with a kippa without a seret; soon you'll be going to a seret − without a kippa!' In this case it was a prophetic (or catalytic/ catastrophic (?) remark as, soon afterward, the young man took off his kippa altogether."  ("Seret" in Hebrew is a homophone for a movie and a ribbon − but spelled differently.)
How do you think this '"Off the Derech" behavior happens, I ask? You and I have seen it often, but how do you think this painful situation for both the family, and usually, the teens and young adult can be contained? (See: Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Leave Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge (Paperback) by Faranak Margolese, 2005 Devora Publishing)
"All I can say, is my family is very different. Even though my father is from a very 'mechubad' Hassidish family, Friday night we daven (pray) in a Sephardi shul, Shabbat morning Hassidish Mincha could be Temani (Yemenite) or wherever we find ourselves. "My parents feel that going to daven with a minyan (quorum) of Jews supersedes davening alone. Some people we know will defer going to a minyan at all because they are only going to a synagogue where like-minded Ashkenazim pray. I feel that this makes the 'path' so narrow, that going off of it is not only possible, but also probable.
"From my vantage point − and I've observed life from the sidelines, since my life was 'sidelined' after being hit and run over by a car eight years ago − this view may be a little different from others my age and my background.
"However, again with the 'disclaimer' for not knowing anything everyone else doesn't know, I have seen many instances where, when the parents of a child keep correcting him again and again, the child tends to rebel. Those that seem to engulf their child with love and acceptance, even when they may feel hurt and angry at their child for 'acting out '-experimenting with alternative forms of behavior, have a better chance of reaching their child on his 'way back.'
"Clearly, there are things that children can do that are dangerous and parents need to protect them from harm. I just know this is true, and this is my humble opinion, and I'm not a psychologist or a rebbe, but rather someone who has been forced to spend the past eight years watching from outside the 'derech' of 'normal' life.
"Children have a need to please their parents but may end up doing so only after a period of rebellion. Those parents who know this truism, and can 'hang-in-there,' will be rewarded by children who come back. I can't promise it, but I have seen it to be true.
"'Chevre,' friends, can have both a seriously positive and negative impact on teens. On the other hand, no teen wants his parents to tell him whom his friends should or should not be. Here too, one needs both mazal and Siyata d'Shamaya − the help of G-d.
"I am afraid that I have said too much. I don't feel competent to preach to parents or kids who are searching. I can only speak of my own experience. I was a young kid of 14, who was not such a good student in school; I could have behaved a whole lot better, well maybe or maybe not, and then, the car hit me. The life that was chosen for me was not one I would ever have searched for myself. No one would search for THIS! But I have learned a thing or two in the past eight years of captivity in this chair and in THIS life.
"Look for the good in your child and in yourself. Look for the whole in someone who is incomplete. Look at complaining and arguing as positive activities. They allow you to be real and honest and most importantly, human. Everything has its proportion. Ice cream is a great treat; a diet of only ice cream can give you a stomachache."
(I find myself smiling a "qvellsome" smile.)
"People who do not complain or feel sad and unhappy about their present state, are not being honest and challenging themselves. Not every challenge is bad. It allows you to do a cheshbon ha-nefesh - soul-searching − and change. But people, who only complain, get depressed and sad, are in the end, non-functional."
(Still can't get that smile off my face!)
"Some kids don't eat the crust of the bread, but in wartime the crust was the bread."
"In my state, you learn life isn't a picnic but it can be an interesting and enjoyable journey. That is what I try to do with what I have."
"Oh, Dr. G., do put in that I do enjoy picnics."

 Originally published in the Jewish Press on June 25, 2008.

Tags: Chaim K. | Jewish Press | Off The Derech