Leaving is okay

I had an open conversation with a religious friend who watched the One Of Us documentary. She admitted that she hadn’t been planning to watch it, but after reading my blog post, she decided to give it a shot. It touched her. This is a girl who isn’t afraid of the truth, a friend who accepts me 100%, and always has. She mentioned that the documentary had compelled her to consider volunteering for Project Makom, a New York based organization.

A quick Google search led me to Makom’s mission statement, which states as follows:

Project Makom, an initiative of Jew in the City, helps former and questioning Charedi Jews find their place in Orthodoxy. While we believe that there are numerous valid paths within Orthodox Judaism, not all observant Jews are born into a community that fits them.

I told her hesitantly that I didn’t think that was going to work for many of the “Off the Derech” (OTD), no-longer-religiously-observant, people I know. “They’re not just leaving for emotional or external reasons. They aren’t just leaving because the community hurt them. They’re leaving because they don’t believe in Orthodoxy.”

It would be impossible to list all the reasons that people go OTD. For every individual you ask you’d get a multitude of answers. Some have been OTD since they were young children, questioning the core beliefs that they were taught in grade school. Some left during their teenage years, the typical “teens at risk,” flaunting their behavior to the panic of their parents and teachers. And still others have left after that. Some leave past high school, past seminary and yeshiva, past marriages and children and sometimes even past grandchildren. There is no limit on when someone can go OTD. There can be any number of factors at any number of times that will cause the stars to align, leading to an individual’s decision to go OTD.

And that’s assuming it’s a one-time decision. Countless people go back and forth, torn between leaving everything they’ve known and loath to upset those around them. For those with spouses and children, the decision is compounded and exponentially more complicated.

Some people leave because they are running from something. Abuse, hypocrisy, persecution, oppression, thought-control, disillusionment, or conformity.

Some people leave because they are running towards something. Diversity, acceptance, freedom, congruence, intellectualism, love, or survival.

Often, it’s a combination of the two.

Switching levels of Orthodoxy may or may not solve the problem.

For those who want to leave the rigidity of their particular brand of Orthodoxy, Project Makom may be exactly what they need. However, Project Makom is banking on the fact that those who go OTD have left for external reasons, and not because they’ve rejected the foundational beliefs of Orthodox Judaism.

So while Project Majom may be doing a great service to those looking to downgrade their Orthodoxy, (and before you jump down my throat, please understand that I’m being facetious), there is still a significant number of people who go OTD who will not be served by an organization looking to replace one level of Orthodoxy for another.

And that needs to be okay. It needs to be okay for people to leave. It needs to be okay for people to walk away from Orthodoxy without resigning themselves to losing everything good that existed in their life prior to the moment they left. In needs to be okay for them to choose a religious and spiritual path of their own — or to choose none at all — and still be treated with respect and acceptance. In needs to be okay to walk away from Orthodoxy. It needs to be okay because if leaving Orthodoxy comes with any price other than the one that Orthodox people assume God will calculate after we’re dead, then Orthodox people are not being the loving people that they claim to be.

About the Author
Shoshana is an author and social worker living in South Jersey. She works primarily with teenagers and has mostly worked in urban environments. In her spare time, she can be found rock climbing and drinking iced coffee, occasionally at the same time.
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