I did struggle explaining this to those on the outside. And there are those within the Judaic community that are perhaps not as religious and also cannot comprehend the difficulty presented in deciding to leave home.What I find interesting is if one were to mention that they had belonged to a cult and had a hard time leaving, people seem to understand and grasp the difficulty that it presents. Yet, when you tell them you’re from an Orthodox Judaic culture, it somehow is harder to grasp its difficulties. No, I am not stating Judaism is a cult. I am just trying to convey that it is a hard concept to wrap ones head around when it comes to breaking free of such a religion, an indoctrination, a way of life.
One other fact one must keep in mind when reading my story -this was back before there were blogs of people who felt the way I did. I did not know that there were others like me. As far as I knew, I was the only crazy one who dared go against the Orthodox way of life. This was when the internet was in its infancy, when dial-up took several tries to connect to the internet. Cell phones were just beginning to become a fad. A beeper was the ‘in’ thing. A lot has changed technologically and theologically.
To resume –
To put it simply, all hell broke loose after I had successfully run away from home.My mother kept trying to get a hold of me via the beeper, but very obviously I had not heard it.She started to get very worried and contacted my father who in turn contacted the police.They stated I may have been kidnapped by someone who went to the same college as I.Because it had been less than 48 hours, the police could not yet do anything.
My father contacted the Shomrim.
I personally did not know much about these Shomrim back then. They rounded up my friends and interrogated them. They called old classmates of mine from High School that I had not kept in touch with. They essentially spread the word around the community about my disappearance in search of me.
I believe that it was this act -the Shomrim rounding up people I had known and spreading the word about my disappearance- that in the end made my family uncomfortable to show their face in the community and the why of my siblings having an incredibly hard time in yeshiva. I wish they had never involved the Shomrim… When word of my leaving out of my own volition spread, it made life very difficult for my family. My siblings were ostracized in school. And they have the Shomrim to thank for that. But then again, perhaps it is only I that sees it this way, when in reality, is it not all my fault? Had I not left, none of this would have happened to my family, right? Right.
My friends were taken in a van and driven around town by these Shomrim and were asked over and over again where I was. My friends stated they had no idea about my whereabouts, nor were they aware of my wanting to leave. They were questioned about this so called college guy I was seeing. They were kept in a van for hours. My best friend’s mother was furious with my father and words were exchanged.
The police were finally brought in after 48 hours. My family swore I was a good girl who would never do such a thing and had never attempted to run away so this must be a kidnapping.
They got a hold of my phone bill and a list of phone numbers. The numbers were a Manhattan area code so they were convinced I was there. The Manhattan phone number was the calling card I had used. I disposed of every single one of the cards on campus so there was no trace or evidence of it and it took a while to figure out that it was not a person’s phone number.
Before it was discovered that the number was a calling card, the Shomrim drove around Manhattan with my best friend in the van asking if anything looked familiar, asking her if she cared about me and if she did, she should tell them about this guy that stole me away.
The calling card switchboard did not have any records of the actual numbers I had dialed. I was safe. Finally the Shomrim gave up the search when it was discovered by the police that it was just a calling card and not, in fact, a person’s phone number.
The police had brought K-9 dogs to the campus and they sniffed my PJ’s and tried to see if they could obtain a lead to my whereabouts. My father stormed in on one of my classes and demanded of the students to let him know where I was.
The college refused to give any information on my records or anything. It was confidential. What a relief! So they never found out about the withdrawn classes or that I had spoken to a counselor.
This went on for some time. I felt absolutely horrible hearing from my best friend about how things were being handled. What a lie! I emailed my family and asked that they stop. I called once and to whomever answered I stated I was alright and to stop the hunt. I didn’t want to stay on the phone long in case they were tracing calls.
Finally finally an NYPD detective did get a hold of me. My best friend gave him my number on the promise he wouldn’t give my location to my family. He asked me questions to confirm my identity. He asked over and over if I was being held against my will and I stated that I was not. I explained the situation I was in and how I had attempted to talk to my parents to no avail. I explained that I had tried to leave once before and could not do so. I explained that therewere letters about my leaving available. I told him the location of those letters in my parents home. We talked for some time on the phone. He felt assured I was safe and truly wholeheartedly wished me all the best. Being of legal age, he could not drag me back home and said as much to me. He told me I was not the first case he’d heard of this happening to within the Judaic community. I was surprised. He gave me his name, his number and my case number. He told me he was closing my case and assured me he would only tell my family I was safe and alright and I would contact them when I felt I could. He told me to call him if I had any questions.
Before we hung up, he asked that I do one thing for my safety. Because of what the Shomrim had done and were capable of, he asked that I go to the local police department where I was and explain my situation. Have it written down on paper that if I were to disappear without warning, that it was not of my own free will. He told me to give them his name and number and my case number with the NYPD. He explained that having all that on record would be best.
And so, the following day, Sam took me to the police department and I did just what the detective suggested I do. I felt weird doing this and the small town police department was quite stunned after I told them my story and why I was there. They did take down notes and I signed something and I actually did feel somewhat better having done that.
The guilt I carry around about what I brought upon my friends weighed heavy on me. I honestly hadn’t considered they’d go through so much. I know my parents suffered a lot. I know my siblings are forever scarred by what I had done. And I carry around this guilt still -to a degree.
I didn’t imagine this much occurring when I had left. I am still blown away at the intense reaction this brought about by the Shomrim and my family.
And how did I handle it all many miles and miles away? Not very well. Even though I was technically free, you can’t expect to shed off layers and layers of a life one had lived literally overnight. It was a complete culture shock to me. Living in a new place, a place so vastly different than the one I had grown up in, a place more lax and accepting. I think I walked around dazed for weeks. I was staying in contact with my friends back in NY and from what I was hearing that was happening was not making it easier for me. There were times I felt on the verge of picking up the phone and asking to be brought back home. There were times I felt such an intense amount of guilt and grief that I didn’t feel like I deserved to live.
How could I live freely and happily so when I have left everyone behind so incredibly saddened and heart stricken and in utter devastating condition? How could I deserve any happiness when they were far from it themselves?
There were days I stayed in bed and did nothing more. There were days I could not go out in fear there was someone who’d recognize me or perhaps the Shomrim were going to kidnap me while I slept!
My fears of being followed was not unfounded. Later I learned my father had hired a private detective who had indeed followed me for some time.
Sam’s family had a dog and I kept that dog beside me when everyone was out at work or school. I locked all the doors even though the family never did. They weren’t used to locking doors, but if that bothered them, they never said anything as I am sure they understood. I was still scared. I was depressed and I had a hard time looking beyond the here and now.
Sam would take me out for long rides to the middle of nowhere. Just beautiful countryside. We would talk. He would try to reason with me. He would try to get me to snap out of the mood I was in. I was grateful for his company and his friendship.
I emailed my family occasionally trying to reason with them, trying to get them to accept my choice. They in turn kept requesting I return and how they’d forgive me if I did. I decided to stop contacting them as it was not going anywhere. And, at the time, I thought it may never get better. I needed to distance myself from the emotional turmoil that this whole thing was causing me. It was time I started living. Wasn’t this why I left? Time to stop sulking and grieving. It was time to start a new chapter in my life.