It's Saturday, and today I went grocery shopping, cooked a nice meal and enjoyed a movie. For a lot of people, this sounds like a normal Saturday afternoon - but for me, it reflects a two-year journey of the soul - from frumkeit (Orthodox Jewish observance) to personal freedom. Several years ago, I became involved with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Chassidic Judaism. What began as heartfelt religious searching nearly crushed my spirit over the next few years. My experiences with many (but never will I say "all," as I met good people in my journey as well) Lubavitch rabbis, shluchim (emissaries to different cities worldwide), and everyday chassidim were dehumanizing and degrading. However broken, though, I kept coming back for more. I wanted more than anything to be "perfect" like the Lubavitch girls I knew. They were funny and bubbly and on fire about God and Mashiach. My family and friends watched in shock as they lost their daughter, their sister, their companion. I was slowly indoctrinated and lost my own voice. I could not make decisions for myself any longer, and consulted a Rav whenever I had even the tiniest question about practical observance in everyday life. I feared spritual punishments for not observing the mitzvot properly. More than that, however, I feared the community. I became paranoid, feeling watched at all times, reeling from experiences of public humiliation like being stopped in the street for immodesty (wearing a scarf instead of a wig, or having a skirt that was too close to knee-length for the standards of another) or having my opinions scrutinized at a "class" (a buzzword for what really translates to a thought-reform session). I gave up things that were once important to me, because I was taught that these things were for non-Jews, and not befitting a Jewish woman, a daughter of the King. My name changed, my style of dress changed, my manner of speech changed, my friends changed, my life changed. Gone was the confident young woman that could take on anything - in her place stood a "Baalat Teshuvah" ...a girl longing to repent for the ways of her youth at any cost, to become pure and clean and holy before God, a girl who now lived in fear, every moment of every day...a girl who was broken and dying on the inside, never truly happy. I was a prisoner, incarcerated within a cult...and afraid to admit that to myself or anyone else. Many pivotal events led me to return to the world, and to draw the strength to leave Chabad. My hope is that in sharing parts of my story, I can help another person in his or her own journey from Frumkeit to freedom. For those of you who are considering leaving Orthodoxy, I can tell you that it is a challenge - but nothing you cannot endure after surviving life within its walls. You are stronger than you know! In our next several posts, we will discuss many topics related to leaving Orthodoxy, starting over in a positive and stable way, and learning to trust ourselves in decision-making again. We'll also share more of our stories and experiences. Our journey is far from over - but together, we can emerge whole and healthy again. Here's to a beautiful new beginning: to life!