I've been writing this piece in my head for years, but Deb Tambor's untimely death forced it out of me. I was friendly with her, but not very close, and others have written about her and her story far better than I ever could, so while I'm writing with Deb in mind, this is about the bigger picture.
Why are you OTDs/Shkutzim/Bums/Oisvurfs/etc. so angry?
I'm confronted with that question fairly often, and each time I have to resist the urge to get defensive: "Why do you assume I’m angry? Just because I disagree with your lifestyle? I left to live life the way I choose and the way I think is right, does that automatically equal me being angry?"
Going OTD (for lack of a better term) sucks. It's the by far the hardest and most painful thing I've ever done in my life. Nobody chooses to be shunned, dump their friends, family, and support system, throw away their entire way of life, and everything that is familiar to them because it's fun. The decision to leave is not made lightly. We leave because we don't have a choice. We leave because the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving. We leave when staying is no longer an option. When someone leaves "overnight," they've in fact been mulling over leaving for years. They've been weighing the pros and cons, trying to decide if it's worth the pain and suffering they are about to put themselves through, trying to decide if they want to take this giant leap, not knowing whether or where they'll land safely. I didn't leave because I was angry, I left because I had no other choice.
But lately I’ve been thinking… We do have a lot to be legitimately angry about.
I could be angry that I got good grades all through school, but I can't write my own name in cursive, I can't do basic arithmetic, I wasn't taught science, history (besides what we learned from sforim), geography, biology, and the many other subjects most people take for granted. I could be angry that when I finally did start college, I was about ten years (academic and otherwise) behind the average kid there. I could be angry that my 11 year old surpassed my math level years ago.
I could be angry about my peers, who were born and raised in the US, but speak English as if they were from Budapest. I could be angry about those kids who get thrown out of their parents' homes because they wear jeans, lo uleiniu. I could be angry about those parents who are not allowed to see their kids, because these parents are not frum enough.
I could be angry that women are treated like second-class citizens, that girls are sexualized to the point where three-year-olds' faces are pixilated. I could be angry that gay people in the Frum community are forced to lie about who they are, or come out and be ostracized and treated like dirt.
I could be angry that men can choose not to give a Get, and the woman has no other choice but to wait in limbo till he has mercy on her. I could be angry that we get married off so young, that before we have a chance to think for ourselves, we have three or four kids, a house, a mountain of bills, countless other entanglements, and no real choice but to stay.
I could be angry about the countless number of kids who are physically or sexually abused, assaulted, molested, or raped, and instead of it being addressed, it’s brushed aside. "Meh, I survived it, so can you." I could be angry that instead of condemning the molesters, rabbis condemn those who report it. I could be angry that the Chareidi community has the courts and police in their back pockets. I could be angry that they're more concerned about what the neighbors will think than what is the right thing to do.
I could be angry that they're so obsessed with bein odom lamakom (mitzvos between man and god) that they've forgotten about bein odom lachavairo (mitzvos between man and his fellow).
I could be angry that when someone chooses to leave Frumkeit, they're instantly branded as “crazy," “a sex-crazed," “a loser," or all of the above.
I could be angry that we were brought up in a community that is full of intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. I could be angry that the pain involved in leaving drives many to depression, which causes many to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. I could be angry that we were raised to think of sex as bad and dirty, and many of us struggle to overcome that programming. I could be angry that our entire upbringing was focused on negativity and guilt. What not to do, what not to eat, what not to say, where not to look. I could be angry that our identity is built on fear rather than love, on condemnation of others rather than celebration of their differences, or the constant need to denigrate others in order to justify our lifestyle.
I could be angry at the rampant hypocrisy, the blatant anti-intellectualism, the self-righteousness, the constant sliding to the right, or the complete lack of class or dignity of many in the Chareidi community.
I could be angry for the countless people who still look Chareidi on the outside, but on the inside they are someone else entirely. They call themselves "Orthoprax," or "Reverse Marranos," and most resign themselves to a life of quiet pain, knowing they will never be able to live the life they prefer.
I could be angry that the Modern Orthodox Jewish community, and the Conservative, Reform, and secular Jewish communities - which make up the majority of all the Jews in the world - not only don't understand, but choose to ignore the problems and look the other way. They talk a good game about "Tikkun Olam," but ignore the mess in their own backyard. Their own cousins and neighbors are crying out for assistance, but they're so afraid of being called "self-hating Jews" or being accused of anti-Semitism that they'd rather cower in fear of the radical elements of their religion. When a Muslim carries out an act of terrorism, we are quick to condemn all Muslims if the moderate ones don't come out against those acts; why should Jews be held to a different standard? If the 90% of Jews who aren't Chareidi sit by silently, shouldn't they be held responsible as well?
Does every Chareidi Jew fall into these sweeping generalities? Of course not. I get along wonderfully with my family and many old friends. But far too many do, and many more do not speak up loudly against it.
I didn't leave because I was angry; I wasn't angry when I left, I became angry later. I'm Ari Mandel; I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more.