Ex-Charedi women on how they left the fold

By Charlotte Oliver, December 23, 2013

Judy Kaye and Emily Grunwald are like any other 30-something, modern Jewish women. They wear what they want, dress how they want and mostly do as they please.

But this freedom of self-expression is still a novelty for them both as, only three years ago, they were raising families in strictly observant Charedi communities – and were unable to connect to the outside world.

Ms Kaye and Ms Grunwald led a powerful session at Limmud on Monday, describing their transitions from living strictly Orthodox to less traditional lives, and the challenges they faced along the way.

They told how, after withstanding threats, legal woes and custody battles, they were finally able to leave their homes with their children - and now run Gesher EU, an organisation that aims to provide support and advice for others struggling to move out of the Charedi community.

Ms Grunwald said: “We had no television, no newspapers, no access to any sort of media. All books were censored and we knew very little of the outside world.

“My life looked perfect on the outside, but I felt so trapped. Now I can make my own choices: that, to me, is the difference between night and day. I can now be who I want to be.”

Gesher EU provides therapy, social groups and mentoring sessions for people who have recently left their strictly orthodox homes.

But, according to Ms Grunwald, they rely on word of mouth to reach those who are too afraid to leave.

She said: “People are scared to speak to us. But we see a real need for us in the UK. You can’t just put somebody in a box and say, ‘live like that’.”

Ms Kaye added: “The whole concept of Gesher EU is simply one word: choice”.

Last updated: 9:57pm, December 23 2013