March 23, 2022 Frieda Vizel and Izzy Posen talk: OTD-Haredi relations
Save the date for Thursday, 31 March at 18:00 EDT / 6PM for a Zoom conversation between Izzy Posen and myself on post-haredi identity. We will be joined by voices from both the OTD and haredi communities. Here is the link to join.
Izzy Posen grew up in the Hasidic community of Satmar in Stamford Hill, London. He is an outspoken voice in the OTD community and a researcher of Hasidic culture, history, and language. The following is a post he wrote introducing the event and his own background in more detail:
Since the explosion of the internet in the 90s, the ex-haredi movement has been steadily growing, expanding, and blossoming. Haredi communities have responded to this phenomenon with shock and panic, convening conferences on the topic, writing books, and a whole host of “experts” rising up to offer guidance and advice to the community and families dealing with members going OTD.
The OTD community in turn has shaped itself to deal with painful rejection, challenging journeys, and cases of cruel parental alienation. Brave individuals have spoken up about their pain and have engaged in activism to change hearts and minds, to make this process less grueling.
Mirroring those efforts, some brave haredi voices have started speaking up about the ills of kicking out children from home, about a parental approach of love and acceptance. It goes without saying that leaving the faith is still not seen as a legitimate choice within the community, but it is fair to say that attitudes have softened and that this is now more of an accepted reality, albeit a painful one.
I have been on my own OTD journey over the last 7 years and mine hasn’t been free of pain either. Perhaps the cruelest aspect of my story is the familial alienation that I and my family endure. I see my family not as perpetrators for cutting me off, but as victims. It is just as painful for them, and they see themselves as having no choice. I continue to hope every single day that I will be reunited with my beloved family, and I am working very hard to bring that about.
I have been through the stages of the OTD journey. I have had my New Atheist, anti-theist phase, I have had my anti-haredi phase, I have had my “I want nothing to do with Judaism” phase. But over the last 2 years, I’ve been in a phase of reconciliation and synthesis.
Here is my argument: I have spent 20 years of my life deeply steeped in Hasidic culture and life, and I have enjoyed many aspects of it. I love the Yiddish language of my youth, the heimish foods, and the soulful songs. I feel an affinity with my native Hasidic community, with its celebrations and festivals. Why should I have to abandon all of that? Why can’t I embrace the culture of my youth? Is it any less my culture just because I’m not on board with all of the religious beliefs and practices that come with it? Who will stop me from celebrating my culture in a way that is meaningful to me and which is true to my beliefs and values?
Over the years I have also come to learn that it is not whole communities that are good or bad, but each community is comprised of both good and bad people. I have started to actively seek out connections with the good people in my native community, people who are more open-minded, less judgmental. And I am very grateful to have made great friends in the community, with whom I exchange ideas and human camaraderie.
For understandable reasons, the OTD community and the haredi community are seen as opposing sides in a fight over values and goals. To some extent that is necessary, as the haredi establishment does not want leaving to be easy, and that directly impacts members of our community. We are there to support and help those who want to leave, making our aims directly conflicting with the aims of the haredi leadership.
But that doesn’t have to stop us from building grassroots bridges between members of the haredi community and members of the OTD community. Both communities have evolved enough at this point that such reconciliation on a grassroots level is now possible.
I don’t see my OTD identity as apart from my Hasidic identity. In fact, they are two parts of the same identity that encapsulates and synthesizes my life’s journey. Haredi Jews are my brethren, as are OTD folk. I would love to build a bridge between these two sides of my community.
I have teamed up with Frieda Vizel, a long-term member of the OTD community, to host an event aimed at OTD folk and haredim alike, where we can have a frank discussion about these issues and facilitate dialogue between these two groups.
Frieda also grew up in the Satmar community, just like myself, although on different continents. She has kept close ties with her native community and continues to study and appreciate its culture. She is therefore the right person with whom to have these discussions.
There is another reason why I wanted to talk with Frieda. Both she and I have refused to fully embrace the values and beliefs that were pushed on us after we left the haredi community. We both see ourselves as free thinkers who take the best of what all worldviews have to offer, without constricting ourselves to a particular orthodoxy. I want to pick Frieda’s brain about those values and beliefs that we each take from the different cultures that we have encountered over our lives.
We hope that this event will spark a discussion and dialogue in what we may call haredi-OTD relations. See you there!