Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Advice to a new OTDer

Since I put up an email address from this blog a few months ago, every once in a while I will get a (sometimes heartbreaking) email from someone who has recently gone or is trying to go "off the derech" and who is looking for advice. Recently I got an email from a woman in her late 30s who has recently gotten divorced from her frum husband whom she married right out of high school, and who has now left the frum community. She writes:

Bottom line? I'm struggling. Thankfully, not financially. Struggling with making a life for myself - I'm so used to being told what to do, how to do it and when, that I find myself at a loss.

I figured I would share part of my response with everyone:

I definitely know how rough that is, that kind of freefalling feeling when suddenly you have total freedom to do whatever you want to do, but don't even know where to start. I think it's important to remember that whenever you change your life in a major way, there will be an adjustment period that will be kind of rough, where you have to start figuring out new routines and new ways of doing things.

Even after I completely stopped being religious, I still held on to jewish community type things for years because I really didn't know what else to do- so when I moved to grad school, I started going to Friday night shabbas dinners for jewish young adults every week, just because I didn't really know how else to make friends or what else to do with myself and was in a brand new city where I didn't know anyone. I did that for a few years even. But I still hated being involved in all that stuff, and felt like a fraud all the time, since all the people there assumed I was religious and was really into judaism (like they were), but I knew I wasn't, but just kinda stuck to the jewish community cause that was all I knew how to do.

What I ended up doing was around 2006 I basically stopped going to jewish events entirely, and started a year-long "happiness project" where I just experimented with all sorts of things. I didn't date any guys that entire year, because I was trying to figure out whether I still cared if guys were jewish or not, and also because I wanted to focus on me instead of another guy/a relationship. I went to like 30 music concerts that year, a bunch of crazy hippie music festivals, I grew dreadlocks for a while and then dyed my hair blue, I pierced my eyebrow (later took it out, ha!), I took a bunch of short term classes at a local arts place- an outdoor watercolor painting class, a figure drawing class, a couple of yoga classes, a tai chi class, a cooking class- just trying a bunch of stuff out and seeing what I liked. I also went to tons of different restaurants and tried all sorts of foods I had never tried before, etc. I started going to the gym and swimming, and just going on long walks all the time to parks and other places. I also joined a book club and a 'dinner club' that went out to fancy restaurants once a month. I think most 'normal' people go through something similar to that when they are teenagers, but for people like us, we never had a chance to experiment with these sorts of things when we were teens- and it's never too late!

I think there are generally 2 problems that need to be addressed when leaving the jewish community. The first is kinda figuring out yourself, what you like to do vs. what you were always told you should do, your level of morality, what you feel comfortable with, etc. The second is the friends problem- when you are in the jewish community you have a built in community of friends, but when you leave you suddenly leave that whole community. I was fortunate in that I happened to find a kind of already established 'hippie community' of people who like the same music that I like, and who meet up regularly at shows and festivals.

So what I would recommend is to start looking around the internet for different groups in your area that are meeting up, or classes, or other types of organized activities and just show up at a meeting or sign up for a class or something. That'll help you start to make friends outside of the jewish community, and also help you start to figure out what it is YOU want to do, what makes you happy. If you have a dog, join a dog park! Like to read, join a book club! The trick to making friends is to go back to the same place over and over again, and clubs/other organizations are great for that. Plus you already have something built in to talk about that is bringing you together. If you haven't been to college, or even if you have, and if you have the time- you might also want to start thinking about taking some classes at your local college on topics that are really fascinating to you. If the internet is your thing, there are also lots of internet groups/message boards that are sort of like mini online communities, and I've met a lot of real life friends from that sort of thing.

If you live in the NYC area there is an excellent organization called footsteps- that is a sort of support group for people leaving orthodox judaism and who aren't sure what to do next (they can help with education and those sorts of things).

If anyone has any other advice for new OTDers, please post it in the comments!

Meanwhile I still have more to write about my mom and the wedding last week, but I'm still processing my feelings over it, so it might be a while. Plus my dissertation is due in 2.5 weeks...I should get back to that.


  1. I tried many of the things you listed. The most helpful thing for me was finding other OTDers online and meeting up with them for meals, movies and the occasional lecture. It was great to talk with people who went and are still going through similar things as me. Just knowing your not alone is a great start.

    I also traveled around the word a bit and took music lessons. I go on silent zen meditation retreats occasionally. I find this sort of religious practice to be more inline with my personality.

    The most important thing is to take it easy and not put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Allow change to happen, but don't use too much force making it happen. Enjoy your self and life as best as you can.

  2. Great post.

    I loved how you said a big challenge is to know how to fill time. That was a big struggle for me too. I sometimes feel like the guy in Shawshank Redemption who hanged himself after being released from a fifty-year prison sentence. It's horrible but freedom can have its downside, and it's sometimes tempting to think life in the shtetl would be easier.

    I thought your advice was good and I think the main thing people need is support and a shoulder to cry on, which I think you've done.

    Thanks again for the post.

  3. Great post. I am sure your post will serve many OTders and have therefore added it to the OTD Resources site:

  4. As the "new OTDer" mentioned in AE's post, it's heartwarming to read positive comments - as opposed to polemic pontiff's (yes, I play Scrabble) raining hellfire and brimstone - I'm sure you're all familiar with those kinds of responses. LMAO!

    Thank you all for a warm welcome. :)


  5. Actually, I still did not leave my Jewish community! I only came out as a skeptic to a few of my friends. I still did not figure out a way to fully get out of my Jewish community. In fact, I like my Jewish community, that is the strange thing, maybe not. I wish I can come up with a way to come out completely without hurting them. I do not care about being abandonded, I am worried about hurting them. So I wish I can give some advice, but I am in a simalir situation and so I cannot help.

  6. I did leave. Je ne regrette rien - save for one thing: 3 of my 4 children are still there. I could have fought for custody, but they'd have reached the age of majority long before reaching any sort of agreement with my ex and the individuals backing him. In fact, those "individuals" view the divorce and my defection as evidence that I'm a 'kofuy tov" b/c they made the shidduch and treated me "like a daughter" (read, :when convenient and beneficial to their social image as baalei chesed). Even before they were aware that I had doubts about orthodox judaism (not to mention organized religion as a whole) the entire family shunned me solely because of the divorce and their concerns on how it would reflect on them.

  7. How wonderful, inspiring, and kind of you to share and uplift like this!

  8. I loved this post. It is posts like this that are so helpful to us closet OTDers. I wish there was a forum or group where we can get together to give/receive support from each other. There used to be a yahoo site but it's not active anymore. I dont know if anything like that exists anymore. Does anyone know?

  9. Inspiring post!

    Support is essential through the process of leaving the derech. I'd have been so lost if it wasn't for the support I had. It takes a lot of courage, determination and inner strength to go OTD.

  10. great post! friends are always an issue that has to be resolved but theres no set way, no right or wrong. It all about freeing yourself to meet whoever and alot of luck. I fell into a great group of people personally, some ppl have it tougher.

  11. I think you hold onto it, but you just have to be careful to not "run back" to the safety net is all I think. It is still hard to let go of friends, that is normal, the safety net is the dangerous part to run to...


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