Mendy, age 24
Mendy was born in France into a Haredi family and immigrated to Israel at age 4. He studied in an anti-Zionist, Jerusalem chaider as a boy. After his sisters married members of the Sadigura Hasidic sect, the whole family was drawn closer to Hasidism and Mendy went to Sadigura yeshiva until the age of 17. Mendy’s decision to leave the Haredi fold did not occur all at once but developed slowly during his teenage years. At age 17, when it became apparent to his family that he would not be a Torah scholar, Mendy began a pre-academic program to begin bridging the educational gaps he acquired from years in the Haredi school system. At the time he was not serious about any of his studies except English, and eventually dropped out of the program, though not before he matriculated in English. Unmotivated and unsure of what he wanted to do or where he could do it, Mendy decided to try his luck abroad, traveling first to family in France and then to New York to work in matzah baking with former Haredi friends, a lucrative enterprise.
Once in the US, Mendy became part of a close-knit group of former Haredim from Israel and New York, whose common language was Yiddish and who supported one another in their new lifestyle choices. No longer under pressure from his family and community, he was able to fully embrace a secular lifestyle while retaining Jewish traditions that were meaningful for him. Mendy worked in Jewish-owned restaurants and eventually purchased a van and began working in deliveries. However, the IDF, noticing he had left Israel without enlisting, began to take legal action against him and prevented him from renewing his passport. Mendy realized that it was time to go back to Israel and enlist. The intelligence tech program he was interested in – Shahar – was a Haredi program. So he donned a yarmulke once again and enlisted as a Haredi. Although he passed the technical entry exam, which would allow him to learn computer programming as part of his service, Mendy was unable to get security clearance for the highly classified unit and instead spent the better part of his 2.5-year service, somewhat ironically, enlisting Haredim to the Intelligence Corps. His interest in computer programming having been sparked, and not knowing how he would be able to be accepted to university with all of his educational gaps, he saw an advertisement for a computer science course offered at Out for Change and decided to join.
The introduction to computer science course at Out for Change was a game changer for Mendy. Taught by an Amdocs expert, the course gave him basic skills and the confidence and knowledge to continue learning. He began study computer programming online at night, through YouTube videos, a Udemy course and tech blogs with online tutorials. Within a year, he was able to begin offering freelancing services on Fiverr at night and develop a small business in developing web applications. The IDF eventually agreed to grant him security clearance and he developed a new system for the Intelligence Corps. Now newly discharged, Mendy plans on returning to the US and joining the team of a New York-based startup as a front-end developer, take his GED examination and maybe even pursue a college degree.
For Mendy, the biggest challenge in leaving the Haredi world is the lack of education he received growing up in the Haredi educational system. Despite being highly intelligent, capable and resourceful, Mendy’s interest in programming brought him face-to-face with the fact that he had studied no more than basic arithmetic during his school years. The educational gaps he deals with are vast. While he has already made an enormous amount of progress, he still has a way to go. We at Out for Change are gratified and proud to be part of Mendy’s journey – and expect great things from him.
Yedidya, aged 23
Yedidya was born in Jerusalem to a Haredi family, one of twelve siblings. His father studied in yeshiva and his mother is a teacher. As a child, Yedidya loved books, especially fiction, and quickly exhausted the supply of books available in Har Nof. At the age of 12 he discovered the National Library in Givat Ram and the world of knights and chivalry. Despite his secular interests, Yedidya was a serious student and gained admission to the prominent Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, famous for its violent public demonstrations and anti-secular activism. He spent his school years vacillating between yeshiva studies and secular literature. At Ponevezh, the extremism caused Yedidya to realize that he was not in fact anti-secular. He preferred to dress differently and got a motorcycle license. Eventually he left Ponovezh and travelled to London to study in a yeshiva there. With no English, and therefore uncomfortable roaming the streets of London, the yeshiva felt like a prison to him. His friends began to get married but Yedidya found little in common with the young Haredi women he met.
At the age of 21, Yedidya left full-time yeshiva and began to work. Having no experience speaking to women, he did not feel comfortable working in a mixed-gender environment. He worked in menial jobs but felt that the strain of long hours of physically demanding work was destroying his creative side. He began to get in touch again with his love for literature, writing and creativity. He learned to ride a horse and began to work as an instructor, teaching children how to ride, and began to work toward his dream of becoming a pilot. Unable to afford flying lessons to manage his finances in general, Yedidya heard about Out for Change and came looking for individual guidance. Bruria Avraham, Out for Change’s guidance coordinator, helped him find a job in a home for adults struggling with mental illness, which he loves, and sent him to a psychologist, a financial advisor and a private English tutor. Yedidya is currently studying English regularly at HaSalon and plans to take the matriculation exam. He still dreams of studying to become a pilot and is interested in a program in the Czech Republic, once he has achieved a high level of English and saves some money.
Yedidya is still in the early stages of leaving the Haredi fold and feels very much in-between. On the one hand, he no longer feels a part of Haredi society and institutions, and is angry when he recalls the intense pressure he felt to conform so completely to societal norms while he was in yeshiva. In terms of outlook, he finds he has more in common with the Modern Orthodox people he has encountered. However, he does not want to hurt his family or be part of any group that is anti-Haredi. Socially he feels very isolated but is beginning to attend events at Out for Change and make friends with whom he finds common ground. Yedidya has a long road ahead of him but is grateful for the support he is receiving so that he does not have to go it completely alone.