Dr Judith Guedalia

Off the Path but on the Derech: An Unusual Travelogue

Firstly, I would like to paraphrase Lyndon Baines Johnson, when, in his inaugural speech in the Senate, after President Kennedy's murder, he said: I would give anything not to be here today.

Chezi Goldberg z'l -Hashem Yikom Dammo- was a colleague, a friend, a past conference planning committee member, and presenter at the recent 7th Annual Nefesh Conference in Jerusalem (just one week before his murder).


There is a lot of talk about ‘off-the-derech' and the pain it causes to the ‘identified patients' -the children, their families, and klal Yisrael.   I know that I am treading on dangerous territory and I don't want to minimize this issue, but I often feel we have let our children down by the ‘narrowness' of the derech.

My grandfather was a businessman in Germany in the 1800's, he used to travel all over Europe selling his wares (tobacco leaves - don't sue me I'm not related to Philip Morris!), at any rate, he learned schitat ofot (ritual slaughter of chickens) so that he could eat wherever he went.  (Ask your Rav, but women were (are) allowed to shect chickens too, for how would they feed their families when the husbands were away!)  How many of us have taught our children subsistence farming or schita?

I wanted to tell you that we just got home from Puerto Plata, the northeast city of the Dominican Republic, and share my experiences with you.

The reason we were there was as convoluted as one could (or couldn't) imagine.  Our granddaughter and her teammates found out that they would represent Israel in the Women's World Cup of American Flag Football; we felt we should be there.  We are generally not sports-groupies', but a seventeen-year-old yeshiva high school student...

The story begins on a Friday, when the days were longer and Friday afternoon is like an American Sunday.  Hours off from school that is not a Shabbat or a Chag.  Her brother was in a ‘pick-up' game of American football, at Gan Sacher in Jerusalem and she and her friends were also throwing a football around.   Eight months later the first (and only) Israel Women's' Flag (no tackling, no physical contact, instead pulling one of two flags hanging from a belt) Football team was off to the Dominican Republic for the World Cup.

This team was different, both the men's' and women's teams were ‘different'.  Many of the men sported kippot and some played with tzizit out, flying in the tropical breeze.  The women's ‘uniform' was skirts (originally sport-shorts, cut and re-sewn into skirts) on top of pants and long sleeved shirts with players numbers on the back.   This special team, representing Israel, flew with glatt food (Dvora Schecter Catering of Jerusalem) for the six day trip.  We brought a small (one foot high) Sefer Torah, and there were three minyanim a day (Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv).  We had our own ‘Shul' that doubled as a dining area and was in reality the veranda of one of the rooms, Shabbat was special, the hotel gave us a room to use as a ‘proper' shul and dining room.  We sang zimrot had a bunch of divrai Torah for each of the three Seudot.   

Sunday we went on our own tour of the city of Sosua, a haven given by the Dominican Republic to Jews fleeing the Shoah who were not ‘admitted' under the ‘quota' to the States in the ‘30's.  Today 250 of the thousand who came remain.  The Dominican Republic offered a hundred thousand (100,000) visas, only 1000 mostly German Jews took them up on the offer, they survived the Holocaust.  One family was the Strauss family who built a dairy that is not only in function today, but supplies the dairy products for the area.  There is a one-room shul and a larger room that is the museum of the Jewish community.

This special team, made it into the finals, with Cayman Islands, Canada, the USA, Venezuela and other teams cheering for Israel in their languages, though we came in fourth place (both men's and women's teams), this special team proved that Shmirat shabbat, Kashrut and sportsmanship are in First Place!

My premise is that maybe we haven't given our children sufficient tools to know how to stay on thederech' when they don't have the full LL Bean (see www.llbean.com) regalia.  Maybe we (the parents and educational system) haven't given them all the equipment for physical and spiritual subsistence on life's derech.

Footnote: (An enormous amount of credit go to: Toni Sachs, Danny Tarregan, Jason Gardner and Coach Yonah Mishan who made this ‘off the beaten derech' trip the unbelievable experience it was.)

Tags: Off The Derech | On The Derech