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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. Janet in Linden, NJ. Come for a shabbos to experience a warm and welcoming community.

  2. I live in Memphis, TN, and I and I am from a modern Chassidish family in Boro Park. I myself moved more to the Modern Orthodox community after struggling because I felt stifled in the chareidi NY world. I am also in the psychology field. I would LOVE to help.

  3. And I would also love to be more intensively involved.

  4. Beth Jacob in San Diego is a heimish shul where all are welcome.

  5. We’re in Jacksonville, FL and always happy to help!

  6. Washington Heights, NY. We host yidden from all backgrounds including chasidish, yeshivish, modern and non observant.

  7. Memphis, TN – Happy to Host.

  8. Eager to help in Memphis, TN.

  9. Maybe we should start a Facebook group where we can discuss what we can do together. This way all our heads can brainstorm together and we get something up and running.

  10. Jody Eisenman : May 15, 2014 at 10:16 am

    We are happy to host individuals or families for shabbos. You know where we are…..:)

  11. Stamford CT… we welcome the opportunity!

  12. We are an American, modern Orthodox family living in London, England. Happy to host, give a meal, and welcome to our shul anyone who finds themselves on this side of the pond.

  13. I could not agree with you more. I think we all need to work on accepting one another. Count us in for the campaign. We, personally, are more the right, but live in a modern community. WE’d be honored to host anyone. Liat, Omaha, NE

  14. I’m in Passaic, NJ if anyone needs.

  15. Pittsburgh, PA
    Be our pleasure to have you for Shabbos!

  16. I live in Tzfat, and feel that Tzfat is very accepting of people, regardless of levels of observance etc – especially amongst the English speaking community. There are loads of older singles, BT’s, gerim, etc….
    and we are all pretty friendly. Of course we have the best English library in the country … which helps! I can’t speak about the school situation tho. I know many single women (single and also divorced) who don’t cover their hair. It’s also a small community so perhaps that’s why we are more friendly. I suggest people who are searching for their place might find it in Tzfat….
    the main problem is parnassa… 🙂

  17. Houston, TX – Happy to Host. We all deserve to feel welcome regardless of our background.

  18. Sarah, Paris, France

  19. Matt and Pam in Stamford CT. Happy to have you join us

  20. Amsterdam, netherlands
    Don’t know if there is a need here… But we are a very all stripes community so everyone is welcomed!

  21. Ottawa Ontario

  22. Boro park.
    There are plenty of middle of the road, even chassidic families, right here in boro park and Flatbush who lead normal modern lives , and are happy to be frum and maintain a traditional lifestyle. a daily shiur for men is crucial to maintain levelheaded balance in life. For women, a good social circle is crucial in maintaining the traditional vs modern equilibrium.
    That said the educational system needs to be revamped. The English departments in the boys schools are not up to par, and the high schools are few and scant. Some young adults resent not being prepared for jobs and for real life situations. The leadership has some reckoning to do, but the average laymen has pretty much a good balance between modernity, tradition, chazal, science, business, shuirie Torah, Kiruv, tzedokoh, fun, vacation , dining, wine, fashion, dress, .. You get the picture.. It’s all about balance and chinuch for balance.

    • Revera Marrana : May 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Chaim, you are nothing more than a propagandist. The boro park frum world needs a total overhaul, back to basics like human kindness and honesty.

  23. Devora in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel – Happy to host

  24. Would love to help! Malka – Cedarhurst, NY

  25. Boro park.
    believe it or not there are wonderful people right here in boro park, flatbush, marine park, Staten island, seagate, etc. who struck a right balance in life , which pretty much works for them with a little effort. They are modern, fun loving and outgoing; make a decent living, up to date in fashion, food, wine, art, science to thier desire. AND, at the same time maintain a frum lifestyle wich include the following: shiurie torah, shabbos, yomtov, chinuch, singing , davening, inspirational Jewish music, modesty, and Yiddish language and culture.. They also try their best in avoding the emptiness of the adulterated popular culture. Yes, there is some fixing to do, especially in education and higher eduction for boys etc. but overall, if you can afford it move to Brooklyn. You just cant replace the Jewishness or “Hiemishkiet”

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Allison Josephs

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

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