By Baila Sebrow
During the coronavirus pandemic, the frum community was badly portrayed when two menuvalos utilized the lockdown’s uptick in Netflix viewership to air nasty documentaries about their departures from beautiful marriages and hedonistic journeys off the derech.
This has had me wondering: What can I do to ensure that the sweet, tznius bas Yisrael I am currently dating is not a closeted Julia Haart-wannabe Trojan horse who plans on going off the derech and joining Hollywood after marriage?
Unlike that Jew-friendly Lebanese Arab “chatan” in Brooklyn or those rogue Christian missionaries who made false impressions in various basement shtiebels after impressively learning nusach ha’tefillah from YouTube, closeted OTD Trojan horses who are in shidduchim all come from fully integrated frum families in established frum kehillos.
What would you advise singles to ensure that the person they are dating or about to marry is not a secretive OTD Trojan horse who intends to deliberately break down their family in the pursuit of Hollywood fame? What enhanced precautions could be implemented if one’s shidduch references cannot contemplate their student or longtime friend having such heinous ulterior motives?
While I acknowledge that such instances are one in a million, the catastrophic yet avoidable fallout is just as extreme. May we only hear of simchos.
You have truly valid concerns. In fact, I will go so far as to add to your worries by telling you that the occurrences you cite are actually greater in number than you know. Not every case hits the media. In most situations the family hushes it up, so nobody knows the truth. Do you think that Julia Haart is the only woman to have left the frum fold and disparaged her community? Do you think that there aren’t cases of singles who are not Jewish but portray themselves to be Jewish? Many have even gotten married under false pretenses. Not only that, but there are actual missionaries looking to convert Orthodox Jewish people. In each of those circumstances, ironically, the singles came highly recommended and were from what appeared to be wholesome backgrounds.
From everything I have witnessed and experienced as a shadchan, oftentimes references are not worth the paper the names are written on. How many stories has frum society heard in which a pillar of the community turned out to be a faker? How many top yeshiva students, children of chashuv parents, who turned out to be serious abusers of their spouses and children? How many sought-after young ladies from the “best” families, so to speak, turned out to be haters of Yiddishkeit or tznius? Which busy shadchan has not set up singles she or he thought were chashuve young people, and it turned out that these singles were mechallel Shabbos, ate treif, and committed illicit sins? No reference can promise you anything. On the contrary, I have found that references can needlessly ruin a good shidduch possibility or destroy an innocent person’s life with false reports. You need to be your own judge of character, and I will offer some tips that will hopefully give you more confidence to continue with the shidduch you are pursuing.
An OTD (off-the-derech) person does not become that way overnight. Nobody goes to sleep happily frum and wakes up mad at his or her customs and religion. It is a buildup of many years of frustration and bitterness towards the community. An OTD person is usually someone who has left the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. There are times when people are erroneously mislabeled as OTD when in fact they decided that a less rigid or different way of practicing Yiddishkeit would work better for them in the long run.
Those who completely abhor their community or even family because of a bad experience have been known to go live the most extreme opposite way of life when they leave. When you are dating someone, the signs are there, in red flaming letters. It is just that people choose to ignore what they hear and see because they are so taken with the person, or they are relying entirely on how the references praised the person in question.
I don’t know Julia Haart. I don’t know what caused her to not just leave the fold but to paint a distorted view of Yiddishkeit, but I will share what I posted on one of my social media blog sites about that story when people were bashing her around the time it hit the media in a big way. The following piece was posted at 7/20/2021 at 9 a.m. EST.
“I have been reading posts and op-eds in response to the new Netflix series, My Unorthodox Life. No, I am not going to be another professional Orthodox Jewish woman grabbing an opportunity to toot her own horn for self-promotion in the name of kiddush Hashem. I am all for kiddush Hashem, because that’s how I live my life, regardless of any painful obstacles and personal tragedies that I have endured. Here is my response to the series. Instead of blasting the formerly Orthodox Julia Haart and accusing her with motives to hurt Jews, how about demonstrating emotional support for a change of reaction? Don’t all these do-gooders realize that Julia Haart is reading the harsh criticisms against her? Don’t all these do-gooders realize that by attacking her, in essence, they are lending weight for her need to go so public about her private life? Do people not realize that something traumatic must have brought this on? Julia Haart was born a Jew. Julia Haart will always be a Jew. The flame of her pintele Yid is still flickering. With each attack against her, that flame is being doused. And that’s not kiddush Hashem. That’s chillul Hashem. Let us embrace Julia as a sister. Let our message to her be that although we don’t agree with her life choices, we understand. We love her, and we will always love her, because she is our sister. Mitzvos and ma’asim tovim are part of our yesod, and that includes chesed and v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha. I appeal to everyone: please do not extinguish the flame of her pintele Yid. Help Julia Haart feel the flames of Yiddishkeit warming and engulfing her neshamah.”
Those who turn away have a reason for doing so. In our history, we have many cases to cite such examples. And if a seemingly bas Yisrael type of young lady did something so heinous, blasting her will only cause anyone who is disgruntled with the system to do the same.
I don’t know anything about the young lady you are dating. From people who have been married and have gone OTD, in all cases it started with doubts and questions that remained unanswered from years earlier. The path to OTD is not always the chosen path, as everyone assumes, or bearing longstanding Trojan horse-style ulterior motives, as you imply. The OTD person is someone for whom the joy of Yiddishkeit was squashed, and nobody saw the early signs until those thoughts to leave the fold metastasized. In the case of Julia Haart, she went further than most have.
You sound like an intelligent and articulate man. When you are on a date, make the most of the time you spend with the young lady. It is fun to do recreational activities or talk about things that don’t have any personal connections to you. But that is where people make the biggest mistake. It is because they don’t ask direct questions. To get the right answers from anyone, they need to feel comfortable enough to expose their emotional vulnerability to you. Begin with illustrating by example. Share information with her that you have never told anyone before. Talk about disappointments in your life and how you dealt with such situations. Discuss your feelings at the time and what you were contemplating when you didn’t know what the outcome would turn out to be.
Allow the young lady to feel that you are not judgmental and that you accept her for who she is, regardless of anything in her past. But really mean it. People who have experienced disappointing experiences or betrayal learn to become so intuitive that they almost have an accurate sixth sense. Encourage her to open up to you, and be cognizant to not only avoid interrupting her, but maintain direct eye contact as she is speaking and express sympathy when that’s called for. Spend as much time as you can with the people who are important in her life, watch how she interacts with them, and keep your ears open to whatever comments you hear.
One of the most fundamental aspects of marriage is feeling that you can trust your spouse without worrying about consequences of any kind. I don’t know what kind of marriage Julia Haart had when she was religious. I don’t know what caused her divorce or her lifestyle changes thereafter, and I doubt that anyone outside her family knows either. Anyone could take any guess, but the truth is hidden behind closed doors. It is you and your wife-to-be who will hold the key to your door of happiness.
Work together as a team partnering towards the same goals and aspirations. It should never be one against the other, no matter what happens. And even when an argument develops, the love should never be suppressed or denied to the other. If one spouse does something the other disapproves of, understanding and forgiveness go a long way in maintaining shalom bayis. If people want to live their married lives in harmony, they need to take an example from Hashem, Who is Keil Rachum v’Chanun.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Baila also hosts The Definitive Rap podcast for vinnews.com and Israel News Talk Radio. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.