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. Dear Allison & Community,
    It is with happiness and a sad sigh that I say to you how happy I am to see you all band together for us. I was 10 when my parents became religious and it was not until I was older that I went to a Yeshiva high school and then move into a large frum neighborhood in Brooklyn as a young adult. Unfortunately – I got to see the not so nice side of our issues as religious Jews… from the inside – and the outside as a BT trying to fit into ultra orthodox communities and such as a young adult. Shiduch dating was traumatic… I had a troubled Chassidish man try use me like a “practice goy” for not so wonderful behavior on a date and several other encounters where the term Baal Tzuvah made me feel like an unwanted piece of trash. I WAS 10 YEARS OLD – a child. I felt as though I was being punished for the acts of my parents (how horrible – they did the true and right thing and STILL in many communities are considered less or undesirable). I wavered… and after many attempts to “fit in” in NY and CA communities gave up. I too, had gone to daven in some places and never got even ONE “Good Shabbos” – any attempt to get to know who the new person in Shul was. I think it was after several times having that happen that I gave up trying to be a part of a frum community at all. I have made my choices in life and will always have the beautiful parts of religious life in my heart and plenty of sad “what if’s”… as I am now married and have a child with a very kind and understanding man who is not a Jew. I send my daughter to a Chabad preschool and will try to keep her in Jewish schools in the hope that her experiences will not be like mine. I have my parents in my life but lead a sad double life of sometimes we keep shabbos – others we don’t. I keep my home kosher just to be able to see my parents and keep a few ties from the past. Who knows where my life will lead – but I do not think for me it will be a religious path as I have made my own choices and commitments. I am thankful that maybe you ALL can make a difference. Even if it is just for one person. We all matter…

  2. Chana Oshira Block : May 15, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Chana, Houston, TX! 🙂

  3. Happy to be part of this circle of connections. I am in Valley Village, CA (LA, San Fernando Valley), and have much familiarity with and sensitivity to issues stemming from domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse. Always happy to make new friends and welcome people at all levels of observance/knowledge into my home.

  4. AztecQueen2000 : May 15, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I live right on the line between Boro Park and Flatbush, and since I left my abusive husband have become a complete pariah. My own rabbi (who is MO) once tried to convince me to drop the charges after my estranged husband violated an order of protection, and my rebbetzin told me that “he didn’t actually do anything to me.” With the exception of one family, I don’t get Shabbos invites. I can count the number of people who actually support me on one hand. Most of my neighbors are Chassidim of various stripes, and one actually told me that she didn’t want her child playing with mine because she “has to worry about the influences on her children.” Meanwhile, the estranged one is still a pillar of the community. So much for all those Torah values.

  5. Lauren, in Brooklyn. I’d be happy to host anyone for Shabbat! My husband is ex-haredi and experienced this exact problem.

  6. Mira, Baltimore, MD

  7. i have an open home, and i would be more than happy to work with you – please contact me privately…

  8. Hello,
    I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a very diverse, eclectic, politically liberal or conservative town of 600,000. There is a Chabad House here that I like going to. In fact, there are 4 Chabads throughout New Mexico!! It’s amazing that some countries have just one, and New Mexico has 4.
    I believe the family that runs the Chabad house in Albuquerque is quite Orthodox. They remember the teachings of Menachem Mendel Schneerson z”l frequently. However, all kinds of Jewish people come to Chabad, and everyone is treated well there. New Mexico might be a great place for someone who would like to stay frum, but get some distance and perspective from the more intense Orthodox communities.

    (What’s more, I personally am looking for two roommates to move into the house where I live on June 1st. There are places to live here.)

  9. Meir Staten Island NY.
    Would note (to be dan lekaf zechus) that i think many peeps in MO/centrist community are less heimish/inviting to random strangers because they are more caring for their wives/hardly spend time with them and feel that it would be wrong to their wives to invite unannounced guests and spend precious shabbos lunches with random strangers.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 15, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      i think many of the wives in the haredi world love having company. at least that’s what i’ve seen. bustling house holds and revolving doors of guests are what make them happy. IMO, the modern world has become more secularized in this way and we have a bigger division between our space and our neighbor’s. as i said in the post – every community has its strengths and weaknesses and we could all use to learn from each other’s strengths.

    • A warm “Good Shabbos” to a new face goes a surprisingly long way… just saying.

  10. Brooklyn-Midwood.
    Plenty of people in our ‘hood (including us) who would host.
    My kid’s school already has had a few kids enrolled from not-anymore-chasidic families.
    Although this is obviously a problem, I think there are plenty of non-judgmental people out there.

  11. Susan in Pittsburgh. Happy to host.

  12. Benzion Klatzko : May 16, 2014 at 1:56 am

    What a wonderful initiative! Thank you Allison for saying what needs to be said and banding the Jewish people together. Although this may seem self-promoting, everyone who is writing comments on the article expressing the desire to host guests should immediately sign up for Shabbat.com as hosts. It is a safe way to invite people by checking out the references, feedback, and friends.
    There are tens of thousands of Jews all over the world who are members of this website that look for places each week. Many of them come from Chassidic homes. I should know! We are having nearly 100 people this week alone from Shabbat.com and at least a quarter of them are former Chassidim. We have nearly 50,000 members who are either guests or hosts. You can be one of them! And check out “Jew in the City” Shabbat video where we partnered in promoting Shabbat!

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 16, 2014 at 8:30 am

      Thank you, Rabbi Klatzko! And yes, I second that Shabbat.com is awesome and everyone looking for Shabbos placement should use it! What we’re trying to do here is slightly different as we want to gather a group of people specifically who are in the center/modern world whereas Shabbat.com has lovely hosts from across the Orthodox spectrum. We’re also looking to identify people who can be more than just Shabbos hosts, but who can also help a family get their kid into the local yeshiva. And finally, we made this commenting public because we want any ex-Hasidic/Haredi to see how many people are ready to accept them and help them and I hope anyone in that situation who reads this has a little more hope that there are good people out there who want to be there for them in this time of need.

  13. I love the idea of people hosting people, period…. but I also wonder if it wouldn’t cause resentment in the modern Orthodox world to accept the definition of their hashkafa – a view widely held by chareidim, I think – that their observance is “less than,” rather than simply “different.” I wouldn’t want somebody to view me as “halfway” religious or my observance of halacha as a “compromise” in some way. Lots of quote marks in here, but I guess my question is – is modern Orthodoxy really a stepping stone into or out of “full” Chassidic observance? Do we really want to position / promote it that way?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs : May 16, 2014 at 8:31 am

      While there may be some who view MO as “less than” from the Haredi world there are certainly MO who view Haredim as too extreme! I would think that anyone who’s looking to integrate into a more modern Orthodox community believes that it is a better fit for them religious and is not looking down.

  14. Ab Fried
    Awesome idea i do congratulate you for t he courage to do something put me on the list

  15. motty neuwirth : May 16, 2014 at 2:43 am

    Kiev ukraine
    Please anyone feel free to contact.

  16. Hi from Milano, Italy.
    Almost every shabes we host people who are different from us. Non orthodox, ex orthodox, future orthodox. From each of them we only learn, opening a new window on this ancient and thousands facets world. With each of them we try to share our thoughts, feelings and experiences on a path where H’ decided to put us and where so many positive aspects are sometimes forgotten. Italian kosher lemehadrin food assured:) shabat shalom Gheula

  17. Ahuva and Meir in Ramat Gan. We’re happy to host (though we’re not around in the summers).
    Just a point about lack of recognition in a new community: sometimes it’s not due to callousness, but due to a lack of realization. If a community is accustomed to seeing a lot of new and/or transient faces, or even if it is just really big, “regulars” may not even notice there is a stranger or newcomer around because they don’t know who belongs and who is “just visiting” a friend. It may be inconsiderate, but people who don’t greet an outsider probably assume they have a host already…Here’s to working together to create a warmer, more welcoming environment! Shabbat shalom!

  18. Philadelphia, PA (center city)

  19. Moshe Anthony : May 16, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Moshe, Hewlett, 5 towns Long Island, NY
    As a former chassid myself, it would be an honor and a pleasure to host a fellow yid, regardless of religious background.

  20. There are groups out there - Footsteps : May 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    Hi Allison. I would check out Footsteps, which is a group for ex-Haredim. This is a group that gives psychological counseling and GED training, as well as a host of other resources, for those who have left the Haredi world. I would check them out. Many people at Footsteps are exactly as you have described and would like to be active in Modern Orthodoxy.

  21. Chava in Boston!

  22. Have you reached out to Footsteps? They’re an organization that works with people leaving the Haredi/Chassidish world. I don’t think they usually direct them to the MO world, but they might have it, or be open to having it, as an option.

  23. Happy to host. Perfect community for transitioning in westchester NY

  24. Happy to Host
    Silver Spring, MD

  25. Brooke Czarka : May 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Brooke and Aryeh Czarka from Springfield NJ. I was raised in this wonderful community and we are so excited to be able todo the same for our children. Extremely open, loving and warm community. Not a single person goes unnoticed in shul on Shabbos. Looking forward to this wonderful journey!

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Allison Josephs

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