Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Tammuz 5760 - July 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Reflections On Ourselves
Kiruv - at Home Base

by Chaim Walder

There is enthusiasm about kiruv of those who are distanced from us, as opposed to the indifference to kiruv of those who are beginning to stray from within our own camp and are on their way to dropping out.

The best example of this pressing need to address both of these problems and to find the proper balance between them is evident in the dual efforts of Lev L'Achim, the organization known for its activities in the area of Torah dissemination and kiruv amongst those estranged, on the one hand, and its being the prime address, the last resort for those faltering and dropping out. "Lev Shomei'a -- A Listening Heart," a call-in helpline service, is recognized as one of the most effective services among the strayward youth facing adolescent, domestic or other problems.

Lev Shomei'a actually possesses the largest information bank on the subject of adolescent youth and its problems. And since our previous article generated an avid interest amongst parents and educators grappling with these very problems, we will expand on them here.

It seems that when a person first realizes that the problem with which he is dealing is not confined to him, alone, but is common to others, he derives a measure of comfort and reassurance and can proceed to contend with it in a calm, organized fashion, rather than from panic and desperation. This applies to both parents and the troubled youth, themselves.

We are all familiar with the following scenario. A two-year- old throws a tantrum and begins to turn blue. The mother screams hysterically, "He's stopped breathing! Help! Do something!" The father picks him up, but doesn't know what to do, either. Finally, at the moment of utter desperation, the child reverses direction, gasps for breath and begins to sing his solo.

At this point, there are two possible directions. There are parents who learn the principle and are no longer impressed by the show, not even by the blue-in-the-face color motif, and wait each episode out for the moment when the brakes are applied, for the changing gears and the ensuing solo-aria, and then continue on with their business. I have a friend who even uses a stopwatch to count the seconds of bated breath, perhaps in preparation for a diving course for this child.

Then there are the parents who repeatedly think that their child has forgotten how to breathe and they get hysterical. They shake the child, slap him on the back, turn him upside down, and when they finally hear his solo, are convinced that they have saved his life.

The same process, with variations, takes place with the adolescent. Few people have undergone a smooth transition to adulthood. Most of us have experienced events which we would prefer to bury and forget, or remember with an embarrassed, apologetic smile. The deeds and misdeeds which one commits in this stormy period, and primarily the conviction of one's justice in perpetrating these mistakes, are common to almost every teenager. Parents look on and fear that their child is losing control of the brakes, and the very fact of their panic and hysteria, their shaking him in every which-way, does nothing to improve the situation, to say the least.

It is difficult to explain the process of maturity, but let's give it a try: during adolescence, a person undergoes physical, mental and emotional changes. The naive innocence of childhood gives way to very strong feelings somewhat similar to those of a person who cannot swim, yet suddenly finds himself hurtling down the Niagara River towards the Falls.

Even when there is synchronization between the development of body, emotions and intellect, it is still a very difficult stage in life. The child- youth can divert resources from one system to the other and emerge whole and balanced. But when the body develops physically at a far more rapid rate than the emotions, the result is a mature body with a child's mind. It's like putting a driver of an Autobianci at the steering wheel of a semitrailer. Anyone who knows anything about driving mammoth vehicles is aware that the real problem is controlling the brakes. Did you know that there are no brakes in the world that can stop a semitrailer hurtling downward at 100 kph.?

So we find ourselves faced with two conflicts. The one is a lack of compatibility between the different systems of maturity and their varying rates of growth, and the second, that this discord occurs precisely when the youth is already floundering in treacherous waters. Is it a wonder that he begins to act strangely? To suffer and cause his environment to suffer along with him?

While writing these words, I am reminded of a scene which I personally witnessed. It took place in a pool where several people were arguing heatedly in the water. Suddenly, one of them shouted, "Ouch! Who pinched me?" He looked all around and suddenly fished a young child from the water, gasping for breath, who had nearly drowned, a mere half-meter from his father's side. The miracle was that he had latched on to someone's leg and given it the pinch of his life.

A true story, not one of my literary fabrications. It really happened. Do we, for a moment, think that the person who was pinched was actually angry at the drowning child? On the contrary: he praised him for the resourceful act which saved his life.

Many parents experience blows in the course of their children's development. The majority of them accept these forgivingly and are quick to extend a lifeline in their child's struggle against the maelstrom of growing up. But the minority are a different story . . .

Imagine the person who was pinched, grabbing the child who nearly drowned and saying to him, "You watch out, kid. You do that once more and I'll show you!" and throwing him right back into the water.

Absurd? Examine the facts in real life and you'll see that it happens time and again. Youths on the verge of `drowning' flail out desperately and give a pinch. They scream for help, but parents only relate to the pinch and not to the circumstances surrounding it. They loosen the child's hold -- and throw him straight back into the dangerous water before he has learned to swim.

The truth is that this example clarifies the situation and presents it very starkly. In reality, things are far more complex, for children don't merely pinch, but jab, stab and wound, emotionally. They injure and, worst of all, often drag others along with them into the water. This situation is far more difficult to handle. It is more irritating and disturbing -- but the example still stands.

If parents could only see things in that context, they would be more relaxed and confident. They would make fewer mistakes and would act with more patience and wisdom, without the fear that sometimes makes them lose control of themselves and push the growing child deeper into the very water where he is struggling to stay afloat, as it is.

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