Forum explores flight from Orthodoxy

Hillel involved in providing aid to about 100 youths who left Orthodoxy.

religious zionists 298.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
religious zionists 298.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The difficulties faced by Jews who decide to break with their religious upbringing was the subject of a conference at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque Monday evening. "Young Jews who abandon religion face two main difficulties," said Varda Lifshitz, chairwoman of Hillel, a nonprofit organization that helps Jews brought up in religious homes who become nonobservant. Lifshitz spoke with The Jerusalem Post ahead of the conference. "First, there is the total break with the family and all the support systems that the family offers. Second, these young people, who are usually between 18 and 25 of age, need to start their education from scratch," she said. Lifshitz said that approximately 1,000 young people contacted Hillel in 2006, about the same as during 2005. Last year, Hillel helped about 100 youths who left Orthodoxy. "We help pay for housing after these kids are kicked out of the house, and we also help them reeducate themselves," she said. Lifshitz said that most of Hillel's NIS 1.2 million annual budget came from the Diaspora, particularly the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The foundation is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has offices in Jerusalem and Washington. "Israeli businesses and philanthropists are wary of donating to us," Lifshitz said. "We are wrongly seen as missionaries of secularism." David, 27, a former haredi man who left his yeshiva at age 19 to get a high school diploma and serve in the IDF, said Hillel helped him make the transition to a secular lifestyle. David said his leaving Orthodoxy had little to do with a crisis of faith. "My first experience with seeing men and women together in a free environment was when my mother took me to my cousin's secular wedding," said David, a career soldier who works in the IDF's computer department. "That's when my interest in sex began. I used to play hooky from yeshiva and watch sexy movies. I also bought porno magazines." Hillel helped him get in touch with other formerly religious youth who have become his best friends. A movie called Between Two Worlds (Bein Shnei Olamot), directed by Ziva Naveh, which tells the story of a boy and girl who decide to abandon religion at the age of 15, was screened at the conference. Hillel uses the film, which presents many of the difficulties faced by young haredim who leave the fold, in its counseling and training programs.