Yossi Klar, raised in Jerusalem, left the ultra-Orthodox at age 18. After spending most of his time studying religious texts in a yeshiva, he lacked basic math, science, and English skills, putting him at a severe competitive disadvantage in Israel’s job market. Now he, along with other ex-Haredi, are suing the State of Israel for the education they say they never received as part of the “Out for Change” movement.
Yossi shared his story of leaving the ultra-Orthodox movement with israel360 users in early May, live from his home in Jerusalem. Below are highlights from the Ask Me Anything event.
NOTE: Because, in his own words, he “lacked necessary English skills” to participate, we are grateful to Yossi’s translator, Miriam, for doing a heroic job interpreting his responses from Hebrew during the event.
israel360 user question (Q): What made you decide to leave the movement, and how did your friends/family react?
Yossi: At the age of 15, I started having theological questions that I didn’t find the answers for in the teachings in my community. As the internet exploded and everyone started having easy access I found my way online where I started finding answers to my questions. My older sister left the community a few years before me, and thus my family was able to deal with it. I lost a lot of friends, but friends that I lost because they couldn’t accept my values are friends I’m happy to lose.
Q: How many people would you say are leaving the Haredi sect? How big of a problem is the lack of (modern) education for ex-Haredi in Israel? And do you think this is a problem that a lot of people know or care about in Israel?
Yossi: From official data published by the Israeli authorities, we can see that around 1,300 young people leave the community every year. It’s about 10 percent of every age group. The lack of education is definitely a major problem, probably the biggest one for that community. I think it’s an issue a lot of people in Israel are aware of, but it’s still not enough.
Q: How did you prepare to join the secular world?
Yossi: I think the most important thing is to prepare and study the secular world outside of your community. There are many things to learn before you can be an integral part of even simple things, such as a simple conversation where someone references a singer or movie.
Q: Specifically, what rights are you suing over?
Yossi: The full answer is long and complex, but here is an article we at Out for Change worked on that can give you a taste for what we’re dealing with.
Q: What have you found to be the most challenging in leaving the Haredi movement?
Yossi: Honestly, coping with the vast lack of knowledge that I unfortunately had, due to the lack of proper education that was provided me by the Haredi education system. One of the main problems we are dealing with is the fact that the state doesn’t give us the same assistance and incentives it provides for Haredi people that wish to get into university, for example, even though we come from the exact same background and have the same gaps in knowledge. This article has an interview with my friend Ya’akov about this subject.
Q: Do you believe that the change needs to come in the form of helping others that leave the ultra-Orthodox movement, or does it need to go deeper than that, and encompass a change in what [Israel] makes mandatory in ultra-Orthodox schooling?
Yossi: I think change needs to take two forms. One is helping others in their process of leaving, if they wish to do so, and the other is by the government taking positive action to help us help ourselves. Obviously it’s also the state’s interest.
Q: There are always huge challenges when leaving a religious community, but some of the challenges might seem like non-issues to outsiders. When I stopped living an Orthodox life, the first time I ate at a Wendy’s I nearly ran out. I had no idea how to order fast food, and everyone looked at me like I had three heads. What would be a “simple” challenge you experienced that might seem perfectly obvious and easy to a secular person, but proved difficult for you? (Clearly you’ve had large challenges to address, but sometimes the “easy” ones are also quite complex to navigate.)
Yossi: A lot of funny stories come to mind. Here’s one only an insider would get: In day-to-day conversations, I’d suddenly use an Aramaic word or a Halachic phrase and the other person would look at me like I was speaking another language, which I was…unknowingly.
Q: What kind of support system did you have once you left the Haredi community? Were there individuals or organizations who could provide resources for you once you left?
Yossi: There’s a well-established organization called Hilel that provides you with everything you need when you start taking your first steps in society. Fortunately, my parents always supported me, and I also have close friends that went through this process with me.
Q: The Vice article I just read (thanks JewishBoston for the tip) says that you filed the lawsuit in 2015 against the state. What is the status of the suit and what’s the best possible outcome for Out for Change?
Yossi: Thanks for bringing that up. Next week (week of May 15), we’ll have our first court hearing in the case. The best outcome for us would be for the government to realize that we have the same needs as people with the same background who stayed religious.
Q: What have you enjoyed most since leaving the ultra-Orthodox community?
Yossi: Freedom, but to be more specific, a guilty pleasure of mine: watching documentaries 🙂
Q: Not a cheeseburger? 🙂
Yossi: That came in second 😉
Q: Have any family members or friends followed you to leave the sect? What’s that experience been like?
Yossi: I have a few cousins that left after I did, and I think my experience made it easier for them. For example, I helped one of them enlist in the army so he’ll be able to have a meaningful army service.
Q: What are some of the things you learned while in yeshiva that you feel are important, that you would not have learned in a secular school?
Yossi: The ability to study for many hours without a break, a useful skill in university 🙂
Q: Why do you think the Israeli government has ignored this issue for so long? Are they afraid of violating religious rights or do you think this is part of a larger issue with educational oversight in Israel?
Yossi: It has to do with the enormous political influence the Haredi politicians have in the Knesset.
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