In the last week there has been a flood of media attention directed at the plight of people leaving the Ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) and Orthodox communities. Sadly, much has dealt with a series of recent tragedies: two young people took their lives and a number of others made similar attempts. People who leave these religious communities are often completely shunned both by their own families and by most of those surrounding them. Unlike people who make the opposite move, there are few supports, direction, or efforts — certainly none by the government — to help them adapt. There are no rules, training, guidebooks, and until now, virtually no funding to bring them into the new community.
Those Leaving Haredi Fold Need Our Help
These brave souls are doing what most of our grandparents did. They have been evaluating their way of life and have made a decision to try a new one. Spinoza, in the seventeenth century, was completely ostracized and officially banned by his congregation; whereas most of the young people I am referring to have made far less dramatic turns in their lives and have a new world far closer at hand, they are leaving some of the most rigid and isolated sub-cultures in the Western world. For many, televisions and radios were utterly forbidden, social contact was strictly limited and — most damaging — their education was limited to religious studies. All this means they come into free society lacking basic knowledge or understanding of where they live, the world around them, how to function, or even the fundamental skills (math, science, or English) necessary to find employment.
MK Zehava Galon just reintroduced a bill she initially proposed some time ago granting these young people the rights of new immigrants. As they themselves described to me in a gathering I attended last week, they are a lot like people falling to earth from another planet. They are unfamiliar with simple social conventions and have no connections or social supports. They don’t even know how to find them.
Israeli society has to take responsibility for them and help them in every way possible, in such fields as education, job training, housing — areas in which the Ultra-Orthodox themselves are currently receiving preferential treatment. They are looking to become part of the larger society and with great drive to do so. They were abandoned by the government for most of their lives, left to study in schools with no approved curriculum and left to the will of religious extremists who regularly violated basic freedoms and rights of modern society. They have lost a lot and we all, together, have much to gain from their successful integration. We now have an obligation to help them and the many like them who are apparently waiting behind.