A couple weeks ago we started an initiative to address an issue we were hearing more and more about: ex-Haredi Jews who want to remain observant but who don’t feel welcome or know how to fit into the non-Haredi Orthodox Jewish world. One of our advisors – a person who is a lot more rational than I am – cautioned me before I posted the article that we may not be able to handle the need with the limited resources we have.
My response was “lo alecha hamelacha ligmor” (Pirkei Avos) - it’s not up to us to finish the job, but we’re not allowed to not start it (just because we haven’t worked out tiny things like “all the details!”). Well you guys – our fans – responded in big ways to help us work out some of those details! About 180 families from around the world wrote in (both on the site and via email) saying you’d be there to support whoever has this need with Shabbos placement, school placement advocacy, and general support. Then two women Mindy Schaper – a woman who was raised modern-Hasidic who transitioned to right-wing Modern Orthodox and has a background in psychology and Gavriella Lerner, a woman who was raised left-wing Modern Orthodox who transitioned into right-wing Modern Orthodox and has a background in education both contacted us to volunteer to spearhead our effort. We were so excited with both the professional and experiential backgrounds these women bring to the table!
We came up with a name for our initiative: “Project Makom.” Makom has several meanings: it means “place” – as in “every Jew should be able to find his place in our community.” It means “space” as in “we will make space for you if you want to join us here.” And lastly, “Makom” is one of the names of God. We refer to God as “HaMakom” when we’re comforting a mourner. The Maharal says that “Makom” is connected to the word “mekayem,” something that sustains and provides existence and many of the people making this transition need both comfort and sustenance as they find their way in a community which is unfamiliar to them.
Today Mindy, Gavriella, and I had a virtual meeting to discuss our mission statement, talk about bigger goals, and preliminary steps we can take to reach those goals. We will be adding a section to our site soon where people can learn about the resources Project Makom will be providing and in the meantime, if you are a rabbi, therapist, teacher, or an ex-Haredi (who transitioned to a different part of the Orthodox world) and would like to help please be in touch.
When I started JITC almost seven years ago, the mission was to rebrand Orthodox Jews and Judaism to the non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews of the world. To show them that there is meaning and humor, that there is balance and open-mindedness within the traditional Jewish approach. What I never imagined is that we’d need to rebrand Orthodoxy to some of the ORTHODOX population.
What JITC has become is a community of almost 10,000 strong on Facebook (and several thousands more on the blog and our other social media platforms) of people from every stripe of Orthodoxy, non-Orthodoxy and non-Jews who are spiritually striving but at the same time believe in nuance and living in a non-judgmental way. As more and more of the world goes to both extremes, it is exciting to be cementing and strengthening the voice of the moderate and passionately religious Jewish community.