August 25, 2021 Book posting: ‘Off the Derech, Leaving Orthodox Judaism’
This post will not really be a book review, because it is a post about a book that I am a contributor to. Off the Derech is a collection of essays published by SUNY Press, and the subjects range from personal stories to analyses of Hasidism and the journey out. I read most essays and enjoyed them, especially the powerful piece by Naomi Saidman from the Bais Yaakov Project, who also published important work on Sarah Schenirer. There are also essays by other micro-celebrity expats like Shulem Deen, Frimet Goldberger, and Naftuli Moster. I felt so grateful that I was asked to contribute to this project. Check out the book’s very diverse collection of essays.
My own essay is a cartoon story! Yes, I know, I didn’t expect it to work out that way. But as you might already guess, I love cartoons, and I’ve drawn many over the years. I love the laughs of illustrations; I love the clumsy pencil lines. And I had writer’s block. I thought some light illustrations would maybe challenge the formula of these narratives and give me a chance to say something else. It’s titled “How I Lost my Innocence.”
What inspired this “story” was that I was thinking about the way people always ask me: When did you realize you didn’t believe in this world? I always thought the question was framed in a way that included a built-in assumption. Namely, that to lose faith is to have a moment of revelation, a moment when we suddenly see through the set of the stage and realize it was all a lie. It’s as if we believe things only because we had not seen certain things, and that if we only had, we’d surely immediately lose all faith.
But of course, belief does not work this way. We believe things because they are the most sensible explanation to us, and we believe them even when there are great amounts of conflicting explanations. Our beliefs are not as simple as finding a Truth; they’re based on many layers of assumptions, trust, and social messaging. So when we live in a community and believe in its philosophy, we can repeatedly be exposed to little hints that the world is more complicated, we can lose faith a million times, but still not break from the “matrix” until the moment when we are emotionally ready for that leap.
So I wanted to depict the process by showing the millions of times we “lose faith” and encourage you to think of losing faith as a process of continual curiosity and growth rather than a moment when we find a single, clear-cut, definitive truth.