I Was In An Extremist Jewish Cult And Was Ready To Leave Judaism Behind
I was a rebellious teen.
You know the kind—the one the teachers worry about and whose parents get called down to discuss their issues. The kid who is on everyone’s watchlist for most-likely-to-go-down.
Now if you are imagining some goth girl smoking pot, a skull tattooed on her forearm, you have got it wrong. I dressed modestly, didn’t talk to boys, and didn’t even know that pot could be more than a kitchen utensil. But nonetheless, I was made to feel rebellious for my radical ideas.
Radical ideas, like the time I had the audacity to create a project portraying all kinds of Jews, from all religious affiliations, as being equal in the eyes of G-d. I was told the very idea was anti-ethical to Torah values.
This wasn’t coming out of a vacuum. My childhood had been a hodgepodge of ideologies, as I was schlepped along on my mother’s search for G-d. From Grateful Dead tours when I was a baby, where the idea of spirituality was getting high, to Rainbow Festivals where everyone danced around, bare footsteps beating in the grass, was just the beginning. We attended churches of every stripe until my mother found Judaism.
But the journey didn’t end there. Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish… I think I must have broken a record by attending 5 different elementary schools in 7 years. With every change I was told once again, “This is the truth. This is really what Hashem wants.”
Kids are so resilient, I was able to swallow it. Until I wasn’t anymore.
After a short stint in an extremist cult, I couldn’t be okay blindly following authority anymore. Until then we had steadily been becoming frummer and frummer… yet now my mother admitted to having made an error in judgment and that more stringent was not always better. I was a preteen at the time and had always assumed that my mother was infallible in her decisions. If she was wrong about this, who knows what else she was wrong about? Maybe our current insular Hasidic community wasn’t the ultimate truth. Maybe a different derech was the real one.
I began to ask questions, such as why G-d would allow polygamy in biblical times, or how was it possible that if G-d was everywhere, he wouldn’t be present in a house of idol worship?
I received many things in response—stony glares, indignant denials, and concerned phone calls. Do you know what I never received? Answers.
As I grew older and got married, I became disillusioned with Judaism. Blind faith just didn’t cut it for me. If we weren’t meant to question authority, then how could the same proponents of “blind faith” so vehemently oppose suicide bombers? Weren’t they, too, only acting out of blind faith in the way they had been told was the ultimate truth?
Was Judaism so weak that rather than provide answers, questions had to be suppressed? Beginning to doubt the truth of Judaism, I began dreaming about how I would break out of a society I saw as repressive and irrational. I still believed in G-d, and loved him, but the Judaism I had been taught just didn’t align with what I knew to be true deep down.
I did not see a future for myself in the Orthodox world. I wanted an education, a career, a chance to accomplish more than simply starching my husband’s shirts to perfection.
I began exploring. At first the bright shiny world of Disney seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Why was I never shown this utopia before? The secular world was great. Of course, the bubble soon burst, and saw that there were many problems in contemporary society. I continued my search, which eventually led me back home. Was it possible that Judaism did contain answers?
Slowly I started gathering answers, but confusion still reigned. Most google searches turned up hundreds of articles bashing orthodoxy, with only a handful willing to stand up and defend Judaism. One night, feeling truly despondent as I allowed myself to wallow in confirmation bias by watching one orthodox-bashing YouTube video after the next, I was surprised to come across one very different than the rest. It was a Jew in the City video.
An hour later, and I had met a female Chasidic judge, a bestselling author, and most surprisingly, the discovery that one of my favorite TV stars was actually orthodox as well. Many of my questions had been tackled head-on, unapologetically and with the confidence only truth can uphold.
For the first time, I realized that maybe being orthodox was not as repressive and old fashioned as I had once thought. Maybe there were answers.
And there were. No question is considered too daunting or inappropriate to ask, and my critical thinking is lauded instead of shamed.
I was able to rediscover a Judaism I believe in, one of love and kindness and tolerance. One that can be rationally defended and is not at odds with scientific reasoning. One that I find meaningful and proud to be a part of.
Whenever pessimism about life begins to creep in, whether stemming from religious fanatics or the myriad issues in the world at large, I visit Jew in the City. The down to earth articles show me that there is a utopia, one in theory. The Torah makes sense and is beautiful, and our problems stem from people’s misinterpretations and evil actions, but not from Hashem himself. I have finally been able to find love for my religion and inner peace. Through Jew in the City, I discovered Project Makom which has been an amazing resource to help me actualize the ideas that I read about.
Thank you, Jew in the City and Project Makom – an incredible organization. I hope everyone understands why it is so crucial that the Jewish community supports their amazing work.
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