It’s All Kosher (No. 1): Trapped in New Square
I’m an 18 year old girl in New Square. I want to leave. I dream of the modern world and living a free life. I think I’m a fairly bright girl but I have no self-confidence. I feel so alone and frightened, like there’s nowhere I really belong. I don’t want to hurt my parents, but I really want to leave. Can you help me? How can I leave?
Desperate to Leave
“I packed a garbage bag and left,” wrote one woman in her memoirs. That’s how she left the Hasidic community. I always wondered how that went. Did she pack her deodorant and pumps in a trash bag and make the ten-mile journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan, squeezed onto the Q train between a sleeping suit and a pregnant Hasidic carriage-wielding veibele? Did she run in the middle of the night, climbing over a barbed wire fence that the vaad hachinuch put up, the garbage bag swung over her shoulder? Did she let herself down a rope, into Levi’s, to buy a pair of illicit jeans and then she LEFT with her change of clothing in a garbage bag? How did this great escape play out?
As for me, I’ve left so many times I’ve spent all the sensational firecrackers that come with crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge. Although I never yet left with a garbage bag. I wonder if that might have made the journey easier.
“How can I leave?” you ask. To answer that is tricky, because I’m not sure what leaving itself means. The Hasidic community doesn’t have physical borders to cross, only intellectual and cultural boundaries. You can leave Williamsburg a million times, you can work in the most dazzling city in the world, but you can come home to a Hasidic wife and kids whom you control and whom you expect to comply to your standards of Yiddishkeit. Then again, you can live next door to the dayin to whom people turn for judgment on the usability of their chicken or underpants, but if you’re born with an innate curiosity and open mindedness you’ve left the frum community even before you ever entered it.
Leaving is an intellectual journey, more than a physical one. To leave, you need to expand your horizons. That is, just learn, learn, learn. You’ve been sheltered all your life, there’s so much you need to learn in order to create that bridge from one world to the other. You can access information many ways these days. The web, if you have it on your phone or computer, is a storehouse of knowledge. There must be a free library near you. Sneak in and sign up. Use their computers if your access is limited and acquaint yourself with the modern teaching giants: Google and Wikipedia. Some libraries have free museum passes. Museums aren’t on the Hasidic black list, so you can even drag a friend or two to do see the skeletons of species millions of years older than their Torah, and leave it to yourself to judge what you want to believe. Try to sign up for education somewhere. Even a frum college would be a start. Write and read blogs. Post questions on the Unpious forums. There are many overeducated brilliant minds lurking there, waiting to flaunt their knowledge. And remember, books are your most reliable friend. Set out to leave a closed minded world and be blinded by a brilliant, colorful, dynamic world in which there’s room for your thoughts to live freely and flourish.
Once you have crossed the intellectual boundaries, your life will not be the same. Some people may assume you’re naïve when they see your long dress and thick stockings. But those who measure by looks don’t measure up to you, so don’t listen to them. When you’ll arrive, when you’ll have formed opinions about feminism, freedom, choice and fashion and everything, regardless of where you live or what you wear, you’ll know you have left. And if after you’ve parted with the Hasidic mindset you want to live in a different culture, you’ll be mature enough to take small trips in that direction.
Don’t forget the garbage bag though.
Best of luck,
The Unpious Posek
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