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. Not much help since I am in Indianapolis and I don’t see any used-to-be Charedi Jews here, but we could help with advice on getting higher education/getting into college and stuff like that.

  2. I’m Chana in Teaneck, NJ. We’re here for anyone who wants to join our community.

  3. We’re Center/Right (just shy of Hareidi and not Chassidish) and live in L.A. We can host a meal.

  4. Happy to host and/or offer support. Rivka in Modiin, Israel & Philadelphia

  5. Brooklyn, NY (Sheepshead Bay area)

  6. Nechama, Miami, FLORIDA … would love to be a part of this

  7. Kew Gardens Queens. Happy to host for meals and or discuss anything one has questions about.

  8. 100 percent welcome in Linden, NJ. Come to us for a shabbos!

  9. Sara from Baltimore. I’m a BT married to a Chassidic man. Happy to speak to anyone

  10. Rhawnhurst, aneighborhood in Philadelphia PA. A Totally accepting mixed community.
    We have the entire range, so a family with members holding in different places can all feel at home here. With schools to match. Check out the Jcor website!

    • I beg to differ. I lived in Rhawnhurst for 20 years. I never felt accepted in any circle and when my marriage broke up most of the people invited my “poor husband who wasn’t allowed to come home” (I had a restraining order against him for beating me up) over for Shabbat and Yom Tovim. I, single mom with kids still at home was basically ignored. Not one person called to see if we were okay and only one family, one year invited us for a seder. I wouldn’t recommend that community for singles

  11. Kudos to Alison for taking ont his issue, although sadly, most of the commenters here don’t seem to understand the problem. Here’s a quote from a recent blog post by Frieda Vizel, a brilliant ex-Satmar woman who left with her young son, wanting to remain Modern Orthodox, but ended up secular instead:

    “… As we were eating dinner Shafran asked the old question — why those who leave Hasidism “go all the way” instead of staying to some degree religious. And it was an opportunity for me to bring up the problem of the complacency among the Orthodox, of almost enabling the Hasidic world. I myself tried to become mainstream orthodox, but no Yeshiva would accept my son. They didn’t like a Yiddish speaking little boy with a Hasidic background. Yes, I tried and was denied, turned away time and again. The orthodox don’t like the whole idea of former Hasidim, that was my experience. Let’s be honest, there’s a silent prejudice the way there is among the Satmar towards Yemenites. I lived for three years in an orthodox community and tried to integrate. My son didn’t make a single friend on our block (in fact, I paid a neighbor to play with him) and I felt like a complete outsider, a few rungs down and out. I got none of this type of condescending treatment EVER from the secular Jewish world.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 15, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Thank you and yes, I saw this wonderful post and the point is that we are locating the people who will make the extra effort to care and to comfort. There are plenty of people doing the wrong thing. But we have a large network of people here who want to do the right thing.

      I don’t know if we can open the minds of the closed-minded but we can at least gather good people with good intentions and hopefully connect them with people who need support. We have to at least try, don’t we??

    • Pnina from flatbush, in Brooklyn. We are close to both boys and girls school and belong to an excellent, very open shul. Id be happy to advocate on anyones behalf and host shabbos meals. If the above woman still is willing to put her son in a yeshiva, I can find him a place.

    • we are ready to host, I am a chabadnik , definitely not charedi, just me, I try to listen well , love to be of help in any way
      the world of Torah is not all, as in extremism or nothing as in giving up any connection.
      a kindly thoughtful middle path is what keeps me on track.
      we can start with a coffee and cake, ill pay

  12. Malx and Simcha, Philadelphia Pa
    All our welcome to our home. We would love to help in anyway we can.
    Yasher Koach for starting this

  13. We’re “out here” in Oak Park, MI. Happy to help out any Jew who is searching for inclusion.

  14. Silver Spring, Maryland

  15. Eliana here in Springfield, Massachusetts. (With our local day school in West Hartford, CT)
    I will be happy to help anybody, whether by connecting to you to my community or just to talk and receive some advice/support

  16. My home is always open in Thornhill, ON (Toronto).

  17. Stacy & Michael in Ottawa, Ontario. (Canada)

  18. I think that more than inviting people for Shabbat, which has very limited impact, people need to be treated with respect. I’ve met plenty of ex-haredim who know much much more Gemara than I’ll ever know. Let them give a Dvar Torah. Listen to what they have to say.
    Myself, I moved into a new city for work (slightly different issue, but my religious outlook is almost always misjudged by people who judge based on appearances). I am a very competent baal kriya and a pretty good chazan, but nobody ever let me lead prayers. Nobody asked me to give a dvar torah. My family and I felt more and more marginalized (being invited for Shabbat had little impact on this), until finally I quit my job and we moved. In different circumstances, I might have stopped coming to shul. I think this is where the essential problem lies- don’t put people in inappropriate categories, and give them some respect. In the context of ex-haredim, remember that the Torah they learnt is Torah they still have.

  19. Here to help in sunny LA (Tarzana). Brilliant idea.

  20. ruchi koval : May 15, 2014 at 5:46 am

    We’re a not-very-yeshivish black hat family but we’re out here in Cleveland and I know folks on all sides of the spectrum. In general the rejection described is more common in the large east coast communities. I am happy to help and Allison – good for you for confronting this and for caring.

    • My situation is a bit different, but it still addresses “inclusion.” As a single (divorced) mom, I moved to Cleveland for the start of the school year. I don’t feel very included — at times the opposite. Even my son who wants to be a rabbi, I’m thinking of finding a secular school for. I love so many aspects of our religion, but I’m tired of feeling ostracized. With all due respect, Cleveland isn’t any more accepting than other places.

  21. BT married Orthodox …… Ashburn, VA …… Happy to host for Shabbos or whenever needed!!!

  22. Good idea and much needed. From an unmarried, middle-aged BT who also lives on the fringes of frumkeit. After making aliyah from Baltimore (Ner Israel rav), I have found Israel to be the most difficult place to try to live as a frum Jew. Society is so polarized here that objectively extremist views seem to be the majority. I’ve been told that even though I am unmarried, in order to be treated with respect by “authentic Torah Jews” (which is what haredim here call themselves), I need to cover my hair because I am perceived by haredim as a presumably married woman who doesn’t cover her hair, which is “equivalent to a goy.” I’ve been told that I don’t follow “da’as Torah” because my local orthodox rabbi (YU) isn’t haredi and doesn’t follow “their” gedolei hador; the only “authentic” gedolei hador. I’ve been told that “Jews like me” are here TO SERVE “authentic Torah Jews” who live their lives “on a higher level” than the rest of us, who are not haredi. I’ve been told if I leave Israel to live someplace more inclusive and welcoming (like Baltimore!), I will not just be leaving Israel; I’ll be leaving Judaism. And every day here, I witness people dressed like Torah-observant haredi Jews who behave without derech eretz on the buses, in the shops, on the streets, and in their homes. I am also inclined to leave the Torah world because I’m so disillusioned by the disconnect I witness between Torah learning and the way Torah Jews actually live their lives here in Israel. It feels like the haredi world is trying to create a new denomination of Judaism, separate from normative frumkeit. Kol hakavod to you for your initiative.

    • Revera Marrana : May 17, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Aviva … I have had a similar experience in Israel and I did leave Torah behind because of this disconnect. I am ashamed to be part of the religious Jewish community here because of their many despicable acts.

  23. Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. There’s a lovely and laid back community here, including young marrieds and many singles ages 25-40.

  24. Ottawa, Canada

  25. Chana Rochel : May 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Brooklyn, NY. I’m not exactly what you’re looking for, but I’m living a chassidish, Heimish, with a twist of modern kind of lifestyle. Its a bit out of the box but works for me and my fam, so if there’s someone who just needs some guidance as to how to find their path from living a choking ultra chassidish life…to a more leniant approach to chassidishness without compromising on religious observance, Id be happy to be able to show them that it DOES exist and is not a conradiction to being frum.

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Allison Josephs

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