People from the ultra-orthodox and Chasidic communities who choose to enter mainstream America currently do so as new immigrants in every sense. They face cultural disorientation and isolation coupled with a lack of a lack of practical and marketable skills. Founded in December 2003, Footsteps addresses the overwhelming needs of this population . Footsteps provides educational, vocational and social services to those seeking to enter or explore the world beyond the insular ultra-religious communities in which they were raised.
I was recently contacted by a really amazing young woman named Malkie Shwartz, who grew up Ultra-Orthodox in Crown Heights and decided to explore the world:
In November 2000, Malkie Schwartz was a panicked young woman torn between her religious upbringing and her quest for the knowledge the "outside" world had to offer. As she began to seriously think about going to college, mingling with diverse people, starting a career and a host of other new cultural experiences, Malkie was overwhelmed by the tremendous sacrifices and losses she experienced. Judith Goldberg Schwartz, Malkie's grandmother, became committed to offering her support during this time; she was the inspiration for Footsteps. Judith was a constant, loving and most valuable source of support up until her death in December 2002.
In December 2003, Malkie gained the support of a Board of Directors and launched Footsteps. The mission: to continue the work of Judith Goldberg Schwartz ---to minimize emotional and psychological trauma, and teach the skills necessary to transition into mainstream society.
Unlike a lot of us who simply write about our experiences, Malkie's really making a difference. If you or someone you know could use some support, or if you want to contribute, go to her organization's website at www.footsteps.org, call them at 718-626-1330, or write to the P.O. Box listed at the website.
Here is a list of their services:
Social and Emotional Support
* Drop-in peer support group meetings led by a professional fully qualified therapist
* Support groups addressing issues related to: healthy relationships with parents and family members still in the community; health and sexuality; life skills; Jewish identity
* Weekly individual psychiatric counseling from volunteer professionals for clients with a specific clinical need
* Social events organized around a particular cultural theme, art, music or film
Educational and Career Services
* English tutoring (Yiddish is the first language of some people)
* GED high school equivalency preparation
* Guidance with the college application process
* College and Career Information Session
* Resume writing assistance
* Job search information and placement
* Classes teaching basic computer skills
* Job interview preparation
Please note that footsteps "[does] not attempt to persuade anyone to leave the ultra-orthodox world; [they] only help those who turn to them on their own initiative."