Friday, May 29, 2015

Whose Footsteps Do You Hear? Running away from Yiddishkeit at "Footsteps" versus hearing the footsteps of Mashiach

Guest post by RaP

I do not have an in depth knowledge about the "Footsteps" organization, but I have heard enough about it, some of it virtually first-hand from a few sources, over some time, and I have slowly been formulating an opinion about it, not all of it negative.

Yes, it is an organization in New York that works with people who are dropping out of any form of Orthodoxy and works on many levels to "deprogram" them much like deprogramming people coming out of any serious cult. In purely Hashkafic terms it is a center of Kefira and Apikursus and if that is all anyone wants to hear, then sure, that is the end of the discussion and move on, much like if a person becomes a Meshumad and joins an organization of Meshumadim.

But if one wants to look deeper at it, as a sociological, cultural and even, yes, a movement of people born as Jews in reaction to things that have either happened to them or are really and truly going on, then it becomes a lot more complex and challenging to deal with.

Just one example is that no Chasidic community that I know of allows or encourages a proper English education and certainly no college studies either for its own sake to widen one's knowledge or to train for a profession. As you know the way Chasidism is set up today the very thought of going near a secular book is a catastrophe. Etc, etc, etc. So now what happens if a Chasidic kid decides not to be like that? Or add to that a kid gets molested or beaten up and decides to stop being Chasidish. Is that "bad" or a "sin" or is it a normal part of being human and therefore there need be choices and organizations to deal with such people?

Well, as you know, in the Chasidish and hard-core Charedi world there are no such solutions. Therefore, can one blame a kid who says he or she has been abused or beaten up or neglected and lives with all the modern temptations and things around them, and decides to start looking outside of their own Chasidus to explore and then find themselves rejecting their past, and then getting help from the "Footsteps" people to get a high level education that will be accepted for college entrance and with that therapy rooted in the modern outlook that is opposed to the "backwardness" or religion and rejects it totally?

Going off the Derech is complicated and never caused by one reason or factor, but the causes and hence blame can be distributed to everyone concerned, bad parenting by some, a few horrible and abusive teachers, lurking molesters inside and outside the family, who are never stopped, etc etc etc , and not just the final "welcoming committee" at Footsteps who are just rolling out the red carpet as if they were a Hatzola center that for many they are!

Firstly, everyone has Bechira, Hashem gives all of us freedom of choice to choose. It is stated in the Torah, and if someone makes a bad choice they have to live with it. We need to face up to reality that some people CHOOSE to reject Yiddishkeit and even God. That is built into the world by Hashem Himself.

How about the parents and teachers and community who offered no solution beyond "my way or the highway" (often literally)? How about Jewish organizations that spout platitudes but do nothing? How about when Frum kids are abused and then they are not protected enough and often it becomes a scenario of "blame the victim"!? How about it is time to realize that no system of Torah Judaism is a "one size fits all" proposition, and that to live in the world as we know it often requires the acquisition of technical or trade or professional skills that can only be attained through formal secular studies that so much of Charedi Judaism fights against as if they were living in the war against the Haskala of the 18th century when that is long gone and that there are plenty of Charedi Jews especially in America who are professionals and trained technicians, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, computer programmers, all sorts of physical and educational therapists and not just buyers and sellers of goods and truck drivers and homemakers.

This all leads, or at least should lead to, lots of self-analysis. There is NOTHING that any Frum person can do against the Footsteps organization, it would be like trying to fight people from going to Church if that is what they want to when peaceful Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Religion and Speech are allowed in the modern democracies that also allow people to be Chasidic and Charedi with those same laws!!

So we must look into ourselves and decide if we see our own faults and if we want to change and do things differently to save our youth and ourselves. Otherwise things like the Off The Derech movement will just mushroom and grow and organizations like Footsteps will keep on sprouting up and offering something while the Frum world twiddles its thumbs, fingers and feet and does nothing really.

Of course, in the long run, Torah-true Yiddishkeit will triumph, just as when various breakaway movements sprung up in the past and then just melted away and assimilated and intermarried. That is what happened to the Sadducees, the Nazarenes, the Karaites, the Reform and that is what will happen to the now growing Off The Derech movement.

But each was and is a challenge and there are various ways of confronting a religious, social, cultural and spiritual challenge.

One way is to shut out the world and live in a self-imposed Ghetto, and another way is to go out and do something to confront it. The Kiruv movement is a good example of how some members of the Frum world have gone out to turn back assimilation and intermarriage, but then again, that is also not on the front burner of the Frum world's main priorities that at this time is still self-absorbed, myopic and preoccupied with too many internal issues and self(ish) interests to worry too much about either Mekareving the Frei or rescuing the growing Off The Derech crowd.

Or am I wrong?

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