Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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Hanging with the Bad Boys: Big J

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

See part 1 here. The bad boys are Jewish religious society's outcasts who have been thrown out of yeshiva after yeshiva.

When you're introduced to Big J, it's an apt nickname as you crane your head upwards to meet him. Your first impression is this is a big guy who I wouldn't want to meet on a darkened street. Your second impression is what's that big bright blue baseball cap doing on his head?

Big J won't tell you his hebrew name, all his classmates know to never ask or use it (if they know). After years of being told "Chaim Aryeh, why can't you sit and focus on the Gemora like the other boys. Chaim Aryeh, keep your face in the page or go to the principle. Chaim Aryeh, you have so much potential why are you such a failure?" he can't stand the sound of his own hebrew name.

For his big size, Big J is a sweet shy young man of 17 who desperately wants a feeling of success. After offering to help and being taken into the kitchen to prepare yom tov dishes, as we sat in the Succah he beamed as people enjoyed those he'd prepared, and when asked about them reviewed complete preparation instructions.

Of the group of young men we met, Big J was the only one to come and ask if he could get a copy of the pictures we were taking, both for himself and to share via Facebook with his friends. He's clearly a good friend to have, not because of his size but because of his caring.

Like Moshe, Big J joined us on our family outing to Hevron, and he was lifting my children up on his shoulders to see above the crowd. He's gentle with children, and the kids love having a big teddy bear to play with and break through a crowd for them.

Big J trusts his few friends, but that's about it. He's been taught by the system that the appearance is more important than the essence, and as a big guy who stands out he's the first target for COMPLIANCE, in all it's minute detail. If a preference for a baseball cap is enough to indicate he's not for Torah and Hashem, then he can't see why anyone would be.

Big J is in a bad boy yeshiva with Moshe, working on a program towards a GED (a high school equivalence degree) and even learning for semicha (rabbinical ordination). In that program, a bright blue baseball cap in the beis midrash doesn't matter and each page of Torah learned is a celebration.

Big J called and asked if he could stay with us last night, as the bad boy yeshiva dorm hadn't reopened after yom tov yet and he literally had no place to sleep. Most doors in religious society are closed to Big J, all because his head sticks out above the crowd.

He davened (prayed) ma'ariv (the evening prayer) last night, mentioning it was the first time in a long time he'd done so. Why? Because when he's treated like a mench (a good person), he can see there's goodness and G-d in the world. And when he's beaten down by those who SAY there's G-d in the world and they are His representatives, he's pretty sure their way isn't right.

3 comments:

Elisheva said...

Thanks for the article.
I suggest that you might ask these "bad boys" if they have been victims of molestation. There are indications that these misfits are the result of abuse, not "just" learning disabilities. IF this is so, part of a cure would be their being able to be heard on this.

Keli Ata said...

"Chaim Aryeh, you have so much potential why are you such a failure?" he can't stand the sound of his own hebrew name."

They put this gentle-soul is such a double bind. No wonder he ended up in a "bad boys" yeshiva. Poor kid. That mistreatment can kill a child emotionally and spiritually. Conformity for the sake of conformity and demanding perfection is harmful.

You're an angel to befriend him and see his true soul, that the others seemed to blot out at every turn.

May this young man grow to be a great Torah scholar.

Keli Ata said...

btw, it struck me as I read this that Big J's cooking for those in the Succah reminded me of Avraham's hospitality.

Nurture this young one. He will go on to greatness.

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