Love Looks Like This: My Husband and I Left Our Ultra-Orthodox Community for a Modern Orthodox Life

"The key to our new lives is about respect."

Brides/July 19, 2021

By Alyson Krueger as told by Batsheva Heart

In my community, once I turned 18, I was supposed to prepare myself for marriage. You don’t just date to have fun. You date to marry. And, once you get married, you are expected to have babies. But, when I was that age, I wasn’t ready to do that. I had met Ben, my now husband, through family friends at a barbecue. We had small talk here and there. Then, we started texting, which wasn't allowed. We dated in secret to not tarnish my reputation. I wasn’t supposed to date him seriously. He was supposed to go to Israel for a year and study.

And, his family was less strict than mine.

But, my mom let him come over and hang out at my house. At this point, my mom was already thinking of leaving our community and was more open minded to me speaking to a boy casually. It was exciting as it was really hush-hush.

A year later, we got engaged. We talked to the rabbis and our parents, and they said, “This is when you are going to get engaged. This is when you are going to get married.” We just went along with everything.

We decided to move to Israel for a year. We were both so young—only 19—so I think it was good for us to be away, learn to rely on each other, and work together. So many people just mold into their families’ lives because they are so young. But, I didn’t want to do that.

After a year, we moved back to Monsey, New York. I was expected to have babies right away. We still don’t have [them]. People message me and ask if they can pray for me because they think something is wrong with me. I write back, “It’s a personal choice, thank you.” Now, I’m okay with my decision. But, at the time, I was scared to take birth control because I was taught it’s a sin to do so. I’m so thankful to my mom though. She said she would take it up with God in heaven, and I shouldn’t worry. She said, “If God has any issues with you not having babies, it’s between me and God, not you and God.”

My mom decided to leave the community right around the time I got married. It was hard for me, and we had a strained relationship for a long time. I was embarrassed because she had left Monsey, and people would make mean comments like: “I am so sorry for you.” “Your poor father, your poor brother.” She was also on social media, and I was embarrassed by the immodest way she dressed. I was raised in a community where you covered everything. I remember crying to her, “I can’t believe you are dressing like this.” Ben was my savior. He kept talking to her the whole time. I was hurt, but he could see things more clearly as an outsider.

The difficult period with my mom lasted about two to three years. Things changed when she told me she had been suicidal while in our community, which I didn't know. It’s hard for a child to hear their parent is so unhappy. She told me that if she hadn’t left the community, she wouldn’t be here. That was the wake-up call for me. After that, I could appreciate that her leaving gave me all these new opportunities.

My mom leaving introduced me to the outside world. Once I moved back to New York after living in Israel, my mom had started a shoe company. I decided to go to FIT. I was around 20 at the time. It was incredible for me because when I was in high school, I never even dreamed I would go to college.

Before my mom left the community, I didn’t think there was another way to be Jewish or that there were spectrums of being Jewish. Everyone I knew was either religioius or if they weren't, they were considered an outcast who didn't live a fulfilling life. But after she left and I started FIT, I realized I could try different things. I remember the day I uncovered my elbows. I know it sounds like it isn’t a big deal, but I remember deciding I was going to wear this shirt. It was a big deal for me. The other changes I started to make were also baby steps.

Ben grew up less strict than I did, but he's harder with change and it takes him a little longer to get used to things. I’m fortunate that we’ve never been at the point where we had feelings that were so far apart from each other. I think if you have completely different views, it won’t work. I’ve always tried to be respectful of him. For example, when I decided I wanted to eat dairy at restaurants—something the ultra-Orthodox Jews I lived with don’t do—I chose a restaurant that also had a vegan option for him. I think the most important thing is to let the other person know where you are mentally and what you are feeling so there are no surprises. I want my partner to know why I am acting a certain way and what page I am on.

Our biggest point of contention is that I wanted to wear pants. He said he wasn’t comfortable. I told him after we moved to the city that I would give him a year to get used to it. I had my friends wear jeans so he could see how normal it is. Now, I wear them. I very much believe the reason Ben and I have been able to stay together throughout these changes is that we let each other find ourselves. We both let each other know how we are feeling, and we both give each other space.

We live downtown in New York City and are still religious. We still keep the Sabbath and keep kosher. Ben is working at my mom’s company in the menswear department, and he’s also started doing personal shopping. I create social media content full-time. That’s also been a learning curve for us. When I first started building my social media accounts, he would take all my photos and get annoyed to the point where he didn’t like my career. I bought myself a tripod, and now I take all my own photos and videos. My job shouldn’t be reliant on him, and it took me some time to realize that.

Now we are trying to live life. If I am out with people, I try to get my content out first. I also don’t use my phone every Shabbat for 25 hours. That keeps my mental health in check. People don’t see everything in my life. For example, we see Ben’s family a lot, but they aren’t into social media. So, we don’t post about them. It’s the same with my dad. I had a conversation with him yesterday, but I won’t tell you about it because he requests privacy. The key to our new lives is about respect. You have to accept everybody’s boundaries and where they are.

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