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When Children Fall Through The Cracks


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

As a regular follower of your columns, I am aware you are writing about your recent journeys that took you throughout the world on a mission to bring Torah to our people. I truly appreciate the importance of your work and have personally met many people who have become Jewishly committed after hearing you speak or reading your book. Nevertheless, may I be so presumptuous as to ask you to interrupt your series and respond to my letter, which is critically urgent?

I am involved in a situation that cannot wait, since it is so drastic that, if allowed to proceed, the damage could be irreparable. One of my best friends has a daughter who “went off the derech,” which nowadays is referred to as “falling through the cracks.” We have had many differences about it and she has become very resentful of me, to the point where our relationship has become very strained.

To give you some background: my friend has five children – three girls and two boys. The oldest is now eighteen and ready for a shidduch. She has a sister who is two years younger and is causing tremendous problems. This sixteen year old is one of those children who has “fallen through the cracks.” She was expelled from the yeshiva high school she attended, and with great difficulty my friend found another school for her – and now she is making trouble there. Her manner of dress, her conduct, her attitude – all are, to say the least, not befitting a yeshiva girl. My friend’s greatest problem however, is that this daughter will prevent her sister from finding a proper shidduch.

Yesterday my friend cried to me on the phone and told me many people advised her to send her daughter away to a special school that deals with problem children. My friend even confided to me that one relative told her it was time to face reality, to realize she lost a child and look upon herself as one who is in mourning.

When she told me this, I was appalled. How could a Jewish woman say such a thing? As a matter of fact, how could anyone make such a terrible, cruel statement regarding a living child? Instead of, G-d forbid, confronting reality by mourning for a child, she would do better by realizing that yeshivas are not cookie-cutters that produce children that are all the same. Every child is different and parents have to learn how to deal with that. I know full well that this is very difficult and painful. The suffering of Jewish parents committed to Torah who see their children spurn that legacy is beyond description, but to give up on that child and mourn for him or her – I find the very thought reprehensible.

When I told this to my friend, she started to sob and between her tears she told me she was afraid her older daughter would never even find a good date,because when people would see her younger sister they would not consider marrying into such a family. So she and her husband decided to follow the suggestion of some family members who felt that the best solution would be to send this daughter to a far-off school where she wouldn’t be in everyone’s face and would be among other girls just like her. In this way, she would not handicap her older sister.

I told her she should never – never – consider doing this; that, if anything, her daughter would deteriorate in such an environment. She would feel abandoned and loveless and, bereft of positive role models, she could slip to an even lower level. I also told her I was not just speaking glibly – that I had gone through a similar situation with my own child, so I was speaking from personal experience. To be sure, every case is different; nevertheless, there is a common denominator that connects them all. These children cannot find themselves in the normal yeshiva environment. They are like round pegs in square holes, so they rebel. Of course, other factors come into play as well, but the bottom line is that they just don’t feel they fit in.

I also told my friend I knew some people who did send their sons and daughters to one of these institutions only to regret it, because as devastating as their problem was, it became more so with that decision. I also related to her the story of a renowned rabbi whose son went through a similar situation. Nevertheless, this rabbi held his head high and walked down the street with his rebellious son and introduced him to everyone he met as “My son.” His love for him was above fear of what people might say. Life experience has taught me that parents who did send their children away created for themselves a scenario that went from bad to worse. Their children felt they had been cast away, that their parents were ashamed of them – and that very thought caused them to hate themselves as well as to hate them.

Someone else I know sent her daughter away and several years later I asked her if there was anything she’d do differently. Without a moment’s hesitation she said, “Absolutely!” She went on to explain, “I wouldn’t have made my home into an inferno with quarrels day and night, and instead of sending her away, I would have been more patient and showered her with love.”

I think the time has come for parents to accept the fact that all children are not the same and not every child can reflect that which his parents envisioned their sons and daughters should be.

My friend became terribly upset with me and accused me of adding salt to her wounds by making her feel guilty. Our conversation became very tense, and at this point we hardly talk. I mentioned earlier that I am a mother who underwent a similar experience, but instead of dumping my son and berating him, I told him, “I love you and will always stand by you no matter what and despite what people will say.”

After numerous unpleasant letters from the yeshiva in which he was studying, I decided not to prolong the agony any longer and found him a job. Today, years later, I can tell you that this son has become a great source of naches to us. He finished his GED, went to college, graduated with honors, and married. Today he is the father of two adorable children who go to yeshiva. His home is a true Jewish home where Shabbos, Yom Tovim and kashrus are observed, and I must tell you that my daughter-in-law, a lovely girl, is careful about the laws of taharas hamishpocha. I thank Hashem every day for the wisdom He granted my husband and me in not casting our son away in his time of crisis.

I would truly appreciate it if you would publish this letter as soon as you receive it because my friend is about to make her decision and she is a great fan of yours who reads your column regularly.

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