One thing baalei teshuva have difficulty understanding or relating to is what growing up in the yeshiva world is like. I know from some of my friends that as their kids go through the yeshiva system, every day is full of unexpected learning experiences. It's fascinating to me (and I'm sure to many bt's) to learn about the upbringing and raising of ffb children as bt's are expected to raise their child ren without basing themselves on their personal experience. It's one thing to adapt to the Torah world on a personal level - and as a newcomer - but children of baalei teshuva are born and raised religious! As a friend of mine put it : "omg my baby is an ffb?!"
One of the most interesting aspects is when a child decides to rebel or turn their back on this lifestyle. I'm always intrigued by the stories behind these kids' choices. As someone who’s dedicated close to half of her life to entering the torah world, it's interesting to find out what the struggles and social issues are in the life of a child who grew up in this world and decides to question it or leave it. As idealistic and utopic as the frum world first appears to a BT, it doesnt take very long before the realization hits that this world - which is supposed to be steeped in torah, in morality, in kindness, in justice - can be so full of… human faults and realities.
I recently spoke to someone who went through this and asked him to write me his story so I could post it on my blog. What amazes me the most is how, despite how many times I’ve heard this story, the same issues seem to repeat themselves – not fitting in, disinterested or harsh teachers, rabbis and parents, judgemental attitudes… The truth is, these are true everywhere. Speak to any rebellious teenager, frum or not, and they will repeat the same lines – they didn’t fit in, they were disrespected, they weren’t appreciated, their good intentions were dismissed, their search for truth were ridiculed… Kids completely realize and relate to this, but at some point as we enter adulthood.. we seem to forget this.
The reason I want to post this story is because this very gentle and sweet person describes what he went through, in his own experience. When I read this, I felt so disturbed that adults and peers could treat him this way - I couldn’t understand how they didn’t realize how hard he was trying and how they just kept pushing him further and further away. But then I stepped back and tried to picture him as a 16 year old and I got a different image in my mind.
Can you picture it?
The rebellious attitude,
the disrespectful words,
the disregard for things holy and things proper…
I just imagine a kid like that and I think how I, and probably so many others, would have a hard time not judging him. Can't you hear it? “Why should we care? He’s so far gone! Look how he dresses, look how he acts, look how he speaks to his parents!! He needs love? He wants attention? respect? He deserve a kick in the behind!! He has no interest in changing, he just wants to have fun”
Judging on a superficial level, I can somehwhat relate to those feeling, but when you read his words, his truth, his thoughts, it's SO obvious that this is the complete opposite of what he was and what he needed? I guess my reason in posting this is that maybe a parent who reads this, or a rebbe, or a friend, or a sibling, or even a stranger in a store, will think twice before dismissing someone who is going through something similar.
I’m sure there are plenty who are not interested in a torah life, and maybe never will be and are genuinely disrespectful and turned off by it all, but on the odd chance that the bratty rebellious kid in front of you is really secretly fighting and trying deep inside... try to have a little compassion – realize how a little respect, a little genuine empathy, a little understanding might be just what he needs to give him a little hope not to give it all up. If someone wants to leave this lifestyle, let him leave it because he has valid intellectual, logical reasons for it, not because he's been pushed out and turned off by our behavior.
"I don't really know where to begin, or what's important...
I grew up in xxx, went to school there through junior high school. My folks are people who came from more modern backgrounds ( by today's standards), and as they've gotten older, they've moved further to the right. For high school, I went to an extremely yeshivish, close minded yeshiva, where I was immediately cast an outsider, due to several factors. Not being fluent in the yeshivish lingo, my "out of town" mentality, the fact that my father is a "baal habayis" as opposed to someone in learning, and my interests outside of the regular yeshivish realm (including books, comic books, music tastes [ while anyone who was listening to non jewish music was listening to pop music, I was listening to a wide range of genres, including metal, hip hop, funk..]) all helped in strengthening that label. I never thought anything of it; this was who I was, what I knew. But they didn't know from it...
The summer between 9th and 10th grade, I went to Israel, where I pulled out all the stops. I had my first experiences with tobacco, marijuana, and other mind altering substances. I didn't take advantage of the Holy Land, opting to go to Israel, not Eretz Yisroel (semantics do make a difference).
Upon returning to high school for 10th grade, I felt ready to grab the year by the reigns, and really learn. Towards the end of the summer, I had made a conscious decision to apply myself. I guess after that summer, I had gotten a lot of craziness out of my system and was ready to really grow. Unfortunately, no one wanted to learn with me, as in one short year, I had made a reputation for myself as a guy who doesn't know how to learn and doesn't care either.
Thankfully, my folks hired a tutor to teach me how to prepare a gemara, and he really helped me. More importantly, he became a confidant to me, and I felt like I was really developing. Throughout the year, I continued smoking up on Shabbosim that we had off, choosing not to smoke up while in yeshiva. At the end of the year, my parents "suggested" I stay at home for the summer, get a job, and continue with another tutor throughout the summer, to keep up the momentum of my improvement. I agreed, and the summer was a lot of fun.
The next year, I continued to strive, but my classmates made things difficult. Always making derogatory comments, expecting me to be a clown, joking around, they didn't get that I was trying to shed that rep. That year also saw the addition of a few guys to my class, who in my opinion didn't really contribute anything worthwhile. My tutor from the year before was now our rebbe in the afternoons, and these guys clashed with him constantly. They were yeshivish guys, with no respect for anybody, and very loose ethics (in my opinion ). These are the kind of guys I see who can float through life pretending to be what they are not, and they'll be handed a lot of good things.
Moreover, my rebbe - now that the dynamics of our relationship had changed - had less to do with me than ever.
At the end of the year, the guys tried convincing me to come up to the mountains with them to the program my yeshiva had at a certain camp. They were straightforward about the fact that they had plans to party exclusively, and that it would be fun with me along for the ride. I declined, saying that I needed to go home, so that I can continue to make progress.
They didn't like that, and 3 of the "main" guys cornered me one night, and really gave it to me. They said very hurtful things to me, with the intent of knocking me down a few pegs.
I won't go into details as to what they said, but I went home anyway. But what they had said struck a chord with me. They may have been wrong, but after that episode, I couldn't disagree with them. Nothing felt the same after that.
The next year, my senior year, things continued to worsen. I was now under the jurisdiction of the Roshei Yeshiva, and while one of them was cool with me, the other one just seemed to have it in for me.
I was getting depressed, but no one could see it. It felt like everyone was after me, and there seemed to be a lot of hypocrisy within the yeshiva system. My anger and frustration made me lash out at many people; my family, my teachers. I started smoking up often. I was ditching yeshiva at night, sneaking out to bowl, shoot pool, hit kareoke bars, and watch movies. I started hanging with local kids, and we raised hell, getting into brawls, graffiti, all sorts of stuff.
I stopped laying tefillin, and wearing tzitzis, and while on the outside I appeared to be normal to everyone else, I knew the truth. I had no idea where I was headed in life, and all I wanted was for everything to stop. I hated yeshivish people, I hated being different, and I hated myself for not being a stonger, better person.
Midway through my first year post high school, I made a stupid mistake, which led to many things coming out into the open. It was painful, but ultimately led to something much better. My folks (who still don't know the extent of what went on in those years ) realized that I was serious about leaving that place, and we started looking for a yeshiva that would help me out.
We found this small yeshiva in xxx. It was a normal place, not a rehab or anything, but it was unique because of the guys there, and the rosh yeshiva who cared for them. The guys were all accepting people, and the Rosh seemed to be really interested in my well being. I started to relax a bit. I felt like I found my place. I decided right then that i wouldn't do anything wrong while in yeshiva. No movies, no books, no dope. Off Shabbosim and bein hazmanim were a different story, but while in yeshiva, I was gonna focus on that exclusively.
I chilled out, turned away from the hard music I had listened to almost exclusively during those few years and started getting interested in my roots. I'm xx years old now. I learnt in that yeshiva for a couple of years, then went to Eretz Yisrael. After xx months there, I returned to my yeshiva in the states, where I've been since. I'm dating, looking for my wife. I'm completely clean now and while I'm not satisfied yet with where i'm holding, because I have a lot of work to do, I am happy, for the most part..."