What Jews Can Learn from Rumspringa

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I’m not a big re-blogger — if I think an article’s good, I’ll just tell you to go there. But the latest post on The Sensible Jew really hit home for me. From the first sentences of the post, my eyebrows shot up and stayed that way. “The Amish are best known for their ascetic lifestyle and their shunning of modern technology,” writes the eponymous blogger. “Less well known is their mechanism for retaining their young folk.”

The first Hasidic community I lived in, I was taken in by the bad kids. They were the stuff of stories, the kids who smoke on Shabbos and traffick in the secular world like it was illicit drugs. There are a lot of these kids in Hasidic communities who are wriggling out of the faith, either from a religious or a social perspective. Some of them move to other areas and distance themselves. Others stay right where they are, and rarely leave the house, either carrying on a double life or maintaining an indifferent one.

Rumspringa — as Amish teens could tell you better than I could — is the time between a person’s 16th birthday and the time they choose to devote themselves to living properly Amish and getting married.

amish on rumspringa“There is something familiar about all this,” notes the Sensible Jew, going on to discuss ways that this manifests in Orthodox communities. But the article’s real value comes when the Jew describes how we as a community have done a horrid job in addressing the issues, preferring instead to sweep it under the carpet: “There is nothing quite like isolation for intensifying and exacerbating an already difficult situation,” it says. “And there is nothing like shame to motivate the secrecy necessary for such isolation.”

Most importantly, the article isn’t a simple denouncement of the way we are. Rather, it’s a call to arms about the way we could be — since such a high percentage of Amish teens return to the fold after Rumspringa, and disillusioned Jewish kids, it seems, are just turning into Jewish adults. The entry — okay, you really should just read the rest of it — is a battle plan: addressing the problems in our community, dealing with them, and figuring out what, yes, we can learn from the Amish.

Posted on October 28, 2009

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