Monday, May 21, 2007

Why did you leave Orthodoxy?

I am occasionally asked, usually by total strangers whom I've just met and my background is apparent, "Why did you leave Orthodoxy?" Since my catalyst for leaving Orthodoxy was being sexually abused by a rabbi, my response to this question up until now has been that this is something personal which I don't want to discuss.

On Friday night, I was at a Shabbat dinner, where I met a young man in the process of converting to Judaism. He, too, asked me this question. He said, "I've met many people who have embraced Orthodoxy, but very few who have left it. Why did you leave?" This time, my answer was, "Beyond the problem of sexual abuse, which happens in all communities, the response of the leadership is unacceptable."

That sums it up for me. The rabbi's abuse was my catalyst for evaluating the assuptions I grew up with, and the response of the leadership, who I approached with my story in hopes that they would take steps to prevent this rabbi from hurting another young woman, was the straw that broke the camel's back. How could I be a part of a community that turns their back to the pleas of those hurt and helpless?

What do you say when asked this question?

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the individual has been severely traumatized, they have "thrown out the baby with the bath water".
They had an unacceptable experience with a particular orthodox community and as a result, have chosen to abandon thousands of years of tradition, knowledge and observance.

I would question how much they understood orthodoxy to begin with.
It sounds like they had a very fragile connection.

They need to be able to see past what happened to them in one locality at the hands of some very inappropriate and ignorant community leaders and see the larger picture.

There is support for survivors within the observant community.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to find, but it is getting easier.

May 21, 2007 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mara,
Thank you for posting this. I feel exactly the same way as you. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep trying to figure it all out. I had no option but to step away. It was very hard at first, yet as time went by things got easier for me.

I had to learn to live in a whole different world.

Thanks again for sharing this!

May 21, 2007 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this comment is misleading:

"They had an unacceptable experience with a particular orthodox community and as a result, have chosen to abandon thousands of years of tradition, knowledge and observance."


Excuse me? It's been thousands of years of rabbis misleading communities into believing that those sexually abused are tainted goods and that communities had to do what ever to protect the name of the offender.

I personally think that the orthodox world has "thrown out the survivor" with their cover-ups and denial.

I think the only fragile connection there is in cases like this is the fact that the brainwashing that has gone on by the rabbonim and their followers is now being shaken.

May 21, 2007 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mara,

I left because I couldn't deal with the way I was treated when I started talking about what happened to me. I was also abused by a rabbi.

It's very difficult when people ask me why I left. I don't want to come across attacking the orthodox world, yet I am very hurt by it.

Stay strong!

May 21, 2007 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beg you pardon? Would you care to back up your claim that
"It's been thousands of years of rabbis misleading communities into believing that those sexually abused are tainted goods and that communities had to do what ever to protect the name of the offender." with sources for your openly prejudicial remark?

May 21, 2007 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mara are you still involved with any form of Judaism?

The reason why I asked is because of my personal struggles. I can no longer walk into a shul. I start to feel a great deal of anger when I'm around people who talking about anything to do with Judaism. It's been five years for me since I walked away. I read what you wrote and burst out in tears. I can relate so well to what you wrote.

I often feel very alone and broken when it comes to dealing with my neshema.

May 21, 2007 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Penina said...

Mara,
For me it had to do with needing find people I could trust and I felt empowered by.

I left because I felt like the rabbis were playing games. No one cared about me or about my feelings. It was more about what they felt was best for the community.

I needed to find a place that I felt safe and surrounded myself with people who were authentic.

I needed to be around people where my sense of being able to trust flourished.

I wish we could create a community of survivors who's goals were to heal ourselves and the world.

May 21, 2007 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually say because of conflicts between reason and faith.

May 21, 2007 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think lack of faith in those who lead was the reason why I left. We are only as good as our leaders.

May 21, 2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your use of the word "catalyst" on two occasions in your post is very telling!!
i think you were being asked what was the 'real' cause of your disenchantment with yiddishkeit!

May 21, 2007 10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mara,
I too left organized religion. For a few years I wanted nothing to do with Jews or Judaism at all. I was molested by a frum man and the Rabbis called me crazy when I tried to get help. The Torah contains much wisdom but our current leadership is in many ways unhealthy and currupt. For the person who wants "sources" check out how our holy rabbis responded to so many survivors. This (lack of a healthy supportive response to survivors) is a problem with the entire world orthodox community and is slowly, slowly, getting a bit better. It is because people like Mara are willing to speak out and say, "this is what happened to me and this is why I left" that the leadership is being forced to pay attention. They are distroying yidishkiet. Thank you Mara.

May 22, 2007 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Mara said...

Explaining a huge life choice such as leaving the religion you grew up with is definitely not casual conversation with someone you just met. The challenge is how to answer this question in a way that I feel comfortable with and that doesn't insult the other person. I live every day with the consequences of the rabbinic abuse, and it did factor greatly into my leaving Orthodoxy. As I read more and more about other rabbis covering up abuse and ignoring survivors, my anger grows. That's where my answer came from.

To answer the comments posted:
anonymous May 21, 2007 10:34 AM:
Al tadin et chavercha ad she-tagia limkomo. Do not judge your friend until you have stood in their shoes.

anonymous May 21, 2007 10:37 AM:
Thanks for responding.

anonymous May 21, 2007 12:13 PM:
I agree.

anonymous May 21, 2007 2:18 PM:
Thanks for sharing.

anonymous May 21, 2007 2:33 PM:
That is a much bigger discussion.

anonymous May 21, 2007 4:34 PM:
I am trying to find a middle ground where I feel comfortable. Being Jewish is a big part of me, but I have an aversion to the traditional structures of Judaism. At this point, I participate in two groups that meet different Friday nights for prayers and a Shabbat dinner.

Both groups are egalitarian and lay led, neither has a mechitza. That's what I'm basically comfortable with right now, though the words of prayers (one group follows the traditional siddur) do bother me so I don't fully participate in the prayers.

I am lucky that I live in a big metropolitan area where there are groups like this. I have been talking to friends about the different forms of Judaism they grew up with, and the havura movement seems closest to what I'm comfortable with. http://www.havurah.org/. Jewish renewal is also interesting to me, but I hesitate to explore that since Gafni and Carlebach were supported by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a big rabbi of that movement.

You wrote: "I often feel very alone and broken when it comes to dealing with my neshema." - I totally relate to that.

anonmymous May 21, 2007 4:49 PM:
I agree with what you wrote. Since it's difficult to create a community of survivors like you talk about (except on the internet), I am trying to create a community of friends who are sensitive to my background.

anonymous May 21, 2007 5:53 PM:
That's a good answer, but don't people ask you to explain further what you mean?

anonymous May 21, 2007 6:04 PM:
That's a great point, Judaism is based on faith (in your parents and in rabbis) and once that faith is broken, it is hard to stay. As Sting sings: "If I ever loose my faith in you, there'll be nothing left for me to do"...

anonymous May 21, 2007 10:00 PM:
As I said, it is a very difficult question to answer to a stranger... Of course, there is much more to my story.

May 22, 2007 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on the behavior I've seen from certain rabbis in the Baltimore community in reaction to the JT series, I feel drawn to leave what I "bought into" way behind.

May 22, 2007 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mara,
Thanks for sharing your courage. I'm working on moving away from my community. So far I've only gone as far as being on line during shabbos and yom tov. I'm still afraid of reprimand by the community. I really need to move away, yet haven't found the courage to do so yet.

Why do I want to leave? I can't deal with the hypocrisy any more. The focus of this world is really on things that don't matter. I've lost interest in being worried on which sponge to use with which dishes or if I cleaned out my sink well enough before switching from milk to meet dishes. I think the focus should be on learning how to keep our children safe.

May 24, 2007 7:50 AM  
Anonymous mara said...

Reply to anonymous May 24, 2007 7:50 AM:

My process has been a series of small steps. I am still "in the closet" (as termed by a gay guy) about being non-religious to my family and lots of people back there.

When you grow up a part of a community like that, where there are rules for every minute detail of your life, it's a slow process to disentangle your "self" from all those practices. It's a slow process of discovering who you are beyond the rules and the community. And that's above and beyond the process of finding yourself after being sexually abused and raped.

May 24, 2007 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mara
I can totally relate to what you just said. You are speaking the words I haven't been able to get out.

May 24, 2007 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
While the individual has been severely traumatized, they have "thrown out the baby with the bath water".
They had an unacceptable experience with a particular orthodox community and as a result, have chosen to abandon thousands of years of tradition, knowledge and observance.

I would question how much they understood orthodoxy to begin with.
It sounds like they had a very fragile connection.

They need to be able to see past what happened to them in one locality at the hands of some very inappropriate and ignorant community leaders and see the larger picture.

There is support for survivors within the observant community.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to find, but it is getting easier.

May 21, 2007 10:34 AM

The judgemental attitudes like yours do more to turn off victims of sexual abuse in our communties than the abuse itself.

You sound oh-so-pious bec ause you have NO idea what the victim experiences and so you have NO idea what the hell your pontificating about.

May 25, 2007 6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. When you are molested by a Rabbi you feel that the Torah itself has molested you. You need Rabbi's to help you heal your relationship with the torah if you are going to stay within the community. Where are these rabbis who can help our children heal????

May 26, 2007 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you need a rabbi to heal. I've been going to therapy, self-help groups and volunteering my time. These are the things I need to heal.

At this time in my life I can't imagine trying to trust another rabbi. I went to several looking for help and they all gave me the runaround. First Rav Dovid Cohen told me he believed me, yet a week later after he spoke to my offender he changed his tune completely. All of a sudden he treated me like I was the offender.

For me I walked away from Orthodoxy. For me the solution is trying to find some sort of connection with what ever you can that is spiritual. Forget organized religion of any kind.

May 26, 2007 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you read my entire post. I wrote that you need a rabbi to help you heal your relationship with the Torah IF YOU ARE GOING TO STAY WITHIN THE FRUM COMMUNITY. Everyone has their own individual path to healing. Rav Dovid Cohen pulled something very similar on me. I would not be religious today if not for Rabbi Blau. G-d bless him!

May 27, 2007 8:49 AM  

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