I did not want to be a part of the conversation about the new Netflix show My Unorthodox Life.
I know intimately the deep dark underbelly of the Ultra Orthodox world about as well as I know the beauty and richness of the very same lifestyle. I have experienced both, up close and personal. The truth is that everyone has a different and legitimate experience of Orthodoxy and the Orthodox community. That's fine. I don't argue with someone's feelings, beliefs or experiences.
I observed the deep feelings and reaction the show evoked. The comments reminded me of just how much I hate social media which turn otherwise normal caring people into abusive haters and allows them to publicly condemn and shame someone for having an opinion they disagree with. Yuck.
So I didn't join in the discussion, although I have what to say.
But then it got personal when an old friend posted something about me:
"I have a friend I have known for more than 20 years. She grew up in a Haredi home. She was raped and abused as a child.
She often speaks publicly about her ordeal. The response from her old community was a very loud "leave if you want, but shut up. What you say is Lashon Hora." To this day, there are those who both believe her and yet hate her for going public.
Ok. Now go ahead and continue posting comments about how people who leave Orthodoxy should not tell their stories."
He forgot to mention that I didn't leave, although that would have been easier. It took me a long time to separate my experience of sexual abuse, excommunication, and the loss of everyone I loved, from the truth and beauty of Torah. It wasn't simple or easy work.
The truth that I came to understand, is that religion is a tool that can be used for wonderful life giving ends, and just as easily for evil and destructive ones. It's all in what we do with it. It's all about our God given free will.
When you go beyond human action and reaction to examine the most powerful gifts in our lives they are neither good nor bad. They are simply there. Pure potential. The more powerful and holy something is the more some people want to control it and use it to their benefit, while others want to ban it and shy away from it. Take women for example...powerful and holy, yes we are! Take sexuality, or the Jews, or Israel!
Some Christians ban sex, some Charaidim ban internet, some people ban religion and some people ban God. I have never heard of anyone banning fire, but maybe fire is the purest example of a gift that can both save and destroy lives almost instantly based on how its used. Gotta think about that one.
My point is that these wonderful gifts are banned out of fear of the possibility of their power being used to hurt, abuse, and control, which indeed they have been. We Jews are an imperfect people. Always have been, and probably always will be.
But we Jews are called on by the Torah not to worship any of these gifts as ends in themselves, including religion. We are commanded never to worship people, never to worship any kind of power, nor to follow those who are committing evil and hurting others, but only to worship God, The ultimate source of all life unconditional love, wisdom and truth.
Religion is a tool to tap into a relationship with the divine, but if you are using religion to abuse or control, or experiencing religion as abusive, it makes sense that you would leave. The minute we find ourselves worshiping religion or anything else we have lost touch with reality, in my humble opinion.
God gave us the gift of free will. This is our ultimate superpower! Let us use it well!