Flipping Out, Flipping In

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By Doni Joszef

New picture frames are always challenging to unwrap.

The price sticker is usually super-pressed into the frame’s glass surface, and I’m always eager to peel it off as smoothly, seamlessly, and speedily as humanly possible. But halfway through my attempt, the sticker abruptly stops following the commands of my fingers—ripping, rupturing, and leaving my frame with a nasty birthmark in the form of a half-bitten price tag.

Happens every time.

The issue is not in my strategy but in the impulsivity of its pace. I know how to peel a price tag, I just don’t have the patience to peel it slowly, delicately, little by little, drop by drop. I want it off in one fell swoop. And so I’m left with a scar-stained frame.

• • •

For a long time, it was the norm for Modern Orthodox teenagers to “flip out” during their year(s) of post-high-school yeshiva study in Israel. By “flip out,” I mean reinvent themselves, from irreverent rebels to pious saints, all in a matter of months. This trend was socially reinforced by a new genre of role model—one who earned an abundance of yeshiva-league hockey trophies and a smorgasbord of adoring girlfriends, only to cash them in for black hats and pocket-sized mussar manuals.

This trend has waned in recent years—in part because technology has shortened the distance between America and Israel by the length of an iPhone, in part because parents (who funded these year(s) of extended soul-searching) began to lose patience and/or interest in seeing their children come home looking and sounding more religious than intended, and in part because many idealistic young men and women failed to follow through on the surreal standards set forth by their own premature projections of how the rigors of religious life could survive the wild winds of an ever-secularizing society. In short, many so called “flip-outs” failed to pass the test of time, as a new “flip-in” phenomenon began to carve a niche and pave the path for a new norm.

What happened?

Where did all the spiritual fervor go?

Were these individuals insincere, shallow, or phony?

No, these were not fakers. By and large, they simply underestimated the challenges ahead of them, and overestimated the extent to which their tentative external changes seeped into their lifelong internal psyches. Habits are hard to unlearn, and this holds truest for habits of the mind and heart.

While it is tempting to assume this phenomenon reflects something novel, something telling of the times, something that probably never occurred before the ills of the Internet and the dangers of devices, I’d like to challenge this assumption.

I think this trend has more to do with youthful naiveté than societal disarray. Teenagers have a tendency to see the world through black-and-white, all-or-nothing lenses. They want a one-hit-wonder, quick-fix, extreme makeover. This is partly a reaction to their own internal confusion, and partly a result of their unrealistic, often overly romanticized view of reality.

“There are wonderful people who, inflamed by awe during the intensity of their youth, impulsively attempt to quickly uproot and eradicate their negative inclinations and destroy all traces of negative influence from the files of their hearts. [But] in the long term, they end up sinking into depression and despising their intellects . . .” —Sefer Cheshbon HaNefesh.

Indeed, the teenager wants to pull the stickers off the frames of his or her soul—speedily, seamlessly, and super-smoothly. But that’s not how human nature operates. Life lessons take a lifetime to learn, relearn, and slowly yet surely become infused into the internal operating systems of our cognitive/behavioral theologies. Change that happens overnight is a change destined to be changed once more. Gradual growth, on the other hand, carves a cure for the soul, like drops of water—slowly yet surely, drop by drop—through thick layers of stone.

I’m still tugging at the scabs and stickers of my soul.

And I’m learning that patience is a virtue, not a liability.

Gray may not be as glittery as black or white, but it’s much more grounded. v

Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.

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