Here is a video featuring some formerly religious young adults raised in the Jewish ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch sect called: “Off – A Glimpse at the Lives of Hasidic Rebels.”
They describe an environment of cult-like behavior, manipulation, intimidation, hasidic community dependence, and stories of regular rabbi-approved yeshiva fraud. At one point in the video one man gives an account of students in his Chabad yeshiva bragging about who perpetrated the biggest insurance fraud and describes it as if it’s a common, even celebrated, part of their culture/sub-culture.
These young people escaped the dogmatic Orthodox Chabad world recognizing the repression, lies, deceit, fraud, and immoral behaviors often found within the sect. They also had the strength, apparently, to adapt to a normal lifestyle without the aid of organizations such as Footsteps (who are especially helpful to those more entrenched and bound to hasidic and ultra-Orthodox life; and now added to our blogroll).
They maintain a Jewish identity on their terms, and not as Chabad-Lubavitch defines it. And after turning away from Chabad ultra-Orthodox religious dogma, they describe a healthier and more fulfilling sense of spirituality and belief in God. As one former Chabad follower puts it: “disentangling God from religion.”
The video is worth watching for Jews who are frum from birth, and those who are formerly frum. But I think it is especially important for baalei tshuvah (BTs) who are being pursued by Chabad rabbis, considering joining Chabad, or have recently joined, to watch this video. As a BT myself, my story is very different than these young adults who were born into Chabad, but their accounts give some very meaningful insight into less obvious aspects of the Chabad organization. These are the kinds of stories your Chabad House rabbi doesn’t want you to hear. They will tell you plenty of hype about the ‘beauty of Chassidus,’ or mythology about the Alte Rebbe and Menachem Mendel Schneerson (their messianic figure). But you won’t hear many stories about the ways Chabad culture often fails even those born into it.