DOREEN WACHMANN COLUMN
Never close door on kids who stray

LAST week's Jewish Telegraph featured an article, entitled Shock, horror as I step out of Orthodox world by Leah Vincent.

It was a first instalment of Leah's recently published memoir Cut me Loose - Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood.

Leah is a prominent member of Footsteps, which was set up more than 10 years ago to help ultra-Orthodox rebels successfully assimilate into the outside world.

Its annual membership has grown spectacularly, particularly among females breaking free from the shackles of ultra-Orthodox life.

Leah's story is typical. The fifth child of a Pittsburgh rabbinic family of 11 children, she was cut off from her yeshivish family when they discovered she had written to a modern Orthodox male friend asking how he could reconcile attending university, Zionism and his interests in secular hobbies like music with his Jewish beliefs.

The final straw with her family came when she bought what they considered an immodest sweater.

Afraid of Leah's potential bad influence on their other siblings, her parents cut her off at the age of 17 and dumped her alone in New York where she ended up becoming a suicidal prostitute before eventually turning her life around, graduating and marrying a former chassid with similar views to herself.

The phenomenon of youngsters going "Off the Derech" - leaving the strict norms of ultra-Orthodoxy - is not confined to New York, where Footsteps has most of its membership.

It is a worldwide phenomenon in all charedi communities and is very much alive and well in Manchester where a large group of youngsters from charedi backgrounds meet for not-so-charedi activities.

It makes perfect sense that when rules are too strict some kids are going to rebel, particularly in the modern world where, at a click of a button, all the lures of our decadent society are so easily available.

What matters crucially in situations like these is the attitude of their parents. Cutting off your child is the worst possible response. In days gone by when intermarriage first raised its hoary head, parents used to sit shiva and totally cut off children who had married out.

But closing the door after the horse had bolted did not in any way stem the tsunami of rampant intermarriage, which today is no longer such a massive issue per se because people in general society no longer wait to get married to live together.

Indeed it's ironic that today the people most rushing to get married are gays, which shows that if you stop people doing things they'll want to do them more.

But back to today's charedi "Off the Derech" youth. The best thing parents should do, however painful it may be, is to leave the door ever-open to their children.

Families, who maintain contact with their youngsters, however unconventional their dress and behaviour may be, usually find the best outcome as the young person sorts himself or herself out and decides for themselves what is the best balance for them between the religion of their birth and contemporary life.


Warning bells over Farage popularity

A NEW star is born. His name is Nigel Farage who soundly beat his pro-European rival in the TV debates.

It's TV which gets politicians like Tony Blair, Barack Obama and Nick Clegg himself elected nowadays. These three turned out to appear much better on TV than actually in their performance in government.

So don't underestimate Farage's election chances. It was the TV debate which led Clegg to have his share in government. On Farage's performance, UKIP could well overtake the Lib Dems as a kingmaker in a future coalition.

All the more so because a lot of what he says about the lack of EU democracy makes sense.

But beware. Farage is tapping into the same nationalist trend which has increased the power base of the Hungarian Jobbik party in this week's general election, the French Front National and other nationalist parties across Europe.

As European Jewish Congress president Dr Moshe Kantor warned on hearing the Hungarian election results: "The gains made by Jobbik, an unashamedly neo-Nazi political party, should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of Europe.

"Once again in Europe we are witnessing democracy being appropriated by those who are enemies of democracy."

Farage has shown no signs of being antisemitic, but that is not to say that others who follow him in UKIP will not be.

Beware!

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