Hi, I'm a psychiatrist with a client that has left the Jewish community himself a few years ago, before belonging to one of the most strict Jewish families.
While 100% at peace with the decision to leave, he now feels very alone, baseless, and without a safety net.
How did you deal with this after leaving? Have you any experience or advice you can share that might help my client feel more at home in the Western world?
Having a support group is extremely important. I always had a sense of community outside of religion whether it was classmates in college, coworkers, or friends that I rock climbed with. There are also organizations like Footsteps that help people acclimate to the secular world.
After leaving religion, I did spend several years just trying to find myself. I dealt with anorexia for about 8 years, and part of my recovery was finding my identify completely outside of my religion. At times, it was a really painful process and there were some dark years. But now, on the other side, I have found true happiness.
I encourage your client to try new things and figure out what makes him happy, excited, and inspired. He will have to break a lot of mental rules about the meaning of life and I’m glad he is getting professional help.
I'm more familiar with Amish leaving their orders (due to where I live - there are few Jews here and those here are not really orthodox). How hard was it for you to leave? Amish don't have Social Security cards, driver's licenses, etc. Did you have any major adjustments like that?
I did not. By the time I left, I had a driver’s license, Masters degree, savings, etc. Leaving the Chassidic community is incredibly hard, probably similar to Amish, because of the language barrier and lack of secular education.
Another thing that helped me leave more easily was that I had no children. I was married once, but got out pretty quickly. When there are kids involved, custody can get messy real fast, and many people don’t leave because they don’t want to cause chaos for their kids. Teenagers who want to leave the religion also go through a lot of pushback and brainwashing. I was in my early 20’s when I left.
The hardest changes for me were emotional. All my life I was led to believe that the secular world was immoral, unhappy, and untrustworthy. The Orthodox community wants you to believe that you won’t survive with them, and I had to learn - and truly believe - that it was a lie.
Does the Orthodox community have any general opinion about the Amish?
We went to visit like they were a tourist attraction. I suppose we had some begrudging respect for the way they stuck to their beliefs, but bottom line, anyone who wasn’t Jewish had the wrong belief system.
What is your opinion on the Netflix show unorthodox?
Even though I don’t come from a Chassidic community, it was hard to watch because many themes hit close to home. I read the book Unorthodox when I was still religious and remember how much hatred there was for the author, because she had the nerve to expose these things about Jews. I thought it was a good show, and hope there will be more like it.
What is the community mindset that results in people ignoring social distancing laws, having weddings and parties against the law? Do they think they're isolated therefore not at risk? "Chosen people" arrogance? It's a real problem in Lakewood NJ near me.
It’s infuriating. I’m only hearing of it in the Chassidic communities. Only thing I can think of is that many of them don’t have internet access. It’s not an excuse but they may not know how serious it is or may have a distrust of the media. Luckily, most mainstream Orthodox communities in the US are taking it seriously and are publicly stating that people can’t gather for anything. I already saw those emails about 2-3 weeks ago.
Did Carol Baskin kill her husband?
I don’t know if she got her own hands dirty but I bet she knows exactly what happened to him.
As a modern Orthodox Jew, it's especially heartbreaking to hear of the things you went through and continue to go through. I'm so sorry that you and other Jews are subject to painful things like this. It seems like most Jews who leave haredi communities never consider other branches of Judaism since they were raised with such a black and white (pun intended) view of "we're right and everything else is wrong." Was there ever a point in your journey when you considered another form of Judaism?
Great comment! Yes, I absolutely considered other forms of Judaism. I joke that I’m both an FFB (frum from birth) and a BT (baal teshuva) because after I’d been irreligious for a while, I returned to religion, in a modern Orthodox community. I liked it at first, but once I got to know the people in it, I was disappointed to see the same hypocrisy and immorality that I detested in the frum community. Ultimately, I simply don’t believe anymore, but if I were to meet someone who wanted to leave their Chassidic/Yeshivish community, I would recommend they try an MO community. I believe Project Makom exists for that very purpose.
What food am I missing out on by being a gentile?
Potato kugel, hands down. Super easy to make though, so I give you a Jewish pass to find a recipe online and make some.
I can really relate with your post and the comments. I am a modern orthodox jew but my belief system is mostly agnostic but leaning towards no god. I stay in the community because I have two beautiful girls and want to be there for them as much as possible. I know if I leave Judaism, my wife would want a divorce and my family would hate me. I keep shabbos and kosher but occasionally vape secretly on shabbos. There are a million reasons to leave and allow myself to just be myself, but I stay for my girls. I feel depressed about this but I feel trapped. Any advice?
Hey there. Unfortunately, you are not alone. I know of many that are in the same situation as you. If I’d had children during my very brief marriage, my life might look very differently now. Are you connected with Footsteps? Not sure where you live but they have lots of support for folks like you. I’d also check out Project Makom.
In terms of advice, if you aren’t already going, I highly recommend therapy. It was very instrumental in helping me figure myself out.
There is no easy answer for you. I believe the community is designed to make it feel impossible for folks to leave. But people do leave, and come out okay on the other side. I hope that can be you one day.
What are your thoughts on eruvs?
Silly. It’s honestly just playing a game of “let’s pretend”. But I wish they would use that creative attitude when it came to helping trapped women (agunot) get out of abusive marriages or other issues that are actually important.
Did you go to a yeshiva?
All girls Jewish school from K-12th grade, then one year of seminary in Israel followed by a second year in a Jewish college to finish my Bachelors degree.
What was the hardest part about leaving? What do you write back to your fan girls?
The hardest part is not having the family connections I used to have. I live with my girlfriend of 2.5 years and we have been invited to exactly 1 family event. My family has a hard time acknowledging that she even exists.
I used to write back to every fan. They would often share their personal struggles and I’d respond to that. I would never tell them that I wrote Finding Eden, because it would likely traumatize then. But lately I’ve stopped responding. It takes a lot out of me and feels disingenuous. I save the emails so maybe one day I’ll write back.
Have you seen the South Park episode Jewbilee?
If so, what type of arts and craft project would you offer Moses?
I have not! But I’ll add it to my list of quarantine activities.
I’m a modern Orthodox Jew, and want to know, why is it that you left?
I didn’t agree with too many things. I couldn’t get behind the racism, the homophobia, the politics, the judgmental people, and superiority. I saw a lot of injustice and hypocrisy, and it didn’t match up with what I was being taught by my Hebrew teachers.
At first, I decided to stop being religious even though I still thought that Orthodox Judaism was the right way of life. Then I lost my faith completely. Now, I don’t believe in god or the Torah.
Do you have any regrets about leaving the community? And have you found your own community now?
No. I wish my family was more accepting of me but I can’t change them.
Yes I have! I have an amazing girlfriend who comes from a similar background. I have a lot of friends and coworkers and folks that I rock climb with. I’m a pretty outgoing person which helps.
I’m a fifteen year old girl and I go to Chabad school and my family is very orthodox!!! Why did you leave the religion? Or did you just become less religious? I’m stuck right now cause I can’t decide if I want to be religious and when I think of not being religious I get guilty
Hey there, I see some other people responded and gave you great advice. Your situation is tough. I think decision making will be somewhat easier when you turn 18, because at 15, your parents get to make a lot of choices for you. I didn’t leave religion until I was in my 20’s, and it was for a whole variety of reasons.
Have you heard of Project Makom? They help people who aren’t happy with the current level of religion they’re in. They could help you learn about being Modern Orthodox or just something other than Chabad. Or Footsteps is there to help you if you don’t want to be religious at all.
What about cult of circumcision aka religious brit ceremony on community. Do they really think that it is necessary/mandatory. Cut is a permanent mark. Is it religious? What about baby boy's freedom of religion? I'm not thinking about his parents freedom of religion now.
Here in Finland, Europe the issue is about human rights for child. Without his consent it is violence.
When some non-teistic person talk about issue I always hear you are antisemi. I'm not. The point of view is so different here.
I agree with you and I don’t think your opinion is anti-Semitic. But I also don’t think that Orthodox Jews will ever budge on this, even if the laws change.
Any opinion on the recent covid issues? In the new jersey Lakewood community there's been a ton of 50+ weddings broken up in the last two weeks despite quarantine rules. In Israel as well, with excuses about lack of technology etc to get message out.
Do you think it may lean more towards purposefully ignoring outsider rules etc?
It’s awful and inexcusable because by now even those without access to Internet know what’s going on. I think it has to do with prioritizing certain things (celebrating the bride and groom) and ignoring others (local laws about quarantine). They will always defer to the rabbis so it all depends on what the rabbis are saying. The rabbis of certain communities (Passaic, Teaneck) have been great about making public statements about quarantine. Lakewood needs to follow suit.
How contentious were Israel's policies towards Arabs and Palestinians in the Orthodox community?
In my community, it was pretty black and white: what Israel was doing was justified and necessary. There wasn’t much discussion and if you tried to ask questions, you’d likely get called a liberal (which is an insult).
Now that you’ve left, how does a lifetime of deeply entrenched bigotry and cultural superiority affect you? I have Israeli friends that are very much anti-ultra orthodox.
I think I always chafed against those things, even when I was fully religious. I always questioned the homophobia and bigotry. Insults like “feminist” and “liberal” were used to keep me in my place.
I’ve always been open minded and made friends with non-Jews, which was heavily discouraged. I read a lot and became a social worker, working in inner cities that were nothing like where I came from.
As I completely left religion, I came to dislike the bigotry and superiority even more. When I came out as gay, which was actually after I was totally irreligious, it of course bothered me even more.
I totally understand why your friends are anti-ultra-Orthodox.
What inspires you to write? Do you write the sort of things you like to read? Or are your reading preferences totally different?
I like this question. I definitely write the sort of things I would like to read. So I write a lot about trauma and abuse and mental health and friendship and deep emotional pain.
As a kid, I was always feeling sad or angry or misunderstood. As I got older, those feelings evolved but I never really had a way of expressing them. As a writer, I get to create characters that feel all the things I felt in my life, and I get to choose how my characters will handle these feelings. It’s almost like my writing is a corrective experience of my own life.
When it comes to reading, I actually love memoirs. Before I wrote my novels, I actually wrote a memoir of my life and submitted it to my Orthodox Jewish publisher. They wrote back saying that it was a great piece of work, but that my depictions of anorexia and self-harm were too accurate and it might encourage others to engage in that behavior. So I scrapped the memoir and wrote my novels.
Have you ever sat down and tried to figure out the tastiest thing that breaks the most Kosher rules? I'd imagine a bacon cheeseburger would come close (meat+dairy+pork, leavened bread, etc.) but I'm sure there are dozens of others that could be added in.
The rules of Kosher are so strict, it’s pretty easy to break the laws. Honestly, some of my most thrilling non-Kosher experiences have been super tame, like eating a salad at Panera. But the bacon cheeseburger would be pretty up there!
What reason were you given for the animal sacrifices being no longer practiced (destruction of the temple aside) while the rest of the laws were still necessary? (Eg the sabbath) In the written torah, the sacrifices seemed intrinsically linked to practice of the faith.
Destruction of the temple was the main reason, IIRC. Orthodox men still study the text surrounding sacrifices as if they will one day do them again.
Do you have any regrets looking back? Anything you did at the time in your community that is hard to accept or think back to now?
I left a very intense religious group as a young adult and often have trouble thinking back to how my actions affected others and contributed to them staying in the groups that ultimately were so damaging.
Great question. I think of all the times I engaged in “kiruv”, which is the act of bringing irreligious Jews closer to Orthodox Judaism, and I’m not proud of that, even though I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.
I wish I hadn’t gotten married. I married a man that I didn’t love because I was taught that love is not a requirement for marriage. He wasn’t a bad person but I divorced him within the year because I realized it wasn’t what I wanted and I would never raise a family with him. I feel bad for him because he was just playing by the rules too.
What are your thoughts on I/P conflict? I'm Jewish and my best friend is Palestinian, and we talk about it sometimes. I do think there should be a Jewish state, since everywhere else, we get killed. But I think Britain screwed it up by making the borders shitty and basically forcing Palestine to acknowledge Israel.
I don’t think I’m educated enough to have the most intelligent opinion. Basically, I think Israel has a right to exist, and so does Palestine. I have no idea what a resolution would look like. While not perfect, I do think Israel is more ethical than Hamas, but Hamas does not equal all Palestinians.
Do you have any experience or opinions on other types of Jewish communities? (Reform, Conservative)?
I spent time in a Modern Orthodox community and that’s about it. I really like how Reform and Conservative communities are more LGBTQ+ friendly and more egalitarian.
Hi there! I recently realized I have Jewish ancestors/relatives. I want to reconnect with that heritage, and I thought a good way to do that would be to explore traditionally Jewish foods. What are/were some of your favorites?
Welcome! I can’t recommend potato kugel enough. It’s super easy to make. Some of my other favorites are potato knishes, kokosh cake, and homemade challah.
How do you reconcile criticizing the Orthodox with defending them and yourself from Anti-Semitism?
I’m Jewish as well and I still haven’t figured it out. I have such a bad taste in my mouth when I see the way they act and make other Jews look bad but at the same time I respect that they posit their Judaism so openly, whereas I do not.
Excellent question. It’s a fine line I am always trying to tread. I wish that criticism of Orthodoxy wasn’t immediately labeled as being hateful and anti-Orthodox. When I was still religious, I had a bit more leverage to suggest change from within. But now that I’m out, I’m written off as bitter and a self-hating Jew, which isn’t the case at all.
I don't want to ask you anything? I want to congratulate you on both your writing and your escape.
Thank you! I really appreciate that.
Although you left the Chassidic community, do you still practice Judaism? Are you religious in any way?
So I actually was never Chassidic, just what we call “Yeshivish”. I do not practice Judaism at all, and I’m pretty adverse to any religious rituals or things that remind me of my religious past.
How do I tell the local chassidics walking around in groups of 10, flaunting quarantine rules in public parks and germing all over the place that they are willfully endangering the local community for no reason?
I'm not afraid of being seen as anti-semitic because that will happen regardless. Just tell me what to yell out of my open window in hebrew, I'm not getting within spittle distance. KTHX.
Just call the police on them. Seriously.
Do you think the term goy is derogatory?
Probably. It has been most times I’ve heard it used.
Can you please provide the link to the free book? Sounds great and I just binge watched Unorthodox this weekend.
The book becomes free at midnight tonight. Enjoy!
Is just having the books really proof?
The mods actually removed my post initially for this very reason, so I sent them more proof directly.
How do you self publish a book on Amazon? Can you make money doing that?
Anyone can self publish on Amazon and it doesn’t cost anything. If you get popular you can definitely make money, but I personally just make a few bucks a month. One of my books is free for the next few days if you’re interested! free book
Hey there. Thanks for sharing all this. I have 3 questions. Do you still have relationships you keep up with from your previous life/community?
And do you think that your sexuality was ultimately one of the big reasons you were pulled to leave Orthodoxy in the beginning? Even if it was subconscious?
And lastly, does your partner come from a religious background as well? Do you think it's helpful that she can understand where you came from?
Great questions. I am in touch with a bunch of family, and I have two close friends from high school that are really accepting and wonderful people.
I can’t say with absolute certainty that my sexuality wasn’t a factor, but I was out of religion before I started dating women. So I wouldn’t say it was the primary reason that I left.
And yes, my girlfriend grew up Orthodox too! It’s extremely helpful, especially when it comes to navigating our relationships with family. We both get how complex it is, and encourage each other to do whatever feels right.
What's your opinion on Chabad?
Honestly don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.
Do you feel any obligation to go back and get your siblings out? How old are they, if any?
I used to feel like I had to try and save my nieces and nephews, but that has faded. I have 5 siblings but they are all adults. 4 are religious. I have around 15 nieces and nephews and while it saddens me that they will be raised in that environment, I know I can’t do anything about it. I hope to be the aunt that they reach out to if/when they start to question things.
I have a question about weaves and veils. I've seen that othordox jew women wear both veils and weaves. It appears to be more weaves (at least in public?). And I don't quite get it. What are the rules?How fake hairs (weave) does something to cover real hair? Feels a bit "hyprocrite" (don't mean to be offensive, I didn't find a better word and English is not my 1rst language).
It has to do with modesty and only showing your real hair to your husband and close male relatives. I do think it’s odd that most women’s wigs are ten times nice than their real hair, so the rest of the world sees them looking their best, while their husband gets the real hair that’s been sitting under a wig all day.
Proof was submitted
Did it have anything to do with how threw Talmud describes non-Jews? Most people don't know how incredibly anti gentile the Jewish holy book of the Talmud is
I honestly don’t know much about that.
What are your thoughts towards reform Judaism?
I don’t know much about it, but I can say that I was raised to believe that it’s a watered down form of Judaism that allows people to pick and choose what is convenient for them.
My current view is that if Reform Judaism is what someone wants and it makes the happy, fantastic.
I also was raised Orthodox. I was raised MO (modern orthodox) in the greater New York area and even did a “gap year” to study in Yeshiva in Israel. I’m interested to know, which Jewish community (geographically and denomination wise [MO, Chareidi etc]) were you a part of? Also, what pushed you to leave, and how is your relationship with your family now that you’re Off the Derech?
I was part of the Yeshivish community in Baltimore. Now that I’m OTD, my relationship with my family is strained, but probably more so because I have a girlfriend. I still talk to my parents and some siblings regularly. I care a lot about them and would do a lot for them, but it’s hard that they don’t approve of my life.
I’m making my newest book free for the next few days (Kindle) to give folks something to read during this quarantine.
I headed over to Amazon and see your books but none seem to be free unless I sign up for Kindle unlimited. Where can I find the free book? Can you provide a link?
The giveaway started at midnight so the book should be free now here you go
Where you from? Not Jewish, but born and raised in Brooklyn.
What are your thoughts on non-kosher foods? I was raised Jewish but nonreligiously, and I wasn’t forbidden non kosher foods, but I actually tend to like them less, I hate non-fish seafood and I don’t like pork much. However I do enjoy meat products and milk products together.
It was a very gradual process to start eating non kosher food. I very much enjoy meat and milk products, which took me a few years to eat! My first cheeseburger was about 2 years ago. I tried shrimp and couldn’t handle the texture. I still want to try lobster and crab but I’m a bit nervous! Super crispy bacon is great. I think what I’ve really enjoyed the most is eating at non-kosher restaurants. I grew up with only 5-6 restaurant options in my community. Getting to try different cuisines like Thai and Indian has been fantastic.
Do you have any biases towards Muslim, Arab or dark-skinned men generally?
Great question. I would say I used to, but I’ve educated myself about racism and feel I’ve come pretty far from the gut reactions I used to have around those folks.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
When I was religious, the hardest part was keeping my writing “kosher” enough for the Orthodox community. There were a million topics I couldn’t cover and that was hard for me, as someone who works in the mental health field and knows about the dark nooks and crannies of peoples’ minds.
Now, the hardest part would be getting published. I know nothing about publishing in the secular world. In the Orthodox world, I submitted my manuscript directly to the publisher, but that’s not how it’s done out here.
Is Kabbalah based on actual Judaism or is it phony?
I don’t actually know what Kabbalah is based on, but I personally think it’s phony.
Are you an outdoor, or gym climber, or both?
Indoor boulderer! My absolute favorite activity in the world.
What type of orthodox were you?
We would be classified as “black hat” or “Yeshivish”. Not sure if those terms will mean anything to you!
How prevalent do you think childhood sexual abuse is?
In my opinion, with exactly zero evidence to back this up, I think it’s just as prevalent as it is everywhere else. There are definitely unique barriers to reporting (such as insistence on reporting to Rabbis first).
Orthodox Jew here, what made you decide to leave the Jewish community? Also, which city was that Jewish community in? Do you have any resentment towards Jews as a whole, or did you just find that it wasn't working for you?
Hey there. I’m from Baltimore originally but I lived in Philadelphia for some time. I don’t have resentment towards Jews as a whole. I just think that individual folks (particularly adults) should be allowed to leave a religion if it isn’t working for them. The amount of pressure to stay is unhealthy and unfair.
I left for a whole litany of reasons (I used to blog for the Times of Israel if you are inclined to read more about that). Bottom line, at first it wasn’t for me, but now I don’t believe anymore.
What color is your toothbrush?
Black and white electric with a little blue band. Thanks for asking the important things!
Do you, Shulem Deen, and Deborah Feldman ever hang out?
Ha, I wish! I’ve read both of their memoirs and they seem like awesome people.
After turning so far away from your religious roots, why didn't you change your name from something so obviously Jewish?
Fair question, but I actually have always liked my name! My nickname is Sho, which doesn’t sound particularly Jewish. I have a large rose tattoo on my back (Shoshana means rose in Hebrew) and I consider that a tribute to my heritage.
What are your opinions on Hasidic communities and how they tend to “take over” certain areas?
I get why they do it, but I also get how obnoxious it must be for the people who live near by. It’s a free country so I don’t see what can be done about it though.
What are your opinions on reform or conservative Judaism?
Answered this somewhere else, basically not for me because I don’t believe anymore, but if it works for someone else, that’s great.
I am orthodox but resenting it as I still live with my parents. We aren’t super super strict but my parents are very spiritual and push that on me. I do religious stuff but I hate it. My question is how did you parents and community react to your decision and how long did you know you wanted to leave? I don’t think I want to leave, but I want to be religious in my own terms.
They were very disappointed and worried for my soul. I probably starting leaving religion around 23, and left completely at 25-26. I hid things from my parents for a long while because I didn’t want to hurt them or feel judged. Eventually I came to fully accept myself and my decisions and of course moving away from my community helped a lot. You won’t live at home forever (hopefully!) and I imagine you’ll feel more freedom to explore how you want to live your life. Good luck.
My husband grew up in an Orthodox home, it was treated as the most important thing in his life and he has many, many regrets from his childhood. I call him a recovering Jew. On the other hand, I'm a Jewish refugee from the former Soviet Union where my passport stated my nationality as Jewish. My relationship with the actual practice of the religion is non existent because of the lack of religious rights there.
It has been an interesting experience coming to terms with what Judaism means to us as a family and now our 2 daughters. As a compromise, we have joined a Reformed temple. The truth is that neither of us is religious but we both identify as Jewish and we want that identity passed on to our kids. For me, that identity is deeply personal as most of my grandparents brothers and sisters died in the Holocaust. How do you deal with this aspect, if at all?
I identify as Jewish, but that’s about it. I don’t plan on having children, so I don’t have to factor in that piece. Sounds like you and your husband have found something that works for your family and that’s great.
I am! The past several years have been really great.
Is it true that they dont use the internet. Or really know anything about pop culture and current events around them?
I’m 32, so we didn’t always have internet in my house growing up. However, once we did get it, it had heavy filters. YouTube was frowned upon, and we never had a TV. Non Jewish music was considered inappropriate and when I started surreptitiously listening to it at age 16, I felt super guilty. I definitely had some cultural catching up to do when I left. I believe things are much more strict in the Chassidic communities, where folks are not allowed to have smartphones.
It is amazing to see all the yidden popping out of the woodwork here.
So much for the /u/internetisassur lol
Fascinating story and I am glad that you were able to find some form of new life and inner peace.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
It is entertaining. Thank you very much. In 10 years I hope to still be working as a social worker and traveling the world with my girlfriend as much as possible. No kids.
Do you think there are good sects of Judaism, or at this point is it all toxic to you?
Ooh I’m not sure. I think there are good people in Judaism. I don’t know about good sects as a whole. They all have their problems.
Can you please tell me a great Jewish joke? I love Jewish humor. Not alone in that! Thanks.
I don’t know a single one! Now I wish I did. Tell me one?
I always miss these Ask me anything's while they're happening So you're not ultra orthodox. Do you still shave your hair when married? And wear a sheet during sex?
No shaved head and no sheet sex. The shaved head is a Chassidic thing, and the sheet thing is a myth (I think).
What are the name of your books?
Dancing in the Dark, Stand Your Ground, and Finding Eden. I also have a short novel called Wallflower. All available on Amazon.
What are your thoughts on reconstructionist Judaism? I read Wallflower today - absolutely fantastic btw
I don’t know enough about it to have an educated opinion. Thank you! I actually wrote Wallflower at the request of an Orthodox organization, but they then rejected it because it was too...open minded?
Has your perspective on existence changed having left the community?
I suppose I would describe myself as a happy nihilist. I don’t think too deeply about existence and I don’t worry about death. I just want to be a good person and live a good life.
If you were Carol, how would you have done it?
I got this idea from Carol lol. Slather him in sardine oil and feed him to the tigers.
Have you watched Unorthdox on Netflix yet? I haven’t yet but I think it has that lil bald kid from stranger things in it.
Ha not the same actress! But yes, I did watch it. I found it hard to watch because it hit close to home, but ultimately a good show.