In a Jewish Press front-page essay last month (“God Loves Our Lost Children – and So Must We,” Jan. 31), I wrote about the scandal of families turning away from their children when they go off the derech. While acknowledging how hurtful and confusing it is to have children who leave the path, I wrote that the only way for such children to find a way back to the path is through parental love and understanding.
Easy to write. Very difficult to employ in our lives. Even parents who love their children as only parents can find themselves incapable of seeing their children with the same eyes of love as had previously been the case. In a very real sense they had ceased to be as children and were more like strangers. And as we know, despite precepts to the contrary, it is easier to despise the stranger than someone dear.
The reactions to my essay and position ranged across the emotional spectrum. Some parents could simply not conceive of allowing an OTD child to remain in their home.
“How do I allow such a son, eating treif, to stay in my home?” asked one.
Others worried about the “infectious” potential of such a child. “What about the impact on my other children?” asked another.
And still others simply could not find it within themselves to see their OTD child as their child. “You expect me to love this…this…this creature? Once, he was my son. No more. I hate him.”
Some parents dismissed the exhortation to love the OTD child as nothing more than “pop psychology,” itself evidence of the forces in the world that drew their children off the path. The level of anger and vitriol that met my essay was astonishing and, I think, suggests the power of the position I shared.
It is easy to blame, to paint the world in simple black and white. “I’m right. She’s wrong.” Of course it’s “wrong” to be OTD. Doesn’t the fact that we refer to these children as off the derech say as much? The pressing issue, perhaps even greater than why they became OTD, is how we get them back on the derech.
How do we salvage these beautiful children so they are not in greater danger and their lives are not thrown away?
I understand the pain, frustration, and anger of the parents, even the small minority of parents whose feelings become so self-destructive and all-consuming that they would rather say Kaddish for their child. I understand. But I do not agree.
Rabbi Moshe Grylak used three of his insightful Mishpacha “Point of View” columns to try to understand how frum parents could ever allow their daughters to end up on the streets, either after they’d run away or been thrown out of homes. Where, on the cold and dangerous streets, can they find sanctuary? Abandoned to such a world, how will they find their way back? He noted that there are tzaddikim out there such as Rabbi Yair Nahari who established Beit Naomi to give these lost girls shelter; to provide safety, love and purpose for them. But Rabbi Grylak was not as interested in praising the tzaddik as he was in learning from him.
How could all this even happen? How could parents, regardless of the bad blood and resentment between them and their daughters, be indifferent to the horrors facing a young girl on the streets – alone and unprotected, with nothing to eat, no place to sleep and such easy prey to all sorts of evil?
Rav Nahari, who would never dream of judging such parents, noted that the situation becomes so horrible that they feel they simply cannot live under the same roof as their daughter. “They feel such terrible shame,” he explained. “They have suffered because of their daughter.” They feel betrayed and humiliated – personally and publicly. They hear the whispers of others. They feel the judgment. They are being blamed.