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Shepherding Values

Tzuriel was 16 and attended an elite national-religious yeshiva high school. His extended family had been involved with the yeshiva for decades, and his brothers and male cousins were all graduates, enrolled, or planning to attend. However, Tzuriel himself never felt comfortable at the yeshiva. He wasn’t a natural scholar, much preferring to be outdoors, hiking, and tending to animals than to be in a classroom with piles of books. Even though the yeshiva was known for its top-level learning, Tzuriel wasn’t the only boy who didn’t shine. He found other kindred spirits in his grade, boys who rebelled against the yeshiva culture and broke the rules. They were a negative influence on each other; when one started smoking marijuana, the others all quickly joined in. One time during a yeshiva vacation the boys arranged to go away together for their own private ‘Shabbaton.’ There and then they each dared each other to break Shabbat. From that day onwards, Tzuriel decided that orthodox Judaism was not for him.

Tzuriel’s parents knew that their son wasn’t content at the yeshiva. But they wanted him to stay there anyway as he only had two more years left before graduation. Tzuriel wasn’t happy about this and took matters into his own hands. He started regularly disappearing for days at a time. He was spending his time volunteering as an assistant shepherd in an isolated rural habitat run by young people. He said that he didn’t need qualifications to be a shepherd, and the lifestyle suited him perfectly. When he returned home, it was without a kippah. Seeing this, Tzuriel’s younger brother Elad, who idolized him, immediately removed his own kippah. That was a red line for Tzuriel’s parents, and they started to try and crack down. But Tzuriel responded aggressively, saying that if his parents wanted him to stay at home, they had to take him as he was. If not, he would happily take a tent and a sleeping bag and go live with the sheep full time.

Tzuriel’s parents felt like they were at an impasse. They were passionate about their religious beliefs and felt completely betrayed by their son’s rejection of their values. It only strengthened their sense of responsibility for their younger, very impressionable children and their determination to maintain the strictest religious standards in the home. But they were also frightened for Tzuriel. They didn’t mind his love for the sheep, but they worried about the other people who also gravitated towards this micro-community. It had a reputation for attracting drop-out youngsters who took a lot of drugs. They didn’t want to drive Tzuriel away, but they also didn’t want to lose their authority as parents. Not knowing what else to do, they turned to Kav L’Noar.

Kav L’Noar offered Tzuriel the chance to connect with either a therapist or a mentor- but Tzuriel refused. He said that there was nothing wrong with him, he was just forging a different path from his family. Instead, Tzuriel’s parents came for therapy by themselves, with the goal of finding a way to keep their connection with their son without having to sacrifice everything else that mattered to them.

It was hard for the parents to accept that they had to adjust their attitude at all. For them, things were clearly either allowed or prohibited, right or wrong- and they weren’t used to opening up what they saw as black and white rules for discussion. The therapist helped them see how truly listening to their son and trying to understand his perspective didn’t mean having to agree with him or compromise their own standards. She encouraged them to keep on showing Tzuriel how much they loved, valued, and respected him while also communicating honestly what they most wanted and needed from him. By creating an atmosphere of mutual respect, they made space for problem-solving as a family without the defensiveness that had shut down previous discussions.

As a result, Tzuriel agreed that while he was in the home, he would wear a kippah and observe Shabbat and Kashrut in all the communal spaces. Meanwhile, his parents painfully accepted that this wasn’t just a teenage phase, that Tzuriel could leave his yeshiva, and that he was truly committed to leading an independent life bound by very different values from their own.

Nobody got exactly what they wanted. Tzuriel’s parents went through a grieving process for the loss of the future they’d expected their son to have- and had to reconcile themselves to the prospect of grandchildren down the line who would be raised in a completely different culture. Tzuriel had to accept his parents' disappointment with his carefully thought through choices as well as the uncomfortable feeling of ‘faking it’ when around his younger siblings. And yet, Tzuriel’s relationship with his parents remained strong and loving, and today, when he comes to visit from his new home in a secular agricultural community, he is welcomed with joy and appreciation by the whole family.

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