Fitting in isn't always hard

Not all yotzim b'she'ela (newly secular) have great difficulty going out into the secular world. Whether modern Orthodox or haredi before the big change, some have managed to land on their feet and fit almost completely into secular society without external help. Daniel (not his real name), 25, grew up in a haredi home and became secular seven years ago. Today he lives in Tel Aviv, owns a private business and lives the life he has always wanted - except that his family has cut all ties with him. "I knew by age six I didn't fit into the religious world," he recalls. "Even though I was a good student who excelled in Talmud, I couldn't live in a lie." Daniel says he still believes in God and admires certain things in the Jewish religion and tradition, "but the haredi education is composed of things you can [both] explain reasonably and things no one can explain. As a religious person, you have to have blind faith. I couldn't live with it, especially when no logical explanation emerged regarding the Holocaust." Daniel's father is a successful businessman, but he says he prefers not to renew the relationship with his family. "It was hard at first, but I was never really a mommy's boy. I am not angry with them and I am not embittered. I knew the secular world doesn't mean sex, drugs and rock and roll; I prepared myself and went through a long process before I finally became secular. I think that the fear of failure drives me to succeed, and I use all the tools I acquired in the haredi world, like the competitive attitude I had to have as a scholar in the yeshiva." Dr. Sarit Barzilai, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University, says that the process of transitioning from religious to secular society without any formal help requires even more strength and willpower. "The newly secular need to have strong personalities and an independent streak. The process is similar to a survival test, and those who choose to do it alone are usually more prepared. Overall, most yotzim b'she'ela are characterized by rebellious, critical thinking that challenges social norms. Usually, faith has little to do with their decision to leave and generally speaking, most of them feel that they do not fit in, or they went through some sort of event which was a turning point." Eric, 25, and Brad, 26, (not their real names) are former modern Orthodox men from Jerusalem who became secular. Unlike Daniel, they do not believe in the existence of God and have completely left belief, commandment and tradition behind them. Both graduated from yeshiva high schools, went to religious pre-military academies, served in the army and then left the world they grew up in for good. "At the beginning, my family didn't accept my way, but lately they are more understanding," says Eric, whose parents were born into secular families and became religious as adults. "I, on the other hand, respect them when I come to their house, wear a kippa, and try not to offend them by desecrating Shabbat." "My parents took it very hard, and there was a time when they threw me out of the house and didn't want anything to do with me," says Brad. "Only lately they became more open, and I think [it's because] one of my sisters also became secular and they are getting older." Barzilai says that most families cut ties with their newly secular children, "because they think this is the way to bring them back. But lately the rabbis' approach is not to keep them away." Brad is still studying in university and Eric has already graduated. The two of them are certain they will never become religious again. "Even as a religious person I was never sure that justice was on my side, and I couldn't handle the inconsistencies in Judaism. I thought it was nonsense to say that God had written the Bible, and I think that the halachic world is old and invalid. Besides, I don't agree with the concept of living for someone or something else," Brad explains. Prof. Menachem Friedman, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Bar-Ilan University, says that in most cases, former haredim or modern Orthodox people go through a similar socialization process. As a result, they usually enter the secular world unprepared, skill-less and tie-less. "But there are [some religious] people whose parents sent them to yeshiva high schools, they acquired a high school education and matriculation certificate and sometimes they served in the army, so when they leave the religious world, they are not as helpless." According to Friedman, who has extensively researched religious communities, not all religious people believe in God. "Religious society - mainly the haredi world - has created a situation where it is almost suicidal to leave, because the newly secular are forced to cut all ties with their origin and there are no alternatives. While modern, secular society is mobile and a secular person can move from one social group to another over the course of his life, a religious person cannot." Surprisingly, Brad's and Eric's friends are mainly those who have made a similar journey. "There is a seriousness in the formerly religious people which I don't seem to find in my secular friends," says Brad.