She’s Off The Derech

I interviewed a cute girl this afternoon about why she left Orthodox Judaism.

Nataly Mor writes an essay on Heshy Fried’s blog FrumSatire about why she left Orthodox Judaism:

Living in Brooklyn, especially in Boro Park, and being off the derech is like wearing the invisible scarlet letters “OTD” on your chest. Everybody knows you are otd, but nobody really wants to talk about it. It’s a very uncomfortable subject for people. We are out there, walking amongst you, and each of us has a unique story to tell. Going off the derech is often a life choice we make when we are too young to understand what life choices really mean. I made the choice when I was too young, but I had a very good reason.

Nataly: “I always read Heshy’s blog. I found it very funny and interesting. One day I wrote it up and thought, this would be really funny if other people could read it.”

“Everyone’s been telling me that I should write a book.”

Luke: “Are you a tomboy?”

Nataly: “I’m totally not. I’ve always sucked at sports. I’m very girly. That’s why I put that picture up, to make people laugh. Nataly’s drilling. I’m a very big girly girl.”

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Nataly: “It changed every day. One day I wanted to write for a fashion magazine. At another point, I wanted to be a businesswoman. At another point, I wanted to be an actress.”

Luke: “You were always sure you did not want to be Orthodox?”

Nataly: “Yeah. From a really young age, like eight or nine, even though my family was.

“I have a younger sister. She’s also not religious.”

Luke: “What were your parents thinking living with all these people?”

Nataly: “They didn’t have a choice [because of poverty and illegal immigrant status]. I always asked them, why couldn’t we just live in a tiny little apartment by ourselves?”

Luke: “I can’t imagine. It sounds like hell.”

Nataly: “It wasn’t hell. I really didn’t think much of it until I got a lot older. I always accepted it. OK, we have to share the bathroom with ten people, with interesting characters. It wasn’t hell. It was interesting.”

Luke: “Have you stayed in touch with anyone from that house?”

Nataly: “Oh God no.”

Luke: “What keeps you living in Boro Park?”

Nataly: “Cheap rent. I live on the same block I grew up on, only a couple of doors down. I pay $700 for a one-bedroom, utilities included.”

“I went to an all-girls yeshiva until the middle of 11th grade when I finally dropped out and went to public school. I was such an outcast in [yeshiva] and I had no friends and I couldn’t take it. I begged my mother to let me go to another school. The rest of my family didn’t know about it. They still don’t.”

Luke: “Were you always unpopular at yeshiva?”

Nataly: “Oh yeah, I was totally unpopular. I had no friends. They all thought I was the biggest freak. I don’t blame them. I was dressed badly. When everyone had bat mitzvahs, I was too poor to buy presents. My mother refused to give me any money, so I’d go to the 99c store and buy a cheap little thing to give them. Nobody would talk to me. They were all these little rich spoiled girls. I was different. It was horrible. As the grades went up, it got worse.

“In yeshiva, you had such a small class, maybe 30 kids in the whole grade. Everyone is really cliquey. If it is a private school, they all come from money. If you are not like them, it’s brutal.”

Luke: “What were the most common things kids would say to you?”

Nataly: “It wasn’t what they would say. They would just ignore me… Just stares and eye rolls and silent treatment. Just typical immature girl stuff.”

Luke: “How about the rabbis and the parents of your classmates? Did they make much effort to integrate you socially?”

Nataly: “I was always kinda acting up. The rabbis considered me a handful. I was failing. They were dealing with that. Socially, they never made an effort. I don’t have any memory of the other parents. I had a feeling that they told their kids to avoid me.”

Luke: “Did anyone say you should be in therapy?”

Nataly: “My parents didn’t believe in therapy. Maybe it’s a religious thing. Obviously the teachers suggested it.”

Luke: “At what age did you start thinking — my religion sucks?”

Nataly: “At a really early age, eight to ten. It was not for me. I never felt like I fit in with the religious people.”

Luke: “Until what age did you live at this house?”

Nataly: “Possibly until I was 19. I’m 25 today.”

Luke: “Was there anything you loved about living there?”

Nataly: “Not at all.”

Luke: “Was there anything you loved about your childhood?”

Nataly: “My parents did the best they could. As far as childhood’s go, I’d categorize it as crappy… As I was growing up, I accepted it as that’s how life is.”

Luke: “Did the guys in this house, did they hit on you?”

Nataly: “Oh no. No, no, no. God no.”

Luke: “Why not?”

Nataly: “I don’t know. You’d think that two girls growing up in that situation that that might come up. Thank God it never did.”

Luke: “What was public school like?”

Nataly: “I loved it. I could be myself. I made two, three really good friends. It was awesome. I wish I would’ve gone my whole high school to this school.”

Luke: “Did you have good friends before public school?”

Nataly: “I had maybe one girl who talked to me out of pity. I never had any friends growing up.”

Luke: “Did you have imaginary friends?”

Nataly: “No. I was always kind of a loner, so it never really bothered me. I was always in my imagination. I was always in my own little world.”

Luke: “What did you dream about?”

Nataly: “Shopping. Being able to afford to buy things. It was usually centered on — what if I won a million dollars? What would I do when I got my independence?”

Luke: “Did you dream of revenge?”

Nataly: “I thought I’d go out in the world and be successful and that would be my revenge because I would just show everybody that I am not what they think I am.”

After high school, Nataly got a degree in Business from Brooklyn College. “I pretty much worked my butt off [in bookkeeping]. I make a living. I have a good group of friends. I have an amazing boyfriend. Hopefully we will be taking the next step soon. I’ve traveled. I lived in Israel for a while.”

Luke: “When did you bloom and become cute?”

Nataly: “I had braces on until I was 21. I was a really ugly kid. I always wanted to be a blonde. I’d take this stuff called Sun-In and put it in my jet-black hair and it would turn it orange. I spent most of my childhood with orange hair… I did a lot of crazy stuff to make what I thought was prettier.”

Luke: “How old were you when you first kissed a boy?”

Nataly: “I was 16. I was very shy until I snuck out one night with one of my friends. We met a group of boys. She dared me to kiss him. It was very unromantic.”

Luke: “How old were you the first time you did it and you liked it?”

Nataly: “No comment.”

“In public school, all my friends were Jewish. They weren’t religious.”

Luke: “What surprised you about life off the derech?”

Nataly: “The way people interacted with each other. I came from such a sheltered environment. I grew up with the idea that people who weren’t Jewish were bad and scary and no-good. That’s the mindset that a lot of religious people have… It’s us and them.

“When I walk around Boro Park today and I wear pants, nobody [frum] talks to me. It’s us and them… When people who are ultra-religious [Jews] think that you are not Jewish, they aren’t nice to you.”

Luke: “What have you found you’re good at?”

Nataly: “I found I was good at comedy so I took some improv classes. I love to paint and to dance. I’ve fallen in love with non-Jewish music.”

“I struggle a lot, especially around the holidays, I do feel guilty for my lifestyle. That I’m not religious and I should be. If I were religious, what would my life be like? When you are religious, your life is very structured. You know exactly what path to follow. It’s a wilderness out there. It’s like you are feeling around in the dark. You have to discover things for yourself. It’s scary sometimes.”

Luke: “What’s your relationship with God been like over the years?”

Nataly: “It’s been on and off. I still have mezuzot on my door. I still keep kosher. I say shmai yisrael every night. I don’t keep Shabbat. I light. I keep a lot of things because it feels like second nature. People say that if you believe in God, you believe in the Torah. Obviously the way I’m living is against the Torah. I struggle with that.”

Luke: “What type of people do you gravitate towards?”

Nataly: “People who are outcasts. Loners. People who are different or interesting. When people are too normal, I don’t think I could click with them.”

Luke: “In which ways did your Orthodox upbringing prepare you for life and in which ways did it not?”

Nataly: “It totally didn’t prepare me for life. Unless you live in an Orthodox community, the skill sets you are brought up with are completely useless. I basically had to discover everything on my own.”

Luke: “There should be an organization to help people transition from Orthodox Judaism.”

Nataly: “There should. How to open a bank account. How to write a resume. How to go on a job interview.”

Luke: “How to go on a date.”

Nataly: “How to interact with people. Even to this day I am totally awkward around the opposite sex. Even though I have a boyfriend, I don’t know how to interact with men.”

Luke: “Are there any Jewish texts that still speak to you?”

Nataly: “No… I do go to shiurs every once in a while but it’s more like a comfort thing, rather than a I-want-to-learn-Torah thing. Usually women only. I wear skirts. I try to blend in.”

Luke: “How big a problem has guilt been for you?”

Nataly: “It’s been huge.”

Luke: “What are your dominant emotions towards Judaism?”

Nataly: “I like it. It’s just not for me.”

Khunrum emails: “That was an interesting story. Luke, you look like a Rabbi (somewhat). Why don’t you become a Meshulach and go round asking for tzedakah (which I presume is funding). Try a different neighborhood where they don’t know you. Good Idea?”

Bob emails: “Knock. Knock. “Sorry to trouble you, but I was wondering if you could spare a few dollars so I might purchase a razor to deal with my Rip VanWinkle beard?” Might work…”

Khunrum emails: “Hello! I’m “Luke the Meshulach”. I live in poverty, my neighbors think I’m nuts, women run from me, rabbis bounce me out of their shuls. I need funding for Alexander studies to improve my posture.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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