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The Deborah Feldman Story We Need to Believe
Mon, 03/05/2012 - 19:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Samuel Katz
Samuel Katz

Deborah Feldman’s book, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” has garnered significant media attention since its publication. Recently, much of the focus has centered on whether some of Feldman’s claims are true or false. Unfortunately, this debate is eclipsing a far more important conversation that we, the readers in general and the Jewish community in particular, should be having in response to this book.

This conversation has to do with the struggles that people like Feldman face when they opt out of the chasidic lifestyle. For some reason, people either seem to romanticize the chasidic community — as the keepers of Judaism and having beautiful and supportive families — or to belittle it — seeing them as extremists who evade social responsibility and have more children than they can support. These black-and-white views obscure the nuances inherent in what it means to be both inside the community and to leave it in order to find a place in a world Feldman — and I — were taught to shun.

Like Feldman, I also chose to leave the Satmar community in order to pursue an education and a life of my choosing. The secular education I received while attending Satmar Yeshiva was minimal and, by all measures, inadequate. After my bar mitzvah all secular education was discontinued, so the gap in my math, reading, and writing skills — already behind those of my secular peers — only widened. At age 16 I went on to study at the Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnai Barak, Israel, for two years. In 2008, I returned to the United States hoping to enroll in college.

The choice to leave yeshiva and the community I grew up in was difficult, both emotionally and practically. Yet, my desire to live a life of individuality and openness drove me to pursue my goals despite the rejection from my friends and community. The social and emotional pressures were only part of that struggle. Practically, going from Satmar to SAT prep was far from simple. Without a high school diploma, I would need to get a GED, but, if you are under the age of 19, you need to provide a discharge letter from the last school you attended. This was something my yeshiva was not going to help me with.

Luckily, I found Footsteps, an organization that assists people seeking to find their way in the secular world. Footsteps guided me on how to take the GED. Afterwards, they provided enough tutoring in math and writing that I did not need to take remedial courses in college. Footsteps also generously granted me a scholarship — something that most institutions refuse to someone who cannot report a high school GPA. This made it possible for me to attend Stony Brook University, where I am now completing my junior year in biochemistry and theater arts. I intend to pursue a Ph.D. in medical research. 

It’s only recently, as my reading skills have improved and my horizons have broadened, that I learned the correct word to describe the transitional world I experienced between yeshiva and now. It was Kafkaesque. A world whose instruction manual everyone but you received; a world where getting to where everyone else is requires running twice as fast and enormous support.

Some of the particulars of my story are different than Feldman’s. Unlike Feldman, I left my community before I was set up in an arranged marriage and unlike Feldman I had some family support. But like Feldman, and like so many others I have met through Footsteps, I experienced the unique ups and downs of trying to adapt to the secular world with little familiarity, preparation, or support.

I met Feldman almost a year ago; she told me about her book deal with Simon & Schuster and the publicity campaign her publishers had planned for her. It was my hope back then that perhaps a book with national publicity would trigger a conversation about the unique struggles that ex-haredi people face.

But the story of how Deborah Feldman flew from her nest appears to be going the way of Icarus. With the wings of publicity tightly affixed to her more salacious anecdotes and claims, she seems to be flying too close to the sun. I hate to think that doubts about her story, which despite its journalistic flaws has many important insights, will blind the Jewish world to the real story of struggle, pain, displacement, and even redemption that characterizes life as an ex-haredi.

We can use Feldman’s tale as the basis for the same old debate about how we, as modern Jews, feel about chasidim. Or, we can use this opportunity to have a more important discussion: What does the culture of ultra-Orthodoxy mean for those who choose to leave it behind, what are the challenges they face, and what can their fellow Jews do to help them.

Samuel Katz is a junior at Stony Brook University.

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You don't answer the point about Ms Feldman's yellow journalism.
If one thing is not what it seems, so it throws question marks on the rest of her story. Obviously, Ms. Feldman wrote a lurid tale of woe to embellish her book.

Well, if this story is totally untrue?
Obviously, her wild tales about woe don't compute either.
As much as you obviously have a story yourself, but whitewashing her slander doesn't help the reader to sympathize with whatever your point is. In fact, it seems to put you in her pot.
All the best,
Raanan Isseroff

his isnt directed to this article but to a video i recently saw about footsteps that i find a bit funny. The first thing is the footsteps video on pbs how it is showing and representing many orthodox jews from williamsburg and boropark then shows that their rebbe is the lubavitcher rebbe from crownheights mind you they are very different secs and most lubavitch people are not as secluded and are more americanized then those from williamsburg and boropark the second comment is about the clip from katie couric on leah vincent whom i personally knew and grew up with. her father was a rabbi of a moderen orthodox/yeshivish shul she went to a school which taught secular studies as well as most public schools which she did mention.
I dont consider myself ultra orthodox i have a tv go out to movies and so forth i understand that everyones situation is different and people dont feel that religion is for them but what is the need to bash it in public most of the people that are part of footsteps wont even see or read the things that are being said because as said they are very sheltered and dont have tvs or access to outside world so it is non religious and not jewish people seeing the things said. so if your purpose is to stir up anti Semitic remarks thats all that it going to do
i dont have an issue with footsteps help people but dont make out that the people that they come from are monsters

You're assuming that being 'more religious' is ideal and desirable. Well, let me ask you something: If you had to live next to a Muslim, would you prefer a 'more religious' Muslim or a 'less religious' one?

I grew up Hassidic and went to a Hassidic Yeshiva until I was 20. I can tell you from my experience there and from my experience later at Footsteps that Footsteps has done much more to promote Jewish identity and to enrich Jewish peoples skills and character than my yeshiva has done all those years.

These donors you mention have the opportunity to meet the Footsteps members before they donate, and they find them very interesting and motivated, and therefore decide to support them.

I learn of Footsteps from a woman whom I call daughter, tho we are not related by blood. She left the chassidic community due to the call of her spirit, to be free of oppression and abuse. I listen to Mr. Katz's NPR interview repeatedly with gratitude and wonder. I am in my 70's, brought up in a conservative Jewish immigrant household. Only now I begin to understand the life consequences from brain injury sustained when beaten severely as a child - all in the name of religion. I babysat regularly for a chassidic family. I have Lubovicher family members. My father was a
pedophile and some family members swam in the waters of addiction. I had to leave it all behind to find my voice.
I was raised to be a breeder of jewish babies. I am still confused by secularity. I often must translate in my head what
I hear, as I was familiar with also hebrew and yiddish. There was no one many years ago to listen, help, guide, nurture.
Brain injury set me apart in many schools, and I was repeatedly raped and molested as I had no understanding of self worth or protection. I wandered hungry in the streets as a child, have faced homelessness and addiction. I have been shunned by my remaining family, considered a contaminant against judaism. At this advanced age, I prefer solitude to others' misunderstanding and questions. I probably speak for many elders. We are out here. We are misunderstood. Change can naturally bring turmoil and confusion. But perhaps this is good. I say to my daughter, for whom freedom is a gift she gives to herself, that ...... ah, that we have lived to see the birth of a Footsteps organization. That my old, tired inner eyes see such a thing is amazing. Amazing. mazel tov

> "They wouldnt want their money used towards a place where shameful language is used to mock and distance themselves from other Jews and closed to other Jews."

Pretty strong words. I suppose you would also advocate for all those who donate to chareidi causes to withhold their support from those institutions, as anyone who has been through the chareidi educational system knows very well how they promote a tremendously hostile and condescending attitude towards modern orthodox Jews, Jews affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements, and secular Jews.

Footsteps on the other hand, promotes plenty of Jewish identity and Jewish values, just not necessarily ones that are Orthodox.

> "Unless some dont feel Judaism ought to be a religion, involving belief in G-d and keeping the Torah's commandements, with Jewish organizations striving to encourage such, with pride!"

That's exactly right. Secular Jews do not believe in the divinity of the torah, or even necessarily in god, and have no problem supporting an organization that believes similarly. Wake up and smell the coffee.

> ...the founder of Footsteps was a BT, brought into the loop by Lubavitch...

This is patently false. The founder of Footsteps was born into a frum Chabad family, grew up in Crown Heights, and was frum all her life (until she left as an adult), although her parents might indeed have been BT's.

(Just one more example of the misinformation that people believe about Footsteps.)

Samuel Katz is son of Rabbi Ysoscher Katz who left the Satmar community and teaches at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and is remarried to Prof. Sharon Flatto. As Samuel Katz himself acknowledges, he had family support for his decision to leave and any comparison with Deborah Feldman's experience is a shallow one.

In my dialogue with Mr. Katz regarding his film “It gets besser” he has scathingly remarked to me that he no longer considers himself Jewish. He was pretty clear on that. When I asked him on an intellectual level to explain what drove him to his conclusions, he stopped communicating totally. It seems Mr. Katz finds orthodoxy as a threat to his choices he made in his life. People make choices in their life and they can choose what path they would like to take, however the mere fact that he feels that by belittling a large group of our brethren in public forums, proves to me that he needs to justify himself. When he is confronted in private he finds it difficult to answer the simple questions.

"When he is confronted in private he finds it difficult to answer the simple questions".

As is the case with most faithful members of Footsteps to nowhere, the OTD mill, where the way less than 1% of the Hasidic community looks for help in cleansing themselve of their heritage, manufacturing the likes of Ms Feldmans, and Mr Katzs, even though the one in charge ,Ms Santo, "goes to synagogue", which is what Footsteps uses as their defense. Really humorous.

Why UJA would support an organization with more accomplishment in moving people away from Judaim, than closer to it, is shameful.

How long will UJA continue their efforts in this regard?

Just a small question.
I see there are many members of Footsteps commenting here in defense of this organization.
I'm mainly relating to one member who quoted the following:
"At the same time, if someone leaves a Chassidic community and chooses to become Yesheivish, Footsteps will support that individual too"
So my question is: Should Footsteps be such an innocent organization just supporting and helping people through in their own free decision to change their lifestyle, would a individual being part of the secular world want to become orthodox, or even a member of the Yeshivish community, decide to become a chassid, or furthermore a "Satmar" chasid, and has difficulty going through this change, would Footsteps be there to guide him/her through and with support and strategies?
.... and now you know the rest of the story!

The religious Jewish community has it's cycles, and although it's not something we can fully understand or comprehend, the fact is, that it happens to us. Many of our own kids fall of the wheel, so to speak, and there is not much that we can do.
Of the 6 Million Jews, killed by the Nazis, less than a million were religious, ironically we the ultra orthodox call them "all" Kdoshim/holy souls, people that gave their lives for Hashem, as this is one of the most sanctifying ways to serve Hashem, to be killed for being a Jew, to put it in simple form 1 of every six Jews were not religious.
But the fact is we lose many of our own, and in Kaballaistic studies, it's something that cleanses our nation and rids it of Klippos/its outer shells, but I'm not into that so I only state the obvious.
The holy Chasam Sofer, not someone directly involved with any particular hassidic sect, was always of the opinion that we should not try to appease those that are trying to leave but rather let them go. As painful as this can be to the religious communities in general and to their immediate families in particular, it's something we must do, let go.
We have something to make it easier and hold on to, Emunah/believe. Since Hashem is capable of everything he can spark into them a will to return, and if he chooses not to, so be it, we will live with it.
I was told that Satmar Rebbe R' Yoel Z"L, once said that it is a Gzeire/decree from heaven which soul is doomed to get lost, it's just a pity on the parents that this happens to.
To prove the point, many of the Kiruv we do these days results in losing others, for example the founder of Footsteps was a BT, brought into the loop by Lubavitch, she turned around and tears away many of us, I know that they claim not to sway anyone anyway as all the pizza comments above, but her idea was to pave a path for those that wanna leave.

Your attitude - that people leaving chasidus and orthodoxy is some sort of gezeira from shamayim (heavenly decree) - is shared by many in the chasidic and orthodox community in general. But that doesnt make it right. This attitude, with it's attendant "proofs" - I heard from someone that the Satmar Rebbie said this and the Chassam Sofer said that - only enables our community to continue to ignore the very real problems we have. Instead of an introspective attitude that would allow us to identify our mistakes and try to correct them we start with the assumption that we are perfect and those who leave are flawed or driven by some mysterious heavenly force that cannot be understood. What a horrible attitude! Pay attention to the prayers you'll be reciting on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and see if our tradition tells us to assume such an attitude about ourselves. Until we as a community take responsibility for our shortcomings we will continue to suffer these "mysterious" heavenly decrees. Wake up! Wake up from your sleep!

My command is, that people wherever they grow up on, and there future is to be "orthodox or N" you need to have repect to others espacialy for father and mother and to family that support you for 20% years of your life, and to publish a book with many pages against father and mother and family who help her to survived as read in the book, getting her married with best jewelery, clothes and wedding hall and much much other things, they did not deserve this book, and dont forget in the future her son which ever way he will grew up "free or not free" will do the same the her when he will grow up and find out that the publisher mother is a health and mental patiant.
i would rather call this book 'UNRESPECT"

Very Well Said,

i would also note, that those who are truly "happy" with their new "free" Lifestyle, tend not to look Back, so my Guess is, that she has a terrible Guilt Conscience and therefore needs to constantly prove to herself that she is right,


"You know very well why Footsteps is so secretive. You know how oppressive the Hassidic community and how rumors and stories spread like wildfire. "

How about those who are not Hasidic at all, who happen to be Orthodox, but are Doctors with degrees from Ivy League schools and are denied entry?

They dont exist you think? None have offered to volunteer and lecture?

Please inquire.

Dangerous? Hmmmm.

What a thoughtful and important article!

And yet, based on so many of these comments, I can't help but wonder what article these people read? It's like people have an axe to grind so they use whatever is written - no matter what it says - as a springboard for their own anger or prejudice.

In any event, I think this piece is significant because Deborah Feldman's memoir, in my opinion, is not about the juicy details, but about what it meant for her to be part of this community and what it took to leave. This is such an insular world that those of us on the outside know nothing about it. Of course, with this book, we only see the Satmar community through Feldman's eyes, which is no doubt different from how others in the community see it. That's not wrong; that's just what memoirs do.

I also thought all the poking fingers at her about whether some of her anecdotes were true, such as the one about the young boy who was mutilated and murdered, was not relevant. In this particular anecdote, it would make sense that there would be no police records of the boy's death since, according to her version, the whole thing was covered up and buried. I don't think she was lying and even if this tale is not true, she never claims to be a reporter. She only relates this anecdote second hand. That this anecdote makes the Satmar community look bad is not, in my opinion, a crime. This is how she feels about them and she has a right to voice her opinion. They are welcome to write their own books to counter her.

I'll add mine to the numerous comments in support of FOOTSTEPS. They do great work supporting people in crisis. Those who speak negatively of it either speak out of ignorance or out of philosophical malice. Full stop.

By the flew of orchestrated onding about Footsteps it seems the commentator touched a nerve. I was never at Footsteps but have a few friends who attend I can say even though they deny it and officially claim not to push people to leave religion the reality is all Footsteps is doing is taking people who are on the fringes and turning them into fierce anti religious, alomst cult like zombies. Footsteps gets funding from many sources who's agande is only anti religious. I think it is time for an honset reporter to investigate Footsteps and uncover what's going on behind the scenes.

I was enlightened by Samuel Katz about the struggles that the people who transit out of the Charedi lifestyle are going through, and I can empathize with them. But Debra Feldman's book is nothing about that struggle. It is primarily about attacking the Charedi community and its lifestyle, all based on embellished stories or entirerly untrue episodes, made up with the goal of juxtaposing an entire community in an extremely unfavorable light.

What a lovely article! That being said I really think that if the Satmar community and other ultra-Orthodox communities hadn't created a rumble about her book there might actually be a way to start a conversation about helping young people who want to leave such a community.

It was the Orthodox outcry which occurred that is prompting all the controversy that presently exists. The fact that Footsteps exists, the fact that Deborah isn't the first girl or boy ever to leave the community is not being discussed. She is the one who wrote the book, who brought this topic out into the world. You have just told me about Footsteps and you alert me to the fact that others leave but only now, due to Deborah's book. The problem is she is the one who talked. If others like yourself now start talking then everybody will know that many aspects of the book are correct, for eg. lack of a credible education, much like the Amish.

You mention that you could obtain no records for your future life from your Yeshiva. That was mighty Jewish of them and if they were Christian I would say mighty Christian of them -- both sarcastically. So in effect you had little help and if computers didn't exist you might not have found Footsteps or anywhere to go for help.

Dear Alan Levin,

You point out very correctly: "Does Footsteps have to push its members
to abandon all Orthodox belief in their entry into the secular world?"

I totally agree with you that it would be inappropriate for them to do so.
However, as a member of Footsteps for over a year, I want to assure you that they do no such thing!

In fact, Footsteps actually has a rule against such behavior. A key Footsteps value is that participants are to be given the space to choose what they believe is right for them. No one is to be pushed to abandon or embrace anything.

Are there some individual members who violate this principle? Perhaps. But the staff tend to be very careful about this, and the organization as a whole is vehemently opposed to such "pushing."

Some members do, in fact, retain quite a bit of the beliefs and observance they were raised with. And they are treated with respect.


David B.

The comments here demonstrate the immense contrast of how the Orthodox world operates and how those outside of it do.

Critics of Footsteps assume they are pushing an agenda, attempting to pressure their members to move a certain way, because that is how they themselves operate in comparable situations. To them, there is an unambiguous "right way" and a "wrong way", and they will do what they can to promote what they see as the right way. Kiruv organizations are not about helping a person find their path even when it conflicts with their own ideology. The ultra Orthodox world is not about choice, as Deborah Feldman's book so clearly demonstrates.

Footsteps on the other hand, as the many commenters here attest to, doesn't in any way foist an ideology on those who walk through their doors. They go out of their way to be accommodating to each person's unique circumstances. And they are supportive of each person's right to find a path that suits them.

People have the right to choose a life that works for them. Footsteps supports that. The ultra Orthodox world does not. It's that simple.

In response to "Why reject Orthodoxy," I am shocked to hear of how you describe Footsteps. I am a committed Orthodox Jew who grew up with a Yeshiva background and looks recognizably Orthodox, and I have been a volunteer with Footsteps for years. Not only that, but other Orthodox friends of mine have been mentors and volunteers with Footsteps as well. I have had Footsteps members over to my house for Shabbos, join me for a Pesach seder, read Megillah with my community, etc. I would never force that upon them, but there are those who have chosen to and they have always been welcome. So please do not classify Footsteps as an organization that rejects Orthodoxy because it is an organization that has enabled people to choose-- some choose Orthodoxy, many do not. But that is always their choice.

You have a point in general. However, there is no way to gain insight about the reality that people face from someone who is so untruthful. You could as well say we should learn about the reality women face, from reading Cinderella. It's pretty much the same cast of characters, if you replace the wicked step-family with the wicked family of her fantasies.

Two comments I must with Mr. Katz's article.
First of all, one can not deal with Ms. Feldman's
article without dealing with the unfounded allegations
regarding a suicide. That showed that Ms. Feldman's
motive was not only to show her journey to the
secular world but also to place Satmer in as bad a
light as possible.
Secondly, there is no explanation why either Ms.
Feldman or Mr. Katz could have taken some of
their beliefs with them as they enter the secular
world. Does Footsteps have to push its members
to abandon all Orthodox belief in their entry into
the secular world.


It is beyond belief that so much internet ink has already been spilled and it hasn't occurred to anyone to bring up the subject of helping others in the journey out. A real lost opportunity.

To "why leave orthodoxy":

You got one fact correct. Most Footsteps' events are held in an undisclosed location. This is because the chassidish world is so KGB-like that if Footsteps' address were known, people would be scared that the vaad hatznius would keep track of who goes there.

I'm a little confused, Sam, about your thesis. Are you saying that Feldman focused too much on negativity about the Hasidic community and we, as OTD's should rather look forward than backward?

If so, I vehemently disagree with you. The book is a memoir that most definitely triggers the mind to think about ways to improve society, both for those on the fringe and on the fence and for those who have left. THERE IS NO OTHER EFFECTIVE WAY to spark change. It is well-known that the style of writing she used, what I call novel/romance style is what people enjoy reading. If her book were anything else, --if it weren't a provocative personal story, written in the way it was-- we wouldn't be having this discussion right now.

Nonetheless, her book is NOT a polemic against the Hasidic community. She isn't advocating others to leave and she certainly doesn't rationalize in that direction. It's a personal account of how the system didn't work for her and with which many other OTD's can find analogies in their own paths in life.

Feldman did an excellent job in her book. I don't quite get your Icarus metaphor but it doesn't seem to me even remotely characteristic of her meteoric rise and impetus for social change that her book and publicity are generating

Dear "Why reject Orthodoxy",

I think your name actually sums up the root of your post. Your question is why people, namely Deborah and the author of this article, who leave a sect like Satmar (or other Chassidus) also give up entire orthodoxy. That's a different question than the one at hand. I also left the Satmar community. I'd like to think of myself as "open minded" as well (although I doubt many people consider themselves "closed minded").

Footsteps meets at undisclosed locations to protect its members, especially the new ones. There are actually programs that are open to non-members as well (although the invites are primarily Word of Mouth through current members/supporters). As a Footsteps participant I can vouch that Footsteps staff does not push their philosophy on the members. If anything, I wish they were less "politically correct" because I sometimes really need to vent about my frustration when coming into contact with semi-religious people as well. But I need to be (and understandable I am) respectful of members that may still be semi religious (by choice or not). Even when people who consider themselves open-minded seem baffled by my rejection of orthodoxy in its entirety.

Yes, I am an atheist (as much of an atheist that a rational/logical human being can be). I came to that conclusion after much introspection. However, not all participants are atheists or agnostics. And, while participants may have been influenced/enlightened (depending on your viewpoint) through conversations with other participants, the fact is that Footsteps as an organization is not atheist or agnostic. All Footsteps members are adults. These adults choose to go to Footsteps for support in exploring the world beyond the insular communities they grew up in. This is currently the only place for them to go for this kind of support. Must some of them choose to remain orthodox because it sits better with you and other secular/modern-orthodox/religious people? Must Footsteps risk its members privacy and security because some people who do not pass the screening process (which there are reasons for) feel alienated? There are plenty of organizations in place to help orthodox and modern orthodox people. However, Footsteppers, who had to break ties with their family, community and almost their entire network to live the life that they choose, have very little options. From my observation, Footsteps staff/participants constantly battle between making it as easy as possible for new people to come yet protecting the security/privacy of its members.

"unlike Feldman I had some family support"

What a load of Bull: The reason Feldman was living at Bubby and Zaidy and not in a foster home was due to family support!

The reason why Feldman landed up in Satmar after leaving/being thrown out of two non-Hasidic schools is because of family support (the aunt the principle placed her there)

The reason why after giving birth, Feldman was for a few weeks at an aunt was due to family support.

For THIS reason, meaning readers of the book being fully misled of Feldman's family etc, is why we can NOT have all this touchy talks that you want to have as for the rights and wrongs of Hasidic life because we are basing it on a book whose core is lies.

@why reject. 'KGB' lol
Watch out, there's a Footsteps/KGB agent outside your apartment watching you...

Come on, don't be silly or pretend to be silly. You know very well why Footsteps is so secretive. You know how oppressive the Hassidic community and how rumors and stories spread like wildfire. So don't pretend to assume that Footsteps' secrecy is some sort of conspiracy underground thing. Its a protection thing and you know it very well.
But if you really want to meet former Chassidim, you can try to attend some of the events created by individuals, rather than Footsteps' events. I've come across many Chassidim at such events.

Regarding your claims that for Footsteps, "their ideal form of Judaism is the less Jewish the better", it's absurd. Footsteps bends itself backward to accommodate all members who stay religious, often to the dismay of other members. Most members think Footsteps is too accommodating.

Try to be really open minded, and without judging based on the absence of a kippa or the shaved beard, talk to some former Chassidic people, and you'll see that you're completely misinformed.

As a member of Footsteps for over two years, I can assure you that your beliefs about the KGB mentality of Footsteps are incorrect and you are misinformed. Yes there is a strong confidentiality policy within the Footsteps community. But that confidentiality is mostly to protect new participants or inquiries from people still living in the community that are questioning their beliefs or way of life. Individuals who would face strong condemnation, to say the least, from their families and communities if their participation in Footsteps is exposed.
Furthermore, orthodox Sabbath observant people are allowed participation in Footsteps activities. I myself have brought a few orthodox friends to Footsteps events and they have enjoyed those events and have not felt that anyone was pushing any sort of ideas or beliefs on them. Why a Sabbath observant orthodox Jew would want to be a participating member in Footsteps, I do not know. And Footsteps does have Sabbath observant, kosher keeping, participating members who are in the process of questioning their beliefs. Finally, your statement that most members and staff member’s beliefs are closer to agnosticism than Judaism, I do not find to be an accurate assessment.


Dear "Why reject Otrthodoxy as well?",

I am a member of Footsteps for more than a year now, and I speak from my own experience there. I don't know where you got your ideas about Footsteps from, but nothing could be further from the truth! Perhaps some individual members engage in the shameful attitudes and behaviors you describe, but the staff and the organization as a whole--no way! It's not even a matter of opinion; it's a simple matter of facts.

The truth: Footsteps has no agenda to encourage movement in any direction. Footsteps does not discourage religious beliefs or observance. They do not discourage Orthodox beliefs or observance; they do not even discourage chasidish or charedi beliefs or observance. Some Footsteppers choose to retain quite a bit of their religious beliefs or observance, and they are treated with respect.

When Footsteps orders in pizza--as they tend to do at least once a week--they always go to the extra trouble and expense to order kosher pizza, to accommodate those who wish to observe kashrus!

When they were preparing their annual fundraising mailing a few months ago, I was one of the members who volunteered to help. Another member who was present is very observant. So when they asked us about ordering in pizza, he said that kosher was not enough for him. He would only eat if it was cholov yisroel. So Footsteps went to the extra trouble and expense to make that entire order of several pies from a strictly cholov yisroel pizza place.

As far as the staff is concerned: Lani Santo, the executive director, keeps kosher! She goes to shul on Shabbos! She observes the yomim tovim! She fasts on Yom Kippur...

I suggest you do more research on Footsteps. Check your facts.

Thanks for saying what so many of us were thinking.
As a friend and fellow member of Footsteps, I know how brilliant you are. I can only imagine what a genius you would have been if you hadn't been robbed from the education you deserved.
Good luck, and keep up you good work!

KGB nature of Footsteps? Seriously?

Footsteps is open to anyone who is genuinely in need of their services. They have a screening process simply to weed out people who are less than well-intentioned about their motives for joining. It's no secret that many in the Orthodox community feel very antagonistic towards the organization and have even expressed a desire to cause trouble for the organization and its participants. People who come to Footsteps often do so at tremendous personal risk. The measures they take are simply to ensure the well-being and confidentiality of their participants. Additionally, not all of their events are private; they always have a few events every year open to outsiders (and yes, there are often a few kipa's present).

(It's ironic that you describe Footsteps as KGBish, since it's actually those who try to sneak their way into Footsteps under false pretenses and expose people who are attempting to break free of an oppressive lifestyle that are the ones who are acting like a secret police.)

Is it true that they wouldn't accept a "Sabbath observant, highly educated mainstream Orthodox person" as a member? I honestly don't know. I suppose it's possible, but why would such a person even want to join in the first place? The organization is dedicated to helping people who have chosen to pursue a path outside the religious mainstream; what possible reason would such a person join an organization like Footsteps other than to stir up trouble?

Lastly, although it is no doubt true that at Footsteps you will find many people who are very supportive of leaving Orthodoxy, it is entirely false that the organization has a policy of encouraging movement away from Orthodoxy. What they are about is helping and supporting people on the path they desire to pursue. If someone came to them who genuinely wanted to be more religious, I have no doubt that they would be more than happy to put them in touch with a reputable kiruv organization. I highly doubt any kiruv organization would do the same for someone who wanted to leave frumkeit.

Woa there. Have you ever spoken to a Footsteps member. From your comments it is very obvious that you either never have or if you actually had you weren't listening. I have been at Footsteps almost a year and am actually shocked by what I see. Every event has kosher food for those who want it. There are men with payos, beards and yarmulkes. Anyone who truly wants to join can. All they require is a reasonable reason why and a guarantee of confidentiality. A person who repeats gossip, maligns the truth and generally has a big mouth would definitely not be welcome there. Negative attitudes such as the one you possess are also frowned upon. Footsteps offers the confidence that allows its members to make their own decisions whatever they may be.

Firstly I applaud you. Mr Katz, for being different than the profile of the typical person who chooses to leave Hasidism. You seem to be an openminded, refined individual who respects everyone's right to choose.

I have one question though.

With knowledge of the KGB nature that exists with Footsteps, where all programs are held at undisclosed locations and closed to anyone who might be interested in attending and gaining from what Footsteps has to offer, who dont fit the programs' profile of an ideal member, how are they totally different than Hasids, most of whom reject those who arent exactly like them? I think Footsteps goes a step further. I have yet to see any other Jewish organization which is that hidden and selective in who they allow to partake in events. The closest to describe it, is KGB-ish, as mentioned earlier.

My problem with Ms Feldman and Footsteps, is their mocking others, just as much, and in the Footsteps case, more than those who mock them.

Footsteps encourages movement away from ANY form of Orthodoxy, not specifically Hasidism. Members and staff there are closer to agnosticism than Judaism. Even highly educated mainstream Orthodox people who are Sabbath observant, arent allowed membership or participation in any activities. Non-members aren’t allowed entry to any activities or programs, all held in undisclosed locations, for fear of anyone too Jewish attending.

From what Ive read about Footsteps, and heard from Ms Feldman, I conclude that for both, their ideal form of Judaism is the less Jewish the better.

Its not only closed-minded Hasidism they dislike and prevent membership to. Thats pretty closed-minded of Footsteps. Nothing to be proud of. Perhaps you, as a refined and open-minded individual can affect some changes there.

pretty interesting you say that. I just joined footsteps. I was surprised by how easy it was to join. I'm not sure who you are referring to who is rejected.
For someone who claims that footsteps is very secretive, you seem to think you know a lot about it. I'm not sure where you got the idea that footsteps encourages agnosticism; I was encouraged by a staff member and fellow footsteppers to NOT GIVE UP SHABBOS, and to not feel pressure to drop whatever parts of the religion I am keeping.
The reason I believe footsteps has a closed membership is bec of the inability of our community to accept that there might be others who disagree with them. How many people would show up to a footsteps meeting after some kanoi-im staged a hafganah outside? Would anyone who went to a meeting still be accepted by their family/community, or would they be shunned or maybe worse be subject to "well-meaning" kiruv "proffessionals".

There are some very strange ideas about Footsteps floating around out there. whyrejectorthodoxy is misinformed about a number of things about Footsteps which I will address.
the vast majority of Footsteps activities are open to all; a few groups are open only to Footsteppers to protect the privacy of participants. just phone the office if you need the address or want more information.
There are Footsteppers with a huge variety of ideas and activities about the Judaism they do or do not wish to practice Some are Sabbath observant, others are not. A few come to the Footsteps space in Hassidic garb: they continue to live in their communities but value the freedom to express and question ideas that they find at Footsteps. Nobody urges them to do anything different. Most Footsteppers move into a secular world; it is their choice.
Footsteps is there for people exploring their identities and learning to make good choices for themselves: Footsteps helps people attain the education they want, meet the people they want, read the books, choose the clothing they want to wear, make their art---or not. Hundreds of people have become Footsteps participants and hundreds more attend various activities. It offers a safe, nourishing and exciting base for personal voyages of discovery.

Footsteps stats, and all those who have witnessed the atmosphere, clearly prove that no one exits Footsteps more religious!!!!

They exit either equally religious or less religious.

Being that thats the case, I find it shameful that dollars invested in Footsteps are surely collected of at least some people wanting to use their donated monies to encourage Jewish identity and not to lessen it. They wouldnt want their money used towards a place where shameful language is used to mock and distance themselves from other Jews and closed to other Jews.

Unless some dont feel Judaism ought to be a religion, involving belief in G-d and keeping the Torah's commandements, with Jewish organizations striving to encourage such, with pride!

Yes, supporters of Footseps:

UJA, United Jewish Agnostics, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women, Alan B. Slifka Foundation, Independence Community Foundation, Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas, Chais Family Foundation, United Way of New York City, Dobkin Family Foundation, Natan Buchman Foundation, Jewish Women's Foundation of NY, Solelim, etc

I wouldnt want my money going there! I guess the above dont want their money going to anything too Jewish, or encouraging anything too Jewish, rather preferring to use it in places where Jews mock other Jews as being too religious.

As a person familiar with the organization FOOTSTEPS, I would like to correct the above writers misconceptions:
FOOTSTEPS does not have an "ideal" member, is not "hidden or selective".
FOOTSTEPS does not "encourage movement away" from any religion, organization, family or institution.
The staff and members are a mixed group of people observing religions in their personal lives and do NOT advocate either agnosticism or observance of any kind.
FOOTSTEPS does not turn anyone away for 'membership" or participation. NO ONE is turned away for programs or activities.
FOOTSTEPS does not hold any activities in "undisclosed locations".
FOOTSTEPS does not advocate any "ideal form of Judaism".

I hope the reader will explore FOOTSTEPS himself to disabuse himself of his misconceptions.

What does Kappa Gamma Beta have to do with this? From what I've heard, Footsteps is a place to explore without judgement. Any judgement whatsoever!

As a former board member and current participant I can clearly and unequivocally state that your understanding of Footsteps is way off.

Footsteps exists to support individuals who are interested in exploring a world more open than the insularity of the world from which they came. Those that want to pursue the larger world are often subjected to threats for daring to leave. It is for that reason, to create a safe environment for exploration, that Footsteps has policies to protect the identity of these individuals and the confidentiality of their communications.

Footsteps supports the right of every individual to choose his/her own path in life. Footsteps does not offer encouragement for anyone to leave anything unless the individual wants to leave. Yes, Footsteps will support someone who is college educated and Modern Orthodox to leave, if he asks for that support. At the same time, if someone leaves a Chassidic community and chooses to become Yesheivish, Footsteps will support that individual too. Footsteps in decidedly NOT anti-religious (though many of its participants are). Footsteps is pro choice.

The prior commenter is incorrect in claiming that Footsteps encourages people to leave religion. Footsteps helps people with the educational and social concerns that result from having chosen to leave the world of ultra-orthodoxy. By the time that people come to Footsteps they almost without exception already made the choice to leave. Footsteps is not a theological organization. If people go there hoping to find out why the documentary hypothesis disproves the divine authorship of the torah, they will be disappointed.

Moreover, it is absurd to claim that Footsteps has a “KGB nature” because it is not open to non-members. Neither Satmar Beis Medresh nor Alcoholics Anonymous are open to all to come and observe regardless of whether they are in the class for whose purpose the organization was formed. By the writer’s silly reasoning, that makes them both morally equivalent to the KGB.

At least you not touching on Feldmans lies claiming that what she wrote is true. Your point i take it is about the struggle for those who leave orthodoxy the challenges they face and how good of an organization Footsteps is.Seems like almost all OTD people believe what Feldman wrote is a pack of lies.