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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.