This is a response to the article posted by Jew in the City (To THE OTD Community: I’m Sorry I Didn’t Understand Your Pain, Allison Josephs)
You say you never saw the ugliness in the Orthodox Jewish community, up close. You didn’t see the judgments or the rigid boxes or fear or cover-ups or any other unfortunate realities that occur every single day in Orthodox communities around the world. And I can’t help but think that you are so much more privileged than you realize, having chosen your own brand of Judaism, your own form of what observance means to you. Too many of us never had that choice.
When you are raised religious, you are indoctrinated with a belief system so rigid and complete that every waking moment is dominated by thoughts of what you should or shouldn’t do. When you are raised religious, you don’t have the freedom to choose your path, to explore the meaning of the life from your perspective, to consider the world and all the humans in it with an open mind and open heart. When you are raised religious, you are made to feel different and flawed and wrong if you choose to allow yourself to deviate from the prescribed path. When you are raised religious, you are expected to close your eyes and turn your head when ‘righteous’ people do bad things. When you are raised religious, you are conditioned to respect authority to the point where abuse is fostered and festers insidiously because those in power are protected and shielded from accusations and consequences. When you are raised religious, you might get your individuality choked right out of you, if your interests aren’t acceptable or common. If you are raised religious, you may have family members that would rather see you die than choose a different path.
There’s white privilege and male privilege and I think you have a touch of baal teshuvah privilege. You chose this. You wanted this. This was your derech, your path, and you were allowed to travel it. You were greeted with open arms by the members of your current community, who were glad to have you. You didn’t lose your family, children, job, livelihood, and sanity along the way. But if you had done it the other way around, you might have.
Baalei Teshuva passing judgment on Off The Derech folks isn’t right. They believe they’ve found the truth; we’ve been questioning it for a long time. They are welcomed by the Orthodox community; the Orthodox community views us as a problem that needs to be solved. They receive approval for their choices; we deal with daily doses of disapproval. The playing field isn’t even.
You state that your mission is as follows: “Every Jew should know that there is beauty and meaning in Torah and mitzvos.” That’s not true for everyone. That is your truth, and I can respect that, but that is not a universal truth. You say you’ve heard the stories of Project Makom members, but have you heard the stories of Footsteps members? It is so much worse than you can imagine. As an OTD person, I’ll accept your apology, and I’ll assume that you’re open to dialogue about this topic. Dialogue about what the Orthodox community can do to stop persecuting OTD individuals and instead provide support for the people that they claim to love. Dialogue about why Orthodoxy is working for you, but not for hundreds and hundreds of other people. Dialogue without the angry criticism that you’ve received in the past, and with more compassion and understanding from both Orthodox and OTD contributors.