Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Shavivs - pere et filles - "Off the derech"!

Well, before everyone says "We knew that a long time ago" or "Any idiot can see that by reading Bloghead for a day or so" -- what I mean is that both of us are quoted in the book "Off the Derech" by Faranak Margolese.

[Derekh = the path, or the 'straight and narrow'. 'Off the Derech" is colloquial Jewish-speak for kids who abandon Jewish observance.]

Well-known blog-denizen Steve Brizel emailed me that I was quoted in the book. After a few days' delay I found a copy ( it has sold out in several shops in Toronto). I am quoted on p. 301 (about the 'pressure to conform' as being a major point of conflict - not even sure where I wrote it), and a feature that Miriam wrote for the 'Jerusalem Post' in 2002 about girls at risk in Jerusalem is quoted on page 297-8.

So - the book itself. I thought it was good. It is not great literature, but it is very informative. It is midway between an anecdotal and an academic study, but it seems to me to to touch on many very clear and perceptive points. There is a mountain of illuminating material - interviews, anecdotes, communications, surveys. It has been criticised for being somewhat rambling (true - it could have done with much more rigorous editing) and not being methodologically up to standard (unfair - the author is very clear about her research, which was extensive, and the book does not claim to be a sociological study). My only grouse is that there is no index.

From my own experience, I thought that many of her conclusions were absolutely correct, and I think that anyone in education, the rabbinate or other community work should read it. Someone should send a few copies to the Gedolim. As she herself points out, it is unlikely to be read by some of the characters who come off worst in the book, because they are from the sector who make it a point of pride not to read books - at least, this sort of book. The other large category of people who could read it are parents - but I guess that most parents will not read it until it is too late.

Among the substantiated findings are:

  • Most people are 'pushed out' of the observant community by the insensitivity of others, rather than 'pulled in' by the glamour of the outside world
  • For the majority, the decisive factors are emotional, not philosophical
  • Insistence on total conformity in every sphere of life, rigidity, intolerance of others (within and without the Jewish community) and unwillingness to understand the individual are major causes of alienation.

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