I’m writing this in response to the alarming open letter penned by “a caring yungerman” about the state of affairs or bochurim learning in Eretz Yisroel.
I learned in the Mir for 3 years, up until around 8 years ago. In my early days there, they still had their original open-door acceptance policy, but they were beginning to grapple with the inevitable destruction that smartphones would bring to this system.
I concur with the letter writer’s description of the reality for some boys to a certain degree, but not with his automatic ‘keep them at home’ prescription. Certainly, many boys will be exposed to certain realities and put into positions to make choices they otherwise would’ve been able to avoid in the artificially sanitized environment of their mesivtas/B”M. The point at issue is not about E”Y. It’s really about whether our boys – adults really – are ready to be trusted to make a life for themselves in line with their presumed values. In E”Y, the outer trappings of their frame of reference are stripped away, and they’re met with, at least to some limited extent, real life.
To unpack this, we need to explore what benefit, if any, spending a year in E”Y does for our boys. I think we can group the E”Y bochurim scene into four distinct experiences.
1) Many boys utilize their time in E”Y to create an independent identity for themselves, often for the first time. They’re discovering their inner beliefs and personal strengths, along with management techniques for their weaknesses. They’re practicing their avodas Hashem from an inner motivation and passion they hadn’t fully developed back at home when much of the expectation to perform was environment driven. Also included in this group are boys who might be learning slightly fewer hours, but their level of awareness and motivation is on an entirely higher plane. They’re firmly in the process of transforming from boys to men.
2) There are those who remain within the same framework and frame of reference they’ve had back home, i.e. the same group of friends who will hold them accountable to the same familiar guidelines and expectations they had back home. They keep the same schedule, shmooze about the same topics, and are driven by the same drives. Their development continues more or less upon the same trajectory as it had been back at home, with the modest advantage of having to expand themselves past their comfort zone in an unfamiliar environment and having to take on a bit more responsibility for things like their shachris schedule and housekeeping.
3) Once outside their familiar framework, much like the boys in group 1, this group looks inside to connect with their inner beliefs and motivations, but some may find that they are woefully disconnected and uninterested in “the program”, often a result of learning trauma or other traumatic experiences. Others in this category may find that they lack the fortitude to keep up with the incessant demands of their inner critic, even if they do feel connected on a fundamental level. Giving up becomes almost inevitable as they cannot remain positively motivated while beating themselves up. Sometimes this inner turmoil can lead them to dark places that continue to perpetuate their confusion and disillusionment. Even so, with siata dishmaya and proper guidance, many embark on a journey of healing and rediscovery that can take many years and look like a yeridah to the untrained eye, but is in fact a rebirth. I think we can all recognize that the difficult personal journeys of these boys are inevitable whether or not they travel to learn in E”Y. Upon examination, we can recognize the potential benefit to them if their E”Y experience succeeds in expediting their rediscovery process.
Moreover, the process of connecting to themselves and rediscovering their relationship to healthy yiddishkeit is often easier in E”Y, away from the monotonous, triggering environment that may have been preventing their self-reflection in the first place. The number of therapists in E”Y booked up with American bochurim coming to terms with an emotional or behavioral dysfunction is a lot higher than you may realize. Floating miserably under the radar the way they may have survived their teen years is simply not sustainable into adulthood, nor should it be seen as a desired course of action for them to continue to suppress their dysfunction and misery until they inevitably implode (or worse, take it out on family behind closed doors). To think, “if we’d only kept them close under lock and key they would have remained within the box” is foolish and shortsighted. The third group is in many ways a bumpier, more painful version of the first group’s inner discovery.
4) The fourth group is likewise a subgroup of the second. If we take a bochur whose performance relies heavily upon societal expectation and place him in a predicament where he either isn’t comfortably connected within a social group or finds himself in a social group whose standards differ significantly from the framework in his yeshiva of origin, his inner structure will be teetering on weak foundations and be in danger of caving in. He may feel out of sorts and therefore be more susceptible to external and internal risky invitations and suggestions. He may go out ay purchase a smartphone for himself if he’s isolated or if it’s socially acceptable in the company he keeps. These boys are at risk even if they don’t fit the description of the typical “at risk” prototype.
Those dipping their toes into this group also include boys who, driven by a need to be socially accepted and up to date with all lashon hara and hock, proactively seek out any leads they can find about whatever sensational forbidden fruit they might have overheard something about, unwittingly following their curiosity into risky business they should not have gotten involved with at all. In my three years in the Mir as a non-metzuyan staying in four different diras, I have vague recollections overhearing on very rare occasions about bochurim who unfortunately spent time with the wrong company and in the wrong places. For most boys in E”Y in my experience, inappropriate content is not inevitably in their faces as a legitimate nisayon, unless they’re spending time with the wrong guys on the fringe or are out seeking gossip and putting their minds into it.
These four groups are obviously fluid and overlap a lot. One’s experiences can presumably flow through two or more of these groups.
Now, if it were possible to keep our bochurim home in the same safe, familiar environment, how will we (or the bochur himself) be able to ascertain if he’s ready to thrive outside the yeshiva walls on his own terms? When will he develop his own true inner voice? Isn’t knowledge of oneself and an inner sense of direction a basic requirement for personal development and marriage eligibility? Should we risk it at our daughters’ expense?
On the other hand, If we send him off and he proves to have clearly not been ready to go out into the wider world where temptations exist, did we just invite misery to accompany him for the remainder of his life?
But truthfully, if we pause the panic for a moment and apply some thoughtful reflection, we can see that even many bochurim who are decidedly not doing well in E”Y may be taking home something of value, and their experiences too are part of Hashem’s plan.
They may find that they’ve learned valuable lessons about the effect certain temptations and/or environments have on their equilibrium, and they’ve brought home some (hopefully healthy) tools to avoid putting themselves into such predicaments. They’ve learned that for their personality, it’s crucial that they remain tethered to a community and maintain a strong social circle. They now know that they must dig deep inside themselves and create true inner motivation and passion for connection to Hashem. Perhaps, one day in their future, having learned their limits through the misery of some negative experience in E”Y, they’ll be able to avoid imploding under stress and bringing a family down along with them.
(To be clear, I don’t think we should therefore advocate intentional exposure to indecent realities at any stage of chinuch. Rather, the level of inevitable exposure our boys get in E”Y is pretty much a given anywhere in our world, and we can appreciate that as adults we cannot continue to control their environment with the same extreme sheltering that was necessary for their development up until adulthood. At age 20, It’s time to develop, even expect, a basic level of self-sufficiency.)
For those only dipping their toes into group 4 behaviors, it would seem by the letter writer’s own implication that a sizable segment within the group largely bounces back once some of the artificial environment is reintroduced. For those who fell deeper into risky behaviors, can we accept that they were likely more susceptible to these behaviors in the first place, and that in the near future, as they progress through adulthood and take leave of their bais medrash dorms, they would’ve found themselves outside of their societal cocoon, whether or not they spent time in E”Y? Wherever they choose to go at this stage, their environment will likely not be as controlled as before. It’s understood that our institutions are designed in a way where our young adults are given more and more personal autonomy as they progress through the system.
In no way do I intend to minimize the horror some boys go through when they fall into unhealthy addictions in a negative environment that they must now grapple with for years, decades, or a lifetime to come. The unfortunate truth though is that in most cases, they would probably develop these habits in another framework once outside the beautiful, but artificial, controlled environment of their mesivtas and B”M.
In short, In light of the great benefits learning in Eretz Yisroel provides our bochurim in groups 1-3, is it reasonable to prevent our young men at age 20 from being introduced to a relatively safe level of personal agency and exposure to reality (which they will inevitably be exposed to in the very near future) because some may not be strong enough to be self-sufficient, and a smaller minority of those will pick up negative habits which they would otherwise not be exposed to and would otherwise not adopt as they progress to the less controlled environments of the dating stage yeshivas?
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts.
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Wow, very well written and thought out, thanx for breaking it down so clearly, i agree to every word, its funny how i my self commented on the original letter basicly saying a quarter of what was written here, but much broader , wich most people probably took out of context,! But anyway I also came back from e”y around 8 years ago, but theres no way your that young. From uour letter it sound like a 45 year old therapist that has years of experience wrote it!
I like both letters.
I skipped the step of going to Israel, so I have nothing to add of my own.
It’s interesting to me to hear different viewpoints about it.
Very well said. A lot of food for thought in this letter.
Whether or not they chose to go, which I certainly don’t feel they should look at as a given, it is important that they go and return early so that they don’t continue to perpetuate a terrible situation for girls unable to find Shidduchim.
Seriously? you blame the bochurim? Do you realize that the so called age-gap theory has never been proven? Do you think most start shidduchim without guidance of a Rebbi?
No difference. Either the rebbe is wrong, or the bachurim are wrong. As are the parents, for they play god inthe process
Very important points. Thanks to the letter writer for so clearly fleshing out the issues facing bochurim and detailing who is most vulnerable and why. This is something that I have said for a long time now, that a boy (or girl) who is already struggling will more likely fall drastically while “learning” in E”Y instead of growing, *unless* they are in a very structured environment.
Lot of this is very true
You sound like you went to college .
Lost me there halfway down the middle of the letter. Next time keep the letter shorter and simpler for a humble audience .
As a bachur who just came back this past year I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of a fact my Rebbi in ey came over to me over the coarse of 2 years at end of every And and asked me what I feel like I gained. And the answer was always same. I might not have learned this man as much as I did in America but every shiur I went to was my choice every tefilla was my choice not as a result of social pressure or Rebbi’s.. and most importantly you learn how to deal with people more than being in a dorm. What do u do if a friend isn’t paying Dirah or isn’t cleaning his part…. Those are just 2 small examples of invaluable lessons..
Very well thought out and expressed. While I learned in EY more than 20 years ago, I was well aware that there were bochurim in my own dira who struggled w many “nisyoinois”, some failed and some passed. I will say that I found learning in the Mir in EY more rewarding than anywhere else I had learned previously and I was considered a very good boy who learned in the one of the top yeshivois. I believe the author would categorize me as a Group 1 individual. I’m cautiously optimistic that the majority of bochurim today would utilize the EY opportunity to seek out growth and improve themselves.
There are lots of good points in both letters. There’s one major difference that needs to be resolved between the boys in yeshiva and the girls in seminary. The reason there tends to be less issues with the girls is because they have 24/7 supervision, which comes with guidance. The boys in most of the yeshivos are free to roam on their own. While it’s important to find ones own place in life, as a frum yid it needs to be within the guidelines of Torah. That comes by having a rebbi to guide you in your journey as a yid. In a yeshiva that is that big, where the bachurim are ultimately responsible for themselves, it’s very easy to go astray. I’m not saying it’s a problem for everyone, however for far to many it’s a huge problem. The smaller yeshivos, which the yeshiva takes care of room, board and food, there’s less room to wonder.
those who go to Eretz Yisroel typically choose to stay in learning longer than those who don’t [that’s why Lakewood began to grow in the 60’s] so for those who go and learn it is a huge gain and for those who don’t go and early on go out to work they will unfortunately encounter those same airport experiences at work or in the office and all that without the spiritual fortification that Eretz Yisroel inculcates in our young and impressionable, so why skip this essential lesson especially for Americans who are anyways growing up in a country where everything goes?
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