There are decisions in life that can change everything. These are not decisions to be taken lightly and require thought, planning, and – most of all – support.
For a strictly-Orthodox person, choosing to leave their community and follow a path that is contrary to all they have known before is one such decision.
The number of young adults leaving strictly-Orthodox communities is rising,
even though those who choose to leave – so-called Yotzim – face severe consequences: exclusion from their family, extreme isolation, dire financial stress, homelessness, unemployment and, for some, even clinical depression.
Since 1991, a non-profit organisation, Hillel – The Right To Choose, has helped thousands of Yotzim manage this transition successfully – finishing their studies, finding housing and employment, completing army or national service and integrating into broader Israeli society.
Hillel has branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, and the support offered includes transitional housing, HaBayit shel Hillel (Hillel’s Home) Emergency Shelter, a single mothers’ programme, and dedicated staff and volunteers serving around 1,200 clients, aged 18 to 35, each year.
“We are dealing with young people who have made a very intense choice to literally start from scratch,” says Avi Neuman, the organisation’s resource development director.
“It takes a lot of strength, but also resources, to start a new life. These are capable people who are very driven and want to succeed – but they need personal support, a place to live, and help to learn the skills that will allow them to begin again.”
Hillel started in 1991 as a volunteer organisation. By 2013, it had seven paid employees and, today, has a professional staff of 29.
In recent years, Hillel has succeeded in raising awareness of Yotzim with the Israeli Government and welfare agencies. In 2015, it partnered with the Ministry of Welfare for the provision of crisis intervention, which includes its emergency shelter and transitional housing services.
“We are the only organisation in Israel providing direct services on this scale for this population, and we’re proud to be making a real difference in people’s lives,” says Avi.
“Our programmes are diverse and often go over and above what the state can provide. For example, our shelter facility can offer automatic intake to Yotzim at risk, without proof of six months’ homelessness.But our biggest future challenge is how to continue to develop and meet the escalating demand for support like this.”