What is the first day of a new job ‘supposed’ to look like? Arrive in your office to be shown which are the correct mugs to use, be handed a code for the photocopier that you’ll likely forget at the bottom of your drawer, sheepishly introduce yourself and try to remember everyone’s names? It is a rite of passage for so many, but sometimes things are not quite so neat.
For me, I started my Mavar journey in the same manner I have done many other things in recent months: with a Zoom call. I have been lucky enough to receive a lot of support and guidance from Mavar’s founder, Linda, as well as our friends at Footsteps, Hillel, Gesher and the other organisations who have given me a real safety net as I step into this world. The wonderful volunteers who form the backbone of Mavar have welcomed me, as have the people at the centre of our work, the members.
Those who have left the charedi community or are questioning are among the first people who can advise us on life not being quite so neat. What is the isolation that social distancing and lockdown creates compared to when your community declares you an ‘apikoros’? The power of having people around you to create resilience is all the more the clear when I’ve gained strength from having friends and family the world over just a WhatsApp away. And I have only begun to treasure my freedom of choice when the choices I can make have been curtailed by necessary public health measures.
I come into this role at a time when the community in Stamford Hill has faced unprecedented challenges, with research going as far as identifying it as the worst affected by COVID-19 in the world. With this has come a great deal of scrutiny and has often put those who are off the derech in an unenviable bind. However, in moments of crisis, we know that there comes an instinct to find an ‘other’ or a scapegoat onto which to place blame. At a time like this, it is even more incumbent on us to be a welcoming and non-judgemental place for people who are looking for support. This past year has not been the one any of us have imagined, but even when our stories are not neat, they can still be incredibly meaningful. I am already getting to work to bring Mavar to the next level, and am already looking for new opportunities and approaches to empower ex-Haredi and questioning people going forward.