Deciphering Off The Derech: Focus on Footsteps

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By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA

Director: Jewish Professionals Institute www.jpi.org
Email: rudomin@jpi.org

About ten years ago, an unique organization known as “Footsteps” was created in New York City to run organized programs to “help” Frum Jews who are leaving the Orthodox Judaism world. They have supposedly “serviced” hundreds if not thousands of young frum Jews, helping them leave Yiddishkeit behind for the lures of a secular lifestyle.

Just from looking at the Footsteps organization’s home page on their website, one can see their message loud and clear:

“Get Started with Footsteps: Whether you are considering leaving the ultra-Orthodox community or have already begun a new life in the secular world, there is a place for you at Footsteps. We offer programming and resources for people at any stage of the journey. We also welcome formerly ultra-Orthodox people who would like to help others considering or actively making the transition.”

What does this say about the serious scope of the OTD crisis in the frum world in New York City?

It would seem that it is mostly young people in their 20s and 30s who are the main “customers” of Footsteps and one then also wonders what is going on that this is happening and what, if any, are the organized counter efforts to deal with this growing crisis?

What is happening in the New York City area that a growing wave of young people are even looking for the services offered by Footsteps that gives them a secular education and teaches them how to socialize and integrate, what we know as ASSIMILATION, into the secular world? Abandonment of Orthodoxy by young people is also happening in circles that don’t go to Footsteps but nevertheless are dropping Yiddishkeit to the point that they become fully secular.

A serious question arises how one matches up the numbers of those secular Jews being Mekareved to become Ba’alei Teshuva (“returnees to Judaism”) by Kiruv organizations versus the numbers being lost to the Frum world if the existence and growth of Footsteps is any measurement?

Has anyone really sat down and added up the numbers of Jews joining the Frum world versus the numbers who are leaving Yiddishkeit? We are not talking of stories from a hundred years ago or even fifty years ago when the problems of assimilation, intermarriage, and apostasy made serious inroads. We are talking in the here and now, as one looks at the creation and growth of Footsteps a mere decade ago in the 21st Century!

These are serious concerns that the Frum world needs to think about.

To be continued…

{Matzav.com}

50 COMMENTS

  1. Footsteps is way exaggerated (like other organizations).

    Don’t fall for the fancy PR (ditto with many other organizations/their PR).

    • True. But they are an established organization. They do help people that want to leave their communities. Don’t disillusion yourself through semantics.

  2. Many, if not most, of the people that turn to Footsteps have been abused, and betrayed by their community. They are looking for recognition, healing and compassion that they deserve but are not able to find it in their frum communities. Without a solution to the very real problem, of abuse and subsequent cover up, of protecting the abuser and betraying the abused, it is hard to believe anything can be done to understand the Footsteps community.
    It is time to realize that just because we don’t have the solution yet, doesn’t mean we can’t open dialogue to the problem. Because that what is not put into words, can’t be solved.

      • Why would what he said require a statistical background? At most, if he had data, he’d need basic math skills to back up his assertion.
        (And Footsteps does have some data backing up Been There’s claims, IIRC.)

        • One thing I’ve learned from doing research is that basic descriptive statistics are not enough to answer many questions. Say for example you find that 35% of people that leave have been abused, in order to say something interesting, you would have to show that this percentage is higher than the percentage belonging to people that stay. This would require statistics (granted, very basic skills).
          Maybe training was not the appropriate word to use.

      • I do not have training in statistics. Lets start with this. Do you realize abuse happens in the frum community? Do you realize that abusers are protected, and those abused shunned? Do you realize that those that stand up to an abuser are condemned (in many ways) as well? If you choose to ignore all this, even hard facts and statistics won’t move you.
        It is so much easier to find excuses, tangents, and nitpick, so long you do not have to face the truth.

        • I definitely agree with your description of abuse and I strongly agree with the need for open dialog. I am just curious to see if work has been done and how people are approaching this question (who leaves and why).

  3. For a long time I’ve said this-
    There’s something so exciting about kiruv rechokim that it’s pulling people’s energies and funds away from the more mundane, perhaps boring, definitely difficult task of keeping the neshamos we already have from going astray in the first place.
    May this be the beginning of change and efforts into our own precious so far “on the derech” children.

    • Exactly. I’ve been saying the same for years.
      They always have these exciting programs/trips for the otd’s, special needs, sick, etc… That’s all nice and good. They have tuition breaks, government help, etc… Great. But what about the normal kids? Why can’t those who are normal, on the derech, healthy, pleasant, study hard, take life’s responsibilities serious, ever get a break or be treated to a special prize/trip?

      • “normal kids”????? how about getting in to whatever Yeshiva as prize. and how about parents not having to beg to keep their kids in Yeshiva!!!!!! grow up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Rav Raphael Pelcovitz shlit”a, of the White Shul in Far Rockaway, wrote an article along the same lines many years ago, in the old Jewish Life magazine of the OU.

  4. Instead of funding all the kiruv organizations and making slots in “reguler” Yeshivas for kiruv kids from all over the world. How about focus on the people who are already brought up religious in American(!) communities and stop kicking kids out of Yeshiva!

  5. People can fall into specific taivos and/or have severe disagreements within the community, but still be mekabel ol malchus shamaim overall – just because one has a regretful difficulty keeping some doesn’t mean he should drop all the rest. Going fry and dropping everything is a completely different matter; not to be explained by being a victim of abuse or ADHD or taavos. There is only one reason people are going fry: because for them Yidishkeit is an empty facade, a meaningless compilation of traditions without actual emunah, done for show and out of habit. The only way to combat the above is to imbue our observance with deep meaning and sincere limud haTorah, all those that are not 100% emes should not be anywhere close to chinuch system so as not to infect the children with cynicism. All the talk about using away resources on baal tshuvos or some mythical abuse epidemic is a bunch of shtus. If you don’t have a need to be mekarev all to H whom you love, you lack emunah and no amount of resources will keep you frum.

    • Right back at you. And I maintain my position. But here is the thing. For you to maintain your belief, the onus falls only on the person who chooses to leave Judaism. While facing the reality that abusers are protected puts the onus on the community…which may need for the community to change, rather then just blame…

    • Really…anyone with any intellect at all….would comprehend that you don’t come from monkeys and that there is a HIGHER POWER CALLED G-D.
      Just look around you…
      You are either blind or refuse to see!

      • RSRH around 150 years ago not only realized evolution posed no problem hashkaficly. He personally said he didn’t believe it. But if evolution was how Hashem created mankind even more so is Hashems majesty that all living beings came from the same origin.

      • Really…anyone with any intellect at all….would comprehend that the theory of evolution doesn’t claim homo sapiens came from monkeys. It is incredibly difficult to take you seriously when you claim the intellectual high ground while not knowing what your’e arguing against.

  6. Some factual numbers:
    Footsteps currently has over 1250 members, with a staff of 15, all of them with masters degrees. Their budget of almost $2 million in 2016, supported mainly by American ‘Jews’ from Modern Orthodox (yup, a huge chunk of their supporters are Orthodox. As evident from the crowd at their 10th anniversary gala, where about a third of the male supporters were wearing Kipot) to secular, including organizations such as the UJA-New York Jewish Federation, and more.

    While it is expected that a big percent of their members were abused, as being abused is a big push to leave, internal records -used for internal use, not PR- shows that less than 30% of members reported physical or mental abuse. The rest left for reasons ranging from belief to culture, and a big percent of LGBTQ who have no place in Orthodoxy (and that is a big issue to be taken into account if we are looking to fix anything).

    Throughout their 14 years, they had 4 suicides of members (although the numbers are a lot higher for OTD people who haven’t joined Footsteps, it is an important distinction, as it shows their so called success), which while it is 4 to many, it is just a fraction of the national US rate which is over 4% (it is 0.3% compared to 4.6% through a life time).

    • Matzav, please don’t allow (and remove, if they got through by accident) such phony comments from Footsetps supporters/staff. Footsteps is a big scam.

    • Chas V’shalom
      “ a big issue to be taken into account if we are looking to fix anything”

      We absolutely have to push them out totally, if Orthodoxy means anything at all

      Should we also Ch”V to embrace incest ?!

      If they control themselves as they ought ,then they’ll merit Yeshaya 56:2-5

  7. They are ערב רב and they will burn forever חוטא ומחטא
    There’s no abuse involved to go off the derecho just taivos
    And this so called organization ft is not here to help They don’t help anyone don’t even think they are here to help they are just here for hashchoso and taivos
    Ymach shemom!!
    ‏יהי רצון ..שיבנה בית המקדש במהרה בימינו
    And we should see the bad ending of this farsholtene so called organization.amen

  8. Instead of funding all the kiruv organizations and making slots in “reguler” Yeshivas for kiruv kids from all over the world. How about focus on the people who are already brought up religious in American(!) communities and stop kicking kids out of Yeshiva!

  9. To the writer of this article: OTD vs BT rates: OTD is 3 to 1. I speak from personal experience my family, our Shul and our neighborhood the youth walked away. Even the rebitzens cholent failed. Yes we are in a crisis. I will blame drug use, running after money, Internet

  10. The purpose of Jews learning Torah and observing Mitzvos is to eventually return the world to the spiritual level it was at before Adam & Chava’s sin with the Pree Eitz HaDaas, so that Moshiach can finally come, and to earn Reward for the World To Come. Many of the Jews who turn to Footsteps do not understand this and do not understand why Jews need to keep separate from non-Jews and from things that the secular world offers.

  11. Abuse is an open ended term. Their internal data may show abuse in ways that are specific to the world of therapy. Neglect and school bullying might not be reported as abuse. Inadequate schooling might not be reported as abuse. But these may be a reason for a person being dysfunctional and unhappy with life for people who are vulnerable.

    I haven’t seen the questioned raised of whether the frum system makes excuses for a higher percentage of dislikeable behaviors and personalities than a lot of people are willing to put up with if they have a choice. That would make it hard believe that it is The Truth.

    I believe a significant number of footsteps members left the scene a long time ago. They join after having left by themselves. So the number of members that cater to shouldn’t be seen as a number of people they help leave the derech. Besides, footsteps don’t push people to leave. They just offer services. That would explain why (if a previous anonymous is correct) some modern orthodox support them.

    Lets have the ‘rather a live OTD jew than a dead-by-suicide orthodox jew’ debate. That should be fun.

  12. I am shocked by those comments openly advocating or implicitly supporting this organization which is “choteh u’machtech es harabim.” Those with any connection to the Orthodox community who support these efforts should be publicly exposed and ostracized. To actively advocate destroying a fellow Jew’s neshama by facilitating abandoning “Ole Malchus shamayim” and embracing “tarvus rah” is a sin for which one loses his portion in The World to Come (“ain maspikin b’yado la’asos teshuva). The federation and uja who support these efforts are 99% secular Jews who, through no fault of their own, are entirely ignorant of Torah. But how can these so-called “modern orthodox’ , when faced with such lost souls, actively encourage them down a path of destruction rather than try to deal with the difficulties these people are facing that have brought them to this point? The photo that accompanies this article should be the response of the Jewish community–to continue to reach out to be m’karev those individuals who have “gone fry” or are contemplating it. Jews leaving the fold is nothing new in Jewish history. In prewar Europe it was all the “isms”–zionism, socialism, communism, etc that lured Jews away. Now there are more malevolent and destructive influences i.e. the internet and drugs. We could go through every generation in the entire Jewish history and point to the nisyonos that led Jews astray. Can we forget that only one in 50 (some say 500) were found worthy of going out of Mitzraim? The response should be to reach out to these souls-I am truly amazed at the people who have commented and seem to disparage “kiruv” work and organizations. This is precisely where such efforts should be redoubled to save these neshamas from the evil work of Footsteps. Maybe I am out of touch but I am truly surprised by the comments of those who attempt to blame the community rather than the individuals who have left the fold. Each person has “bechira” and each person has different “nisyonos”, some maybe greater than others, but to absolve those who flee from Torah is to deny the truth of Torah and the individual responsibility of every Jew for his/her actions.

  13. As I’ve always said, the greatest Kiruv organization ever created is the state of Israel. There is almost no assimilation and lost generations compared to 4 million+ of secular U.S. Jewry that is hopelessly being lost. Additionally there is a massive under the radar Teshuva movement in Israel where completely secular Jews are searching for meaning and adopting Torah & Mitzvos in great numbers. Most people reading this comment have been fed too much anti-Zionism to be able to agree but תן לחכם ויחכם עוד.

  14. Its like blaming someone for helping somebody up. but witnessing the person fall and doing nothing to help them up. Hilarious the logic thats employed!

  15. Chas V’shalom
    “that is a big issue to be taken into account if we are looking to fix anything”

    We absolutely have to push them out, if Orthodoxy is to mean anything at all

    If however they control themselves as they ought ,then they’ll merit Yeshaya 56:2-5

  16. Quote: “A serious question arises how one matches up the numbers of those secular Jews being Mekareved… versus the numbers being lost to the Frum world…?
    Has anyone really sat down and added up the numbers of Jews joining the Frum world versus the numbers who are leaving Yiddishkeit?” End Quote.

    Is this a numbers game? What does one have to do with the other? What if the results of the study would show more joining than leaving, would we make T-shirts and celebrate the net gain?
    “Go us! the BT’s won against the OTD’s 2,540 to 1,250 in overtime!”
    The Shchina cries over one neshma in pain “Klani miroshi”. We can’t imagine the pain of the shchina (and the parents) over a single OTD or at-risk child.
    Reducing the problem to some kind of statistic is cruel, and worse. It reinforces the perception that we don’t really care about the at-risk child, we just care how many stars on our mitzva charts we have.

  17. Look at it this way. Kiruv and chizuk are two sides of the same coin. The issue is recognition by parents mchanchim and rabbanim that not every kid from the same family fits into the same pea pod

  18. One of the big failings of all these all these studies and articles about the OTC crowd is that they act as if there were never OTD organizations in the past. In reality of course for thousands of years people have been going OTD. The excuses have almost always been the same:(1) In a free society that gave the aspiration of joining the upper middle class the excuse was usually “I tried so hard to believe in Orthodox Judaism but I’m really convinced in the truth of ,Xtiantly, Islam, science has proved the world has always existed, secular humanism etc…What the OTD crowd claimed to believe varied greatly but one thing remained the same. They always claimed that as truth seekers they have to accept whatever the intelligentsia of the larger culture around them believed. (2)In a non free society where there was no hope of assimilation and joining the upper middle class the excuse was almost always some sort of anti establishment political or ideological movement that would save the world. When the external circumstance changed all these beliefs and ideals (as a motivating factor for going OTD) went up in smoke. The above realization was one of the many factors causing my personal disillusionment from the OTD world. Yes I know that there were people or movements of OTD people who don’t seemingly fall into the classes above. Please don’t nitpick .

  19. Just the same as some people become bt’s (eg myself) others go otd….so what..everyone has to find their path in life… also just because someone isnt religious any more doesn’t mean they dont believe in gd…they just dont want religion…and they can still be the most amazing people and close with their families if everyone will respect each other’s choices

  20. I go to your shul. I learned for years in yeshiva and kollel with you. I share divrei torah with you. My kids are friends with your kids and maybe you’ve even eaten at my shabbos table. I keep all of halacha.

    But I’m an atheist, and I’m not the only one.

    People like me demonstrate that people don’t only go off the derech for ta’avos (I keep halacha, after all) or from abuse (I never had anything remotely like abuse). Like me, it is entirely possible for people to go off for purely intellectual reasons. And I’ve talked to all the rabbonim, I know the responses on both sides. I’m very smart and very knowledgeable – I was one of the best guys in a good yeshiva, and now I have multiple degrees. And it’s not like I *want* to be an atheist – those who know me best can testify that I say how it would be so nice if I could have a “brain tranquilizer” to get rid of all my doubts and let me live as the kollel guy I used to be.

    Why do I bother writing this? Because I see good smart young people having doubts, and others look at them as nebechs, or yell at them that they’re reshoim, and it literally ruins their lives. They get depressed and get into a terrible rut, and they get stuck. But they can’t escape their doubts, IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! And it does NOT mean that they’ve got mental problems, or that they’re running after ta’avos, or that they’re nebechs or reshaim in any way.

    Please, please, please, I beg of you from the bottom of my heart: respect these young people as the smart good sincere people that they really are. You can disagree with them, but don’t look down on them as nebechs and don’t yell at them. Don’t ruin their lives.

    • During Bayis Rishon, many of Jews did mitzvos and worshipped avodah zarah and we know what happened to them .

      We’ve been here before..

      • Cohen Binyomin – Your comment can be interpreted as judgmental and condescending. Please, please, let’s be there for EVERYONE in our community, the struggling and the strong. Human beings need validation, it’s part of our genetic makeup. Let’s be understanding so that we don’t force people out of our community and have the need to seek solace in organizations such as Footsteps.

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