Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Kislev 5766 - December 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Pull of the Outside World

True Stories by Sara Gutfreund

Chana was born into an exemplary, frum family. Her father was a respected Rosh Yeshiva, and her mother was a fountain of chessed who always had her priorities straight. Chana was the eldest of six siblings, and she was a responsible, dedicated student. The children all thrived from the warmth and peace in their loving home, and they never noticed the sparse furnishings or the limited budget.

When Chana entered high school, she continued to excel academically and socially. But like any teenager, she entered a period of self-consciousness, and she sometimes felt insecure about herself. It was at this time that her father's family visited from California. Chana's uncle was a big businessman in America, but he had lost many of his religious ideals. He married a Modern Orthodox woman who didn't cover her hair, and their children attended co-ed day schools in LA. They believed that they could live in two worlds. They would keep Shabbos and keep kosher. But in all other ways, they would dress and act almost identically to the goyim.

Chana had never been exposed to such a perspective before, but she had an instant connection to her cousin Elizabeth during that visit. Elizabeth had all the latest toys and gadgets, and she seemed to enjoy a much more exciting life than Chana did. When the visit came to a close, Chana and Elizabeth decided to keep in touch. At first, Chana's parents were happy since they assumed that she would be an inspiring role model for her cousin. But then they began to notice small changes taking place in Chana's wardrobe.

It wasn't anything dramatic. It started as a different hairstyle with a showier clip and progressed to more alternative skirts. Her parents asked her to break off contact with Elizabeth. They could see from all the phone calls and the letters that Chana was heading in the wrong direction, but Chana tearfully refused. Elizabeth had become one of her closest friend, and she seemed to know so much more about the outside world than her narrow-minded family. Why close your eyes to everything? Chana reasoned with herself. And slowly, despite her mother's prayers and her father's repeated interventions, Chana began to leave the Torah-filled, protected world of her childhood.

After high school, she began to work in an office where most of the employees were secular, and slowly but surely, Chana felt herself pulled to the independent, glamorous lives of her co-workers. Unfortunately, Chana even went beyond falling into the Modern Orthodox way of life; she walked that slippery slope and lost everything, including Shabbos. Her parents were devastated, and her younger siblings were embarrassed. But Chana climbed the ladder in her company, and she began to make a great salary. She traveled the world for business meetings and bought designer clothing. Chana had her own deluxe apartment; she felt like she was free.

It took eight years until Chana became disillusioned with the world of an independent businesswoman. She finally began to see that the glitter only lay on the surface, and the emptiness of the secular world became clear. But how could she go back? At first Chana didn't return out of shame; she wasn't sure that her family would accept her again. Fortunately, her parents were ecstatic when they heard that she wanted to come home and welcomed her back with open arms.

On the day Chana moved back home, her parents felt like all of their prayers had been answered. They did eventually find Chana a shidduch, and Chana found her way back to Yiddishkeit. She doesn't blame Elizabeth for her straying, and she doesn't blame her parents either. But she has also learned to be gentle with herself as she realizes how vulnerable she was when Elizabeth first came to visit. Chana regrets the years of emptiness, as she struggles now to do the necessary teshuvah to transform her past for the good. But for now, she says: "I lost eight years of my life that can never be replaced."

* please note that many details of this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.