The Off-the-Derech Teenager’s Surprising Tattoos

The Off-the-Derech Teenager’s Surprising Tattoos

Tonight Josh and I were buying a few pieces of pizza when I noticed that the teenager taking our order had two extremely unusual tattoos.

So I asked him why he had chosen these tattoos, and this is what he told me:

“I grew up as the only child in a Charedi family in Bayit Vegan.

“When I was in sixth grade, I hid from my parents that I had stopped keeping Shabbat. But a few years later, I had to tell my parents that I wanted to drop out of yeshiva in order to attend a high school with bagrut so I could attend university.

“It was hard for my parents to accept this, and it was very hard for them when I stopped being religious. Very hard.

“But my parents have stuck by me every step of the way.

“And I have also stuck by them. My mother is handicapped, and I help take care of her. Now I serve in the army as a cook, but I’m only in the army every other week so that I can help my mother go to her doctor’s appointments and take care of her.”

“And that,” he explained, “is why I got these tattoos.”

One tattoo says " I do things my way," and other tattoo says "Family First"

One tattoo says ” I live in my way,” and other tattoo says “Family First”


  1. Why do you find them surprising?

    • maybe because they seem like they contradict each other?

    • I found them surprising since here’s a person who has rejected his parent’s lifestyle to such an extent that he, a yeshiva-educated guy, gets a tattoo (a Torah prohibition). And with that tattoo he declares “Family First”—I’m rejecting what you believe, eema and abba, but I still love you and you are my top priority in life. I found it so ironic and moving as well. I wish him and his parents all the best.

      • I hear that, because we’re told over and over again that off-the-derech children are reacting not to doubts about our path, but rather to bad parenting, lack of shalom bayis, etc. This case seems to fly in the face of all that.

        • very simplistic say bad parenting, lack of shalom bayis..there are a myriad of factors, yeshiva education or lack of, peers, internet, facebook,the personality of the child, I could go on and on..please stop flagellating the parents; some of the best parents, good homes, have kids going off the derech…wait until it is your turn, as your child gets older and explores and questions, you will see that there are no simple answers. wishing you chassidishe nachas from your kinder

  2. sophia vasquez

    we shouldnt judge, yes its an avera to mark the skin, BUT not everyone who has done it should be looked at and shunned in a way that the person is no good, i for one have tattos, i had a rough life but i still maintain my jewish kosher way of living, and my heart is as big as the world and it always hurt me when i was judged, sometimes like this man here, you just have to listen to thier story, and most of all, dont judge, because maybe the way you are judging is a bigger avera than the person you are judging,

  3. There’s a yiddishe neshama there. He’s off the derech but he takes care of his mother. I believe he will come back..

  4. His parents did an amazing job. I always daven that no matter how my kids turn out, even if they don’t want the life I am presenting them with, that they will turn out to be GOOD people and that I will be able to stand by them. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  5. Mom of a similar son

    This story really touched me since our beloved
    youngest son is also off the derech and got
    a tattoo which broke our hearts.
    Even so he still calls us every Friday to wish us good
    Shabbos. When I light candles I daven for him
    and for all the other off the derech children
    that they should come home.

  6. Here is my favourite biblical tattoo pic snapped in Tzfat by my favourite photographer – my husband Eliyahu be Ze’ev…

    Who is having a blowout ThanksGivukkah Gallery Sale, incidentally…. You can check out his whimsical and inspiring take on Israel and take advantage of his largesse at:

    Keep the good news coming, Chana Jenny – we sure can use it!

  7. sad story…

  8. Beautiful! I can only imagine the challenges this young man and his family have faced with disability, being/having an only child in a community full of siblings, etc. I love his authenticity and golden heart.

  9. I applaud him, as an individual. We are taught to think for ourselves, not to be puppets to our parents beliefs. Why shouldn’t he live his life as he sees fit. He is obviously a devoted son, who has chosen his own way. I respect his thinking.

  10. Once again we are shown that we are NOT to judge. There is but one Judge, HaShem, and He loves us just for being us. For being Jews. He picked you, and her, and him to be Jewish. He felt that we were worthy of being born Jewish. So who are we to judge? Our job is to live, learn, teach (by example) and love our brothers and sisters. Show them kindness and compassion for only He knows the whole story. Only He sees the full picture. This boy is serving and protecting the Land that HaShem gave us. He is following Kibud Av veEm. Maybe one day he will keep Shabbat again. Maybe he wont. Whatever he chooses, it is his choice to make and not ours. It is between him and HaShem, his creator and his judge.

  11. food for thought

    thank you, chana jenny

  12. I know. I have worked many years with teens at risk, mostly from religious or chareidi backgrounds. The tatoos that were most surprising to me were full psukim tatooed on arms, or the ones that said only G-d can judge them, talk about ironic and moving at the same time.


    “It is indeed the consensus among all those with in-depth experience in this field that these youngsters come from unhappy homes.

    “It does indeed seem like this problem happens in “the best of homes,” but we need to remember that what we see as a “good home” is often not how the child experiences his/her home. People in the field are often shocked by the discrepancy between the parents’ public persona and their private behavior at home.

    “There is a great hesitancy among those in the field to publicly state what they privately know. I believe that this hesitancy, however well intentioned, is leading to a fool’s paradise… This desire not to hurt people’s feelings is preventing us from helping them solve the problem which they want to be helped with.”


  14. I don’t think the home is the only cause of leaving the derech of Torah, it can be bullying in school, or an insensitive or cruel teacher, or Chas v’shalom sexual abuse by anyone either in the extended family, school, or community. Exposure to pornography has a devastating affect. It can take many years before a person is willing to return – we all hope this happens quickly but we are not all zocheh to witness it. Many times the reasons are covered up by the victim as well as the family.

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