The current Foundation Beyond Belief Human Rights beneficiary, Footsteps, works to support those transitioning from a life of ultra-Orthodox Judaism to living in communities in mainstream society. The organization has programs and resources to support people at many different stages of their journey, but the program also exists as a type of model for other transitional-support organizations.
But what, exactly, does this process look like? The first, most obvious thing to mention is, the journey is different for everyone. Circumstances vary widely for those approaching Footsteps, as do goals and aspirations for a life post-Orthodoxy, but the path can be relatively similar, and that is where Footstep’s model is created to help.
First, a person must be ready to leave his or her community. The very first step is that initial approach. That may be an anonymous email, or a phone call. From there, it may take months, years even to be prepared to move on. They must prepare for what faces them, and know what support they will have when they are ready to begin the change process.
To help with the decisions, Footsteps has resources such as stories of those who have left and meetups for people at every stage of transition. Through it all there is counseling and emotional support, whether group, one-on-one or written guides.
Once the decision to leave has been made comes the work-heavy, and lengthy stage of making the change. This stage involves often-intense psycho-social counseling and support, including counseling, mentoring, and workshops to gain skills to help achieve one’s goals, like going to college or finding a secular job. Footsteps also helps those transitioning to a new life find connections with others outside the community, starting with others who have made the transition. New jobs, education, and homes outside the community are found, in time.
This stage includes many balancing acts. Will the Footsteps member be able to remain true to who they want to be and keep connections with some of their family members who remain in the Orthodox community? How much connection can remain with their old life? This stage often takes many years while critical questions are addressed while Footsteps helps provide their members with the tools to overcome the obstacles in the way.
After this stage comes maintenance – “relishing a new life” as the program calls it. This stage involves remaining in contact with Footsteps for any additional resources needed, and coming to terms with the changes the new mainstream life has brought. This is also a time to see how the member can be a guide, a mentor themselves for someone else and use their story and experience to help others as they begin to meet new members through Footsteps activities.
The final point in the process for Footsteps members is giving back. Once a member feels he or she has found success and started achieving goals, there are multiple opportunities to help support new and struggling members with peer-to-peer guidance or as members of the advisory committee. Many members also tell their stories publicly to help bring awareness to the cause.
The process is not always strictly linear. Emotional and financial setbacks may call for an increase in support in one way or another, and that’s where the Footsteps community itself comes in. Support is available for those at all stages, at all times – because this path is not easy, but is a path many have traveled, and will again.
To view the first in a series of videos where members express what freedom means to thiem visit Footsteps Project Freedom: Sara Erenthal.