Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Prodigal Son (and Daughter)

Scribblers the world over, just like rabbis, utilise the intersection of the outgoing and incoming year to provide a stock-take of where we are and some analysis on where we may be heading and so let me not shirk in my duty and I'll get straight to the point.

The greatest issue facing our communities is not housing benefit cuts or Ofsted school inspections in the UK, education challenges to yeshives and metzitze be'peh in the US or coalition shenanigans and the compulsory draft in Israel. The greatest challenge is our youth that has given up any hope on our intractable and blinkered system and is voting with its feet in increasing and confident numbers. Technology is neither the symptom nor its cause though it suits our leaders to blame everyone but themselves for the state we are in.

The world around us is changing and rapidly so. Our model of bringing up boys in total ignorance to be supported by a mixture of state beneficence for the majority and inherited wealth for the lucky few is broke. Bringing up girls as breeders and feeders, with or without some perfunctory grades, is no longer viable either. And our superglue of bringing the ignorant and the fertile together in blissful marital union while in their clueless teens is also coming rapidly unstuck and horribly so.

I know the clever ripostes and well-rehearsed responses to these charges because they once formed the stuff of my weltanschauung. We've been doing it for 2000 years, we will say, people like me have been predicting our downfall over and over again and we've survived them and we'll survive this too. One columnist even enlightened his readers by opining that having a child 'go off' is the comeuppance  for denigrating da'as torah, which is the best example, should any be needed, of our total oblivion to the world orbiting right in front of our collective blindfold.

This comfort food may fool the gullible and trick the ignorant who know of little beyond our ghetto walls but I'm awfully afraid to disabuse you. The evidence is there in your family, your neighbours and wherever your care to look.

Let me spell out clearly what I am on about. We, that is Chareidi Jewry, are facing a brain drain. We can breed as much as our 3'3" beds will permit us, we can retain as many of our offspring that care to stay and we can flex all the political muscle that our numbers can muster but we can no longer prevent our brightest and most intelligent from leaving and it is they who are scrambling for the exit.

Once again some will retort and highlight the druggies and alcoholics and a variety of life's detritus amongst the leavers to try and prove the point that a life outside benefits' dependency is bound to fail. Torah equals life, we will gloat, and so it must follow like gemore follows mishnyayos that if you leave Torah you simultaneously forfeit any vestige of a civilised life.

But there is another side to it and one which is developing before our eyes. Those brave individuals who are unable to face a closeted life where intelligence is measured by the disingenuity employed to defeat reason and where Torah has become a means to stifle rather than excite intellectual curiosity. These young men and women have been brought up in the same world as ours and face the same challenges in adapting to a world that has been shunned on their behalf from birth. Yet despite these obstacles, which are indeed insurmountable to some, and in the relatively short period that the OTD movement has been gathering momentum, they have been making an enormous mark.

Chareidi Jews are still a small minority of Jews as a whole and of them the OTD community, if one can call it that, is still very small in number. Yet this tiny statistical nonentity and many of who had no secular primary or secondary education to speak of has gone on to produce in its relatively short lifespan Cambridge and Harvard graduates, many more Ivy League and red-brick alumni, a BBC journalist, published authors, artists, cartoonists, bloggers, a Fulbright Scholar and these are only the ones I know of.  Round the globe chareidim generally and chasidim in particular of all ages are waking up to a world of opportunity and are fascinated by what they find. Some unfortunately turn inwards with bitterness and spite at the life they were denied and are being prevented from offering to their children but many are able to shake off their shackles and grab the many opportunities life has to offer. You may not enjoy reading this but they are lapping up every minute of it.

And our response to this? Bemoan the brutality of the callous teens towards their grieving and shamed parents and tsk tsk for the spouses some of them spurn and the children they abandon. None of this supposed concern for the 'poor kids' is on show when rampant child abuse is covered up, nor is it there when boys are sent daily to decrepit buildings to sit for hours in front of decrepit rebbes chanting senselessly by rote texts which most of them will never master if even understand. For the bright ones who stay behind and are intrigued by words and ideas rather than by mammon there awaits a fascinating life of exploring bugs in lettuce, measuring the length of skirts and the density of hosiery and determining the appropriate pixelation of a 3 year old's face if it has the misfortune to be born into the wrong gender. Because such are the wonders of the Torah that it is the women who are less exposed to it who end up running most of the institutions round here that actually matter.

Our scaremongering is totally at odds with the world these young people encounter. They enter schools, universities, places of employment and entertainment and meet people who are welcoming, open to new ideas and alternative lifestyles and willing to share the fun and freedoms which they take for granted. Not your closeted stale world of saturated fats and sealed minds but one thriving with ideas, where difference is cherished and openness embraced.

Our idle threats and finger pointing at those unfortunates who fail to survive in the wider world also has no effect. In order to maintain our rotten edifices we set up our youth for failure. Should they then try and and scale those high walls we have constructed for them we dare them to jump and wish them to fall. And when our prayers are answered and they do exactly as we prescribed for them we wring our hands in despair and blame the web, the phone, the text, the street and practically anything but ourselves.

But that too is failing. Those who can will ask the questions and if our supposedly brilliant leaders cannot provide the answers they will seek them elsewhere. They will leave us to wallow and kvetch to our heart's delight while they migrate to places where questions are encouraged and replies carefully probed. And for every leaver there are numerous left behind who feel unable or unwilling to make the transition. They look and dress like the rest of us but that is where the similarity ends. We can expect little of children brought up by parents whose Yiddishkeit is forced, faked and resented.

Save for yourselves those pitying glances you waste on the latest parents to feel bereaved because a child has left their phantom citadel. Ask yourselves why Yeshivas are no longer a place for an inquisitive mind and curious soul. Why those with brains leave us to discover the frontiers of a world heaving with innovation while those left behind are growing ever more dense. Boredom has spurred us on to create a multitude of chesed organisations for every conceivable misfortune but we are incapable of seeing the calamity of our own making unfolding before our eyes. A rotten and corrupt leadership with a total disconnect from those it purports to lead having hemmed itself in almost literally in their sown up slits and buttoned up blouses.

Feed your kids the best of the junk food the kosher market has to offer and your benefits fuelled economy will afford you, marry your kids off and dance away in the hall supporting another of our communal scams and put them on the housing ladder where from the very first rung they will descend into a life of dependency if not outright crime and then kid yourself how wonderful it all is. But do not be surprised when it will no longer fool those with minds to think.

But I know us lot. We will not listen. We will go searching our mezuzos for a typo resulting in a bad pun, engage in pop psychology on how better to brainwash our young, visit charlatans for holy rings and blessed water and try even conventional medicine for supposed 'ailments' which know no name. The ailment is in our body politic and the cure lies with those who dare to question and refuse to accept stock answers. But none of this will occur to us while the House of the Lord functions as the house of the sick and that's when it's not the house of the bent and perverted.

Try your hand at prayer, by all means, but remember what Hashem said to Moshe, ma titzak eiloi dabeir el benei yisroel v'yisou. There comes a time when yelling our heads off in prayer will make not the slightest difference and it is time to move on. And what followed from there was the miracle of krias yam suf and the revelation at kabolath hatorah.

A Gemar Chasime Toivo to all of you!