“Did you hear that The Oprah Magazine covered Footsteps?” a text message from a friend read. (Um, no. I had no idea Oprah even had a magazine.) I quickly scour Google to find the piece and realize I have seen O on the newsstands but never saw this site before. “Are you going to respond to the article in Oprah about ex-Hasidim?” asks an email from a reader. “Not sure yet,” I reply.
I didn’t know if I was going to write about the recent article that appeared in The Oprah Magazine about the OTD phenomenon. I said most of what I wanted to say when I wrote about Netflix’s “One of Us” a year and a half ago. But the comments and messages will likely continue until I say something. So here it is:
I wish there was more nuance and understanding in the world.
Since I started this organization to deal with media bias, I will address them first: I wish that the media would work harder to understand the nuance of the Hasidic world. I wish they would spend time with all the healthy and happy and thriving Hasidic families before they write about the ones that experienced the worst atrocities imaginable. I got my start this way. I got to know exceptionally kind and generous Hasidic and Haredi families before I saw any trauma up close. I got to see how it is meant to be and how it is in many places before I discovered just how bad it can be when things go wrong. I think you need to understand what is normal before you can approach what is horrific. Isn’t this how journalism should work?
I wish that the people in the Frum community who accuse me of “being too negative” as they read this and other articles we’ve published on problems in the Orthodox world would understand that speaking about problems in order to fix them is actually a good thing and a Jewish thing.
Just because the media lacks nuance doesn’t mean that we can lay all the blame on them. It doesn’t mean that we can pretend that these problems are just “a few bad apples.” I was guilty of believing this only a few years ago. There are some systematic issues with things like extremist schools and corrupt leaders. We can’t pretend our problems don’t exist because they’re uncomfortable to talk about. We should see the act of fixing brokenness as part of what we were put here to do as Jews. If we are meant to be a “Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests,” if we’re supposed to be “compassionate ones, children of compassionate ones” – then we can’t let shame or discomfort dissuade us from taking an honest look at our shortcomings in order to improve.
We have a lot to be proud of. We have a beautiful community and deep and meaningful traditions, but it doesn’t mean that we haven’t let corruption, hypocrisy, and abuse creep into our world. If we want the media to write about these problems less, then we’d be wise to work to fix them.
While I believe that everyone deserves to have his story told, whether it’s to a friend or on prime time television, I am sick of our members’ stories being ignored. We have 150 members at Project Makom in just over two years since we started our programming in earnest. These sign ups have come in with no marketing efforts. We are beyond proof of concept at this point. Project Makom is a serious player in this space, yet since our founding in 2014, there have been dozens of articles and videos discussing the ex-Hasidic phenomenon and only a couple have mentioned Project Makom.
And that is a shame, because our members’ journeys should be part of the conversation. They are just as shocking and extreme as any other story news outlets like to cover. The only difference is that for many of our members, while Judaism was at first the culprit of their pain, once they experience it through Makom, it becomes the comfort in their healing.
I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving religion and certainly not if they were failed by it again and again, but that is not the only narrative out there and that is not the only choice that should be known.
Our reach is not a big as Oprah’s, but as we’ve been doing since the founding of Jew in the City – when we share the nuance of our community on social media and encourage our readers to do the same in their networks, we can start to tip the scales towards more understanding in the world.