To the Ex-Haredim Who Can't Find a Place In The Orthodox World

To the Ex-Haredim Who Can’t Find a Place In The Orthodox World

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There is a story told about the late rabbi and physicist Aryeh Kaplan: As a teenager he began to explore Orthodox Judaism and spent a short time in yeshiva. After his brief stint, he wasn’t so convinced that observant life was for him, so he decided to leave. But he was a bit nervous as to how his peers would react when he told them the news. However, when he informed his roommate about his decision, his roommate didn’t argue with him or try to sway him at all. Instead, he offered to wake up early the next morning to help him carry his bags to the bus stop.

When Rabbi Kaplan saw his roommate’s magnanimous reaction, he was deeply touched and decided that maybe there was something to this Torah way of life after all. He decided to stay in yeshiva and went on to become a prolific writer and world class Torah educator and scholar. The story of Aryeh Kaplan’s roommate exemplifies how religious Jews ought to conduct themselves. Unfortunately, not all of us always live up to these standards.

A couple years ago, I was contacted by an ex-Orthodox man who had both witnessed sex abuse and had been molested himself, but his community was in denial about the issue and kept trying to sweep his claims under the rug. One day he decided he had had enough. He threw his black hat in the garbage and moved far away, leaving observance behind.

A few years later, he felt a pull to come back and give mitzvos a try again. So he went to his local modern Orthodox shul for Shabbos. He figured they’d have more progressive views on how to handle abuse than the community which he had come from (a seclusive part of the ultra-Orthodox world). He also hoped that by just showing up he’d get a “Good Shabbos” and a “Do you have anywhere to eat?” from his fellow congregants. But instead everyone ignored him for several weeks in a row until eventually he stopped going to shul again.

And as much as he resented his own community for their shortcomings on abuse handling, he told me they’d never just leave a single guy alone at shul. They’d invite him both for meals AND insist he stay over to sleep. Despite his anger, he couldn’t deny how exemplary his Haredi community was in terms of heimisheness (warmth) and hachnasis orchim (hospitality).

His story was so distressing to me because each group had failed him in a different way. In truth every single Orthodox Jewish community has unique areas where they excel and unique areas where they fall short, and ideally we should all try to learn from each other communities’ strengths and do our best to minimize our own communities’ weaknesses while living peacefully and respectfully with one another.

Some people decide at some point in their lives that the Orthodox community in which they were raised in is not the best fit for them and so sometimes modern Orthodox Jews will move to the right becoming yeshivish, Lubavitch and or even Hasidic. So too, some ultra-Orthodox Jews decide to to move to the left to more modern or centrist Orthodox communities.

I met such a couple over a year ago when I spoke in Rockland county. This couple had been raised in one of the strictest Hasidic sects and did not feel that they could remain in it anymore. Unfortunately, their families had rejected them when they expressed their desire to move to a less strict Orthodox community. They came up to me at the end of my talk and said “We still want to be frum, we just don’t know how to outside of our old community. We don’t know who to follow.”

I once again was deeply troubled – both by how they had been rejected by their families and with how they were stuck religiously with no where to go. They left before I could get their contact info and despite my attempts to locate them, no one was able to put me in touch with them. So I started making calls on my way home from the talk – contacting people in different leadership positions of major Jewish organizations. I told them we need some sort of resource for people in this situation. (I have no idea, by the way, if the Hasidic or Haredi world has any resources for modern Orthodox Jews who transition into their community, but if there’s a need and nothing exists, then someone should start something!)

Over the course of the year, a lot of conversations on this topic have been had with many different people, but nothing concrete has been done because no one was ready to partner with me on this and I’m already insanely busy running Jew in the City and taking care of my family. But then yesterday I got yet another reminder that we must do SOMETHING. I read an account of an ex-Hasidic woman who wanted to stay observant after she left her Hasidic community, but every non-Hasidic school she checked out didn’t want her kid. After enough rejections she got fed up and just left all together. Today she is no longer observant.

If a person leaves observance because he has intellectual issues with Torah or is not able to maintain his faith in a world with so much suffering that’s one thing. But if a person leaves observance because the people failed have him, then that’s something else. We can’t continue to fail people in need.

So here is my modest attempt to do more than just talk. We have a big network here. We need you guys to speak up. If you’re in the Centrist or Modern Orthodox world and are willing to host someone (who has left the Haredi or Hasidic world) for a Shabbos and/or if you will help advocate for them to get a place in your school, then please comment below (scroll down past the Facebook comment section). Please give a first name only and a city. We’ll have your email address recorded privately. If someone from the Haredi or Hasidic world wants to be matched up with someone in the Centrist or Modern world, please email us at info@jewinthecitydotcom and we’ll see who we have in your area.

This is not a perfect solution to the problem, but this is my attempt to be like Aryeh Kaplan’s dear roommate and do some lifting when someone out there needs help.

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  1. We are modern orthodox and would be happy to host.

  2. We live in Waterbury, ct….@allison Joseph this issue u bring up, I completely agree with!..thumbs up for this spot on article!!…together we can slowly chAnge the world for the better!!…hope we can help out in some way to help pple stay with their faith!!

  3. Atara in Plainview, NY

  4. it exists..foot steps

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 20, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      thanks for your comment, danny, but footsteps helps ex-haredim acclimate into the larger world not into another orthodox community. we have seen that there is a specific need for that so we are trying to fill that that need.

  5. perel from monsey. First of all, I think I may know the couple you mentioned in your blog. I hosted them a couple of times for Shabbos meals. My husband and I are happy to help. We are on Shabbat.com

    And may I just say, viewing this long list of people willing to help, and open to the problem – Mi K’amcha Yisrael! We see that there are still lots of open-minded Orthodox Jews who want to express their Ahavas Yisrael!

  6. We live in Kew Gardens Hills Queens. We have an open house, are non judgemental, and welcome any Jew who would like to spend Shabbos with us. We have a fun household.

  7. I literally dont hang out with my friends that live in frummer areas because of this. I won’t go to their houses for shabbos either. Or yom tov. Luckily, I live in a bt community with an eruv, and I am scared when my family will move away from here in a year because I don’t want to be so connected to the insular hareidim that have belittled my family and Judaism.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 23, 2014 at 8:11 am

      thanks for your comment, Ni Ro – i just want to clarify that not are “haredim” belittle other Jews. there are many wonderful haredim out there who are accepting and non-judgmental.

  8. Boruch N. Hoffinger : May 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    “roommate’s magnanimous reaction…” What’s so magnanimous about not trying to direct someone towards the best life possible, ‘The Torah Way?’ This ‘friend’ was weak in his observance.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Baruch. I am a big fan of exposing all Jews to the beauty and riches of Torah wisdom and living. But the thing about this story is that young Aryeh Kaplan had already done some learning. So he had been exposed. What was so magnanimous about his friend’s offer was that he was willing to give with no strings attached and with no agenda other than to give.

      And the thing about that kind of giving is that it was the very thing that made young Aryeh reconsider his decision to leave (which led him go on to become the Torah giant that he became). So I will have to disagree with you and reiterate that it was in fact magnanimous. Having exemplary character traits is one of the best ways to inspire Jews to connect with their heritage.

  9. Elisa Zoldan : May 27, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Elisa and ronen n6 london. Uk. we love hosting people

  10. Elisheva and Yonatan from Kew garden hills, Queens. We dont have sleeping space but we would be happy to host for a meal or chat with anyone. I am from monsey so I grew up with a lot of exposure to the chassidish community.

  11. Hesh Follman : May 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    would welcome people from any background…..as a rather worldly couple we would love to listen to other peoples spiritual or other travels and offer input if / when requested….

  12. Daniel Kronengold : May 27, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Rabbi Daniel Kronengold, Bronx, NY

  13. Onit and Adam : May 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Elkins Park, PA….you are welcome 🙂

  14. edmonton, alberta. canada. always happy to host. can accomodate modern, chabad, haredi, all welcome.

  15. Aliza
    Linden, NJ

  16. Very refreshing and nice to see warm Yidden from all over. I’m sorry to say that this is not the situation in every neighborhood. My neighborhood however has not been so warm and welcoming. Perhaps you have to be a Russian/Ukranian to be accepted here. If you are, then there are all sorts of programs and invitations. American Jews are treated as second class citizens even by the rabbis of the shuls in the area.

  17. I’m not equipped to host anyone at this present moment (vagaries of graduate school), but if you follow up with me in a few years, I hope I will be. So please feel free to contact me at any time and ask me whether I am equipped yet to host. As soon as I am able, I will be eager and willing.

  18. Bergenfield, NJ

  19. Adam in Baltimore. Yasher koach on this wonderful idea, I’m sorry I only found out about it now. Willing to host anyone looking, we ourselves are pretty much center, maybe a bissle to the right.

  20. We live in Scranton pa. We could host 2 adults (and kids) whenever. We are Makom members, and as family are willing to help anyone going through the same (or even worse) situation.

  21. Gershom Gale : May 16, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    My name is Gershom Gale. I don’t have much to offer, but if anyone on the way in or out of becoming Chareidi would ever like to be hosted for a Shabbos seudah, I can offer that. I don’t really have anything else to offer.

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Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.