“You never throw a child out of the house, it’s strictly forbidden,” Rabbi Motti Kornfeld told Ynet in a recent report.
Rabbi Kornfeld, an American-born Chareidi Rav in Israel who has dedicated himself to assist Chareidi families whose children have chosen another path in life, isn’t simply mouthing these words – he’s lived them. Rabbi Kornfeld is a father of 11 children, and one of them, his beloved son 26-year-old son Daniel, left the Chareidi world a decade ago.
Rabbi Kornfeld used his personal experience to forge a special mission for himself, to assist Chareidi families struggling with the growing phenomenon known in Israel as “neshira” – “dropping out.” His goal is to reconnect Chareidi parents with their secular children.
Unfortunately, many Chareidi families are completely alienated from their children who are now secular. “There are very, very, very well-known rabbis in the Chareidi community who live the passuk, ‘There is no home without a dead person’ and that simply sums up the phenomenon,” Rabbi Kornfeld says. “Unfortunately, parents are throwing their children out of the house for various reasons, mainly because of their influence on their other children. “Rabbi Kornfeld’s son Daniel talks about his experience as someone who left the Chareidi world: “I grew up as a Chareidi boy, I went to a Chareidi school and I was in a Chareidi yeshivah. When I was around 16, I realized that [being Chareidi] didn’t suit me so I left on my own journey. My parents accepted it and were understanding and supportive throughout my journey. We didn’t always agree but they were always understanding.”
Rabbi Kornfeld adds: “We responded to the path he chose with understanding, love, support and a little fear. On the one hand, we’re very very happy that he chose to seek his truth, which is very important. On the other hand, because it was different from what we wanted at first, it wasn’t easy going at first. Nevertheless, despite this, we showed him love and support the entire time. For us, there’s no other option.”
Rabbi Kornfeld is firmly entrenched in Israeli Chareidi society but he’s clearly open-minded to the Israeli world outside the black and white lines of Chareidi communities. He’s been working for the Shachar project, which helps integrate Chareidim in the IDF, for about five years. He gives shiurim to new IDF recruits in the new Chareidi battalions in the Givati and Paratroopers Brigades and he’s also the activity coordinator for English-speaking lone soldiers and new olim who join the IDF.
“As part of my work at the Shachar organization, [I see cases], especially when a Chareidi bochur decides to enlist [in the IDF], that often his parents totally banish him and throw him out of the house. One of the things we’re trying to do is reconnect Chareidi soldiers with their parents. I’m happy to say that we’ve been quite successful. It’s a long process but eventually, they welcome back their children with open arms.”
“Don’t leave me alone because you and I are one.”
The Kornfelds are a musical family. In 2001, they released a disc called “Fathers and Sons,” featuring ten Chassidic songs that Rabbi Motti and his sons, Yehudah, Shmuel, Shlomo, and Daniel, sang and accompanied. For the past two years, Daniel himself has been writing and composing songs.
Recently, Daniel and his father released a moving song called “One” that they wrote and composed together about the yearning a father and son have for each other despite their differences.
“When I visit my parents, I go out and sit on the porch with my guitar,” Daniel says. “One day my father came on the porch and said, ‘I have a certain tune in my head. Let’s try to compose it on the guitar and maybe intertwine the English and Hebrew together.’ It was born right there on my parent’s porch, at night, with a guitar, quietly.”
“It’s me, your lost son. I’m looking for you. In my heart, I want to feel you. Reach out your hand – don’t leave me alone – because you and I are one.”
“We don’t have a son who dropped out”
Rabbi Kornfeld admits that not everyone he encounters in the Chareidi world responds to the path Daniel has chosen with as much acceptance as he has. “I went into shul one day and a very kind smiling Jew came over to me and said, ‘How is it that you have a son who went off the derech?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.'”
“He said, ‘Well, really, I and you, we know each other, we eat cholent together.’ I told him with the utmost seriousness: ‘Listen, I want to tell you a message, you should understand – we don’t have a son who went off the derech – there’s no such thing.’
“The fact that your friends or your neighbors don’t understand – that’s their problem. It’s really their problem,” Rabbi Kornfeld firmly concludes.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)