Letter To The New Yorker Editor: “When One Parent Leaves a Hasidic Community…”

Last week The New Yorker wrote an article about what happens to children when one parent leaves a Hasidic community. Despite our expertise in this space (with our program Makom) and our unusual perspective, neither our staff nor our members were approached to comment on this topic. The article’s tag line, “The irreconcilable differences between Orthodoxy and secularism increasingly end up in court,” is patently false. What is irreconcilable is a highly dysfunctional person doing anything reasonable. We have been contacted by several production companies working on ex-hasidic TV shows. At this point, Makom is a known entity when anyone is doing a story on the ex-hasidic phenomenon, and any time we are left out of the equation (which is essentially always) it is not by mistake.

We wrote a letter to the editor to try to tell a more nuanced story. That was not published. Fortunately, don’t need to rely on The New Yorker to be able to speak on this subject. Here is our letter below:

Dear Editor,

Stories of dysfunction and tragedy in the Hasidic world, as in every community, certainly highlight failures among certain leaders, educators, and community members. There are also many notable people inside this world working to create positive change in areas where problems are systemic. Our organization has seen hundreds of formerly Hasidic Jews since its inception in 2015, so this reporting comes as no surprise to us. What is surprising is the lack of context your writer provides for how these tragic stories speak to a shortcoming in human beings and not in Judaism itself. To date, we have never come across a member of a Hasidic community who chose to abandon observance without trauma being an underlying factor.

Additionally, while parental alienation is never the answer (unless a parent is truly dangerous), uprooting children and moving them into a drastically different and unfamiliar society is not necessarily the healthiest approach to child-rearing either.

Sadly, our most of our members have suffered at the hands of abusive religious Jews practicing a dysfunctional form of Hasidic JudaismHappily, many of them have healed as human beings and Jews at the hands of loving, religious Jews modeling a healthy and fulfilling Orthodox Judaism (in combination with years of therapy). The author made the effort to profile a variety of ex-Hasidic Jews, but the narrative here, like in nearly every major accounting of this genre is boils down to a simplistic narrative: “Religious Judaism is bad, leaving it is good.” When the formula is so repetitive and predictable, countless ex-Hasidic Jews, who find hope in their heritage once they experience it in a healthy way, are marginalized.

Allison Josephs

Josephs is the founder and director of Jew in the City whose initiative, Makom, helps former and questioning charedi Jews find their place in Orthodoxy.

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  • Avatar photo AP says on December 9, 2020

    “To date, we have never come across a member of a Hasidic community who chose to abandon observance without trauma being an underlying factor.”

    I was a member of a hasidic community who chose to abandon observance without trauma being an underlying factor. Feel free to contact me if you want to hear more.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on December 9, 2020

      Thanks for your comment, AP. We certainly don’t deny that this is possible. But from the data we’ve seen dealing with hundreds of cases, this doesn’t seem to be prevalent. Not all the trauma we’ve seen is trauma with a capital T. Some is low level trauma – being in a home that is not warm or comfortable, parents not being verbally or physically affectionate or making the child feel comfortable to say his real thoughts. Those are the patterns we’ve seen, but of course we understand that we have not seen every case out there.

  • Avatar photo Roy Frenkiel says on December 9, 2020

    So, any article not including you, who is either ignorant, dishonest in your statements, or both (likely option)? Thankfully, those of us who are actually familiar with the topic know that any article including you or your organization is immediately tainted, which is the reason you are so frequently excluded. Hope that clarifies it. Toodle-doo!

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on December 9, 2020

      Thanks for your comment, Roy. The word I’m using is “nuanced.” There is a lack of nuance when you marginalize ex-hasidim who leave the community but don’t leave Judaism. These stories matter because for some people on their way out, having a way to not leave Judaism completely is the best option for them. To clarify – I don’t begrudge anyone for leaving. I believe we are endowed with free will and anyone can use it as they see fit. If a person was abused and traumatized in a community, I totally understand why they’d want to get out. The stories our Makom members share are nothing related to the Judaism that I know. But when a more nuanced story is told, people who are searching have more options available and that’s something everyone who cares about choices should support.

  • Avatar photo Aaron Airee says on December 9, 2020

    If you don’t want people to leave, then don’t traumatize them

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on December 9, 2020

      100% And we are thinking a lot about how we create change from within so that people don’t feel forced out. At the same time, change is beginning and people are getting involved to be a loving surrogate family when people do get traumatized, so that is a more complete version of the story.

  • Avatar photo AJ says on December 9, 2020

    You wrote “To date, we have never come across a member of a Hasidic community who chose to abandon observance without trauma being an underlying factor.” Do you also think the following statement is true? “To date, I have never come across a member of a Modern Orthodox community who chose to abandon observance without trauma being an underlying factor.”

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on December 9, 2020

      No. It is a different phenomenon in many ways.

  • Avatar photo Rivky says on December 11, 2020

    My good friend married into a family that had multiple children who left observance. Her mother-in-law was interviewed by a well known newspaper on how she feels towards her children who left. She gave an interview saying how she still loves them, they still have a wonderful relationship, etc. Then she waited for the article be published. It wasn’t. When she called up the writer- they told her that when they handed in the article, the editor didn’t publish it because it wasn’t the “narrative” that they were looking for.
    I think many of the commenters here fail to realize Allison’s point of view. That is looking for HONESTY when reporting on the “ultra” orthodox community. Show the full reality. All we see are countless articles, tv shows that caricaturize the hasidic community, portray everyone with the same brush, malign entire communities of mostly good, kind, people. It is disgusting, and it is frustrating because the other side of the story is never told.

    • Avatar photo Rivky says on December 11, 2020

      If you see the eagerness of the hasidic Jews in the Peter Santanello vidoes- it’s because their story is NEVER TOLD. It’s because, for once, they are being humanized.
      I know many people who have children who have left observance (mostly from trauma, but I can speak for all). They struggle with disappointment. But they have loving relationships with their children. Why is their story not told? Why cant my friend, who had her son (trauma) living in her basement with her non-Jewish girlfriend, in the middle of boro part, taking her non-Jewish, black grandchild to daycare, because she loves and accepts her son? Why can’t the story of a hasidic man who has 2 non-religion teenagers (trauma) living in his home , one of them WITH his girlfriend in his bedroom, fully accepted into the family- be told?
      Why can’t my Satmar friend whose daughter isn’t religious (trauma), yet she is so supportive and close to her, despite crying for her by licht bentching- be told?
      Why are we referred to as “ultra” orthodox Jews, even they we have repeatedly expressed our frustration that we find that term offensive? If someone is born a female, and then identifies as a male, and an article is written about him referring to him as a “she” do you think that article is biased? DO you think he will take that article seriously?

  • Avatar photo Leeba Weisberg says on December 12, 2020

    To date I’ve never found a BT who chose to abandon their upbringing and become Orthodox without trauma being an underlying factor. Has it occurred to you that pretty much everyone has gone through trauma at some point in their life and that major changes in lifestyle often have at least something to do with it? Has it also occurred to you that people who easily adapt to the outside world don’t seek out your organization for help and thus you’re only seeing a sliver of the people who leave hasidic Judaism?

    Has it also occurred to you that the tone of your article seems extremely narcissistic? Being offended at not having been contacted as you are THAT important? If you care so much about your actual mission focus on that more than your own self promotion and attempting to invalidate other people’s experiences. I hope your Project Makom recruits see this letter before joining your organization so they can see for themselves who you really are.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on December 14, 2020

      Thanks for your comment, Leeba. Actually, I’d say that many BT’s, especially the ones who make the most drastic changes, are often doing so because they want to get away from something in their life. That’s why there are so many unhealthy BT’s out there.

      In terms of who doesn’t come to our organization – I can’t speak for that group. I can’t claim to know what their situation is about. That’s why I’m only speaking to the cases we see at Makom. For the last point about narcissism, the idea of having these stories told is not for my glory. I don’t need my story told. I’m not ex-hasidic. I believe Makom members stories out to be told because their perspective and journeys could be life-saving to someone who wants out but doesn’t want to abandon Judaism. Our staff feels so fortunate to be able to offer this kind of community and hope to people who are searching. So that’s why these stories matter and that’s why mainstream media should tell them.


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