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Why kids who go to yeshiva in Israel “frum-out”

We have all seen it before, your next door neighbors kid, fresh off the boat from his year in Israel. The different yarmulke, maybe the longer tzitzis, that kissing of his hand after he shakes yours (maybe it’s an immunity thing), his harder more violent kavannah filled shuckeling and the talk of Hashem’s beauty and trying to convince everyone to move to Israel. Or what about the girls who back in skirts and throw all their pants, tank tops and secular music in the garbage without thinking twice.

For all of those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the “year in Israel” thing has been going on for sometime and this is the typical route for a wide rang of kids who grow up orthodox. Usually, after high school many Orthodox teenagers will take a year off before college to go “learn” in Israel. I put learn in quotes, because typically the first half of the year is spent partying, while the second half of the year is spent “flipping out”. Flipping Out was a term coined in the 90’s to describe the then new phenomena of kids going to Israel and flipping out by becoming super religious in a very short amount of time.

Baalei Teshuva typically go through the stage of flipping out as well, but for them it can be much worse because they typically don’t have much to go with. This is why you see people who can’t even read Hebrew shuckeling like maniacs while they daven in English or girls who throw out all of their “untznius” clothing. For orthodox kids it’s different because their parents are almost always less religious and scared of their kids becoming “frummies”.

Now I’m sure there have been a bunch of reasons for “flipping out” proposed, but I would say the chief reason is the Mob Theory. Not only is it expected that everyone will take a turn towards the frummer, but since everyone seems to be doing, it’s almost weird not to. It also may have to do with the fact that when American kids go to yeshiva or seminary they don’t come in contact with real Israelis and aren’t exposed to as much media and differing viewpoints as they may be exposed to in America. The yeshiva rabbis in Israel are mostly right wing and rarely are they “real” Israelis. Add to the fact that most of the kids going to yeshiva don’t have to live normal lives while there, most of the time their trips are paid for by family and they live in the yeshiva. They don’t have to earn a living and interact with normal non-religious Israelis much, this means they don’t really live in the place.

If you talk to a few kids who went to yeshiva in Israel, they will almost always express thoughts about living on a settlement, making aliyah or joining the army. Once back in America these same kids will express their doubts about those thoughts. Heck, I even thought about joining the army because I had nothing better to do with my life and of course Israeli girls with guns are hot.

Most kids who flip out come back down during the summer and only if they return for a second or third year do they actually remain at the levels they attained during ther first year. BT’s are the same. Although I have noticed that most people who flip out in Israel, also become very right wing politically, sometimes downright militant.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Mike January 23, 2012, 1:51 PM
  • Rafi Hecht January 23, 2012, 1:58 PM

    While I personally did not go for a year to “learn” in Israel (rather, going straight to college), I can definitely relate as someone who went to the Lander College for Men/Beis Medrash L’Talmud where most students came after a year or two in Israel. Seeing their intensity and being around them most of the time prompted me to do things like wear my Tzitzis out, use a Kli Shlishi for coffee on Shabbos, etc. Man, those were crazy times. I certainly attribute the changes I made to the “mob” mentality. Overall, a well-put article that needed to “get out.”

  • Michael K January 23, 2012, 2:03 PM

    I made a brief trip back home for a wedding during my year in Israel. While home, I went to see my girlfriend (who didn’t go to Israel). When I saw about to eat a bagel, I asked her “Aren’t you going to wash for that?”

    The dirty look I got prevented any further flipping out on my part.

  • OfftheDwannaB January 23, 2012, 2:05 PM

    The most awkward part is the unflipping process. Picking up girls again with their tzitizis out. I love being there for that. They should do a reality show on that.

  • Freedski January 23, 2012, 2:24 PM

    I went to Israel – to Jerusalem, specifically – nearly 3 years ago, when I was 24 and a college grad.
    When asked “Where do you learn,” I’d respond, “I’m on a course of professional development with (insert secular institute’s acronym here), studying the Israeli nonprofit system. And taking ulpan.”

    While there, I spent the first 3 months studying HARD, and then 3 months partying: drinking beer, flirting with arsim, staying out all night with my drunk girlfriends, and camping on the beach at the yam hamelach.

    Then I came back to the States and flipped out. Or rather, am flipping out.

    I guess I’m backward.

    • Turd Degree January 23, 2012, 2:45 PM

      It’s called a ‘backflip.’

      • Freedski January 23, 2012, 2:48 PM

        Lol, thank you, TD. Can I quote you on that one?

  • anon January 23, 2012, 3:09 PM

    The truth is a lot of the flipping out inst real. Its just osmosis from being in the type of yeshivish environment of having long davenings and learning / hearing mussar all day. most yeshiva guys even if they are acting frum on the outside they are the exact same person as before they left and it only takes a couple of months to get back to normal. if you take a look around even as little as two or three years later very few kids from yeshiva are actually more religous than when they graduated high school.

  • Eytan Sean January 23, 2012, 4:10 PM

    Going to a club and making ‘brachia’ when u buy a girl a drink

    • Anonymous January 24, 2012, 10:17 AM

      There’s really nothing wrong with that

      • Alter Cocker March 29, 2012, 8:08 PM

        what does that even mean?

  • tesyaa January 23, 2012, 7:44 PM

    You know you’ve flipped out when you wonder why everyone else hasn’t flipped out.

  • A. Nuran January 23, 2012, 9:31 PM

    Our resident Sociologist, Abandoning Eden, can probably give you a complete analysis of the phenomenon. It’s not specifically Jewish.

  • anon January 24, 2012, 2:18 AM

    I went to Israel and became shtarker menarkers.
    Can I have my prize now please?

  • Tinok ShenishBeth January 24, 2012, 3:02 AM

    This isn’t strictly a frum problem – anyone who takes up a new interest or hobby goes a little crackers for a bit. I have a friend who discovered astrology about a year ago – every conversation revolves around me being a water sign or Jupiter being in retrograde.  Another friend is a newly-minted vegan and she has become utterly intolerable to speak to at all. Eventually, they will find a balance and become a lot less irksome (BS”D).

    Anyone remember The Badlees?  They had a great song about the sometimes annoying nature of ‘self-improvement’ called, “I Liked You Better When You Hated Yourself.”

    • Lex Luthor January 24, 2012, 11:51 AM

      True dat.

  • Kneidel Maidel January 24, 2012, 3:17 AM

    I went away to Israel for seminary against my better judgment. I nearly flipped out until the dreaded topic of being a kollel wife was brought up. Whatever aspirations and fantasies I had about being a good frum bais ya’akov girl vanished from then on.While seminary was overall a waste of time for me (I had good times there), being in Israel strengthened my desire to want to move there one day with all things considered. Retrospectively, I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate nor understand the spiritual aspects of Judaism. All I wanted to do was to shop, party, and fantasize about eloping with an Israeli soldier. As Heshy mentioned before, being in Yeshivah/Seminary (depending where you go to) is comparable to living in your own island isolated from civilization. I had to make my own interactions. I picked up a lot of Hebrew ostensibly. I had the opportunity to see more of the land as well. If I were ever granted a chance to do it all over again, I would have gone straight to college after high school and participate in these Torah learning programs in Israel during my semester breaks.Or I could have gone to Bar Ilan or Hebrew University instead. More people I know frummed out from going to these universities than they have in seminary. Look, each person to him/herself but I felt going away that year after high school was a big mistake for me. For some reason, a who girl didn’t spend a year in seminary is perceived to be less religious and not shidduch material where I lived sadly enough.Shadachnim tend to focus more on where she studied rather than on her virtues and qualities. I’m sure guys who didn’t go away for Yeshivah experience the same bias and discrimination. I went to seminary and it didn’t exactly increase my chances of getting a date either. I needed to live in reality before being wrapped in a cocoon for 10 months. I can’t comment about going to Yeshivah but I think going to seminary should be a privilege, not mandatory.

    • Synapse January 25, 2012, 3:29 PM

      From the guys side, I could generally care less where the girl was in Sem. It’s all the same thing with some hashkafic overlay. Every girl I’ve gone out I’ve asked them to talk a bit about their time in Sem, what they learned, what they did, etc. The answers are generally bland and empty, although with great enthusiasm. Some of these girls were great for other reasons, but the total value of sem can be summed up as “I had a great time, met a lot of people, we did lots of (or some) chesed and we studied mostly chumash/rash/meforshim.”

      Seminaries try to emulate the yeshiva experience in certain respects (guys are doing something so girls need to do something too!) but most sem rabbis (and some rebbetzins) object to any of the girls doing the serious kind of learning they have in Yeshivas so they essentially give them busy work “so they feel like they are learning,” but they’re not (as heard from more than one rabbi). There are sems that do that, but they’re few and far between (and often ostracized to top it off).

      So overall, the importance of Sem X is really just reduced to the “exclusive club label” provided by Sem X and all the networking that goes with that. The Shadchans “love” boxing people in, and whatever their perception of Sem X is how they’ll try to sell you. Didn’t go to seminary? Then they don’t know how to label you (because hashkafa alone isn’t enough).

      I don’t think guys go through the same discrimination because these shadchans have never been to yeshiva and don’t know what it’s like and if they guy isn’t into learning, who cares as long as he’s working? Obviously that won’t work in some communities, (or if the girl has been brainwashed into wanting a learner) but this is all from an MO perspective.

  • Edible Parsha January 24, 2012, 6:27 AM

    I guess this confirms the thinking of rabbis who advise the seriously observant not to date girls if they’ve been back from seminary for less than six months.

    • Alter Cocker March 29, 2012, 9:28 PM

      I heard this myself from someone who married someone soon out of seminary. He said his wife was a good girl, but they need time to recover from seminary and lose some of the extremism.

  • AztecQueen2000 January 24, 2012, 12:26 PM

    Flipping out must be restricted to the wealthy. My rav in San Diego wanted to send me to Neve’s summer program. Unfortunately, my money had other plans (like rent and food). I couldn’t afford tuition and airfare on my meager salary. And my mom wouldn’t pony up that kind of cash.

    • Synapse January 25, 2012, 3:15 PM

      You can get by on little cash if you know how. BT type institutions generally give a lot of breaks/scholarships to students to cover their tuition and long term loans (as in pay back when you’re able to but we can’t really hold you to it type thing). Sometimes you can even do a bit of work for the yeshiva to get some cash on the side (otherwise you just have to rely on the yeshiva for everything which can trap you a little bit).

  • Moish the spacedout BT March 29, 2012, 6:39 PM

    Ehhhhhh…… motek, ani chayal. ehhhhhhhhh… vant to elope with meeeee?

  • Anonymous December 1, 2012, 11:36 PM

    Your explanation of the “flipping out” process in yeshiva/seminary is completely one sided, generalized, and based on insufficient information! You seem to think that the men and women going to Israel are “flipping” because of the “mob theory”; however, these young adults are 18+ years old and are intelligent enough to make their own decisions-they are capable of being rational and have free will. It’s not like they are going from an isolated, censored, frum town in the U.S. to Israel, rather they are going from a secular, modern orthodox or conservative or even reform places; they have been exposed to the non-frum world and are now experiencing the frum world in Israel. By your argument, if they stayed in their hometowns they would be staying secular and non-frum because of the “mob mentality” as you say, for they are constantly exposed to the non-orthadox ways in college and society. Hypothetically, would you become muslim if you spent an entire year in mecca?

    Second, you claim that most yeshiva kids want to go to the army, make aliyah, or stay for another year after shana aleph, yet, this claim is false. I personally know numerous amounts of men and women who came back from Israel after the first year and went straight to college-both secular and Jewish colleges. In fact, the majority of these men and women come back after the first year-why don’t you look at the number of students in shana bet (year two) and compare it to first year students-the second year is substantially lower. Yes, it may be true that, some-not all, want to go to the army or live there in the future, but it is a good thing-they want to because they gained a love for their country, an understanding of the great things she has to offer, and the happiness created in her land. Next time you write an article on any issue please do your research and understand both sides of the argument.

  • Melissa January 12, 2013, 7:01 PM

    I went to Machon Alte in Tsfat some 14 years ago. I loved it, but only survived the cloister-like situation because Iworked at Ascent, the youth hostel there. The main problem was the difference in culture of the Israelis and the Americans/S.Africans/Australians…Most of the time, we were crying after they yelled at us for stuff we did or didn’t do. Many girls would come from various Kibbutzim and become religious in about 3 days. The most difficult to handle part was really the amount of mentally unstable people coming in and out all of the time. In the end, it did seem, that the Jewish way of life gave these women the mental balance they were looking for. Many very much improved. However, I could not help but thinking during my year there, that these yeshivahs really need a professional on-site staff member (ie. social worker/counselor) to deal with what walks in from the street on an everyday basis. Running to the yeshivah and becoming frum is not a cure for any type of previous emotional issue. It can help give faith and direction, but ultimately it is a temporary bandaid that will peel off at any given time. I felt I was living in a psych hospital much of the time. It was disruptive to learning sometimes. However, the Rabbis were all wonderful and so were the women teacher and all the families. It was a lovely experience and I did become more observant for a few years. My sleeves grew longer, I was more carful not to sing too loudly in front of certain people, I joined Healthworks women’s gym and was startled to see a male teacher there one day. All in all, I think living in Israel gives a person a sense of strength when they come back and no one really wants to hear what you did. At the Yeshivah we all sang niggunim and had ferbrangens with the male rabbis. At home, the women wouldn’t thinkof singing even in a group. It can be disappointing sometimes to come back and realize that now everyone, even the people that you thought were so religious, is actually excited or on fire for Yiddishkeit. I always called it “frumming out.” I have never heard of the other term. Being a Jew is simply in the air in Israel. Here in the states, Wal-Mart is in the air….I miss my more frum days. I am not at all as observant as I once was. Rebbe Nachman says I think that people do tshuvah twice. The first time is usually for the wrong reasons. The soul is a magnet to kedushah. It gets a whiff and off it goes. It is hard for some people to temper that sometimes which can lead to burnout. But that is the same for anything. Part of growing up and becoming more mature is learning to take it easy and look before you leap. Impetuosity is the Hallmark of youth. Someday we will all wish for those days again.

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