THIS NORMAL LIFE: What ‘datlashim’ want: ‘children just like us’

Being formerly religious is, by definition, a one-generation phenomenon. To be formerly formerly religious would, in fact, involve becoming religious again.

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March 29, 2018 18:40
ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTO: a woman lights candles on the eve of Shabbat

ILLUSTRATIVE PHOTO: a woman lights candles on the eve of Shabbat. (photo credit: REUTERS/DAN BALILTY)

There’s a dilemma among datlashim – the Hebrew acronym for formerly religious Jews – that Ellie Morris shared in a letter to the editor she wrote to The Jerusalem Post.

Morris was speaking with one of her children who told her that, “in a discussion he had with his datlash friends concerning how they wished to bring up their offspring, they all came to the same conclusion: They wanted their children to be like them – datlashim!” The dilemma, of course, is that being formerly religious is, by definition, a one-generation phenomenon. To be formerly formerly religious would, in fact, involve becoming religious again.

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But it’s a question that deserves to be taken seriously. If, as I cited in my column “Datlash 2.0 – The Elephant in the Room” (January 5), only 46% of those in the National Religious public who in 2002 defined themselves as religious still see themselves that way 10 years later – and yet those datlashim yearn for their children to be datlashim, too – how then can the concept of “datlashiyut” be sustained?

I decided to ask a datlash.

I MET Eliraz a few weeks ago at a hi-tech event where I’d been invited to speak. The 26-year-old Shalem College student was more than happy to describe what made her move away from the religious traditions she grew up with.

“My family kept Shabbat and kashrut at home,” Eliraz explained, “but my parents were very chill about everything. At school, though, there were all these rules. You had to have a shirt that covered your elbows. You couldn’t wear red. We always washed our hands before eating bread. At home, I could wear jeans and a tank top. While we washed before a meal, it was really just on Shabbat. So I developed this idea that there were two sets of rules – stricter school rules and more lenient home rules.”

Over time, Eliraz found this bifurcation suited her lifestyle. If it was too hot at her parents’ home on Shabbat and the air conditioner wasn’t on, she’d simply flip the switch. On Friday night, if she wanted to read, she’d turn on the light.

“I didn’t imagine anyone would get mad,” she continued, “since it was clear to me that there were two separate levels of laws.”

Eventually, Eliraz dropped both the school rules and the home rules entirely. Her parents were upset but not devastated. “My mother told me, ‘We raised our kids to ask questions and have critical views. So we can’t blame you for reaching your own conclusions.’”

Eliraz doesn’t want to throw it all away, though. When she has children, she said, “I want them to be able to go to my parents’ house for Shabbat and sing 'Shalom Aleichem.' I want them to know what the traditions are.”

And yet, as a datlash, Eliraz isn’t planning to teach her kids about observance at home. So how’s this going to work? It Takes a Village is the title of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book about raising children in America. It’s applicable for datlashim, too. Extended families can and must play a crucial part in the overall education of the “next generation” of datlashim – as long as everyone can remain open.

Eliraz’s parents live in Efrat. After Eliraz moved to Jerusalem to attend university, she would want to visit on Shabbat – but not necessarily for the entire weekend. But how could she drive in and out? What would the observant community think? Eliraz’s parents had a conversation with Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. I contacted Riskin to find out what he said.

“Do your kids know that you love them and nothing would make you happier if they stayed for all of Shabbat?” Riskin asked.

“And do your children know that you have enough room and enough food for them to stay all of Shabbat? If so, even if they don’t wish to stay overnight, they should still come – however they come – so they can continue to experience the warmth, beauty and togetherness of Shabbat.”

Eliraz now regularly drives to her parents on Shabbat, as do many other datlash children. There’s even a WhatsApp group specifically for rides into and out of Efrat on the Sabbath, Eliraz revealed.

It holds for holidays, too. Eliraz will be with family as always for the Passover Seder on Friday night. She’ll drive there and back, she told me. “I love being part of it. I just don’t want to observe all of it.”

IS THIS going to solve the dilemma of preserving datlash values for the next generation? Hardly. First we’d have to define what exactly datlash values are, something upon which datlashim themselves scarcely agree.

But it’s a start. And maintaining transparent and nonjudgmental communication between parents, children and grandchildren is an important value of its own.

“When I ask kids who have rejected the lifestyle and religious approach of their parents what they want, they always tell me the same thing,” said Aryeh Ben David, who is the director of Ayeka, a Jerusalem-based Jewish education institute. “‘I want to be seen and heard as myself. I don’t want to be loved with an agenda.’”

“We all want our children to be like us to a certain extent, but also to be independent thinkers,” Ellie Morris wrote in her letter. “Yet we are not sure that, as Jews, with Jewish continuity in mind, we are truly free to make that choice.”

Yes, we are, Ellie. A datlash loved and accepted at home is going to be a healthier, happier, more integrated individual, regardless of any particular religious outlook.

Maybe that’s the true datlash value system. 

The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com


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