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Escaping Hasidism

Your article [“Malkie: An Immigrant to a New World Adjusts Her Compass,” Winter 2004-05] about young women who left the Orthodox community spoke to me , but I noticed that all of the interview subjects left before they married and started a family. Small wonder. I became a Lubavitcher in a fit of adolescent fervor at the age of 15. I was engaged at 18, married a month after my nineteenth birthday, and birthed seven children in a 10-year span. It took almost 30 years for me to wake up and get out. Most never do, since a life of bitul hayesh, or self nullification, is the ultimate ideal. That static, ordered world is hypnotic.

Fundamentalism is like a drug; it soothes all anxieties, puts all questions to rest, overlays all other needs and desires. I was unprepared after I left to have to grow up and confront a life of ambivalence and an unclear path, an uncertain God.

Today I assert that no book, no matter how ancient or holy—and no rabbi—can grant me or deny me holiness. How I do that is between me and God. Our beautiful teachings and traditions are guides, not taskmasters. It is my responsibility to create a holiness that I define for myself in my life and in my relationships.

Leah Lax is writing a memoir on fundamentalism and sexuality in the Hasidic world.