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.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא