An Interview with Formerly Frum Izzy Posen

‘Why I had to leave my ultra-Orthodox life’

Izzy Posen describes what life is like inside one of the UK’s most secluded religious communities.

This is How Difficult Leaving is

Around 2000 Jewish ultraorthodox people live in Zurich. They have to obey many prohibitions and commandments. They marry early and are not allowed to watch TV or surf the Internet.

Rebecca Wyss, reporter SonntagsBlick
Published on: 01.04.2019, 10:00

Anyone who wants to leave the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Zurich has a difficult road ahead of them. A small group of formerly religious talk about their departure – and are now helping others.


Sam Friedman (36) was a prayer leader (chazan) in the ultraorthodox Jewish community in Zurich.

Sam Friedman, 36, has left the Jewish Orthodox community. He belongs to a small group of alumni who founded the platform to help others.

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Melissa’s Story

Melissa is 37 years old and lives in Ottawa, Ontario with two cats 🙂

Hi Melissa, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. What can you tell us about your religious background?

Melissa and her boyfriend

Hi, thanks for having me! I grew up as an evangelical Christian, and was with the Baptist Church from birth until I was about 18 or so. Around the time I moved out on my own for the first time I started to question what I was raised to believe, and realized that Christianity wasn’t for me. I did some reading and researching, and I remembered taking a religion course in high school that really interested me, specifically the unit we did on Judaism. I didn’t know at the time that my parents were on their own journey, and eventually the three of us ended up deciding to convert to Judaism together.

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Rachel’s Story

Rachel (pseudonym) is in her forties, and is an attorney-in-law. She lives on the east coast with her two sons.

Hi Rachel, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Please tell us something about your family’s religious background and why you know Russian 🙂

We came here when I was relatively young from the former Soviet Union. My parents were not religious but they soon became enamored with the local Chabad, which tried to involve them in every way possible. Several years after we arrived, our home was kosher, and I was attending a Chabad elementary school, and lighting shabbos candles. After high school, I moved to Crown Heights for seminary and employment, as well as college. Although college was frowned upon, I received a bracha from the rebbe at the time to go to college, which allowed me to remain accepted – relatively- in the Chabad community while also enhancing my secular education. Looking back now I see how these unique circumstances shaped my life and freedoms.

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Letter to Our Family and Friends

by Philo and Judy Judaeus

letter-to-our-family-and-friends

How Miriam Fled the Sect

Victim born into ultra-orthodox Jewish community tells how she fled

Miriam Kliers, 46, was effectively brainwashed by ultra-orthodox Hasidic rabbis She was forced to run away from her husband, Shlomo, after he refused divorce Miriam had an arranged marriage with the unemployed student from Israel She was the chief bread-winner but when she ran away she lost everything From the outside at least, it’s an ordinary Victorian family home, part of an unassuming network of residential streets in a North London suburb.

Miriam’s Story and Fraud in the Stamford Hill Community

BBC Radio 4 – File on 4, The Unorthodox Life of Miriam

The shocking story of one woman’s attempt to escape an Orthodox Jewish community.

How Rabbi Tauber Betrayed My Trust

By the time I was ten years old I knew this life wasn’t for me. No, I was not molested. I was not beaten or abused in any way. I was the middle child in a large Orthodox family and I always felt loved and cared for. My parents are honest and kind, good people.

But there was something in this life filled with rules and limits that I couldn’t understand, something that tugged at my heart and told me that my path would be different. And all this before any Jew would disappoint and disgust me and lead my intellectual self running toward the place my heart had been taking me to.

I was fourteen at the time. I was hanging out with whomever I wanted. I was eating whatever I wanted. But I was in an Orthodox school and environment and my friends were, as well. I wasn’t doing drugs. I wasn’t staying out late with a bad crowd and partying. I was living the life I knew was right for me. Read more

Akiva’s Story

Akiva Weingarten was born in New York in 1984, the oldest of a family of 11 children. At 18, he moved to Israel where he lived for 10 years. Akiva got his first Smicha (rabbinical ordination) from a Chassidish Yeshiva in Monsey, NY at the age of 17 and was ordained again 8 years later by a Litvish Bet Din in Bnei Brak, Israel. At the age of 26, he received his third ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement. Today, Akiva is a rabbinical student at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, Germany and studying to be ordained as a Reform Rabbi.

Hi Akiva! How would you describe your family background from a religious point of view?

I would say that my family is the most typical Chassidishe family, no BT background, 100% Ashkenazi. I learned in Satmar, my father and grandfather are both Dayanim (religious judges), my mother is a teacher and speaker, all my brother-in-laws went or still go to Kollel, as does my wider family. Read more

Todd’s Story

I was born into a Jewish family which was very involved with Jewish and synagogue life, long before we all became Orthodox. Our family belonged to a synagogue affiliated with the centrist Conservative movement of Judaism (religiously in between the more liberal Reform and more strict Orthodox movements) in Rockville, Connecticut, a suburb of Hartford. I attended that synagogue through Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, and participation in the Conservative movement’s USY youth group in high school. I also became familiar with Reform Judaism after my family moved to the neighboring town of South Windsor with its Reform synagogue, and I occasionally attended events with the Reform movement’s NiFTY youth group.

At the time, the Conservative movement was the largest Jewish denomination in the United States. Since that time, Reform and Orthodox Judaism have grown in their share of congregants; Reform is now the largest denomination. The Conservative movement was an attempt to meld the traditional/Orthodox belief that Jewish law is binding and obligatory on all Jews (rejected by Reform Jews, who believe Jews are free to choose their ritual practices) with an openness to the seemingly heretical findings of scholars about human authorship of the Bible (rejected by Orthodox Jews). In reality, Conservative rabbis, including our own, tended to be strict in their observance of Jewish law like Orthodox Jews, while Conservative congregants, including my family, tended to pick and choose their practices like Reform Jews (though on average Conservative Jews were a bit more traditional than Reform Jews).

While my parents, like most people who attended suburban American Conservative synagogues, did not observe Jewish law as understood by Conservative or Orthodox rabbis (for example, they ate food which was not kosher, and did not follow the laws restricting various activities on the Sabbath), their level of involvement in Jewish and synagogue functions was unusually high. They were vocal supporters of Israel, and they were part of a small group of local Conservative families which got together for traditional Sabbath meals. Also, they were very concerned about Jewish assimilation and the prospects for “Jewish continuity” (the survival of Judaism in light of assimilation and intermarriage). Throughout my childhood, before my family’s journey towards Orthodoxy began, my parents repeatedly expressed their disapproval of “interdating” and “intermarriage” with non-Jews. They even argued that Jews who intermarried were “finishing Hitler’s job” of destroying the Jewish people, because many of their children were not Jewish.

The first person in my family to become Orthodox was my older brother, who became interested in Orthodox Judaism around the age of 11. My brother was inspired by the writings of extremist/militant Rabbi Meir Kahane (though my brother later became an Orthodox rabbi who opposed many of Kahane’s teachings). After some initial resistance, a couple years later, my parents started becoming interested in Orthodox Judaism themselves through my brother and the Orthodox Rabbis and communities he was in contact with. My parents’ move towards Orthodoxy was partially a reaction against assimilation (most of my cousins intermarried), partially because they liked what they saw, and, I now realize, partially because they had a lot of personal problems and it was an escape.

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