Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Ayelet is getting married. This is an accomplishment. She is marrying a boy who keeps Shabbos, puts on tefillin and davens three times a day. This should not be taken for granted.

It was every mother’s nightmare. You watch them go off to kindergarten and come home singing about Pharaoh in pajamas, and the next thing you know it’s 3:00 in the morning, and you really don’t know where your kid is. One day she was a little Bais Yaakov girl, the next day she is a teenager with a mind of her own, and a skirt up to her whatever.

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Five years ago, my sixteen year old daughter Ayelet asked me if the hoodie she was wearing was modest. In our particular crowd, a hoodie with words written on it was not at all acceptable.

“Yes,” I answered her as far as the hoodie was concerned. “It’s okay.”

The reason I said it was okay was because it really was modest, according to halacha. The fact that I did not approve of words on her shirt, and that my neighbors would not approve – I decided to set aside for the moment. I realized that I might have to disregard what “they” say. This meant a radical form of acceptance: accepting who she is, while remaining clear about who I am. It meant not preaching or lecturing, but just being.

That was a momentous decision, and it has given way to every decision I have made with this daughter ever since. I try not to raise her based on what “they” – mainly my neighbors and my close associates – will say, or based on my embarrassment. I am trying to raise her based on what’s best for her.

All of my other children fit into the chareidi box, more or less. We all understand that this lifestyle, these schools, these nuances are the best way to raise children. We also understand the flaws in this world.

I would say that Ayelet had a bit of a rough time in elementary school. For example, by the principal’s order, for many months she was forced to open her school bag and show the teacher that she had brought everything she needed for the school day. I did not realize the humiliation this entailed. And there were other examples, as well.

I attended a lecture by a rav at the third high school Ayelet went to. He said that the average Bais Yaakov girl is like the soldier in the army who sits behind the desk. Maybe she is the head of information, or perhaps she peels potatoes. She is not on the front lines. However, girls who are “halachically challenged,” like Ayelet and her friends, are the soldiers on the battlefield. They are in a war, day in and day out, which means that their successes are magnified. I guess it made me appreciate her struggle.

I do not blame the school for her eventual distancing from Yiddishkeit. I blame the combination of factors which make up every human being: nature (she is somewhat sensitive), environment (including her parents), and free will. Yes, that’s the secret: free will.

Hashem arranged it that way. When the two-year-old wants to do it by “hissewf,” that is “free will” making itself heard. It is the trait that most resembles Hashem Who is the Master of free will, and we are His imitators. Free will is the irony of the sin of Adam HaRishon – trying to be more like Hashem by exercising free will.

And this is what happens with some of our children. They are practicing the attribute of free will by rebelling. With my daughter, it was discarding the dress of the Bais Yaakov world, and it went downhill from there. Thank the good Lord it did not mean drugs or tattoos, and only two holes in one ear.

It was painful for us. I tried not to slip into the “what will they think” mode. I refused to let my daughter think that the world’s thoughts will determine my reactions to her disturbing behavior.

This story has a happy middle. Not because Ayelet became a first class chareidi citizen, but because the story is not over. Today Ayelet is Shomer Shabbos, davens quite often and truly works on her middos. Honestly, I don’t follow her every move; it’s really between her and HaKodesh Baruch Hu. Also, if I truly believe what I preached to myself all these years, then I try to accept who she is, and who she will become.

Interestingly enough, Ayelet identifies as chareidi. She doesn’t particularly look, smell, dress, or sound chareidi, but some of her best friends and teachers are chareidi. Oh, and she votes chareidi.

I guess I have learned two things while raising this child. One, accept who she is while being strong with who I am, and two, don’t let what “they” say dictate my actions. I daven that all of our children should have a true relationship with Hashem, because no matter what they say, that is the purpose for our existence on this earth.

And Ayelet is getting married. With Hashem’s help she will build a bayis neeman; the candle, the challah, and the cloud will hover over her house, as it did over Sara Imeinu’s tent. She has chosen the basic tenets of a Jewish life. These things should not be taken for granted. A person’s free will could pull them in many directions.

And I am very grateful.

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