I think this specific type of problem is more prevalent in modern orthodox day schools than in the more right wing yeshivas. The yeshivas have their own set of problems and issues they need to deal with. But in the modern orthodox schools, I think this kind of story is more common.
In short, this young man talks about his love affair with his tefillin. He recalls the surge of emotion and pride as he wore those tefillin for the first few years after his Bar Mitzvah. Then he began to question everything and finding no sufficient answers (apparently) he has decided to leave orthodox Judaism. He does it all with a great analogy to Toy Story.
I think the tefillin are a metaphor for the entirety of orthodox Jewish life. Accepting that assumption, I think we can also safely assume that this kid was a great student and proud orthodox Jew. His love for orthodox observance in his early teens gave way to indifference in his later teen years.
The writer makes the claim that his faith was shaken by the lack of satisfactory answers to legitimate questions. This is a real issue for teens and for adults. I believe it is the biggest challenge that the orthodox Jewish community is facing today. I don’t claim to have a solution to the problem. But I think the most basic first step to a solution is rooted in dialogue about these issues. If we don’t have that conversation we have no chance of keeping inquisitive teens in the fold.
My favorite part of the article is the end. Even the writer acknowledges that he has not left permanently. This is a stage of life that he is going through and no one can predict what the next stage will bring. I think that is a great attitude. It’s a great attitude for the young man but it is an important attitude for us that staunchly remain in the fold too.
We need to recognize that some people will go on their own path to discovery and while we can’t condone behavior that is incompatible with halacha, we can be patient. We can be supportive. We can still love our friends and family who may be going through this kind of internal upheaval. I think that is the most effective ingredient for providing a safe haven for these people to return should they choose to do so.
Finally, we need to keep a place in our communities open and available to those on the fence or on the other side of the fence. We cannot allow them to feel like pariahs or like they are unstable or unwell. We cannot let them feel like they are being judged or cast off. They need our support and friendship at least as much as our halachically observant friends and family. But I don’t mean that we should be nice to them out of pity or out of a hope that our friendship will bring them back. I mean that we should be friendly to them in the same way we would want to be treated by others. Treating them like they are pathetic or needy is not very helpful. Treating them just like we always treated them is the right thing to do.
I wish this young man much success and I hope he can find his way back.
Check out the article in Tablet and let me know what you think.