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Parents Must Reach Out to Avoid Tensions With Children Over Yeshiva Year

The following was submitted to YW by the OU, and appeared on the JTA website: Thousands of Orthodox students will soon head off for their post-high school year of study at a yeshiva in Israel. For most of these adolescents, it will be their first year away from home and a time to begin their ascent to independence and adulthood.

Judging from recent years, many of them will contract what is derisively referred to as Flipping Out Syndrome, or FOS, a troubling malady that pits teenager against parent in a seemingly endless cycle of friction and misjudgment.

Take this case: A mother is encouraging her daughter, who just returned from seminary, to take her vitamins. The young lady balks as they don’t have a hechsher, or kosher certification; her rebbe in Israel told her to use only those with a hechsher. Indignant, her mother counters that the family has always used them, that their shul rav is of the opinion that it’s not a problem if they are unflavored.

“If it was good enough for us all these years,” the affronted mother says, “why isn’t it good enough for you?”

This tension is particularly disturbing given that the year of study in Israel has become a norm for much of the Orthodox world and families make sacrifices to save funds for this opportunity. It’s time we knew how to prepare for our children’s spiritual growth and possible changes in outlook that could and do follow, so we can avoid friction in the home later.

Many young people come back from Israel seemingly looking down on the world they left behind, often displaying a disconcerting, albeit unintentional appearance of arrogance.

Intentionally or not, however, parents often cut themselves off from their children’s experience in yeshiva and seminary. Consequently these young men and women begin to associate all their Torah learning solely with their rabbis and teachers in Israel, leading them to presume that their parents could not possibly understand all they have absorbed. The young people then come off as arrogant as they conclude that their parents are uninterested in their newfound, strengthened or added commitment to halachah.

In combating FOS, parents need to play a proactive role by setting up a weekly phone chavruta, or study session, with their children and regularly calling their rabbis and teachers in Israel for updates.

Most important, parents and children must make every effort to keep the communication lines open, so parents remain an integral part of their children’s spiritual growth and the children feel supported and encouraged. Neglecting opportunities for open communication can prove disastrous.

A few years back I couldn’t help feeling both saddened and amused to learn that upon a young man’s return to his home, he clandestinely toveled, or sanctified in the mikveh, all of the glasses and dishes in the house to guarantee that they were kosher according to the most stringent standards. In his zeal the young man broke a number of dishes and was forced to confess the deed to his mother.

Unbeknownst to him, however, in an effort to make her son feel more comfortable when he came home, the mother had toveled all the glasses and dishes several weeks before. This uncomfortable and potentially hurtful situation could have been avoided had the son made the effort to communicate his religious growth to his mother and had his mother communicated her support and acceptance of her son’s growth.

In addition to parents, yeshivot and seminaries in Israel must do their part to prevent FOS by encouraging students to relate their thoughts and feelings to their families throughout their year. Just as camp counselors make sure that campers write home to their parents, yeshivot and seminaries should set aside time for family letter-writing or e-mailing. Teachers and rebbeim might consider urging parents to take off a week to learn with their children in Israel if possible. Administrators and educators must view the parents as their essential partners in the development of each student.

The more communication between educators and parents and between students and parents, the better the odds are for an easy and pleasant transition back home after the year.

(Rabbi Steven Burg is the national director of NCSY, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, a division of the Orthodox Union.)

35 Responses

  1. how could someone send their children to E’Y and not expect them to grow in ruchniyus. that is the whole point!! obviously the parent should expect this and accomadate them orelse they should not send their kids

  2. This article has a lot of merit. The approach that has been taken until now has been flawed. For too long, yeshiva guys and seminary girls have come back home, to do battles with their parents and it has caused tremendous Shalom Bayit Issues. There is a greater need for communication with all the parties involved and quiet frankly, the parents need to do their homework before sending off their kid to EY. I think the issue goes both ways and the more aware people are of it, the greater the communication and the prevention of tension there is. Having said that, I think that it is an old problem of the young generation (I am in that group) thinking they know much more then their parents and being more attune to yiddishkiet, whereas the reality is far from it.
    I wish all parents much Hatzlacha as this is one of the myriad of challenges they face in trying to raise Ovdei Hashem. May Hashem give all parents the strength and resolve and Siyata Dishmaya to do whats right on a consistent basis.
    Shabbat Shalom

  3. I’m not sure where the problem is. “B’Kol Adam M’Kanei Chutz M’Bno,” a person can become jealous of anyone except his son (or daughter). If my son or daughter came home from EY wanting to be more Machmir than I am, good for them!!
    Why do we find this more hurtful than a Ba’al or Ba’alas Teshuva who decides to keep Kosher in their non-Frum home. We applaud their courage and resolve, and we hope that their parents see their change as growth.
    This is the exact same thing, just on a different level.
    I can only say that I will be proud to say that my son has become a bigger Talmid Chacham and is Frummer than I.
    And then I will try to catch up!!!

  4. as every BT is told by the rabbeim in aish and ohr somayach the first and foremost thing is derech eretz and respecting ones parents
    if the kids would go home and respectfully request certain hechesherim and chumra’s what parent wouldnt listen, they would IMHO be very proud
    But when you come home and tell your parents how irreligious they are etc etc.. they will battle back

  5. If children are brought up in a home with a family Rav, or Posek that the family uses. They will be more likely to respect their parent’s when they return from Israel. Growth in Torah is what the year in Israel is about, the entire family should ultimately grow from this. If your child grows in true Torah, what could give a parent more nachas! If the child learns that something should be done differently from how it is done in their home from his (or her) Rebbeium in Eretz Yisroel, the family Rav and or Posek should be consulted on these issues. Parents have to be open to asking the Rav and Posek if what their children learned in Israel is something that needs to be changed in their home.

  6. torahis1-
    I don’t think anyone is condoning a child acting in a chutzpadik way towards his parents. That’s not the point.

    The truth is that in the times that we live (especially in the US), there is often a laxity towards parts, if not all, of halacha. Upon going to E”Y, children often come back wishing to become more serious about all aspects of their halachic observance. Parents sometimes react to this desire to grow with hostility, saying precisely what you said:

    “Since when does a 19/20 year old know better than their 40 something parent??!! ”

    It’s not about knowing better. It’s just about being more serious about yiddishkeit. This article is trying to encourage parents to be accepting, not hostile to this idealistic desire for spiritual growth.

    But no one is saying that a child should act with Chutzpa. A

  7. Becoming frummer is not a jealous issue it creates problems because of “I’m not good enough and you’re too frum”.
    Another major issue is kids come back after at least 1 year of total independance and looking out only for themselves and parents expect them to be children. This is a bigger issue because it affects all people and causes fights.

  8. If frumkeit would encompass ehrlichkeit then it would be fine. The problem is that they aren’t the same and some kids just come back with frumkeit. And no you won’t all want to be as frum as everyone else, like some people in E’Y who won’t flush the toilet on Shabbos because of the problem of chillul Shabbos by workers in the water treatment systems and other such chumras, that do impede on the rest of the family.

  9. eliezer (#6),
    You are correct that parents SHOULD have the attitude you describe towards their childrens growth in ruchniyus.

    However only parents who aspires to higher levels themselves (as you said: “And then I will try to catch up!!!”) will view their children’s growth in a positive way.

    Unfortunately many parents have an attitude of wanting to do just the bare minimum as far as yidishkeit is concerned and view chumras and hiddurim as unneccesary and as extremism. (and not neccessarily just chumras – it could even extend to actual halachos which the parents didn’t know about or didn’t keep for whatever reason – and have no interest in changing the status quo). They take their children’s new-found dedication as an affront and as a threat because if they alow themselves to feel proud of it then it will make them feel guilty for the way they approach yiddishkeit. To avoid that, perhaps subconsciously, they instead deride their kids new-found commitment. I’ve personally seen this happen even if the kids are very diplomatic and respectful about it.

    What I think should give these parents some perspective is – isn’t this better than if your kid would be hanging out and taking drugs in monticello?

  10. There have been a lot of good things said but the one thing that remains is that parents and kids need to communicate. By having an heart to heart talk with your child before they leave , explaining the spiritual connection they are likely about to make and showing that you are open minded and willing to allow them the chance to mature will make a world of difference. Then when they come back, you can explain how beutiful it is to have such strong connections but every choice is not going to be shared by everyone. That it’s OK to be different and that overtime they will see things differently. yet when we are threatened (both parents and children) we retreat back to our narrow perspectives and cling on to stubborn beliefs to save pride. There is nothing better then speaking with the Rav of the shul that you are part of (or personl family Rav) with your children and reaching a solution together.

  11. while torahis1 is more or less right onthe charlie brown comment, the statement on the seminaries was uncalled for they are not brainwashing them into mindless robots they teach a mentality. the story you said while could be true was blown out of proportion

  12. torahis1,
    Of course I wasn’t saying those are the only 2 choices. I was saying that if you realize it could be a whole lot worse that may make a dent in how upset u are.
    And I wasn’t talking about blackmail and i also wasn’t talking about kollel vs. working. I was talking about a general attitude towards yidishkeit, such as a kid suddenly not wanting to eat from certain hechsherim, toiveling dishes where maybe the parents had never done it, not wanting to go mixed swimming even though the family always did etc.

  13. Torahis1,
    “Frummer (whatever that means),” “good seminaries (whatever that means),” you sound a bit bitter.

    Guess what – when you state “that was an overly simplistic narrow view of the situations,” guess all there is to say is – whatever that means.

    FYI #1, Conservative Jews are generally generally considered “frummer” than Reform Jews. Orthodox Jews are generally considered “frummer” than Conservative Jews.

    FYI #2, don’t know what you mean by “good” seminary. It’s only a good seminary if it’s the right one for that particular child.

    “Brainwashed” – Oy Vey – WHATEVER THAT MEANS!!

  14. I teach in a seminary which has a reputation as a “flip school” in which girls get brainwashed. I can only comment:
    1)Many girls do leave seminary feeling differently about hashem and about being frum than they did when they came. When they come they are apathetic about frumkeit,at best,and often negative. G-d is the guy who always interferes just when the fun is about to start, with his long list of “no”s. He’s also the monster who’s always trying to catch them doing something wrong so he can send them to burn in gehinnom. They come wanting to know the absolute minimum halachic requirements (“aren’t there ANY poskim who hold it’s OK?”) so they can throw G-d his bone, hopefully avoid the worst of hell, and still salvage some olam hazeh for themselves. Many of these girls, admittedly, come and get deprogrammed. They discover that frumkeit is inspiring,a frum life is deeply satisfying and enjoyable, and that G-d is on their side – not the opposing team. Many of them leave hoping that hashem and his torah will be central to their lives, not incidental. Have they been brainwashed? Perhaps any of us, removed from the treadmill of our familiar lives and given the benefit of distance, would choose to make certain fundamental changes in direction. Is that bad? (At the risk of being snide, sometimes when I read comments posted here I get the feeling that some people, with their incredible negativity, could have benefitted from a “flip” yeshiva – I don’t care/know how many years they learned in Lakewood/Brisk).
    2)to those who think that flipping out is about chitzoniusdike (sp?) change involving chumros, black hats etc. I can only assume that you are not “ba’inyanim” or “bashetach” i.e.- you are unfamiliar with the topic first hand and are just saying the standard. It is NOT TRUE. (At least not where I teach – if in other schools flipping is superficial I am unfamiliar with it.)
    3)It is easy to call the kids disrespectful. It is much harder to admit that deep down, most of us, want our children to choose as we’ve chosen because it validates our choices. My students tell me that their parents are LOOKING to feel rejected. Before they say anything more than “hi, Mom” their mothers say “so, you think I’m not frum enough?” Our students do have sessions, both before Pesach and before year’s end, to bring to their attention that though they’ve been in seminary the rest of the world hasn’t – not their parents, not their siblings etc. Respect, love, appreciation, humility – that’s the name of the game. In truth, though, they may not need those sessions. The stuff they’ve learned all year is about middos, accepting and respecting others, internal change and growth, and of course, halochos and hashkafa of kibbud av v’aim. THEY are usually the ones approaching the teachers asking questions like:
    *Our non Jewish maid cooks for us – what should I do? Can I eat it? Should I discuss it with my parents? How?
    *I want to come back next year. My parents don’t want me to, and I love them and would never want to hurt them. Should I bring it up? How can I discuss this respectfully and properly?
    *In my family the custom is that we all kiss each other hello and good-by – including peripheral family. Can you guide me in doing what Hashem wants – not hurting people or being disrespectful and being shomer the halachos of negiah?
    The answers to these questions are, of course, irrelevant to us, here (please, spare us all). My point is that they ASK. Arrogant? No way! These kids, AND their parents are in a tough situation. I don’t think it is anyone’s fault – not the parents, not the kids, not the school. It is just a tough situation that calls for a lot of respect, selflessness, and looking in the mirror honestly, by ALL parties involved. Casting blame is the wimp way out.

  15. Torahis1 is this mumush motzei sham rah I happen to be very involved in
    semainaries & I know that they this isn’t true in all cases & you are really
    exagerating. It’s not brainwashing just because you dont’ believe it doesn’t
    mean you are right. The better sems the girls & the parents know where they
    are going. We have to remember that E.Y. is on a higher madraga.

  16. A relative of mine went to Seminary in Yerushalayim about 5 years ago. I was so impressed by the way the Menahel handled the girls’ returning to their families.

    What he did was, he wrote a letter to the parents, explaining that their daughters had just spent an uplifting year in Eretz Yisrael. He reported that the girls had indeed been made aware of the delicate balance that exists between a young adult and her parents, and the challenges that come up in the realm of Kibud Av V’Em. He also pointed out that the girls were likely coming home in an inspired, and idealistic state of mind – and that is how it should be. No doubt – the intense high would gradually settle down, but it is worthwhile to enjoy and value it for what it is in the interim: an intense state of mind for the short-run, that hopefully would positively impact their lives in the long run, even as it becomes a memory. He advised the parents to try to share some of their daughter’s experience and excitement- while it was still there, rather than try to prematurely burst their bubble. Healthy integration happens naturally – when it is not rushed or impeded by unnecessary friction.

    And then he did something that really impressed me. He sent the letters in envelopes addressed to the students, not the parents, with this recommendation: Read the letter, and if you feel it will enhance your relationship with your parents, forward it to them. If you think it would make an uncomfortable situation worse, do not give it to them. Remember your responsibility to honor your parents and treat them with respect. And use your judgement to decide what approach is best in your parents’ home.

    I’m sure I am not quoting the letter word for word, but that was the general message and tone.

  17. Unfortunately, the concept of diplomacy is something of the past.
    We live in a generation of extremism whether we like it or not (I don’t!!). (See article on Catskills motzei shabbos scene and then this).
    What is missing from this article is “what kind of home does the child come from”.
    A child from a frum yeshivish home who comes home and starts “changing” everything to chumra mode is acting with utmost chutzpa. If the home is running according to Shulchan Aruch how dare he/she introduce chumros on his/her parents who he/she owes everyting to without their permission.
    However, there are many homes where the parents’ observance (perhaps for lack of education or guidance) is not up to basic halachic standards. This would be the case that this article is discussing, and of course the “well meaning” child must communicate openly with his parents (and consult with his/her teachers) before making any changes.
    Extremism leads to violence and aveiros! Hashem would rather that one keeps to the strict letter of the shulchan aruch without all the chumros and behave lilke a true ben torah with Kibud Av Vaem rather than to push chumros onto them and cause untold misery and contempt.
    Let’s remember that Sholom is the stamp of Hakodosh Boruch Hu and He allows His Holy Name to be rubbed out for it.

  18. When you are talking about being brainwashed maybe the girls aren’t being brainwashed but other side is being brainwashed.

  19. beitar – Could you give me some names of “flip” Yeshivos, I want to send my kids to one. Halevai My children should become Frummer and better than me, as long as it goes together with Middos Tovos.

  20. #23, rbsyid,
    I disagree.
    I consider my home as a “frum yeshivish home” and if my child came home with a Chumra they wanted to hold of, I wouldn’t consider it Chutzpa at all.

    My goodness, if that is the rebellion that my childrean want to show, if that is the way they want to “spread their wings” and show some indepenence, isn’t that much better than most of the ways teens and early-twentysomethings show independence these days?

    I would MUCH RATHER I HEARD my son say, “Hey, Ta, I learned about Yoshon this year, and I would like to try and be Makpid on it,” rather than hearing, “Hey, Ta, Torah is too strict, I think I’ll hit the drugs/smoking/girl scene.”

    Which would you rather hear?

  21. Eliezer I must say & that is the least I can say Kol Hakovod. Until he wrote I thought that people have their values mixed all up but I see some people do have it straight B’H.

  22. Eliezer,

    Why are you going from one extreme to the other?
    Say your home IS a ‘yeshiveshe home’ and your son returned from Yeshiva and was under the influence of Chassidisher Bochurim and he decides he would like to take the Chassidisher way while imposing it on you as well, would you accept that?

    Yes , i am sure you would rather here ‘, Hey Ta, please grow a beard and payos and start with the livush’ rather than ‘ I would like to hit the drug scene’
    But would you go along with it? Remember, he wants to ‘spread his wings ‘ and become ‘lifnim mishuras hadin’!!

  23. Nameless, I hear you. But I never said that he would impose his newfound Frumkeit on me or others, just that he wants to practice it himself. If so, Kol Hakavod, let him.

    I gave the example of Yoshon because it is a realistic and sensible thing for someone to “want” to be Makpid on. If my son came home and said, “Ta, I want YOU to be Makpid on Yoshon,” I would say “No, but you are welcome to yourself.” And I would be proud of him for it.

    Your example of dressing in Chasidisher clothing is weak. Blue hat, black hat, no hat, blue suit, black suit, zoot suit, bekesher, frock, apron – it all doesn’t mean much, and certainly in Halacha, does not in any way reflect one’s level of Frumkeit.

  24. Eliezer,

    Yeshiva boys dont always come back from yeshiva frummer, but sometimes change their hashkofos. Thats why I mentioned the example of the livush. If they want to become Chassidish, they will probably go the whole ‘nine yards’.

    I know of a boy who was brought up in a strict litvisher home where his father even wore a frock. They send him to a very litvisher yeshiva in Israel. While there, he used to visit a Rebbe of a certain Chassidic dynasty, liked him and came home a full fledged Chasid. He is married today and wears it all!

  25. Torahis1-
    You’ve posted a few times and each time you’ve made vague reference to phenomena with which I am unfamiliar and, I must admit, about which I am skeptical. Your reference to “seminaries which tell them that they are worthless and nothing unless….” needs some backing up. That’s no seminary I’m familiar with and this is what I do for a living. Seminaries which “threaten the girls with conforming to a narrow and dangerous view…” I don’t even know what that means but the words “threaten” and “dangerous” kinda make me wonder what’s really going on and if this is about the seminary, or about the girl who reported the “story”. Ditto about your “example” of a seminary which tried to “blackmail” (?!) a girl. You evidently do not live in a very nice or pretty world. If you “have seen children come back at the end of the year, treat their parents with the greatest of chutzpah…thinking they have the hechsher of their rebbeim” I don’t know if what you saw is what happened. I don’t know if the perceived chutzpah was not simply the parents understandable sensitivity (see my previous post).And I am reasonably confident that, regardless of what they thought, if they WERE chutzpadik, they did NOT have the hechsher of their Rebbeim.

  26. gingy –
    Hatzlacha. I don’t think I’m the right person and this is certainly not the forum. Good high school teachers and good rabbonim should know what’s what and what’s for who. At the end of the day, of course, your daughter will probably only be successful in a school to which SHE wanted to go.

  27. beitar
    i just wanted to bring out a point.

    nebech nebech… I wish no Yid should have a worse rebellion from his children than having them become chassidish going “the whole nine yards” and “wearing it all”.
    Usually these kids are Mevakshim looking to strive and serve Hashem to the fullest. And if they feel that this derech is the one bringing them closer to their spiritual goal, let them. As I said before, as long as it goes together with Midos Tovos, which includes not looking down on anyone that does not follow their derech, let them.

  28. Torahis1,
    In every circle there are some “bad apples,” and if you personally experienced these things you say, then you’ve come into contact with the few bad apples.
    What a shame, because every seminary girl that I’ve come into contact with has been wonderfully mature, happily frummer, and positively exuding Kedushas EY.
    Just don’t cast wide aspersions on the whole system just becuase you had a personal bad experience. If anything is narrow-minded, it’s bad-mouthing the entire seminary world based on your personal bad experience.

    Nameless, LOL – not sure how I would react if my son came home from EY wanting to be a full-blown Chasidisher. I guess it would depend on what sect he was looking to join, 🙂 – LOL

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