One of the greatest fears of the religious public is the fear of leaving religion. Neither the Iranian nuclear program nor the economic recession can create such terror as the phenomenon of "ex religious" that is becoming ever so prominent in this society.
It's true, after whitewashing the terminology we no longer call those who chose a change "heretics" or "seculars," God forbid; they are now called "ex religious." Can you imagine calling a woman who used to be overweight and lost a lot of weight, "ex fat"? The name reflects the difficulty religious society has with dealing with this situation, and with admitting that a kid who has abandoned religion is a true, happy secular, present tense.
Religious society contemplates the question of "why" - why do they become secular? The automatic answer is education. The education isn’t good enough, not strict enough. Most people believe that strictness will save their children from looking for answers elsewhere.
I think there's another way of looking at this. It is a well-established fact that from an early age, we need positive reinforcement, warmth and love. We need to be told we're doing great. At a young age this goes without saying. The parents, and at kindergarten and school everyone makes an effort to encourage us and give us a feeling of success and self-worth.
For those of us born to an observant family, another wonderful aspect is added. As young children Judaism induces warmth, and observing many mitzvoth gives a great feeling.
The religious child feels at home with Judaism. Religion is imbued with songs, dances and family rituals. Observing the mitzvoth provides another aspect of life through which our kids win compliment and prizes. It's rare to find a four-year-old who doesn't like being religious. And still we cannot argue with statistics that say 20% of these kids grow up to become former-religious.
What about those who don't fit in?
When one looks at this process it's easy to see that the change in the approach to religion goes hand in hand with the youth's rebellion. When the children grow up, the educational tendency is to add more and more prohibitions and restrictions. The amount of positive feedback drops, while bans and limitations abound.
For some, this style works and they grow stronger and thrive in their worship of God.
But what about those who don't fit in? Those for whom spirit is as important as content, if not more so? Yes, there are religious pacifists who want to be religious without having to join God's army and serve 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They love God dearly, but interpret this love differently. They wander the system in search of someone to tell them that that's okay: different, but beautiful.
In most cases they will find out that the system isn't tolerant. There's only one truth, and their truth isn't it. Attempting to fall in line with the system creates distance between actions and what's in their heart. And the hearts don't always follow the actions. In some cases the distance becomes social alienation and ends up in complete abandonment.
And so, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the desire to safeguard the youths leads to desertion on the one hand, and to mitzvoth observing "workaholics" on the other. It should be kept in mind that not everybody can get accustomed to this mitzvoth race. In this process the good word has been replaced by the motivating word. And some of us have been motivated to go someplace else, quieter, more accepting. A place where one can, and is allowed, to feel good.
Those in charge of the religious education system should address this problem and find a solution for this phenomenon within the schools. They should provide real Torah education – one that not only says the Torah has 70 faces, but only accepts the face it sees in the mirror, but education that embraces the other 69 faces as well.
Education that understands that the disputes from the Gemara, in their modern-day version, are here and that we are obligated to hold a genuine, non-judgmental dialogue in order to keep the thing that is most precious to us – our kids, at home.
Rachel Yurovitz is a member of the Realistic Religious Zionism movement