News & Views

Bias and Barriers: Fighting for Custody While Leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy

January 19, 2021

Watch “Bias and Barriers”, a virtual conversation hosted by Footsteps about the challenges parents face when they leave insular ultra-Orthodox communities — both in the courtroom and in their communities of origin.

This panel follows up on The New Yorker’s publication of “When One Parent Leaves a Hasidic Community, What Happens to the Kids?”, an article featuring Footsteps and our members’ stories. The issues of divorce, custody, and parental alienation depicted in the article affect so many of our members, a third of whom come to Footsteps as parents in the midst of redefining their relationships with their spouses and children. Watch this panel for a closer look inside the communities and courtrooms at the center of this story.

Moderator: Award-winning author, journalist, and producer Abigail Pogrebin
Panelists: Larissa MacFarquhar, the article’s author and Staff Writer at The New Yorker; Julie F. Kay, Footsteps’ Senior Legal Strategist; and Chani Getter, Footsteps’ Senior Director of Organizational Development.

‘People may stop talking to you’- Woman opens up about leaving Orthodox life in Long Island behind

December 15, 2020 – News 12 Connecticut

Naomi Moskowitz grew up with strong religious values in Long Beach, Long Island, in a community known as the Yeshiva-ish–with strict rules in place through community policing.

She says everything was controlled, from the food she ate to the books she read and a strong sense of fear conditioned in her head regarding turning to anything or anyone outside the community.

News 12’s Mary-Lyn Buckley spoke with Moskowitz on how she left behind everything from her Orthodox life in Long Island and now helps others throughout the city choosing to do the same.

Watch the full video here.

Navigating Divorce Within Religious Communities

December 4, 2020 – The New Yorker Radio Hour

Larissa MacFarquhar recently reported on the difficulties of leaving the insular world of Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Judaism, where the way of life is profoundly different from that in secular society. If a married person wants to leave a Haredi community and live another way, the process of divorce can be profoundly rupturing and contentious. For the children of a couple in this situation, no judge can help them reconcile the differing messages about life that they hear from their parents. MacFarquhar spoke with a woman named Chani Getter, who grew up Orthodox and went through a divorce as a young mother, and with two lawyers who see the process from opposing sides.

Listen to the segment here.

When One Parent Leaves a Hasidic Community, What Happens to the Kids? | Larissa MacFarquhar

November 30, 2020 – The New Yorker
(Print Edition – December 7, 2020, titled “Solomon’s Choice”)

“One of the most painful difficulties that leavers faced was the risk of losing their children. In the early days, the few who left had not attracted a lot of attention, and some got custody of their kids without much of a fight. But, as more people defected, communities alarmed by the prospect of so many children lost to Haredism mobilized to keep them. Secular courts were called upon to determine the best interests of children who were being torn between two irreconcilable ways of life: what to one parent was a basic human freedom might be, to the other, a violation of the laws of God. To many Haredim, the loss of a child to secular life was unbearable, because it meant that the child’s future, and that of all his descendants, would be ruined, not only in this world but also in the next.”

Read the full article here.

Celebrations 2020: A Footsteps Yearbook

Click here to view as a PDF

Welcome to the first ever Footsteps Yearbook! Inside, you will read about Footsteps members’ triumphs, which are all the more epic given the year’s context. This yearbook is a testament to their hard work and to outpouring of support they have received from our extended community. We hope you will take a few moments out of your day to flip through the pages of this yearbook and to celebrate with them.

Loved Unorthodox? Here’s How You Can Help Those Leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy | Yael Reisman

October 14, 2020 – The Kind Life Blog

Netflix series Unorthodox’s exploration of one woman’s journey out of her insular ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn in search of a life of her own choosing in Berlin has captured the hearts of viewers around the world — a fact highlighted by the series’ 8 Emmy nominations and director Maria Schrader’s win for “Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series.” Many binge-watchers were left wondering about the real life “Estys” out there; what happens to the women who make the courageous choice to leave the world they know in search of an authentic, self-determined life?

Their paths often lead to Footsteps, the only organization in North America providing comprehensive services to those who choose to take the journey out of ultra-Orthodoxy. Nearly 2,000 individuals have become Footsteps members since Malkie Schwartz, who left her own ultra-Orthodox community at the age of 19, founded the organization in 2003.

Read the full blog post here.

Photo: “Blindfolds” by Sarah Otero (Footsteps Member)

Unorthodox: Real Life Stories

May 14, 2020

Footsteps’ Executive Director, Lani Santo, speaks with Unorthodox cast members and long-time Footsteps members Eli Rosen and Melissa Weisz about their stories of finding freedom and forging their own paths out of ultra-Orthodoxy.

The video begins a few minutes after our formal program started; it opens with Eli answering the first question: “For Esty, leaving was a dramatic move of getting on a plane and flying off to Germany. Did you have a dramatic moment like this where it became clear you needed to leave? Or was it more gradual?”

Unorthodox: Reality vs. Fiction

April 27, 2020 – The Forward

Netflix’s ‘Unorthodox’ has become a favorite to binge watch as we hunker down at home these days. The success of this Yiddish language show has raised many questions about its accurate portrayal of Hasidic life in Brooklyn. Check out the video below for a conversation with Eli Rosen, who played Reb Yossele, was the production’s Yiddish translator and consultant, and is a Footsteps member; Abby Stein, activist, ‘Becoming Eve’ author, former Hasidic Rabbi, and Footsteps member; Alexa Karolinski, co-creator and co-writer of ‘Unorthodox’; Chavie Weisberger, Director of Community Engagement at Footsteps; and Rukhl Schaechter, Editor of The Yiddish Forward about the reality of leaving Hasidic communities and how one woman’s story was adapted.

The Challenge of Social Distancing in Hasidic Communities | Frimet Goldberger

April 9, 2020 – The New York Times

Hasidic communities are facing a unique challenge when it comes to controlling the spread of the coronavirus. I fear that in these places, highly communal lifestyles combined by skepticism about the need for social distancing — at times promoted by religious leaders — are going to cost more lives. One rabbi I know of mocks the ‘hysteria’ around the virus and still holds services in his sanctuary.

The main ZIP code in the ultra-Orthodox hub of Borough Park in Brooklyn has the second-highest number of reported positive cases in New York City. Rockland County, N.Y., has the state’s highest rate of Covid-19 infection per capita, and the second-highest in the country. Authorities say the numbers are partly explained by the communities there where Orthodox residents haven’t conformed to social distancing.

Last week, I lost three close Hasidic relatives in three days to the virus.

I believe a lack of information about this unprecedented threat — and what it will take to survive it — is part of the problem.

Read the full article here.

Review: ‘Unorthodox,’ a Stunning Escape From Brooklyn | James Poniewozik

March 25, 2020 – The New York Times

Anna Winger was one of the creators behind ‘œDeutschland 83’ and ‘œDeutschland 86,’ the spy thriller series about East German espionage and the ordinary people who became caught up in the Cold War’s machinations. So ‘œUnorthodox,’ a four-part series about a young woman escaping a Hasidic community in present-day Brooklyn, might seem like a departure for her.

It is not. It’s not just that the show, which arrives Thursday on Netflix, shares the intensity, cultural specificity and psychological acuity of Winger’s earlier series. It’s that the story, which tracks its protagonist’s personal journey and peril across continents, is itself a kind of espionage caper, a thrilling and probing story of one woman’s personal defection.

Read the full article here.