When I joined Footsteps seven years ago, I found people who appreciated the many unique challenges I faced as an Orthodox expatriate: Adjusting to an altered social and religious identity; constructing a value system of my own; navigating new kinds of relationships; dealing with aggrieved family and friends; stepping into what I had been told was a dangerous world full of people I couldn’t trust; and coping with the lingering guilt and self-doubt about my decision to leave.
Even though I wasn’t faced with the more practical hurdles that new members often face, the way that my friends at Footsteps helped me navigate the emotional, social and psychological difficulties I encountered back then was invaluable.
The nice thing about Footsteps is that when you join, you don’t have to go through that awkward initial stage of getting to know people. Everyone shares a similar story and there’s an understanding of why you are here.
No one goes to Footsteps because they want to be alone; you go to Footsteps because you want to meet other people who know what you’ve been through. Everybody appreciates what it’s like to leave ultra-Orthodoxy in order to do something new ‘“ that’s the common denominator.
People are also really supportive. When I won a playwriting competition and joined my college crew team, other Footsteppers were really happy for me. That made me feel great. There is something familial. People at Footsteps are along for the ride and they cheer you on. Today, my best friends are all friends I made at Footsteps.
After a year working as a Fulbright scholar in Berlin, I am now pursuing my PhD at the National Institutes of Health.
I didn’t join Footsteps until seven years after I left ultra-Orthodoxy. I decided to go because I was feeling kind of lonely. I had secular friends and I even still had my family, but I didn’t have anyone who really understood me. It was like there was a here and there but nothing in the middle. Footsteps became that middle.
Finding people who understood me gave me a sense of confidence that I didn’t have before. I found a place where I fit in, where people understood me and liked me. I love to express myself by wearing my hair in different ways and dressing differently. At Footsteps, people support your efforts at self-expression.
When I’m at Footsteps, I am in my element.
I am working on my master’s in forensic psychology at John Jay College.