Which communities are considered ultra-orthodox?

Samuel Friedman on leaving the ultra-orthodox Jewish community

Lydia Lippuner: Which scene of the dropout Esty in the series “Unorthodox” touched you the most?

Samuel Friedman: When Esty went into the water, threw her wig into the water and lay down in the water, I cried. This scene is a key moment for Esty. Taking off the wig in public and bathing, she would not have done that before.

Did you have such a key moment too, or was it more of a process for you when you left the community?

It's a process. This starts when you break a command for the first time, until you eat pork, for example. I had a key moment when I lit a cigarette on Friday night, even though it was the Sabbath. Then I looked up at the sky and wondered if lightning would come and kill me.

The lightning didn't come, but how did it feel to do new forbidden things?

At some point you are no longer afraid, but find a new world that you did not know before. It's exciting, like a new relationship. So you go step by step to the new you.

Samuel Friedman as a young boy

Have you left the past behind you or do you still have points of contact?

Most dropouts separate completely. The step is very difficult, you don't want to be part of the religious community anymore. Many join a new group. For me it was football. As soon as I left, I joined the FCZ. My new religion and my love is football.

Have you changed religion?

For Judaism, one is born and dies Jewish. I could call myself a Muslim, but that wouldn't change that.

Do you still believe?

I know there is a higher power, but whether it is karma or what you want to call it, I don't know. Religion is no longer something that moves me in everyday life.

The re-discovery scene lasts maybe five minutes in the series, in my life it was about five years.

How did you experience the time shortly after leaving ultra-orthodox society?

I went through a period where I had a lot of sexual experiences and drug experiments. I could have saved myself this experience. But sometimes you need that too. The re-discovery scene lasts maybe five minutes in the series, in my life it was about five years.

Have you ever regretted leaving?

No. But today I might have done it differently.

You founded an organization to accompany people who want to get out. What tips do you give them?

Take the step. Get help. Talk about it. Many are very closed. But there are people who can help. I started the process very young. But if someone lives in the community until their mid-twenties, they need support. Because he lived his previous life in a parallel society and has to start over.

How did the Orthodox community react to their accompanying dropouts?

The religious leaders came to me and complained that I was poaching people. But that's not true, I'm only there in case someone needs a shoulder or an ear. I told them that. You can now think about what you want.

What is the difference between New York, the location of “Unorthodox”, and the community in Zurich?

The New York community is arguably the most extreme. They also have internal Jewish conflicts and deny the State of Israel. But for the series you also had to take a dramatic example. In Zurich the community is only about 2000 people. Only about one person resigns here every year, because it takes a lot of courage.

Esty arrived in society very quickly and made many friends.

You have to be very lucky to make it realistic. In reality it goes much longer. When you leave such a community, you first feel alone.

You also know women who have dropped out. What is particularly difficult here?

It is more difficult for women to get out. Because they have even fewer points of contact with society. You are at home with the children. Jewish girls are also often introverted. They also have a strong bond with the family.

Does your family break off when you leave?

There are both. I have it very well with my parents and I still go there a lot today. But there are also others who have zero contact with the family. When the sister of a colleague got married, for example, he was explicitly excluded from the party. The degree of religiosity and fanaticism of the family is measured against such actions.

Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is the most conservative direction within Judaism. In 2007, ultra-Orthodox Jews were estimated to be around 1.3 to 1.5 million worldwide. Most of them live in Israel. Other larger communities can be found in New York, London, Antwerp, Strasbourg, Vienna and Zurich, among others.

The life of ultra-Orthodox Jews is characterized by strict rules. The conservative attitude and isolation from the rest of the world should also be expressed through outward appearances. Ultra-Orthodox men wear black suits and hats, while married women cover their hair with a wig.