On Leaving

On Leaving

Leaving Brooklyn? No Vey!

Leaving Brooklyn

Satmar leaders often told me: “We demand that you follow the rules. If you don’t like our rules then you have a choice. You can leave.”


Really? How exactly can I leave, what with my young child deep in the system’s throes, how?

Officially, those who don’t comply can leave. After all, they’ll all say, the community strives to maintain utmost purity in its schools and in its homes and does not want my or your or anyone’s filthy ideas about individuality or modernity or cross-country cycling (that’s mine) infiltrating their community. But the truth is that they don’t want you to leave either; they aggressively don’t want you to leave. That’s because the Hasidic community is a social construct in which one departure pulls a thread out of the whole fabric of the community. A man or woman who leaves implicates the sibling’s marital prospects, the “poor abandoned spouse”, the “grieving parents”, quite often young children who are on the threshold of two worlds, and all the other neighbors, friends, or unrelated gawkers who may be led to think or take action as a result.

If you are happy in the community, good for you. But if you are unhappy, the reality is sadly very grim. Leaving it is a journey through hell via the extended scenic route.

The community is set up like an onion; layers upon layers that keep you in the system in various ways, and oh, how it can make you cry. You are sewn into its fibers by relations to friends and family you love; you have no one else. You are married before you are old enough to make a choice, and then tied to a spouse and soon children. You have little vocational training; no financial headstart, no education or personal development, no practical world knowledge, a language barrier and a cultural barrier and the barriers just piled so thick, to slice through them you weep. You are so bred into the system psychologically and emotionally, you may not be able to leave even when all logistical boundaries have been removed.

The result is that even if you feel you outgrew the community and the community oppresses you, judges you, hurts you, controls you, bleeds you and robs your spunky spirit and crazy opinions, you may not be able to imagine yourself anywhere else. You may not hope to leave. You may not be able to part with kin and kind. The bind that this creates is a double life fraught with conflict and restrictions too painful to imagine. There’s a growing underground community of double lifers who are finding support and ideas among each other. I know some of them to be incredibly unique, often gifted and supremely talented, with ideas and interests that sets them apart from any mainstream culture. They are resigned to go through hundreds of rituals a day that have no meaning to them and keep secrets from loved ones, because their loved ones cannot accept their truth.

And if you want to leave, if you cannot bear another minute of no freedom, intimidation and raising children against your beliefs, then slather your skin with lots of protection, because hell’s rays blister to the bottom of the soul. Leaders may tell you to go and good riddance, but they will also tell you that they will do all they can to make your life miserable. If you are a parent, the children will be pawns through which they will not let you go. I know this because I’ve been through it. They will tell you they will ensure that your children will be barred from every frum school, that your spouse will be “saved” from you and your marriage torn, that you will have to fight a losing custody battle in which you will be vastly outdone in power, support and money. That you will be ostracized, isolated, defamed and lonely.

They will tell you that while you can make a choice, your children cannot be part of that choice. After all, you made a commitment upon marriage (at puberty; when you may have otherwise made a commitment to move to the moon and cure your acne) to raise your children Hasidic. So why, go, go, good riddance, leave your children you carried in your womb and nestled on your breast and go wander the world alone. It’s what you want, isn’t it? Now why aren’t you going yet? It’s a choice, a choice!

Oh?! Oh no, that’s no choice. If any parental tie is torn to bloody shreds when we “can choose” to leave, then NO Mister Rabbi, we don’t have a choice. When our children will be allowed to have relationships with both parents, when children won’t be turned against the leaving parent, that’s when we’ll have a choice. When family won’t close their doors on their own, when a mother won’t have to fight tooth and nail to retain custody of her children, that’s when we’ll have a choice.

The reality is a horrible nightmare of power and control that cruelly attacks anyone who threatens the system. Those inside who are content may not understand the need to leave or the pain one goes through when stuck in a system they want out of, and in that way, they are complicit in the ostracizing, gossiping and investing money in fighting the leaver.

My only solace is that the present situation will improve, that leaving will become easier. It simply has to. Footsteps*, an organization aimed to helping those who leave, is growing its resources for parents. There’s also a new organization called “Unchained at Last”, for women in particular. There’s increased social support for those who are in the process of making this decision, online especially. Perry Reich brought national media attention to this issue when she went on Dr. Phil about her own custody battle. Some Hasidic parents are finding out that it is alright not to fight their OTD ex; it is best for the children for the parents amicable. And more awareness and writing from those on the other side, who have survived this nightmare and managed to resettle and salvage their cherished bonds, gives hope to those who want the same.

And there’s the human spirit and our loved ones. We can only hold on to that and keep going, keep going, keep going, until hell can’t hurt us anymore.

Update a few years on: Footsteps is a problematic not-for-profit. Hopefully I’ll write about them more sometime.

  • zee
    Posted at 22:10h, 21 June Reply

    Very well said!

  • Seth
    Posted at 23:17h, 21 June Reply

    The community is set up like an onion
    A whole new meaning to that line from Fiddler “May the authorities be like onions with their heads in the ground!”
    Thank you for this article, it is perfect.

  • Shragi
    Posted at 05:15h, 22 June Reply

    Hell hath no fury like a chasidic community scorned.

  • david braun
    Posted at 09:06h, 22 June Reply

    Shpitzele this article made me crying and crying non stop because I am going thrue this terrible situation right now every day is a nightmare for me I am struggling for freedom and I can’t get it, I can tell u one thing, perry riech was so right when she said on dr. Phil that the chasidic community is not a religion, it’s a CULT and yes I am saying it again it’s a CULT!!!

  • Socrates
    Posted at 10:12h, 22 June Reply

    This is written so well that even a chusid living in the system fully would agree with the above

  • Free Thinker
    Posted at 11:33h, 22 June Reply

    Socrates, I second that, at least s free thinking chusid in the system would.
    Shpitzle, Great piece as always and kudos to your courage.

  • The Hedyot
    Posted at 11:36h, 22 June Reply

    Hear, hear!

  • Groynem Ox
    Posted at 17:58h, 22 June Reply


  • Marrano Chassid
    Posted at 19:03h, 22 June Reply

    What an article! You so amazingly transferred my emotions into words – I never believed this a possibility!
    Free Thinker,
    A free thinking chusid thinks this already! The pain Shpitzele is describing is precisely what free thinking chassidim are breathing, living,and feeling every day!

  • Yohanan
    Posted at 19:27h, 22 June Reply

    EVERY WORD in your article is WORTH IT’S WEIGHT IN GOLD! how illustrational it is that till now we know of only of one single family that was able to make it through, to fight the system and break through the ‘onion layers’ and still stay together as a family! How long will we have to wait for another family to be able to do that!? http://yiddish.forward.com/node/3652

  • Sruly Glick
    Posted at 19:55h, 22 June Reply

    imagine a man in his 40’s taking his R”T Tefilin and urinating all over it and then throw ing them into the garbage… A month later he takes a Chimush from shul, and masturbates on it as much as he can, and then throws it into the trash…! On the holiest night of Yom Kipur he stands in the Satmar shul covered in Talis and while the ppl are singing ‘Or Zuria Latzadik’ he’s on his cellphone whispering to a female friend… Believe it or not that guy is a Melamed in Satmar and has a family of more than 10 kids and has grandchildren too! (explanations aren’t necessary…)

  • Baal Devarim
    Posted at 10:36h, 23 June Reply

    A month later he takes a Chimush from shul, and masturbates on it as much as he can

    And the saddest part of that story is that, being a melamed, he probably masturbated over the wrong parts of the Chumash, probably over והיו הכרבים פרשי כנפים למעלה סככים בכנפיהם על הכפרת ופניהם איש אל אחיו instead of over ואשה אל אחתה לא תקח לצרר לגלות ערותה עליה. Sad.

  • Bat Sara
    Posted at 18:51h, 23 June Reply

    So well said, so well written. As usual you are the best!

  • Devorah
    Posted at 09:46h, 24 June Reply

    Oy, this hurts. David, I feel for you. I’m in this situation right now too. I cry every night and every morning.

  • david braun
    Posted at 10:00h, 24 June Reply

    Devorah friend me on facebook I would love to hear your story I am crying for u now my fb name is david braun

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 17:44h, 24 June Reply

    Well said shpitzel! Speaks for all of us, the oppressed nameless and faceless, struggling with this unsolvable situation. Well said!

  • baffled
    Posted at 20:26h, 24 June Reply

    Why do OTD husbands want their kids to be like them? Seeing the struggle that it entails, breaking away and startng anew, isn’t it time to let go?

  • Devorah
    Posted at 23:15h, 24 June Reply

    Baffled, Is it so hard to understand that a parent wants a healthy relationship with their child? That they don’t want their children brainwashed against them? If my children are happy being Chassidish, then so be it. I will respect their choice. But I don’t want to be the villain in their mind.

  • Gabriella
    Posted at 00:21h, 25 June Reply

    This is so sincere and beautifully expressed. I take my hat off to you for your fight. Inner and outter fights.

  • Moshys
    Posted at 16:59h, 25 June Reply

    Maybe i’m missing something, what does keeping shaboss and eating kosher and be shomer negiah with satmar? when someone leaves satmar to become modern or what ever type of yid they want they usully wont try to make you loose access to your child or to anyont else, if someone leaves and doesnt keep anything that the tora say, like shaboss and Nida ofcorse a parent tries to save his son or daugther from the mother or father. he or she loves their chile and know that if he does stuff against what says in the tora like fasting yom kipur and on they will burn in hell…as any parent knows, we try to save our kids from pain, so if someone is a Yid not a diffrents satmar or lubavitch or modern they will try with all the power they have to keep away the kids from a parent that goes of derech.

  • david braun
    Posted at 17:40h, 25 June Reply

    Moshys, I am sorry to tell u that u are tottaly wrong I don’t know if u are part of the satmer community or not but in fact everyone who was raised in the satmer community or in other very ultra orthodox community, knows that following the rules there doesn’t mean not eating yom kipur or keeping shabos it means much much much more then that it means women not aloud to drive cars, it means women must shave there hair, it means that your little innocent 3 year old girl most wear thick stockings in the hottest days of summer, it means that if a womens skirt is not almost reaching the floor then she is considered a shiksa and a chatzefa, and I can write and write a whole megilah of all there crazy rules now tell me moshys do any of these rules have any connection with the torah!? Where in the torah does it say that women should be treated like second class people? where does it say in the torah that a married woman is nothing more then a machine that produces babies!? I can go on and on but I think that what I wrote is more then enough to open your eyes and the eyes off all the other close minded people!

  • Pini Friedman
    Posted at 18:29h, 25 June Reply

    “when someone leaves satmar to become modern or what ever type of yid they want they usully wont try to make you loose access to your child or to anyont else”
    Moshys: You’re not too informed (every possible pun intended).

  • Shpitzle
    Posted at 19:34h, 25 June Reply

    “when someone leaves satmar to become modern or what ever type of yid they want they usully wont try to make you loose access to your child”
    That is entirely untrue. Satmar considers modern Jews to be as good as non-Jews. Do I need to remind you that Satmar Jews dedicate every shabbes chollent bean to the death of a zionist, many of whom may be orthodox Jews? Satmar has a strong mentality that while shabbes and kosher and wearing skirts are the most important commandments, all the other rules keep you in the right place, and if you begin to change (or as they say “fall”) by just modernizing in the slightest, they believe you will fall all the way. With that attitude, anyone who changes, to whatever degree, is equally considered a shaygatz.
    There is no differentiation between how a person deviates. The rule of thumb is this: if you reject Chasidis than you are falling, and therefore they should fight for your children.

  • david braun
    Posted at 21:26h, 25 June Reply

    Shpitzele u are so right! And since I Was raised all my years in this community from childhood to teenage years I have a lot to say about this and I will write a few exmpeles: (1:in satmer chieder u can only go with plastic glasses, all other type of glasses are oser like chazir fliesh and someone who does wear any other type, is considered as a BOM and u can be thrown out from chieder for that (2: in satmer chieder u are not aloud to play boll even when u are not in school( and yes I remember a story when one of those menaholim found a boy playing boll in park and the next day when that boy came in chieder the menhol smacked him up in front of all kids) (3: in satmer chieder boys are not aloud to ride a two wheel bike (they call it a shiegetz bike, and shpitzele I am sure u remember that in kj u couldn’t find even one boy who ride that bike) (4: in satmer chieder a boy who’s mother wants him to dress a little normal and therfore she buys him a suit designed with boxes that boy is considered a BOM, this is a tiny tiny bit of all crazy rules that they have by the boys school now I will tell u a little about the girls school (and shpitzele I am sure u will have a lot to add to what I am gana write about there female rules and I would love if u can share it with us) (1: the very first stupid rule is that every girl (when she graduates 8th grade) most wear that thick palm stockings and its a known thing in the satmer community that a woman who decides to wear other kind of stockings that woman did one of the biggest avieras in the torah! 2): in satmer school there is a woman who is called a “tzneas lady” her job is to make sure that every single student or teacher or secratery follows all there extreme tzneas rulles ( I heared a first hand story of a teacher who was highly pregnant and she wore meternety clothing that weren’t excectly like the tzneas lady wanted and she was sent home!) And again, besides for the fact that all these rulles are just crazy taliban rules the main problem is like shpitzele said that someone who doesn’t wana go with the rules is considered as a shiegetz and if anyone thinks that all I wrote is just a dream and it doesn’t exsist such rules in the community I would like to offer him a free tour in the satmer chhieder and school!

  • Moishe
    Posted at 13:47h, 10 July Reply

    Thanks, Superman–your lessons worked!

  • Devorah
    Posted at 10:12h, 02 October Reply

    I just want you to know you are not alone. I don’t know you, but I love you for your honesty and candidness. We are sisters of reality and freedom.

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