I Don't Know How You Do It

An Unorthodox Transformation: One Woman’s Escape From Religious Fundamentalism, with Beatrice Weber

December 12, 2023 Jessica Fein Season 1 Episode 48
I Don't Know How You Do It
An Unorthodox Transformation: One Woman’s Escape From Religious Fundamentalism, with Beatrice Weber
Show Notes Transcript

There's growing up in bubble, as so many of us do, and then there's growing up in a truly insular world. 

If you're feeling trapped by the expectations of your community and unable to express your true self, you're not alone.  Maybe you've been trying to fit into the mold of your community, but deep down you know it's not where you belong, and the struggle is taking a toll on your emotional well-being.

That's what happened, in a huge way, to Beatrice Weber.

Beatrice is a former member of a Hasidic Jewish community, who found her voice and broke free from restrictive religious and cultural norms. After navigating the challenges of an arranged marriage at a young age, having 10 children, and facing the pressure of societal expectations, Beatrice embarked on a journey of self-discovery, ultimately choosing to leave her marriage and relocate with her young children. 

Today, Beatrice is a published author, TEDx speaker, interfaith minister, and executive director of Yaffed, a nonprofit organization. Her story of resilience and empowerment serves as an inspiration to those seeking fulfillment and independence outside of traditional constraints.

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • The questions to ask as you listen to your inner voice
  • How to take the first step toward fearless fulfillment
  • How spirituality isn't just one thing, it's many things
  • And much more...

Learn more about Beatrice:

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Music credit: Limitless by Bells


Jessica Fein: Welcome. I’m Jessica Fein, and this is the “I Don’t Know How You Do It” podcast, where we talk to people whose lives seem unimaginable from the outside and dive into how they're able to do things that look undoable.

I'm so glad you're joining me on this journey and I hope you enjoy the conversation. Welcome back to the show. 

My guest today has an amazing story to share about listening to your own voice. Living bravely and finding fulfillment. Beatrice Weber was raised in an ultra Orthodox Jewish community where she was expected to follow very specific rules and expectations from dress code to education to every aspect of her lifestyle.

By the age of 18, she was married [00:01:00] and she went on to have 10 children. After a specific incident, which we'll talk about, Beatrice began a process of self discovery which led to many changes. Including pursuing an education, working out of the house, and ultimately despite facing resistance and the potential for being ostracized by her own family and community, making the courageous decision to leave her marriage and relocate to Brooklyn with her youngest children.

Now, Beatrice is a published author, TEDx speaker, interfaith Minister, and Executive Director of Yaffed, a nonprofit organization. Without further ado, I bring you Beatrice Weber.

Welcome, Beatrice. I am so glad to have you on the show. 

Beatrice Weber: It's great to be here with you. I mean, I love the title of your podcast. I think it's amazing. 

Jessica Fein: Thank you. Thank you. I knew that this was what I was going to call my podcast whenever I started it [00:02:00] because I just lived for so long with people saying, I don't know how you do it.

I just spent so much time thinking about why we say that to other people. And how it makes us feel when people say it to us and what we can learn from each other. So that's the background on that. Let's begin by going back in time. Can you tell us what it was like to grow up as a girl in the ultra orthodox community?

Beatrice Weber: That is such a good question that has so many answers. When I grew up in the community, it was all I knew. It was not something I questioned. It was not something that I thought could be different. It was just what I knew. I think it's sometimes hard for people to understand how insular the community could be.

I grew up in Toronto, a modern city, we grew up on a regular street, regular neighbors, but our circle was so closed that we didn't have friends, my parents didn't have friends from anybody outside the community. We didn't associate with anybody outside the community, like if we'd go to the park and there'd [00:03:00] be neighbors that were not from our community, we would not even talk to them.

The little exposure that I had was I grew up kind of in the Hasidic community and went to school in the Orthodox community. So that was already considered a ton of exposure. 

Jessica Fein: That is so interesting what you said about the Hasidic versus the Orthodox. And for our listeners who might not be as familiar, can you just give us a quick explanation of what the difference between the two is?

Beatrice Weber: Yeah, I mean, if you look at like the entire Jewish community, out of that, you have approximately 10 percent that are Orthodox, which means they adhere to what they believe is the strict ruling of how you're supposed to follow Jewish law. And then out of that, I don't know the percentage. But a small percentage is the Hasidic community and the Hasidic belief system began about 300 years ago.

It's a little more mystical and in some ways has become even more strict with some of the rulings. 

Jessica Fein: It's so interesting when you talk [00:04:00] about the insularity because I will tell you that I grew up conservative, which for people who don't know is another denomination that is less observant than what we're talking about here.

But even so, I did not have a friend who wasn't Jewish until I went to high school. I only had Jewish friends. I didn't even think that I was in an insular situation, but I went to Jewish day school. I went to Jewish summer camp. My parents, their friends were Jewish, so the friends kids were Jewish, you know, that was what I knew.

So I think that it's interesting to think about how insular some of us can be when we don't even realize it. 

Beatrice Weber: Absolutely. And you know what I realized, like there are a lot of features of my story that are very extreme, right? You'll hear about me, you know, my 10 children and all of that. So there's a lot of kind of dramatic things about my story.

But ultimately, there are so many themes that are so universal around women's experiences in terms of [00:05:00] what were you exposed to? What were you not allowed to do? What were your expectations? You know, where were you not allowed to speak up? Some of those things are so universal. So I absolutely agree with that.

And it's been interesting kind of coming out of that insular world and connecting with other people and realizing, oh, it's not so different. Like there are so many people. 

Jessica Fein: It's not so different. And it is so different. Right? 

Beatrice Weber: Yes. Yes. 

Jessica Fein: So speaking of one of the ways it was very different, at 18, you were in an arranged marriage.

Right? Right. You hadn't even finished high school. How did you feel about that at that time? 

Beatrice Weber: That was the expectation. Everybody that I knew got married that way. I could have even gotten married at 17. That's when my parents were starting to listen to matchmakers. There was a lot of pressure on, an expectation to get married really young.

If you hit 20 and hadn't gotten married yet, that was really bad. So the pressure was on from a young age. A lot of people's decisions in the community [00:06:00] are guided by, will my child or will I be a good match? It's not really like a caste system, but it kind of is where there's different standards. So depending on where you are on kind of the rung of eligibility, that's who you'll be matched up to.

So the pressure's on from like a young age. I remember being 12 and like making this dish, a kugel, and, you know, my father being like, okay, we're going to tell the shadchan, you know, the matchmaker. And it was kind of a joke, but it kind of wasn't. And you know, getting older, realizing that, was it an arranged marriage or was it a forced marriage?

Because those are differences, significant differences, and I believe that I and many other Hasidic young girls and boys are in what would be considered a forced marriage, not necessarily just an arranged marriage. 

Jessica Fein: And what is the difference there? Can you tell us? I mean, it seems like maybe it's subtle.

Is it that you had no choice and in an arranged marriage, you would have had some choice?

Beatrice Weber: That's the [00:07:00] way I would define it. And then what does choice mean? Right? Like, theoretically, was there a choice? Could I have absolutely put my foot down and refuse to move? Do you know what I mean? Like, is there that possibility?

And the question is, what would have been the price I would have had to pay to say no? And I think that's the difference, really. Because in many societies, and even in the larger orthodox world, there is the idea of a matchmaker making suggestions, right? And then you meet somebody based on those suggestions, and then you have a choice, right?

You go on several dates, you have a choice. In my situation, it was like, you meet at the dining room table, you meet once, you meet twice. Maybe three times and then that's it. It's a given that unless there is something huge or something big or something massive that comes up, we're moving ahead with it.

Some people in the Hasidic world, they meet like for half an hour. So we were considered more modern or more open. So we met three times. But ultimately, it's almost like, once you start meeting, it's after you've met with the [00:08:00] parents, it's after the dowry has been decided, in my case, and it's almost like a formality that you're actually meeting.

Jessica Fein: When you met at the dining room table, those three times, were you and your intended alone or was there some kind of chaperone?

Beatrice Weber: There's a lot of rules around being alone with another man in the Hasidic community. So you would never be allowed to be alone, but it was a dining room and then a kitchen is the next door.

So you have your parents sitting in the next room and like checking in that you're okay. 

Jessica Fein: Was the person you ended up marrying the first person you were matched with?

Beatrice Weber: So, because my parents were wealthy and had good lineage, I was considered very desirable. So there were many, many matches suggested to us.

Like many, many, many. Who made the choice out of the many, many, many? My parents wouldn't tell me. The way it worked was, I wouldn't be told about somebody unless they had decided they were ready to move ahead. [00:09:00] Okay. I would not be part of that decision making process earlier on. And the way my parents made their decision, there's a number of things, right?

Lineage. My parents being wealthy in the community was considered very high status to have a son that would be a scholar and that they would support financially. So it would be, is he a scholar? Those I would say would be the top priorities. There was little thought given to like, are they actually compatible personality wise?

A lot of the getting married young is like, let them grow together. If the girl is older, she'll already have her own personality and be more developed and it's going to be more complicated to marry her off. So there's kind of this value in being young as you can be more kind of malleable and adjust to anybody.

And as long as the overall values of the families are similar enough, it's going to work out. 

Jessica Fein: So how long after those dining room table meetings was the wedding? 

Beatrice Weber: So then you get engaged. In my case, he went off to a different city back to his [00:10:00] studies. In many cases, it's not acceptable to meet during the engagement.

Like in my case, you wouldn't meet. We did talk on the phone. I later found out my mother put a lot of pressure to make that happen. So every two weeks we would have a short phone call. And then I believe it was like five months later, you know, he came back and we got married and it's intense because you're completely segregated from a young age, right?

I started school when I was three years old and we were in a separate school as boys. You have no interaction, even like cousins. You may have interaction with them when you're young. By the time you're 10 or 11, that's considered unacceptable. The girls and boys in the community have such different trajectories and lives.

And then it's like, there you are engaged. And then it's like, there you are married. And when you're married, you're expected to get pregnant right away, to have children right away. 

Jessica Fein: Okay. So now it's the wedding day. You have had a few conversations. [00:11:00] You are getting married. How are you feeling that day?

Beatrice Weber: It's so interesting when I think back to how I was feeling. I was very proud to get married to him who was great lineage, up and coming scholar. It feels so weird to say this, but I was from the first generation of grandchildren after the Holocaust. I was born in the 70s, so there was a lot put on me, us, to step up, right?

We're rebuilding the world, and I was very proud. Like, I kind of did it, right? Like, I did kind of what was expected. I was married off to this person. So there was a really intense sense of pride. And also, I was taught. So I was going to be a good wife, you know? And then things would be amazing. It seemed very simple.

But in retrospect, the feeling that comes up for me most is that I was absolutely terrified. You know, I don't think I could have expressed it at that point, because it would have been like a feeling I was not supposed to be feeling, and I was definitely not [00:12:00] taught that feelings are important or matter, or should be paid attention to, but in retrospect, I was absolutely terrified.

I mean, all of a sudden you're put in a room with a man, right? You have like the yichud room, and I remember being terrified. 

Jessica Fein: Can you explain to people who don't know what the yichud room is. 

Beatrice Weber: Of course, you're not allowed to be alone with any man. But one of the first steps in consecrating the wedding is that you're alone in a room.

So you have the chuppah ceremony, which is kind of the religious ceremony that makes you husband and wife. The woman gets a ring, not the man, the woman, because the woman is the one getting married. He is marrying her. And then you're put in a room for X number of minutes, and there are people standing outside the room to make sure and bear witness to the fact that you were in a room alone for a minimum number of minutes.

It's all very ritualistic and defined. There's nothing left to, you know, choice or chance. I remember being terrified. What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do? He [00:13:00] can give you a kiss, maybe. What does it mean to get a kiss from a man when you've never as much as touched? Or nothing, like, like you haven't even spoken.

It's just terrifying. And then that night after you get home, until you have sex, you're not considered officially married. So you're required to do that. You know, the education that you get, because you get education while you're engaged. You know, you have a teacher teaching you. It's mainly about the religious laws associated with sex and the ritual around getting your period and what you do, which is all, like, terrifying in and of itself, because growing up in the community, there's no, like, regular sex ed.

So nobody talks about anything until, like, right before you're ready to get married, and all of a sudden it's like, Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Like, this happens! Like, what do you do? How do you do it? Of course, there's no birth control spoken about, so you can get pregnant that first night. I got pregnant a month later, and that's just a big celebration.

That's what you're supposed to be doing. [00:14:00]

Jessica Fein: Okay, so first of all, this is going to sound perhaps just like a silly question, but if you're not considered actually married until you have sex, do you have to, like, tell people when it's happened? So you're like, yeah, we're married now because this happened, or is there just an assumption?

Beatrice Weber: There is an assumption and there's a lot of rules around if you have your period, there's a process around getting clean, which includes counting seven days and going to a ritual bath after that. Now, if by mistake, your wedding falls on a day where you have gotten your period, then you're not allowed to have sex, right?

You're also not allowed to be alone with your husband. So what's done then is a child accompanies you.

Jessica Fein: Okay, wait. So you're not allowed to be alone with your husband because you're not actually married. Is that right? 

Beatrice Weber: Yes. 

Jessica Fein: So who's this child? 

Beatrice Weber: Like there's somebody that just needs to stick around. So you go home, so you shouldn't be embarrassed, but it's embarrassing because what happens is he's not even allowed [00:15:00] to touch you.

So he can't put the ring on. It's one of these like nightmare situations. Embarrassing for the girl, right? Right, 

Jessica Fein: and also the kid. Does the kid have to be like, uh, uh, uh, if they see you getting too close?

Beatrice Weber: No, no, no. I mean, I don't, I can't speak for everybody, but I think, like, you would be so scared that you wouldn't, and it's kind of like, uh, precaution or the way you have to do things.

But part of the way that people will know is if you have sex, then you'll likely have bleeding, because it's your first time having sex, and you will not be touching each other afterwards. Not only won't you be touching each other, but you're also not going to be handing anything to each other. Because for a woman, a Hasidic woman, an Orthodox woman, once you have any bleeding, vaginal bleeding, you have to wait till the bleeding stops, count seven days, go to the ritual bath, and only then be allowed to touch, right?

So it's intense, right? Because it's like that first night, you're having sex, you both have never done it before, you're both terrified, you both don't know what you're doing. And [00:16:00] then the minute after you have sex, it's like, okay, no, no touching, no, you know, and in my case, my ex husband was so terrified, the older I get, the more I realized like how he was so terrified.

He went to call a rabbi to check that he did it right. Wow. And I remember just laying in the bed and being like, okay, okay. 

Jessica Fein: Wow. All right. So you then embark on this very traditional marriage. For two decades, you try to be the perfect submissive wife, as you put it. You dress modestly, you shave the hair that's on your head, and you have ten children.

You write that you felt imprisoned. And yet this is what you had always prepared for, as you said. So at what point along the way did it stop feeling like this is the life that I was expecting and more like I feel a little bit trapped? 

Beatrice Weber: You know, so it's always interesting, like, looking back in retrospect, because, you know, I had, you know, three children by the time I was [00:17:00] 21.

So on the one hand, it felt amazing and great to be doing exactly what I was supposed to do, and being a good wife, and having all these children, and being a good mother, and then thinking back in retrospect. What was going on under the surface for me, emotionally, you know, on the surface, what happened to me was I had eight children, then I had a miscarriage, and that was ultimately what I see now as a blessing in disguise.

I had gotten a little more of a voice over the years. I think probably more confidence just because I had so many children, was taking care of so many children. You know, because I think back to an incident that happened when I had the miscarriage where my ex husband refused to call an ambulance and I got really scared because I was losing so much blood and I was getting dizzy and I called an ambulance even though it was Shabbat, right?

It was shabbos when you're not allowed to use electricity. And I was like, You're allowed to use the phone. When you're scared for your life, I'm gonna [00:18:00] call. Prior to that, many years earlier, when I had my first child, when I was eight and a half months pregnant, and I started bleeding on a shabbos, and was so scared and didn't know what to do, and was even more scared to use a phone, sent him off on his way, took him two hours to get back, to consult with a rabbi, to find someone to make the phone call, and she ended up being born premature.

that delay definitely did not help. So many years earlier, you know, I did not call, did not say, and here I did. And I was like, you know, I don't care. Like I have eight kids. So that was huge. After the miscarriage, I got depressed when I had had bouts of mild depression in the past and I just chalked it away to, I need to be a better wife, you know, I need to do more, whatever I did to kind of maneuver out of it and I just could not maneuver out of it and I remember like, okay, something's wrong with me, let me go to the doctor, let me find out what's going on and when I went to the doctor, he did the whole blood test and [00:19:00] everything's like, you're fine, you're totally fine.

And he recommended therapy, which was not welcomed at all. You know, I came home and said, I went to the doctor, this is what he recommends. And it was like, no, there's no money for it. My friend's wife went to therapy. It's, you know, ruining their marriage. No way. My mother was like, no, you just need more cleaning help.

Everything's going to be fine. And I don't know, something inside of me was like, I deserve to get the support. I deserve it and I'm gonna do it. We had Medicaid at that point and I figured it out. You know, and I got myself into a clinic and got myself the help I needed, and that was the beginning. You know, I remember going in and being like, I'm here for myself because I have a problem and I will never talk about my marriage.

That was how I came in. You know, in retrospect, realizing, like, that protection that I had was because I probably knew on a subconscious level I was hiding something. You know, I think things have changed in the community a little bit where it's [00:20:00] considered acceptable. But then it was like, if you go to therapy, it's because you're crazy, you know, and like, I don't want anybody to know I'm crazy.

But despite all that, what I admire about that little, you know, little Beatrice was that like, I did it anyway, you know?

Jessica Fein: I love little Beatrice for doing that anyway. So then you go on to have two more kids. 

Beatrice Weber: Uh, yes. 

Jessica Fein: Okay. So, you're 10 kids in, a couple of decades into this marriage and things are really churning for you.

Can you tell us a little bit about what was happening for you personally at that time?

Beatrice Weber: Yeah. So, it took about a year and a half of therapy. I remember that because it was quite dramatic. Emotionally, where I went from being like, you know, I'm a good wife, I need to be a better wife to a scholar, and then everything will be great.

And that's all that needs to happen to like, Oh my gosh, I think I may be in an abusive marriage. And it was really shocking to my system. Like it was it was a [00:21:00] big like emotional shake up inside of me that It took a while to integrate, like, what does that mean? But I remember that moment. And it came from a therapist encouraging me to be in touch with my feelings, including my anger, right?

Because as many people know, oftentimes depression is internalized anger, right? When you can't express your anger out, you internalize it. So that's really what I was doing. So it was like, when I started getting the encouragement and the support to, nevermind express my anger, just feel my anger, it's like, oh my gosh, like that behavior was not okay.

Like, that's not fine. What I'm telling myself that everything goes because he's a scholar is not really fitting the reality. It was a lot because it happened pretty suddenly for me. And you know, that's when I really went down a path of like, okay, what do I need? What are my needs? What are my desires?

Like, one of the first thing was I'd love to go to college. I sometimes think back, even now, nostalgically, what would my life have been like [00:22:00] if I would have gone to college at 18? What opportunities would I've had? So there was a lot of hesitancy, like, will I be able to do it? And I did really well in college.

And I felt great. Like, it felt really good to be getting all As, right? And doing my first semester and then my second semester. And I went to a great school that they were very encouraging and kept me going. It changed my life. It made me feel that I'm really good at this. And then I started working out of the house at a nonprofit in the community. So it was part time, started off as a program coordinator, ended up as director of operations. But those things changed everything for me because, you know, there were, I think, two aspects to this. Like, first of all, it was, you know, a Hasidic marriage with all the expectations of a woman, but there was an extra layer of the kind of personality that my ex husband had that I now see as abusive.

I was codependent to start with and did not get better as a result of being married to him, but in fact kind of doubled down of like, what can I do to be better? You know, instead of like, this is not [00:23:00] acceptable. So there was a lot for me to unravel and unpeel, but being out of the house even a little bit, you know, having that job where I was successful at, you know, having that college degree where I did very well and got the award and got to go on stage and it just changed everything for me.

And during that time, I was like, okay, you know, I have eight kids and then I had nine kids, right? How are we going to make this work? I can't leave. I did manage to start marital counseling and we did a couple of bouts of, you know, counseling. It came to a point where I was like, I don't think I can make this work anymore.

I had changed enough. Not in terms of my beliefs about the Hasidic system at all, but in terms of my beliefs of what value I have as a person, like I deserve better. That was scary and empowering at the same time. And then it was like, how do I leave? You know, it's one thing to be like, okay, I deserve better.

But then it's like, okay, how do I actually leave? 

Jessica Fein: How long was it from, okay, I deserve better until [00:24:00] you actually left?

Beatrice Weber: That was a long time. It was seven years. Those seven years were very harmful to me, but also to my children. You know, it's one thing when you don't see something. It's another thing when you see it, and then you're somehow managing to make it work.

It was years where I was like desperate to leave, but terrified to leave. It was years where I was working really hard. I started first with a psychology degree and then an MBA, an online MBA, working a lot. Wanting to grow in my career so I would be able to support myself, even though my parents had been supporting us financially, I was scared and rightfully so that once I would leave, that would stop and that's what did happen.

So I kind of had a sense that I would need to figure out how to make it on my own, which was new. I didn't know any woman who did that, you know, so it took a long time. And ultimately, when I left, everything that I had been afraid of happened. I did manage to leave with my four younger ones, which was a great [00:25:00] blessing, but also my parents stood strongly and firmly in support of my ex husband.

It was really hard to leave, and sometimes I'm glad I didn't know how hard it would be. But, and also I was prepared, because by the time I left, I had a good job. No, by the time I left, I had enough confidence in myself that I knew what I was doing was right, even though so many people around me were not in favor of it.

Like, I knew it was the right thing. I did have, you know, friends, especially where I worked, that got it. People that were very close to us. got what was going on, even though they would never say anything to me while I was married. But after I left, I kind of got it. But overall, in general, the rabbis were extremely unsupportive.

And in fact, I had to deal with them trying to take custody away from me of my younger children. Then I didn't understand it. And like now I get it like The fact that I was able to leave and was able to take some of [00:26:00] my children with me is terrifying to a community that doesn't want to deal with these things.

And imagine if every woman that was in a bad marriage to a scholar in the community said, enough, that would be terrifying. So in some ways, what they did to me, And in some ways continue to do. It sounds crazy, but like it makes sense. Like you want people in the community to say, you know, Beatrice is crazy, right?

Like she's really bad because like you want my story to be a deterrent to other women, you know, you want, you want that. So I get it, but it's, it's painful. It remains an open wound.

Jessica Fein: Well, logistically, how did you leave? Because what it sounds like is you didn't move geographically far away because if you kept your job, you were staying within the community geographically, and yet you were leaving every person and every way of life you had ever known.

How did you do that? 

Beatrice Weber: So it was really a multi step process for me. First was, how was I going to leave my [00:27:00] marriage? Like, how do you leave a marriage where basically, you know, he told me that he'd make sure none of the kids ever see me. My parents are supporting him. He's refusing to leave the bedroom, never mind the house.

Like, what do you do? And I was very afraid of losing my younger children. And I kind of felt like, on some level, I had already lost my older children by then. So I left in the middle of the night with the four younger kids. Disclaimer, do not do this. It could have been very bad. Could have been very dangerous.

But I did do it and I left and pretty strategically went to my brother's house for the holiday, but only arrived at his house like minutes before Passover started because once the holiday starts, I knew he couldn't call anybody for two days. So I felt like I'd be safe for two days. And then the first day after that, I actually went to family court based on the guidance of a rabbi who told me if I'm afraid I can go to court.

That's a big deal in the community and not going to a secular court to deal with anything. But I did go, like I did it. I'm like, I got there late, and usually people help you [00:28:00] fill out the forms, or you come with a lawyer, I didn't have a lawyer. They were closing their office, and I'm just like, I'm gonna write it, I'm gonna give it to the judge.

And generally, kind of, they give you that first. I went for an order of protection, temporary custody. They give you that first thing for a week, and then you have to go back and renew it. So I got that first thing, which meant that the four kids who were with me, stayed with me. So that was my first step.

And then eventually, you know, going back to family court, getting that extended, hiring a lawyer, raising 20, 000 in like a few days from friends, all that that I did, and then renting an apartment in the neighborhood with my four younger children. I was very much still part of the community then. and didn't think I would leave.

Like, oh, maybe I thought, oh, if I marry again, it would be to a professional, not to a scholar, like something like that. But to me, this was my life. I mean, the community was my life. Like, why, why should I leave? To me, it was like, I'm Jewish. We're allowed to get divorced, right? The track date of divorce comes before the one of marriage in the Talmud.

Like, okay, socially, it's unacceptable. I'll deal with that part. [00:29:00] But then what happened was I got custody of family court, used up the 20, 000 basically overnight. And It had to still continue and my parents were like, Oh, why don't you start working with the rabbis on this? We'll help pay for it. And, um, it was terrible.

It was like every single stereotype you think possible happened. They sent me to a psychiatrist who wanted to diagnose me with who knows what. They created this like quasi fake forensic psychologist report. It was, it was just like, it was terrible. They brought my older kids all to testify and ultimately ruled that I would lose custody of all my children.

That didn't happen because I took it to family court and the way it works in New York is that has to be ruled in family court. But that experience caused me to pause and be like, what just happened? You know. And go on a very deep healing journey. Like really go on a deep healing journey. Who am I? What am I?

What are my values? What do I [00:30:00] believe in? What's important to me? Also, what has growing up in this world done to me? You know, that led me on my journey of becoming an interfaith minister, just learning about all the different religions out there. Where does Judaism fit into that? Starting to understand the community that I was raised in as a fundamentalist arm of the Jewish community or religion, just like there are fundamentalists in every arm.

I still very much identify as a Jewish woman, and I'm lucky because I live in New York, so there's everything out there. And I get to try everything out there and get to go to egalitarian spaces where, a couple of years ago, I lained on my grandmother's yard site. That was like an amazing, amazing experience for me.

Jessica Fein: Can you explain to people what that means? 

Beatrice Weber: I chanted as a woman in a synagogue. 

Jessica Fein: Which, in the community you grew up in, would never have happened.

Beatrice Weber: Never. Okay, I'll explain to you what it's like as a woman in the community. In the Hasidic world, you're in a [00:31:00] separate room. Okay, you're not like on the balcony where you're kind of part of the same room or on the other side of the divider.

You're in a separate room where there is a window looking onto the men's section, which is usually on the lower floor. So you'll have like, let's say the men's section will be two flights high, and that's where everything's happening, right? The prayers are happening, the reading of the scroll, the Torah's happening, all that's happening there.

And then as a woman, you're basically a silent spectator looking to the men. You're also saying your prayers, but you're saying them quietly. So you're like chanting along, but you're chanting it quietly. Your voice cannot, is forbidden to be heard. A woman's singing voice is It's forbidden for men to hear.

There's no part of the ceremony that the woman participates in at all. And in fact, they're separate entrances, so you don't even, like, meet the man. It's just completely, completely separate. And, you know, the modern Orthodox world, it's a little bit different, but that's how I grew up. [00:32:00] So the experience as a woman of being able to fully partake in those rituals, it's extremely meaningful.

I will say that my relationship with my Judaism goes back and forth, but it's definitely still a source of community, ritual, and comfort for me. 

Jessica Fein: You said you're an interfaith minister now. What exactly is an interfaith minister?

Beatrice Weber: The underlying belief is that there's many different ways to connect to spirit, the universe, God, whatever word you use, and every way is acceptable and valuable.

So, a couple of doors away, there's a Black church, because I live in Bedford Stuyvesant, New York, with a pastor who I'm very, very friendly with. So, if he'll invite me, I will go there. And he, he actually does a lot of interfaith work. I believe that his way, the way he leads his congregation to connect is a valid way.

The way I was raised, and many people, especially in the fundamentalist branch of religion believe this is the way. This is the only [00:33:00] way. My belief now is there are many, many ways. And it also talks to the importance of spirituality, whatever that looks like. Does it look like chanting? Does it look like praying?

Does it look like meditating? Does it look like drumming? Does it look like walking out in nature? All of those are valid ways to connect spiritually. 

Jessica Fein: You're doing so many things because you're an interfaith minister and number two, you are an executive at a nonprofit that's very connected to the world that you came from.

Can you share about that? 

Beatrice Weber: Yeah. So I'm the executive director of Yafed and we advocate for education for Hasidic kids. The children, especially the boys, receive very little secular education, especially in New York. In some of the outlying cities, the education's a little bit better, but wherever the community is really large.

They kind of make their own rules. Kind of get away with it. So that's what's been happening here in New York for decades, where, you know, the boys education has steadily gotten worse and worse, where there's no high school education at all for the boys. And even the elementary school [00:34:00] education is minimal, and when I say minimal, they barely reach a second or third grade level in reading and writing.

Meaning filling out a doctor's form, filling out a job application is almost impossible. And it's expected that the mom or the wife does those things. Some of them learn a little more when they get older, or just by interacting in the world, but it's really hard to navigate the world. There's a lot of poverty in the community.

Overall, the levels of poverty in this community are very high compared to other Jewish communities and compared to the general New York city and New York state population. In fact, the two poorest villages are Hasidic, New Square up in Rockland County and Curious Joel up in Orange County are from some of the poorest cities across the country.

There's a lot of charity coming in from other Jewish organizations and general government programs supporting this community. So this is not only an issue that affects the community that I come from, but also affects us as, you know, New Yorkers, Americans, and Jewish people. 

Jessica Fein: And then the third leg of what you're doing is that you now work with other [00:35:00] women who have been silenced to make the transition to what you refer to as fearless fulfillment.

What is fearless fulfillment? Sounds kind of amazing.

Beatrice Weber: That's such a good question. And for me, it's so important that as I have moved forward, and as these women move forward into the world, yes, it's about being fearless. You know, I look at some of the choices I made, you know, leaving that night, going to family court, more recently in 2019, filing a complaint against my son's yeshiva, the city and the state, which no parent who had a child in school had ever done before.

Like, those are really fearless moves. But it's also so important that your day to day have that fulfillment. And that's kind of where that spirituality, those practices, that grounding comes in. Where yes, on the one hand, you know, you're pushing forward, you're breaking those boundaries, breaking those barriers, but yet also staying deeply connected to your inner self.

Jessica Fein: Are some of the women you work [00:36:00] with in this way, women from your former community? 

Beatrice Weber: Some are, yes. 

Jessica Fein: I mean, I have to wonder, now that you've created this totally different life for yourself, are you still in touch with friends and your siblings? Are they still part of your life or did you really start over?

Beatrice Weber: That's a very good question that has a lot of answers and a lot of pain. So for the past, I mean, 10 years, essentially, I have been fighting for my younger children. It has been. And anybody who's been through a divorce or a bad divorce can relate to this. I mean, literally, it's been ten, April will be ten years since I left.

And I think I keep on saying it's been two months since I had a court appearance. Wow, it's been so long. A lot of my effort and focus has been on a personal level on that. And I have had to really double down and focus and make very strong boundaries about who I'm connected with, who I'm not connected with as a result.

My hope is now that this is settled [00:37:00] down, gratefully, my youngest son, my 11 year old is in an excellent Jewish progressive school that I am super thrilled about. So my hope is that I am able to kind of reconnect and open those relationships again.

Jessica Fein: Okay, my last question is somebody's listening to this and they're feeling like, wow, I too feel like maybe the life that I'm leading is not the life that is meant for me.

Are there any key pieces of advice you would share as somebody's churning this through in their heads and in their hearts? 

Beatrice Weber: The key is always to recognize your own worthiness. What I realized. That message that I got in the community, that my worthiness is dependent on who I marry and how I am in that marriage.

I realized how much of that message we have across the board, how much of our value we tie to what we do, who we do it for, and how we do it. And deeply understanding our own worthiness without all of that [00:38:00] is the critical first point. Because if we don't get that, and we don't understand that, how will we be able to take the next step, whatever that next step is?

And that's, I think, the biggest challenge, but also the biggest success when we really get that, and we believe that, and we strengthen that part of ourselves. 

Jessica Fein: Beatrice, thank you so much for your bravery and for sharing this story with us and for putting your work and your writing out into the world so that we can all learn from the journey you've been on and continue on.

Thank you so much. 

Beatrice Weber: Thanks for having me. 

Jessica Fein: Here are my takeaways from the conversation with Beatrice. Number one, listen to your own voice. It can be terrifying and also life changing. Number two, fearless fulfillment means pushing forward and also staying connected to your inner self. Number three, recognize your own worthiness.

Your value is not who you marry or what you do or who you do it for. Thanks so much for being here today and [00:39:00] listening to this episode. If you know somebody who would enjoy it, forward it along to them. And as always, I'd be so grateful if you rate and review the show. Have a great day. Talk to you next time.

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