Every year, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women attempt to explore the world beyond their insular communities. These courageous individuals struggle to redefine their lives despite punitive reactions from family and friends, little if any secular education, a lack of experience with modern gender roles, and, in some cases, a limited command of English.
Footsteps is the only organization in the United States providing comprehensive services to people who have chosen to leave their ultra-Orthodox communities and begin new lives. Based in New York, Footsteps provides a range of services, including social and emotional support, educational and vocational guidance, workshops and social activities, and access to resources. Thanks to Footsteps, former ultra-Orthodox Jews have a safe, supportive, and flourishing community to turn to as they work to define their own identities, build new connections, and lead productive lives on their own terms.
Footsteps has served nearly 2,000 people since its founding in 2003. Demand for Footsteps’ services continues to grow exponentially.
Who are Footsteppers?
Footsteppers are formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews who are looking to explore the world beyond the insular communities in which they were raised. They include every type of person, from every type of home, and from a wide spectrum of ultra-Orthodox communities.
Some people leave ultra-Orthodoxy because of frustration with their community’s responses to intellectual and philosophical questions. Others leave because of a hunger for a wider range of life experiences than their community allows or a desire for a more egalitarian life path than the gender-defined role of their upbringing. Some look for a new community out of unhappiness with how issues of abuse, divorce, or other delicate life situations are handled by their community. Many leave for a combination of these reasons.
Whatever their motivations, the path out of ultra-Orthodoxy is rarely smooth and most Footsteppers display an inordinate amount of fortitude, vision, and perseverance as they courageously pursue a self-determined life.
Footsteps was founded in 2003 by Malkie Schwartz after she left her Lubavitch community in Crown Heights in pursuit of a college education. Footsteps began as a monthly support group for formerly ultra-Orthodox individuals transitioning into mainstream society. It soon became apparent that the support group alone could not provide sufficient assistance. There were individuals who could not read or write beyond a third grade level or secure a job. Some people were unable to pay their rent or purchase food and others struggled with sometimes severe mental health issues.
With the help of many generous institutions and individuals, Footsteps has grown into a full service social service agency designed to meet the far-reaching needs of this unique community.