Jewish and Individualistic: Leah Vincent

Raised in Pittsburgh in an ultra-Orthodox family, Vincent was cast out as a teenager for exchanging letters with a boy, and sent to New York. After years of struggling with her identity and sexuality, she has become an advocate for young women and people in oppressed communities; along the way she attended Brooklyn College and earned a master’s at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Earlier this year, Vincent published a well-received memoir, “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood” (Nan A. Talese).

“I promised if I survived I would bear witness to my story,” she says. And after hearing about the suicide of someone else who had left the ultra-Orthodox fold, she was spurred into action.

Vincent has worked within the OTD (off the derech, or no longer religious) community in addition to reaching beyond it to advocate for women’s rights; she has been active in Footsteps, an organization that provides support for Jews who have left ultra-Orthodox communities.

And her own journey is far from over. Vincent is currently adjusting to her identity as a cultural Jew, and rejecting ultra-Orthodoxy’s claim to Jewish authenticity.

“I think my experiences bring me irreverence,” she says. “And I try to bring my irreverence to everything.”

Vincent’s next project reflects her re-examination of her religious roots; she is writing a children’s picture book (with Samuel Katz and illustrator Aya Rosen) of Talmud stories, to reclaim the ones she feels are seen as uniquely Orthodox.

“There’s something beyond Israel, Holocaust and holidays” for Jewish children’s literature, she says.

Vincent has been thrilled at the reactions she has received since publishing her memoir, especially from Jews of varying backgrounds.

“I thought people would hate me for talking my truth,” she says.

Vincent is no longer ultra-Orthodox, but she is still working to influence that community to change and provide support for those, especially girls, who feel oppressed or trapped.

“The biggest problem is that the realm of women is centered around tznius [modesty],” she says. “You have to give girls something.”

Natural woman: Vincent is a partner in Handsome Brook Farm, which supplies organic produce to the NYC market.



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Kudos to the Jewish Week for recognizing that everyone deserves the right to determine how to live their own life, whether or not others agree.people should not be forced by strong community pressure to live a Jewish religious life that they don't want to, or that they don't believe in. Leah has shown how difficult it is for those in her type of community to make their own life choices, and she paid a high price for her freedom. Now she is giving back to others, so that they might benefit.
The above comments represent the typical my-Judaism-is-the-only-right-way attitude of the Orthodox community. Leah Vincent has not abandoned Judaism altogether, and has chosen to experience it in a new way. Many of us wear the title of "off the derech" proudly , and the arrogance of Orthodoxy, in it's belief that they are the only ones who know how to live correctly is infuriating.
You have not answered the issues I have raised about OTD and Leah's affront to yiddishkeit. She nor you have a valid response to these questions. Yes, she and probably all OTD's ate pained in some way, however realize that this is a test, realize all people are not perfect even if we try to be, realize that "infuriating" (your word) is equal to anger and anger equals avoda zara (idol worship). Realize that everything that happened to Leah was what she chose given that this was the way she was operating, her "derech"( and not the Torah's derech), and she is wiser after the event to see how awful it was, however not so wise to see how easily it could have been avoided by reasoned compliance to her reasonable parents' requests at the appropriate time. I wish her all the best, but not in her derech at present where she is simply badmouthing the Laws from Heaven. This is painful to me. Leave the trash and the false accolades behind. Come back and teach from the right perspective.
Your comment “The biggest problem is that the realm of women is centered around tznius [modesty],” she says. “You have to give girls something.” is devoid of reality. Yes tznius is VERY important and must be followed because it is decent and Hashem said not to be a harlot, but you are missing the fact that it was in the merit of Jewish women that we Israel was redeemed from slavery from Egypt(mitzrayim) to freedom. What about our imahot, our mothers ? Nothing to you? Leave the trash and the false accolades behind. Come back and teach from the right perspective.
So you are celebrating someone who works with an organization that seeks to the Jewish from Judaism. Congratulations Jewish Week. What will your name be after you get rid of Jewish?

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