Monday, October 20, 2008


Hanging with the Bad Boys: Moshe

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

From Shabbos before Succot through part of the week of Succot, I've been hanging with the bad boys. The bad boys are young men that frum (religious Jewish) society has declared failures, persona non grata. They've been thrown out of an average of 5 yeshiva's each (the record of the group is 10).

The bad boys come dressed to make a statement, they've embraced their role as religious society's outcasts. Frum teenages from Boro Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Montreal, Monsey, wearing AC/DC devil pants, chasing the chicks tee shirts, hunting for my next beer messages. They know the best way to tie a lulav, can say kiddush by heart (with a yiddish accent), and can also tell you the best hang out joints in Jerusalem and which cheap vodka can be downed straight and which has to be mixed to survive.

Moshe (all names have been changed to prevent embarrassment) is 17. He's done the full circuit of bad boy recovery schools (who knew there was a circuit?). He grew up in a strong chassidic home, and education was strictly limited to Torah subjects - no science, no math, no history. His first language is Yiddish, he taught himself English and Hebrew. His father is a "big" rav, his mother very smart. And Moshe? He's the failure of the family. For him, Gemora (the Talmud) is a closed book. Whether due to a learning disability, or just a current teaching methodology that just doesn't work for some students - he never progressed.

Of course, not doing your homework, not paying attention, not keeping your eye on the page and finger on the word, will get you sent to the principle. Where you're told you're unsuccessful. You're a failure. You're an embarrassment to your father. The message sinks in, the negative behavior becomes self perpetuating.

So he was thrown out of one school, and another, and another. He took solace in alcohol and rock and roll. Hashem and His Torah became his enemy, the stick used to beat him over and over again.

For all the external wrappings, Moshe is a sweet guy. He played with my children, helped my little girl fix up her ponytail. He helped in Shabbos preparations in the kitchen, making some serious dishes. He was friendly, nice and respectful.

Moshe's love is history, his dream is simply to be a history teacher. But he's been on a rough road. He talks of spending some time homeless - for none of his family or community will take him in. He's spent Shabbos on the beach with just a challah. He appreciates a Shabbos invitation like few of us (B"H) every will.

Moshe is in a program where he's working towards his GED (a high school equivalence degree) and even learning for semicha (rabbinical ordination). When he completes this year of study, he's considering entering Nachal Charedi - the Israeli ultra-orthodox army unit, and even applying for commando training. Perhaps simply as a way to channel so many years of pain and rejection.

Moshe joined us on a family trip to Hevron over Chol HaMoed, where I was surprised to see him davening (praying) in the Yitzchok hall with great intensity. It's the only time I saw him attentive to positive mitzvot while he was with us, but what an intensity it was.

Clearly he has much to say that our society could benefit from. But the doors are closed, we are not listening.

The bad boys are growing in number. A unique phenomena of our time where they don't leave religious society. Rather, they sit on the sidelines and stare at us in pain. (Generally they don't violate the negative mitzvot, they disengage from the positive mitzvot and bring in disturbing cultural activities.)

May Hashem grant us, as a society, the wisdom to make the adjustments to the factory education system back to "chanoch l'naar al pi daro", educate a child according to his way, and save our young people (and their families) enormous pain.


  1. Reb Akiva,

    We have a whole generation of children who think "outside the box". I was a teacher of many of these - they love Hashem, they love being Jews. But the only way we teach them is in a box. Some need to learn fields, some need to learn near water. All want to learn! This is emet. What are we doing here? Is this the only way - in the box? I agree with you.

  2. beautiful. Write more about this -- perhaps Moshe wants to write also?

  3. Akiva: I'm just curious, how did you get to meet him?

    Kol hakavod, i agree with you 100%

  4. My son became familiar with this group who are going to a 'bad boy' yeshiva in Israel focused on Americans. Most of the students went back to the US (or Canada or England) for the yom tovim, my son invited the whole group that remained in Israel and had no place to go - inviting them for Shabbos, Succot, and Chol HaMoed. For almost a week I had a rotation of these young men stay with us.

  5. what about the bad girls?

  6. yasher koach akiva,
    the more am yisroel embraces these kids, boys and girls and gives them the opportunity to shine, the stronger we will be and moshiach will be even closer!!!!

    kol am yisrael chai!!!

  7. Importnat post and an even more important mitzvah!
    tizke l'mitzvot

  8. I believe that when teaching becomes 'rote' -- only habit, without the exciting soul stirring pnimius -- it is easy to lose students' attention and interest. A combination of factors (beside education) seems to be contributing to this sad situation in our Jewish world (as we are witnessing some of them in the news).

    Watching parents and family being swallowed up in the gashmius of America can cause any sensitive and spiritually inclined to shy away; and cause an adult a bit of nausea.

    When the Neshoma is not fed what it needs, it will wander in search of filling the void, but will find that nothing out there really does the trick.

    Only a real personal relationship with Hashem will satisfy the yearning Neshoma. The era we are living in is demanding such a relationship from the children (younger and grown-up) of Hashem.

    Sometimes one needs to leave "organized religion" to allow the Jewish soul to break out of hypocrisy, discover those spiritual wings and connect directly (in Eretz HaKodesh) to Hashem for greater fulfillment.

    From Hashem's warm embrace the Neshoma will instinctually choose the path of Hisbodedus and honoring the Mitzvos. Eventually, IY"H they will return.


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