May 7, 2021

Pandemic sees New York’s ultra-orthodox Jews turn their back on community

by Interfaith

Members of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community have questioned their way of life during the lockdown – AFP

By Josie Ensor

Wed, May 5, 2021

When Covid-19 hit New York’s close-knit ultra-orthodox Jewish community last year it barrelled through it like a tornado. Rabbis began dying, elders fell seriously sick, and within weeks half the insular population had already been infected.

But the pandemic had a much more unpredictable impact too.

With national lockdowns and school closures the traditional Haredi way of life was interrupted, giving many the space for questioning and self-discovery.

That led some to do the unthinkable: consider leaving and starting a life outside the community.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” said 18-year-old Aryeh, who asked to use a pseudonym as he has not yet left. “But last spring I decided I was definitely going to do it.”

Aryeh, who is one of five siblings – “a very small family for the orthodox” he jokes – stopped going to school, or “yeshiva”, that March when they were ordered to shut down.

Aryeh seized on the opportunity he had been waiting for. “I rang the yeshiva myself and said I would not be coming back,” he told The Telegraph one early morning when his parents were out of the house. “I think that would have been much more difficult to do if we had not been on a break with Covid.”

Leaving the community – even if a person continues practising Judaism – is the most egregious offence in the orthodox sect. Aryeh knows once he moves away that he will most likely be shunned by his family, but he has already made his mind up …

Read on …


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