Parent-child Relationships in the Context of a Year of Study in a Post-High School Yeshiva Program in Israel

Dodi F. Tobin, Ph.D.

It is an accepted practice for modern Orthodox high school students to embark upon a full year of study in a yeshiva in Israel following graduation. This practice is supported by parents and high schools alike, who consider the experience as helping to cement the valuing of a Torah lifestyle at this critical stage in the students’ lives. Yet, in recent years, there appears to be some indications of a backlash, as one hears parents expressing fears of their children becoming too religious while in Israel, and faulting the yeshiva programs for it. In this paper, the author attempts to explain this phenomenon through the exploration of parent-child relationships vis-à-vis a year of study in a yeshiva in Israel.

Initially, the author reviews literature outlining normative behavior for this young-adult population. The review addresses the drive to separate and individuate, parental attachment and its effect upon student adjustment, parental and environmental influences upon students’ religiosity, and the psychological manifestations of a student who travels abroad. Based upon the literature reviewed, the author maintains that for developmental and cultural reasons alone, students attending post-high school yeshiva programs in Israel are bound to undergo religious changes. Further, the quality of the student’s familial relationships have an all-pervasive effect upon the students adjustment to the program and his/her ability to separate-individuate successfully.

Questionnaires addressing family relationships vis-à-vis the year in Israel were distributed to yeshiva program alumni as well as a small group of male and female students currently attending yeshivot in Israel. Personal interviews were conducted with American parents of alumni and of current yeshiva students, as well as with American high school guidance counselors, and educators and administrators in Israeli yeshiva programs.

The author presents the results of the questionnaire, clarifying the limitations of the data in terms of its generalizability. Results of the questionnaires indicated that all students became more religious by the end of the year, and a considerable number of students reported being more observant than their parents. Approximately one-third of the sample had experienced or expected their readjustment to home to be difficult, yet very few students expected their relationships with their parents to be worse after their year in Israel. Rather, a substantial number of students expected their relationships with their parents to improve, as a result of maturity, “Kibud Av Vaem” and appreciating their parents more. Over half the students had left Israel to visit their parents, and a majority of students enjoyed a visit from their parents. In general, the females in the study had more frequent contact with their parents throughout the year than the males did. While more males reported wishing to attend shana bet, a larger percentage of females felt their parents would be unsupportive of that wish.

In discussing the results, the author presents several psychological and social reasons why parents are uncomfortable with the increased observance in their children, and specifies “Shana Bet” as a major source of conflict between parents and children. The author discusses how to differentiate between authentic and rebellious religiosity, dependent upon the presence of core anger in the student’s verbalizations. The author concludes that the parent-child relationship influences all aspects of the student’s Israel experience. The more healthy the parent-child relationship, the more likely that the student’s religious growth will be based upon thoughtful consideration, and the more likely shana bet issues will be worked out to the satisfaction of both parent and child.

The author emphasizes that while many students expect to have adjustment difficulties upon return home as a result of becoming more religious, many do not attribute these difficulties to parental issues. On the contrary, many believe their relationships with their parents will improve. The author concludes with recommendations to ameliorate parent-child communication throughout the year and to ease the student’s return home. These suggestions include informative discussion sessions for parents provided by the high schools, and formal opportunities for parents to learn with their children while visiting Israel. Yeshivot are encouraged to focus more thoroughly upon teaching students how to relate to their parents, gratefully and respectfully, upon their return home. The author proposes areas for future research.

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