I recently noticed a list serve group with a description similar to the one below. (Changes in wording were made to protect their privacy. If any of the organizers of the list serve want further changes or corrections then contact me by email.)
A Support Group for Former “Day School Q” Students Who Lead Alternative Lives:
Did you go to Orthodox “Day School Q”? But are you also, say, gay, a cross dresser, a sex worker, a heretic? Are you married to a gentile? Did you marry a gentile of the same sex? Have you written for porno magazines? Do you refer to yourself as Conservative and have the courage to think for yourself? Would the principal Rabbi Q be ashamed of you? Yes, Great! Then come join us!
(If you’re completely religious, married with kids, spent a Israel before college and still study Talmud to this day, basically the ideal product of day school, but are friends with all us apikorsim, then you are also welcome.
The school is a flagship Modern Orthodox day school and this online list serve group is predominately for the graduate of the 1990’s, those who finished college as gen y millennials. Currently they have either just reached or are in their early thirties. “They have a solid plurality of former students who share their experiences about identity and are beginning to reflect on each other’s journeys. One member of the group has indicated to me that there is a large diversity among the members in their level of observance within or outside of Orthodoxy, in the types of families that they have created, and in their political and philosophical views. Their intermarriage rate (including those that converted to Judaism for the marriage) is not yet known since many are still happily single. (In the 2000 NJPS study, day school graduates had a 7% rate).”
I must note that these same classes produced a higher than average number of Jewish educators- several years in Israel, YU through smicha, and then rebbe in day school. What they called the day school ideal.
I asked one of the members of the group whom I am friendly with to try to explain or to account for—why your era/years produced so many interesting souls – unconventional and not in the ordinary box. I received the following response. (slightly edited)
I think that there is something particular about my period since many of us are the last offspring of the baby boom generation (the end of the 1950s Middle Class American Dream); we lived in the time of post-USSR Jewish immigration to the U.S. in the 1990s and with that the beginning of a new capitalized and globalized world post-cold war; and maybe we had more social class diversity because there were more scholarships at the time (this is a guess). In any case, it made up a somewhat alternative group within a homogenous community.
Also, I think there is also something to the crisis of postmodernity playing out in the 1990s that added on other interesting factors that made people clash with traditional institutions in a way that was more vibrant and also destructive.
People in their late 20s and 30s are now coming out more in NY, Baltimore and all over about abuse from Orthodox yeshivas. This is also happening in the Catholic world, and I don’t think that it is a coincidence. Whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional, young adults around the world are speaking out. I think that many of us realize that the old model of family/shul/community needs to be reinvented.
There were few people who saw that a transition period was coming up for Modern Orthodoxy and with that a big identity crisis for all of us. I guess that our generation happened to come into adulthood just as these old definitions were dying out, or at least I would hope so.
I am ready for a new cycle in the world since the last period has been so destructive. Sadly I don’t think that things are getting better. We just need to find some sort of space for taking care of one another and hold out the storm. Maybe many of us know what we don’t want and are finding that there isn’t a space yet for what we would like to see in the world. Some people believe that it can be created; I am pretty skeptical but am at least enjoying the diversity that’s coming to the surface in all of our stories.
This is a group of the best and brightest. Some of the goof-off’s who hated studying Torah are the ones who remained Orthodox. It is not those who needed to be exposed to correct doctrine or practice, since it includes offspring from Gemara teachers, the rabbim. Their parents were not especially lax or cynical.
Notice that according to this member’s explanation, Orthodox was not an emotionally safe place. (I know for others then and now, religion is a safe refuge from the outside.) They felt it as unsafe. They already sensed that the old was dying 15 years go. Student’s identity is formed by the end of high school, so don’t blame it on college. The problem is not modern Orthodoxy since if needed; I can produce a similar overview of a Yeshivish school. Their principal has been complaining for decades about the twin “corrosive influences” of thinking for oneself and eating dairy without kashrut supervision.” That is probably not the cause.
Here is a thought experiment for the Jewish educators out there. Picture your class of 25 students. If it has a similar demography of this class, then picture 1 of the 25 as gay or lesbian, 2 of them as marrying non-Jews (who may or may not convert), 5 of them giving up Judaism entirely and 5 of them leaving Orthodoxy for another denomination. Assume that these may be your best and brightest. Would this change what you teach? Would it change how you relate to your students? If you were a principal would it change who you hired? There are no easy answers because you may also have in the same classroom a significant number of students for whom the very definition of their religion and commitment to Orthodoxy is moral certitude, absolute values and rejection of the relativism of the outside world. (For more on this group- see my post on Christian Rock and kiruv) I cannot comment on the students currently in high school who will be “gen z” obsessed with texting. Time will tell if they follow those who are half a generation older than them.
Any official organization want to start doing long term studies of day school graduates for variables besides assimilation? If so, contact me offline. Don’t be concerned with which school this is describing. My point is not to castigate the school or the graduates.
Most educators and those reading this, myself included, are within the religious parameters and cannot see the outside perspective of those who left. When you leave comments know that this is about real people, so of whom will be reading this. Know that you may have little insight into the other side other than this 400 word email.