by Aryeh Levine
I’m tired of seeing rabbis bemoaning the existence of OTD kids as “the loss of so many children.” I just want to grab them by the shoulders, look them in the eye, and say:
We are not lost.
We are still here.
We lost you.
Before we ever had you, we lost you.
We lost you to a book, you lost us to every other book.
We lost you to war for one country, you lost us to every other island and continent.
We lost you to ignorance, you lost us to the sum total of the remainder of human knowledge.
You mourn yourselves as victims of genocide, but are unperturbed when your own holy book gloats over your own purported genocide of the seven nations of Canaan, and you pray for a day when you will do the same to Amalek.
You mourn the loss of connection to your Father in heaven when fathers among you have abandoned their own children.
You pray for the return of a temple where the blind, ugly, and disabled cannot serve.
We left, but we are not lost.
The frum community is watching its own turn their backs on Judaism, often at the cost of the love of their family and friends, and has erected a ludicrous straw man in the place of a giant with glowing eyes. I am here to tell you that we are not broken, not the way you say we are and that we have plans to set the straw on fire, to dance around the burning man with our heads thrown back in laughter.
I have met my fair share of “the Lost Ones,” and I am here to say these are the very best our inbred shtetl gene pool has supplied. Often we are the first in our family lines with the courage and wisdom to stop running from our collective traumas into fantasies about animal sacrifices and high courts making everything all right. We are turning around to look our demons in the eye and embrace them. We know that life is not a test, it’s a game; and your rules, frankly, are cramping our style.
We do not need your saving. We have saved ourselves. Sometimes, it took you breaking us for us to see that we needed to. Many of us have been raped and molested, many beaten, many humiliated, and almost all were emotionally abused. We bore all of that and still had the strength and courage to leave. You have no idea how much mental fortitude and clarity that takes. Your giant dream-crushing educational system is a misshapen mold that filters out the strongest among us, not the weakest.
The people in this community of “broken souls” are some of the strongest, most compassionate, wisest people I have ever encountered. We are a group that has self-selected for independent thinkers, for skilled artists, for the highly sensitive, most deeply compassionate among us. We often leave because we are so deeply disturbed not by our own suffering, but by the suffering of others. We are so morally horrified by your treatment of those whose sexual orientations are deemed an “abomination,” of the learning disabled, and of the used and abused among you, that some of us left for that reason alone.
We are not leaving because we are broken. We are leaving because you are.
That you dare speak as if you have the moral high ground here is so deeply ironic and ludicrous that it thins the line between laughing and screaming. Don’t look to the Torah for how to deal with us. This isn’t a halachic shaaleh. This is a human question: The Torah or your child?
The answer, in the typical cyclical thinking preferred by fundamentalists, is to be found in one of the first bible stories we are taught in middle school: the binding of Isaac. God asks Avraham to murder his own son. Our beloved patriarch lies to his son and ties him atop an altar until God, like a cruel, abusive boyfriend, stops him at the last second, saying it was only a test.
Ever since you’ve been ready to sacrifice us to win the favor of a God who calls himself a “man of war” and a “jealous God.” And when we tear off the ropes and escape, you excommunicate and shame us, and portray us as lustful, diseased, broken pity cases. You show God you love him more than you love your children, and we get the message.
But we are not you.
We are the best generation yet, because, you see, it doesn’t work the way you taught us. The best of humanity is not behind us, it’s ahead. We will be the first in our genetic lines to stop the cycle of abuse that made you the tragedy that you are: abandoning your children for fantasies. We will raise our children honestly and let them teach us, the way we are teaching you now, that there is another, more compassionate way to spend our time on this tiny marble hurtling through infinity. We will face the facts of life and death as honestly and fearlessly as we faced you, and trust me, you were good practice.
Stop trying to save us. We’ve saved ourselves.