Did I Make the Right Decision?

June 9, 2016


I did something I said I wasn’t going to do anymore: I read an online essay by a woman who left the “ultra-Orthodox” fold. At first I skimmed it, enough to glean that the writer had been brought up being told what to think, and that the Internet led her to freedom, albeit at the cost of her marriage, her family and her community.

I try to avoid these tell-alls, but they’re hard to resist. (It’s worth pondering why tales of “how-I-left-my-religious-upbringing” garner mainstream appeal, while stories of people’s return to Jewish observance never get past Jewish book stores.)

I could relate to some of the writer’s feelings though. I also grew up feeling slightly uncomfortable in the world I was born into. When I started to learn about Torah Judaism, I discovered there was more to my religion than tradition (I didn’t even know my great-grandparents, why should I live like them?). Eventually, the evidence supporting G-d’s revelation to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai became hard to ignore. It was also hard to embrace.

Only G-d knows why I chose to climb this difficult mountain of Torah life, somehow trusting that every bodily mitzvah would condition me for my daunting spiritual tasks, among them, to love all Jews unequivocally, to put others’ needs before my own, to forgive when I preferred to be angry. When I look down, I see how far I’ve climbed; I also know I have a way to go.

I also appreciate the writer’s zeal for her new outlook on life, but I question her judgment in sharing so quickly her disdain for her past. If she didn’t want to shave her head, she could have easily found one of hundreds of observant Jewish communities where women don’t do this. If her parents were unenlightened, or even awful, she’s still here because of them. Why didn’t she wait until she was better immersed in her new life to sing the praises of her new friends, her new pastimes, her new perspectives? How does she know she made the right decision?

It took almost thirty years to know I made the right decision to return to Jewish observance. There was and still is some pain surrounding my upbringing, but I try to be discreet about sharing the details. My posts may not go viral, but being sensitive to others is what Judaism is all about.

I know it’s not my place to judge the writer, or anyone. But because I worked so hard to journey back to Jewish observance, it’s hard not to wonder what she thinks now about G-d, or the divinity of Torah or, say,  Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith that articulates, oh right, what Jewish people are supposed to think for all eternity, even if the Internet comes along and offers easy access to…everything.

I know how challenging it was for me as an adult to completely change the way I thought. Fortunately for me, the Lubavitcher Rebbe elucidates Torah concepts in terms that make “thinking like a Jew” accessible in all aspects of life–everywhere. In fact, Lubavitcher Chassidim are encouraged to live outside ultra-Orthodox enclaves because the entire world is viewed as a receptacle for G-dliness, not an impediment to it. Relationships, especially sacred ones like family and lifelong friends, are potential encounters with the divine as well. It can be challenging to handle everyone with G-dly care, but I made the decision to try. And the most important thing is to try to keep people close, especially when it comes to sharing simchas, which is what I try to do.

The above picture was taken in North Hollywood, California, at the bris of our grandson, Yehoshua Benyomin Abend. With me are two best friends from grade school, Andrea Davis and Susie Finesman, who both appear to be happy with my decision.



  1. Reply


    Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent? Hmmm. I think readers are probably more curious about people who leave the orthodox world because they give outsiders a glimpse into a world so unlike their own, which otherwise seems like a big mystery. People love secrets and mystery.

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      Someone who defects has a very skewed view of that mysterious world (which isn’t as mysterious as all that). I think people’s interest (mine included) in these stories is deeper and darker than curiosity. But I love hearing from you, Gailsy!

  2. Reply

    Ali Leverton

    Great piece and great picture! Mazel Tov and good Yom Tov!

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      Glad you enjoyed and it’s always nice to hear from you, Ali. Good Yom Tov to you, too!

  3. Reply

    Binah Bindell

    Looking into another’s journey, we may try to understand all of their trials, tribulations and tests… But we can never fully understood or comprehended another persons journey. Each journey is individual with custom made tests as well as custom made lessons to learn. It is no simple matter. Although we are always curious we can not fully come to a place of knowing and therefore it is impossible to judge. I believe this is where one of our opportunities of free choice presents itself. We can choose to judge and tsk tsk… Or we can choose to have compassion and have enough wisdom and life experience that we have learned from in our own journey and just look at every person with an open heart and a right eye.

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      I agree wholeheartedly, Binah, and I try. But those who share their sensational tell-alls apparently don’t. I try not to judge those people either, but time will tell how wise their decisions were…

  4. Reply

    susan finesman

    Yes, so happy to be “there” and mazel tov.

  5. Reply

    robert half

    Lieba, I am sorry to tell you this but you have already become a psychologist without the schooling need to practice.
    As your children leave the nest, maybe you could find the time to get a degree. You have a natural empathy for other
    people and their needs. You have the sensitivity to help a much broader spectrum of people. I am aware that I am asking you to make a new demands on your self, but isn’t that what greatness is made of.
    For me, when I see “Pondering Jew”, in my new list of 20 emails< it is the first one I read.

    1. Reply

      Lieba Rudolph

      Well, if you see empathy, it’s either you or it’s a miracle. I work hard to acquire this admirable trait, but I can’t imagine going back to school to acquire more of it. But I appreciate your vote of confidence and love that you enjoy my writing. Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov, Bob!

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