This is going to be a long post…but don’t let that turn you off! I actually wrote this a long time ago and just hadn’t posted it yet. I wrote it on 10/8/08.
My first experience with an off the derech person was with a girl. She had been my classmate till second grade, at that time she was a sweet nice girl. I don’t remember much of her since I was very young. Fast forward 10 years and I see her profile on myspace. I knew she had left my school but I never knew what came out of her till then. I saw she had been switched to public school and was attending the same college as me. I communicated a bit with her online, she had remembered me and asked what’s doing with everyone else from the class. I caught her up with whose engaged and married. I never figured I would see her again in real life.
Then one day as I was walking to the city bus stop by college, I recognized her eating in a treif store. I wasn’t going to go in the store to say hello to her. Then a couple of days later I actually meet her, I recognize her again, so I stop her and ask her if she is “so and so”, she says yes, then she realizes who I must be, and we did some talking. She is now majoring in either music or acting, one of the entertainment kind of majors. I realize she is totally off the derech, but yet since I barely remember her when she was younger I am able to accept the new her. She is still nice and everything, just with a different life style. I don’t feel close enough with her to invade in her privacy and ask her why she went off. Although my thinking is that she was never really on. She is Russian, so perhaps her family hadn’t been so religious and they just chose my school in the beginning because they felt they owed her some type of Jewish education.
My next encounter with an off the derech person was with a boy. Here it was very different. Here he was a neighbor and a couple of years younger than me. He was a good friend of my brothers for a while. They both had blond hair and were of the same height so everyone would comment how they look so much alike. The boy’s family was a bit mixed, again a Russian family, his parents were never so religious but they did keep Shabbos and Kosher. His parents got divorced and his step father is much more religious, so he would bring the boy to shul and made sure he davened. But yet the mother didn’t cover her hair so mixed messages were being sent. But overall he was a good boy. I can picture him as a cute 13 year old boy.
Then one day I don’t know what happened but all of a sudden I see him grow his hair and dye it black. He also started smoking and listening to heavy metal. It made me look at him in a new way, he became different, scary and creepy to me. At first I thought perhaps he is still the same person. When I would see him, I would wave and say hello, but I would get no response, it’s as if he doesn’t know who I am. One day as I was walking on my block, I turned a corner which is near some bushes then all of a sudden he jumps out from behind the bush and tries to scare me. I still thought of him as his old self, so I laughed and said “very funny”. But he didn’t respond back, he made no acknowledgement that he knew who I was, with his hood hiding his face. I had joined facebook and while searching for people I might know, I found him. I added him as a friend and messaged him asking what’s up with that trick/scare he did on me, but he never replied back.
So I admitted that he must of changed and became different, so I then regarded him as a creepy person who is unfriendly. Then recently I saw he uploaded pictures on facebook and I saw a picture of him hugging and kissing a girl. I couldn’t understand how someone could actually let him touch them. Then I saw his status said that he loves the girl who was tagged in the picture with him. This shocked me further, that he is actually capable of love.
So you see with this second person my attitude was totally different. I saw it as so sad that he changed from that cute boy I pictured to the scary looking teen he is now. He had a change of personality in addition to his going off the derech. My next two encounters were similar with the second one, just a bit different.
The next two boys are brothers, their father had died a couple of years back and I guess they didn’t get much guidance and they had grief in them. I’m not one to judge. These two didn’t go off the derech completely, they still keep mitzvos I think, but they changed their personality. Both grew their hair long which made me question if this is a sign of rebellion and anger, and a sign that they are going off the derech.
What made me think about this all is that on Rosh Hashonah as my family was walking to Tashlich, I noticed that the younger of the two brothers I just mentioned before, had grown his hair long and was wearing a black t-shirt and a magen david necklace. His face didn’t look right, it gave me that creepy feeling that something must be bothering him. It got me sad to picture him turning out like that other boy. I felt bad for the pain he must be going through. He had just been seen at shul a few days prior to Rosh Hashonah so it was a big shock to see him that way. He had been with some other boys from shul who are frum good boys so at least he was still hanging out with good friends. But when asked if he went to Tashlich he pointed to the Tehillim my brother was holding and said “I would throw that into the water” so there was something troubling him about being Jewish. Then on Yom Kippur I saw him with the other boy and they were both purposefully eating food in front of everyone.