Faigy Mayer…the story of the lost princess

For those of you who have not yet heard of the tragedy of a young woman who took her life then you should. Faigy was a young woman who grew up in the Chassidic community in New York and after a turbulent life dealing with mental illness left that community. Last week she ended her life, leaping from a 20 story building. Her death torments me. I find no peace and share my troubled thoughts…

My heart aches and my eyes shed endless tears for you Faigy. For your dreams that are no longer, for the talent that is no longer and for the search that has ended prematurely. For those that refused to see and feel and reach out when you were obviously hurting so much. For your friends. For your parents, siblings and family. For Hashem whose pain must be far greater then mine.

You ran away from a world that I was drawn to. In the world that you felt imprisoned I found my freedom…and yet I feel your agony. Behind the images you posted and the anguish you expressed I see a princess lost in the abyss of her struggle to find inner peace and purpose.

Are you not the lost princess that Rebbe Nachman spoke off…I guess that the wait for the warrior that was meant to come and rescue you took too long and the pain was too unbearable to sustain.

We judge you not….for who are we to judge…we are all on a journey fraught with challenge, hope and uncertainty. Along the way each of us rise and fall while we experience the events and interactions that bring us closer to our purpose…although at times it appears that our experiences are in fact distractions from that purpose.

Faigy my heart doesn’t just ache for you…I cry for all the other lost princess and princes who in their search become so lost that they rather surrender then persist. I cry that a community that I love chose to abandon rather then understand you.

We need to find a way forward. We need to ask some hard questions and talk openly to find the answers. The truth is that there is a growing number of our youth that are opting out and we need to ask ourselves why? I don’t pretend to have the answers but I cannot bare the agony of another lost princess choosing to surrender rather then live.

To all the other lost princesses and princes out there my heart is open and my prayers are that our ever patient G-d grant you the time and means to heal the wounds and reconnect in a meaningful and inspired way.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldman writes at hitoreri.com

Do You Have An Adult OTD Son/Daughter, Spouse/Ex, or Sibling?

For over a decade, our staff members at Project YES have been counseling the immediate family members of teenagers and/or adults who are no longer observant (commonly referred to as OTD “Off the Derech” [Derech is the Hebrew word for path]).

In nearly all instances, we very strongly advise parents and siblings to maintain close relationships with their OTD family member and we have found that to be the best course of action on many levels. (See our December 2007 Essay in Mishpacha Magazine Should We Keep Our At-Risk Child At Home? for more on this.)

Of all the challenges to the family unit that are generated when an adult member goes OTD, perhaps the most stressful and potentially damaging scenario is when a father or mother of children who are school-age or younger becomes non-observant. If it takes the wisdom of King Solomon to resolve custody and visitation issues of children whose parents are on the same page religiously, just imagine how complex the situation becomes when the two parents have very differing views.

Over the past few weeks, Project YES has been exploring the possibility of conducting invitation-only meetings/workshops with family members faced with situations similar to those described above. We reached out to both frum and OTD parents who are engaged in these types of custody battles, a family court judge and two attorneys and feel that real progress can be made moving forward if all parties remain flexible and keep the children’s needs in mind above all else.

If you are interested in attending a meeting/workshop of this nature and live in the metro New York area, kindly drop us an email at projectyesworkshop@gmail.com. Someone from our office will get back to you and all correspondence will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We hope this initiative will help more children and adults lead happy and productive lives. Please pass this on to anyone who might benefit from this.

Yakov Horowitz
Director, Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES

P.S. For more background………………..

In February 2009 we posted the article Shlomo Hamelech For A Day asking our readers for their thoughts on the matter of custody when one spouse is no longer observant. If we needed proof that this was an important issue that needed to be addressed, we got it very quickly from the 12,000+ views that piece generated and the 131 comments posted by our readers.

Comment #25 on the thread was written by “Tortured Dad” – the non-observant father who originally contacted me. Read his post and many of the others to better understand the complexity of this matter.

In response, I posted Comment #30 on the thread “Introducing You to Tortured Dad” and #77 & #79 on “Arranged Marriages.” Noted therapist Dr. Benzion Twerski wrote a number of posts that are worthy of review (#71, 80, 86, 105 & 114.)

The matter of Adults at Risk is one that has been on the radar of Project YES for many years now. The first of the 40+ essays we ran in Mishpacha Magazine The Chinuch Challenges of Our Generation alluded to it, and it was addressed in subsequent columns we published in Mishpacha and The Jewish Press over the past few years: Exit Interviews, All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go, Running Out Of Time (see the many links there). We also wrote Risk Factors for At-Risk Teens to inform parents of the leading risk factors for kids/adults abandoning religion from our vantage point.

We hope you find this content educational and helpful.

More Information Please

By Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum

After granting us permission to reprint this article on Beyond BT, Rabbi Rosenblum wished to add the following notes:

I’m highly skeptical that ba’alei teshuva kids constitute anything like a majority. I think Kiryat Sefer is a special case. Lakewood and Gateshead have lots of drop-outs and few BTs.

My criticism of the kiruv is mostly centered on Eretz Yisrael, and not on America.

I recently had an opportunity to speak at length with someone who has a broad familiarity with most of the institutions created in Israel to deal with chareidi kids who are outside of any regular educational format. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned a recent column, in which I noted that the dropout phenomenon is even more severe in all chareidi communities than in mixed communities.

The explanation of everyone to whom I spoke, including two major talmidei chachamim, was that such communities generate a degree of social pressure that proves unbearable for many youth, especially those who have their own “issues.”

My conversation partner, however, offered a very different explanation. In his opinion, it is the higher percentage of ba’alei teshuva drawn to the all chareidi cities that explains the differential. He claimed that at least 70% of the drop-outs in one such community are children of ba’alei teshuva.

If that is true (and that remains a big “if”), then we as a community should be asking some hard questions about the conduct of all our kiruv efforts. One immediate question would be: Is it better for ba’alei teshuva to move to all chareidi enclaves or would it be better for them to either join existing communities or form their own in the places they are already living?

The challenge of many of ba’alei teshuva who move to all chareidi enclaves is twofold. First, the parents often have little familiarity with the predominantly kollel society that they are entering, and therefore find it hard to guide their children. Second, many ba’alei teshuva already have children of various ages. It is profoundly disorienting for those children to find themselves suddenly thrust into a totally different society. Even children and teenagers who come from the frumest seminaries and yeshivos in America to live in Israel often struggle to adjust to very different standards in Israel. How much more so those who just a few months ago were living in non-religious homes.

The problems of children of ba’alei teshuva also suggest that there may be something askew about our current models of kiruv: Are we overemphasizing the numbers brought in through the door while devoting relatively little effort to guiding new ba’alei teshuva once they have taken their first steps in Yiddishkeit?

A major kiruv activist told me that many ba’alei teshuva harbor bitterness to those who were mekarev them in the first place, but who do not remain available to guide them in the latter stages of the process. They feel that they were the esrog upon which the person who was mekarev them performed the mitzvah of kiruv, and that once they were safely within the fold, those who were mekarev them were off again in search of new “mitzvos.” That may be a complete misperception, but it nonetheless generates feelings of anger.

(One of the beauties of the phone chavrusah program of Ayelet HaShachar, which has grown from 2,000 to 4,000 chavrusas in the last year alone, is that it is based on ongoing one-to-one relationships that intensify over years between the volunteer and the one seeking to learn more about his or her Judaism.)

THE TRUTH IS that we have relatively little hard empirical data about the drop-out phenomenon. Most of what we know is based on anecdotal experience from which we extrapolate wildly. Each person in the field comes at it from his own vantage point. Thus those who work in the area of learning disabilities tend to see learning disabilities as the primary cause for dropping-out. A child whose problems go unaddressed and experiences school as misery may feel embittered towards the society that imposed that misery upon him, and which offers him few hopes for the future other than more of the same.

Those who work with shalom bayis problems tend to see the absence of shalom bayis as the primary cause. And no doubt among the families that they work with there are many children who are floundering in the system. As the Torah tells us, when parents do not speak with one voice, then they are more likely to produce rebellious children.

Others will tell you that the problem is poverty, or, in America, affluence. Those who deal with sexual abuse see that as a major cause.

My own guess is that virtually everyone is right — to a degree. For one thing, many of these phenomenon overlap. Both great affluence and poverty, for instance, positively correlate to different sorts of shalom bayis problems. As Chazal say, “Arguments are not found in a man’s home, except as a consequence of [a lack of] grain” (Bava Metziah 59b).

Certainly no one explanation fits every case. There are families in which every child is thriving except one — sometimes that one suffered by virtue of being in a family of such successful siblings – and others with multiple children at-risk. There are drop-outs with learning disabilities, and those who breezed through their early years in yeshiva. There are those from homes of ba’alei teshuva, and children of prominent roshei yeshiva.

In short for every anecdote, it is possible to cite an opposite one. Yet it remains crucial to get some hard data, based on high quality research, to understand the interrelationship of different factors, and which ones are most prevalent.

Devising solutions depends on knowing the causes and their relative importance. If, for instance, poverty is a major cause of alienation from the Torah world, there is not much to be done in the short-run. But if, on the other hand, learning disabilities turn out to be a major factor, much can be done: early psychometric testing in school, training avreichim and counselors how to learn with children who often have way above average intelligence but suffer from some form of disability, pharmacological interventions.

A second stage of the research, then, would involve assessment of the long-term effectiveness of different intervention strategies. Yad Eliezer has thousands of avreichim learning with boys from single-parent homes. Rabbi Yaakov Rushnevsky has created a model in a number of neighborhoods of intense after school tutoring for boys who are floundering in large classroom situations, which involves constant interaction with the cheder rebbe as well. And there are many other such programs. Evaluation can make such worthy programs even more effective and help determine which models should be emulated.

The drop-out phenomenon is but one example of a general rule: good decisions require good information. That is true of our world as well.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on January 30 2008.

Why People Leave Torah Observance

Here are some different thoughts in the comments from this recent thread


1) It is easier to be secular than to be frum.

2) The values of outside society tend to contradict a lot of things found in Torah. Many Jews I know who became less religious/irreligious had problems with the prohibition on intermarriage, the distinctions between Jew and non-Jew in halacha, the different roles for men and women, the prohibition on gay relationships, etc. It can be hard raising kids as American Jews or Israeli Jews (for example) when Americans and Israelis tend to see Jewish law as backwards, restrictive, and even homophobic and racist.

3) General society tends not to be religious, and tends even to have negative views of religion and certainly negative views of a religion that requires adherents to eat, dress, and pray in a certain way. It can be hard to be religious when there’s a tendency around you to see religion as “the opiate of the masses” or some similar insulting thing.


I don’t think anything is more devastating to an idealistic, sensitive person — and sorry, but absolutely everyone who reads this blog, and certainly everyone who contributes to it, is in this category, whether they want to admit it or not! — than encountering people and institutions (which are just collections of people) who fail to live up to the ideals of Judaism insofar as how they treat others.

I believe each and every departure from “the derech” has this at its heart.

Everyone makes his own decisions in life. Everyone is responsible for his own soul, even if other Jews are “guarantors.” There’s plenty of rationalization in the air around all of us. And as has been said here many times and in many forms, it does not follow logically that Judaism (much less Hashem) should be judged by individual Jews and their actions.

But I believe at the heart of every social damnation, every purported halachic breaking point, every demand for the application of non-spiritual paradigms (e.g., science) to spiritual questions by those who say they can’t or won’t do it any more, is a series of inexcusable, unforgivable and callous actions or omissions by one or more orthodox Jews.

It could be in the old country. It could be in a yeshiva or seminary. It could be in the workplace, or a bus stop, or even online. But reading between the lines of the many, many Jews whose hearts now spill out their pixelated pain, it seems that the personal, spiritual roshem (mark, impression) of a Jew’s actions in this world can be at once the single most inspiring, or the single most devastating, phenomenon any other Jew can encounter.

And I really don’t know, in terms of the negative part of that equation, what we can do about that, except pile as much onto the positive part as we possibly can, and have faith in Hashem and ask for His guidance for all His people.


IMO, the kids at risk phenomenon will not abate unless we work on the three main factors outlined by Farak Margolese-dysfunctional families, schools that avoid or discourage inquiry into hashkafic questions and communities across the hashkafic spectrum that unfortunately embrace social conformity as opposed to genuine growth in Avodas HaShem.

Are More Jews Ceasing to Be Observant than Starting?

Let me state at the outset, I have not taken a survey. But lately there seem to be more and more books appearing on the shelves hinting at the enormity of the problem, sort of like the tip of the iceberg, to use an overworked cliché. The one that springs to mind is “Off the Derech,” by Faranak Margolese, but there are several others. Certainly, as the frum wife of a non-observant husband, I’ve noticed that there are many more books on the topic of going off the derech than there are for “mixed” Jewish couples like us.

As a former single mother, I’d venture a guess that one large slice of the off-the-derech population has got to be single women (who may or may not be moms) in my Baby Boomer age group who either cannot find a husband because of the unfavorable demographics, or don’t want to be married again because of bad experiences in a former marriage. (For just one example of a single woman who has been looking and looking, and who mentions the possibility of women in that situation going off the derech, see Season of Isolation.) With no “representation” in shul, a single woman is more likely to drop off the radar than any other segment of the population; I concentrate on this because I have been there, although I’m sure other segments have their issues (and I would like to hear from them in response to this article).

There is no doubt, observance is a hard road. I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is like to be FFB and go off the derech, because I am a second-time BT. I went off the derech once, then came back. So I can only speak for BTs who have gone off. If they are still off, then they probably don’t have the benefit of a supportive community like the one I have; and/or, they don’t have the benefits of being married, however atypical that is in my own case.

There is a norm in Judaism. It is the traditional family – husband, wife, and children. To the extent that an individual’s life differs from that norm, I believe that is the potential weak link in their connection to Jewish life. To differ from that norm, I believe, has as much potential for isolating the person as a physical handicap. Although B”H I have no firsthand knowledge of what it is to be physically handicapped, I can offer a snapshot anecdote: As a single mother, I was once asked if I wanted to be introduced to a man with one foot. Evidently the “handicaps” in each of us were deemed equivalent.

I recall a long time ago reading a book by a former BT who had gone back to his non-observant life; the two catalysts for his giving up his observant lifestyle seemed to be his appetite for non-kosher foods, and his attachment to a former non-Jewish girlfriend. There is no doubt that each of us has his or her “pull” to the past. And when the going gets tough, sometimes the less-tough get going…off the derech.

When I was becoming observant the first time, I read Herman Wouk’s lovely book “This Is My G-d,” and one thought this gifted writer used has stuck in my mind – that with all the restrictions of an observant life, it is a wonder there are any Orthodox people left. Certainly, when I look at a book on Judaism published in 1914 that is in my small collection of old books, all indications seemed at that time to be that Orthodoxy would disappear. Yet, as a river flowing uphill, it has come back and flourished.

But in our own BT world, it is easy to overlook the people who are leaving Orthodoxy. Maybe not enough Orthodox people are involved with kiruv, or not involved enough; that is a topic for another article. Or maybe we just want to shut our eyes to the problem, or deny that it even is a problem at all. Some of us are so starry-eyed at our own return, that we cannot comprehend that anyone would want to leave.

So why are people leaving? Is it the lifestyle restrictions? Is it the temptations of the larger society, beckoning that the “good life” means eating and dressing and engaging in everyday activities just like the Gentiles do? Is it singleness and devastating demographics?

I think that for each person, it is a different reason. Each individual has his or her own personal struggles, and some do not succeed in overcoming them. Some leave and then come back, as I did. I have had several rabbis quote to me the Possuk, “The Tzaddik falls seven times and gets up.” At any given point, we have no way of knowing what the future of an off-the-derech person will be.

But we can reach out, we can make a difference in the life of just one Jew, and then perhaps we will smooth their way back to Judaism. Who knows who Hashem’s Shaliach will be in the life of any Jew? We can only try to do our part, individually and as part of the communities to which we belong.

Originally published here on January 30, 2008