I remember the first Yom Kippur when I didn’t keep the fast. I was 16 years old. My parents and siblings all went to shul, but I stayed back, snacking and reading Gone with the Wind in the basement.
I was kicked out of school soon after I started voicing my ideas and opinions in the classroom, challenging my teachers with questions they could not answer. My best friends were not allowed to talk to me lest I poison their minds. I was then sent to a psychologist who tried to convince me that a mental disorder was causing my lack of belief.
At the age of 18, depressed and alone, I was forced into an arranged marriage. At the time I was naïve enough to think that marriage might make things better. However, shortly after my first child was born, some of the religious and ideological differences between my husband and me came to a head.
At first the separation was nasty and it looked like we were headed for a bitter custody battle. Fortunately, we both realized that we needed to compromise and put the best interest of our daughter first. In order to appease one another, we agreed to put our daughter in a school that emphasizes both secular and Jewish values.
Today, I am the most content I’ve ever been. But day-to-day there are many challenges. As a single mother pursuing a degree in mathematics, I struggle with financial pressures and social constraints. Fortunately, I found Footsteps. The organization gave me an outlet to people who share my experiences and struggles. I have made a number of friends and we are truly there for one another. Footsteppers serve as the cousins, siblings, and parents I lost when I left the community.
In addition, the Footsteps scholarship program has made it possible for me to pursue a degree. Today, I am encouraged to ask questions and pursue my ideas. As difficult as the transition has been, it has been worth it. I am free and I am happy.