Alone in New York

21


Discussion by: GPWC

I
have been in contact with a 16 year old (let’s call her Y) who is a member of
the ultra orthodox and insular Jewish community “The Chassidim”. She is
appealing for help and advice but cannot do so herself as she fears for the
consequences if found out. She has only recently had access to the internet and
despite having her usage monitored has managed to access RD.net. She does not believe in God and is desperate
to escape her sect. Here are some of the things that are going on in her life:

If
she came out as an atheist she would be kicked out of the community and she has
nowhere else to go. She wants to get into college, but the community do not believe
in further education and the private Jewish school she attends do not teach
evolution or the big bang.  Students are not allowed to have
internet access, nor do they take standardised tests. Whilst she does have
chemistry lessons, she is only taught censored earth science and biology.
 She only managed to break some of these barriers a couple of months ago,
and she has good reasons to believe that she is the only student who has.
Needless to say the school spends hours every morning on religious indoctrination,
and one teacher actually threatened her with her fist to declare belief in the
thirteen principles of Jewish faith. If her principal knew she planned to
attend a normal university, she’d be sent home.

Her
home life is also very difficult. The community and her family are very
restrictive and she isn’t even allowed to the library on her own and she
wouldn’t openly be able to research anything she liked. Naturally, she feels
all alone, though she can, of course, “look forward” to an arranged marriage.

Not
long ago there was a thread on escaping Conservative Laestadianisma. Without
seeking to take anything away from Halla’s problems, I think G’s problems are
quite a bit worse as she can’t mix with “outsiders” much and when she does she is supervised.

She
wonders: what are her rights under US Law; what might she do to get a public
school education so that she can ultimately go to university; who could she
contact in New York for help right now?

Finally,
she should be able to read this thread (at least for a while) and, if she feels
emboldened to contribute, she will identify herself.

21 COMMENTS

  1. GPWC, you need to find Y a lawyer who will act for her for free. First stop may be the ACLU, or a similar group.
    You need to talk to the lawyer in person to make sure they are bona fide, and then Y can make contact by whatever communication channel is safe. From your dire description, this is bigger than the internet – how do you know any advice here is good? With luck a US lawyer will read this and contact you, but failing that you need to search for one.

  2. A case I know of in the US:

    A father acquired custody of the children. It was his weird religious beliefs that broke up the marriage. He kept the kids home-schooled and totally isolated from society, to a degree that was clearly abuse. Nothing could be done. Children are property, chattel. Law requires children be taught basics like reading, and as long as those requirements are met nothing can be done.

    A friend of mine escaped a bizarre cult that lived on an expansive compound. The situation was much worse than what the OP describes. The state required the cult to teach them to read, but little else. She and a friend (both 16) escaped on foot and traveled north, as they knew of a city in that general direction. They were clever, met sympathizers, enrolled in high school with fake names, sought needed medical treatment denied by the cult, and upon turning 18 they revealed their identities and the cult was powerless to take them back.

    In the US, humans are property until reaching 18. In some states there is a process of “emancipation” for minors, which would require a lawyer to explain.

    She only managed to break some of these barriers a couple of months ago, and she has good reasons to believe that she is the only student who has.

    Do other students know of this? If not, it is likely these barriers are often broken without anyone knowing about it. That is the usual way cults work, dissent is marginalized even though most people feel it. I think it is important for this person to know they are in a cult, and that is just something that happens to some people, an interesting part of a lot of people’s past, though it is painful at the time. Jewish cults are lesser known because Judaism is already so enigmatic it’s difficult for outsiders to appraise valid Judaic practice from a cult. Plus, any criticism of Jewish practices are wrongly dismissed as antisemitism. Jewish cults are just as evil as Xian, Vedic, or New Age cults

    My advise is to run away from home. The world is not as dangerous as cults make it out to be. Cults impress their captives with fear of the outside world to keep them in. I’m a stranger on the opposite side of the continent hearing a story second-hand, so my advise is pretty worthless other than as a different perspective. There are times when running away from home is the thing one needs to do, and a cult can be a valid reason.

  3. “Chassidic” is a word that could mean many things. It would be good to know if she really is from a Chassidic family (and if so, which sect) or from a very religious non-chassidic family (for starters). Also, is she in Brooklyn, or Monroe, or New Square? If she’s in Brooklyn, is she in Flatbush, Borough Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg? There are differences and they can be important. Does she have any friends outside the community? If possible, she should give a little information here so more help could be forthcoming.

  4. Y,

    Keep your hopes up. There is a whole world outside for you to discover and though it may seem that your opportunities are slipping away by the day, you will likely have a long life and have many chances to catch up.

    )

    Stay strong.

  5. Y,
    I feel lame saying this because I usually am a direct, confrontational fighter. But, I feel that if you have endured this for 16 years, you may want to hang in there for another 2 years. When you turn 18, more doors are open for you to be on your own. At 16, shelters and poverty and a very very hard road lie ahead. At 18, employment opportunities as well as ability to lease an apartment…etc…. open up to you.

    You have fought silently for a very long time. I’d maintain that silence until I was in a better position and that involves your age. When you are able to get out and gain employment and attend college….the world will open up for you.

    Good luck, young lady. I wish you well.

  6. Well, I am a US lawyer, but not licensed in NY and can only assume the laws there are similar to here in Florida.

    I would not run away from home. There are several governmental approaches. Someone already mentioned emancipation and she probably would qualify. However, that leaves open the problem of support. Not likely that a 16 year old girl could completely support herself and go to school at the same time.

    Contact the Department of Family or Children’s services. They may be able to remove her to a foster home, at least temporarily. They probably have a program that would fit her needs. Make sure, before you apply for emancipation, that it will not jeapordize any programs you are in with DFS.

    There are probably public attorneys for the poor in NYC who could advise her better.

  7. Hello Y,

    I left the frum community when I was 16, and it was the most challenging experience of my life. If you are as closely supervised as I was there isn’t going to be a way to keep the family and community from finding out that you are going to public school, but do NOT let that discourage you. Some of the Jewish girl’s schools can still allow you to go to college, though you may need to start in city college.

    As someone who knows pretty well where you are coming from, I have questions about where you are trying to go. are you looking to leave the Jewish community altogether, or just obtain a more complete education? without a complaint more substantial than your family’s religion I would be concerned for the can of worms contacting the department of children and families, as it may do more harm than good if there isn’t abuse beyond the religion present at home. I remember well the crushing isolation I felt when I was 15, 16, sure that all I had to look forward to was a shidduch and that there was no way out, but it’s not true at all. I can’t offer much more detailed advice without knowing what resources you have, the internet is one of the very best.

  8. In reply to #3 by Jay G:

    “Chassidic” is a word that could mean many things. It would be good to know if she really is from a Chassidic family (and if so, which sect) or from a very religious non-chassidic family (for starters). Also, is she in Brooklyn, or Monroe, or New Square? If she’s in Brooklyn, is she in Flatbush, Borough Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg? There are differences and they can be important. Does she have any friends outside the community? If possible, she should give a little information here so more help could be forthcoming.

    Looks to me like you’re trying to narrow down the scope so you can identify “Y”, which could be dangerous for her. Why would you want to do that?

  9. In reply to #8 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #3 by Jay G:

    “Chassidic” is a word that could mean many things. It would be good to know if she really is from a Chassidic family (and if so, which sect) or from a very religious non-chassidic family (for starters). Also, is she in Brooklyn, or Monroe, or New Square? If she’s in Brooklyn, is she in Flatbush, Borough Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg? There are differences and they can be important. Does she have any friends outside the community? If possible, she should give a little information here so more help could be forthcoming.

    Looks to me like you’re trying to narrow down the scope so you can identify “Y”, which could be dangerous for her. Why would you want to do that?

    I’m NOT trying to identify this person. This post was a call for help. I just trying to find out more specifics so I can, perhaps, offer some advice. I happen to live in the NYC area, so I just wanted to know if this person is in the area and if so, where in this area.

  10. In reply to #9 by Jay G:

    In reply to #8 by OHooligan:

    In reply to #3 by Jay G:

    “Chassidic” is a word that could mean many things. It would be good to know if she really is from a Chassidic family (and if so, which sect) or from a very religious non-chassidic family (for starters). Also, is she in Brooklyn, or Monroe, or New Square? If she’s in Brooklyn, is she in Flatbush, Borough Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg? There are differences and they can be important. Does she have any friends outside the community? If possible, she should give a little information here so more help could be forthcoming.

    Looks to me like you’re trying to narrow down the scope so you can identify “Y”, which could be dangerous for her. Why would you want to do that?

    I’m NOT trying to identify this person. This post was a call for help. I just trying to find out more specifics so I can, perhaps, offer some advice. I happen to live in the NYC area, so I just wanted to know if this person is in the area and if so, where in this area.

    Perhaps the mods could help communicate this info via email so that it is not public. (When I read this post I immediately thought of Jay G.)

  11. I’d find out first if she is who she’s claiming to be. People pretend to be all sorts of things on the internet. For all you know, you could be exchanging missives with a 200lb window fitter from Budleigh Salterton called Derek. If she is on the level, however, you should tread carefully if you decide to get more involved than you are, particularly if you take All About Meme’s advice and suggest Y run away from home. Before you know it you could have the gendarmes hammering on your door and arresting you for soliciting a minor.

    If she came out as an atheist she would be kicked out of the community and she has nowhere else to go.

    Yeah, she does. She’s a minor and if her community were to expel her, she would become the responsibility of New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

    If Y is serious about escaping her community (and it should be completely her decision; she’s been controlled all her life by adults and may be highly susceptible even to subtle pressure from her new online friend who may not even be aware that he’s applying it, or bringing his own prejudices about religion to bear) and coming out as a non-believer would place her in no immediate physical danger, then that may be the best thing for her to do.

    There’s no rush, though, as long as the arranged marriage isn’t imminent. She’s in a safe place for the time being: she has her family and hopefully her health; she has access to the internet and to this site… so why am I talking to you?

    Hi, Y! Good luck, kid, if you are a kid. And if you’re a window fitter in the Bud area, the one in my upstairs loo lets in water whenever it rains, and it’s cold in there even though the unit was only fitted about a year ago. I’ve been on to the company but… sorry, sorry. Welcome to the site. Take comfort in the knowledge that eeevvverry 16-year-old in the known universe feels constrained by her family life and schooling and wants to get away. I hope your situation resolves itself in a way that allows you to live your own independant life but doesn’t entirely ostracise you from your family and the people who love you. In other words, I hope you get to have your babka and eat it too.

    Katy. xx

  12. Thanks very much for your comments so far – most of them mirror my thoughts – but the added detail and anecdotes are most welcome.

    To answer a few points:

    I’m sure Y is genuine.

    I don’t know the answers to JayG’s questions, but I did ask her to think about how much information she would be prepared to share. I imagine she is considering that.

    Y has talked about running away, which I have not encouraged. When I was 16, I thought about running away from home all the time. I never did, but knowing it was possible was comforting.

    Above all, I don’t know the answer to this big question – is Y’s life at home just terrible, or something worse than that?

    I haven’t heard from Y for a couple of days – though time differences may be a part of that. Anyway, I hope she hasn’t been rumbled.

  13. I went to my guidance councilor and asked if I had to attend the church my parents where involved with. She said no.

    I know of no support groups for teens who want to leave the suppressive environment of a religious group. Battered women have more support, but abused rights of children and teens that need to get support to escape the clutches of a suppressive group is difficult.

    I got lucky, I left, stayed home a few years, did my studies, and then left to live my own life. It wasn’t as extreme as the orthodox community. They truly isolate their members and children.

    I would appeal to the jewish community to support these people when they leave, not with money, but with support in integrating their lives with the rest of us folks.

    Hopefully one day there will be an organization to help people like this.

    I did it, it wasn’t easy, but I’m proud that I did leave and find my own life.

  14. I’ve been in touch with Y a couple of times over the last few days. She is reaching a bit of a crisis point this week with her school. However, she has managed to collect her thoughts, thanks in no small way to RD.net – not just this thread, but others threads too. Now, she has a bit of a plan and no longer feels so alone or so unusual.

    Thanks everyone.

  15. Dear Y, I sincerely and seriously wish you all the best. I hope that you will be able to walk your own way in life.

    As for practical advice, I have little to offer except to agree with the posters who suggested getting some “professionals” involved, be it the ACLU, a bona fide lawyer or the Department of family services. Another option might even be contacting some local religious organization (a moderate Jewish or even Christian community). They are usually very well connected with the local networks of social NGOs and authorities and should be willing to help. Also, a courageous moderate Rabbi might be less hesitant to tread on some toes and should meet with less resistance than a total outsider.

    • In reply to #20 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #16 by GPWC:

      It’s been about six months, GPWC. Just wondering if you’re still in contact with Y and if she’s okay.

      Hows ’bout an update.

      Hi Katy,

      Just picked up your comment … 4 months late!

      Yes, I am in contact with Y still and I am pleased to report a great improvement for her. After a lengthy struggle with her parents and family, her school and the wider Jewish community, Y is now at a regular high school and loving it. Despite her previous isolation, I think she is adapting well to her new circumstances and she is already discussing with her personal tutor about going on to university.

      It hasn’t been easy, though. The family and community threw everything at her to try and persuade her to stay on at their school of choice or another school away from home, but also of their choosing. But she stuck it out, politely but firmly rejecting these options. Then the question of money came up, but it seems New York State have come through with some finance. So having passed her entrance exam, she started school in September.

      Another good thing is that she has been able to maintain relations with her family. I think it is fair to say that it is a bit strained at home, but there’s no more talk of running away.

      So that’s a brief update – very brief as there were a lot of twists and turns, ups and downs, threats and bribes for Y in the last 9 months – but the bottom line is that she has joined the mainstream and, if I am any judge, well on her way to becoming a bright and independent adult.

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