I was born and raised into a “ultra-orthodox” Lubavitch Hasidic family. My grandfathers on both sides are well known and respected figures within the Chabad Lubavitch community. My great-grandfather made the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wine, and performed the erev Yom Kippur kapparot ritual for the Rebbe. This lifestyle is all my family knows.
At the age of 16, I “rebelled.” I started pushing back against the strict lifestyle and way of life that was expected of me. My family did not take kindly to this, and things quickly spiraled out of control. I was kicked out of my community to fend for myself. I was not given skills to succeed in the outside world, and struggled to adjust to my new way life – completely on my own.
For a long time I was angry. For a long time I hated everyone and everything that had to do with Orthodox and Hasidic Judaism. How could your interpretation of religion make it okay to leave your children simply because they wanted a different way of life? How could your interpretation of religion justify the pain that you as a community have caused me?
Over time, I matured and realized that my anger was not doing anyone any good. My anger towards my community was preventing me from moving forward. My anger towards my community was blinding me from seeing all the beautiful things that Judaism and my community really stand for. I made the decision to focus on all the positive that I was exposed to until the day I was forced out. The tremendous morals and values that my upbringing instilled in me from a young age. I decided to focus on my religion in the way that it was intended to be. A beacon of light in a world full of darkness.
What was done to me and many others like me, is wrong. My family would be the FIRST ones to tell you that today. Over time we have come to understand each other and the missteps that we both took over the years. We have come to a place where we can respect each others way of life, even if we disagree. They have realized that the way I was treated is not something their belief system in actuality would have stood for.
There are many problems within the ultra-Orthdox community. No one can deny that. We must continue to demand better. We must do more to support those who have been forced out and are left to figure out the world alone. We must do more to give our youth the tools to succeed, regardless of what path they decided to choose. We must not allow our beautiful religion to be hijacked by extremists.
It is important to note that EVERY community has problems that must be addressed and dealt with. EVERY religion has those who use it to get away with doing terrible things. However, this very small percentage can NOT be used to generalize the entire Orthodox and Hasidic communities as one big evil cult. In light of the recent riots against the IDF draft, and the recent film “One of Us” (depicts the struggles of three former Hasidic Jews who left their communities) – there seems to be an urge to do exactly that. A huge sect of Judaism is being alienated – the same way I was. A huge sect of Judaism is being misrepresented. How does that solve anything?
If we are going to preach acceptance and tolerance, it must also include the Orthodox communities. We should listen and try to understand their point of view. We should try and understand why they choose to live such a strict lifestyle, instead of simply dismissing them and their customs as crazy and outdated. I have gone to Jewish events that have refused to serve me kosher food. Do you see how that is kicking me to the curb just like my community once did?
If we are able to see past the generalizations, we will see that a vast majority of these people are good and kindhearted — and have no ill-will towards anyone. We will see that an overwhelming majority of Orthodox and Hasidic leaders are strongly against the anti-IDF riots of this past week. We will see that a growing majority of Orthodox and Hasidic leaders are strongly against the mistreatment of those that do “veer off the path.”
If we look even deeper, past the black hats and long coats, maybe you will also see the beauty that I have come to see. The beauty of charity and helping those in need at whatever cost. The beauty of a tight-knit loving family. The beauty of taking care of your own. The beauty of shutting off the world for one day a week, and focusing on all that is important — Shabbat. The beauty of living a life of higher meaning and purpose.
The same way I demand the Hasidic community continue to make progress and do better at accepting everyone, I also demand that the Jewish community at large do better at accepting the Orthodox and Hasidic community. We are all one big family. We are all in fact “one of us.”