‘Heretics’ Hum Hasidic Harmonies

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Sam 'Ushy' Katz rocks out to a hassidic niggun in the lab. (photo credit: screenshot)

Sam ‘Ushy’ Katz rocks out to a hassidic niggun in the lab. (photo credit: screenshot)

We’ve all caught ourselves suddenly humming a favorite tune from our childhood while going about our daily business. For most of us, this is comforting. But for young Jews who are OTD (“off the derech”), who have left the ultra-Orthodox community, subconsciously recalling a song from the past can be an emotionally loaded thing.

Singing or listening to these songs may be difficult, but it’s also important, says Sam “Ushy” Katz, co-creator of It Gets Besser, a project for and about young OTD Jews. He is making a video of formerly Haredi Jews listening or singing along to the tunes that have stayed with them despite the distance they have put between their current selves and the people they used to be. He’s asked fellow OTD individuals to tape themselves and send the clips in to be included in the crowdsourced video.

“It’s okay to say that we miss our old self, our old community,” Katz tells the Times of Israel from Berlin, where he is a Fulbright Scholar this year. Having graduated last May from Stony Brook University with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and theater arts, Katz is doing research on direct cell programming at theBerlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology before returning to the U.S. for graduate school.

Katz, 24, was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community in Boro Park, Brooklyn. At 16, he went to Israel to study at the Slabodka Yeshiva in B’nai Brak. While in Israel, he began questioning whether he wanted to remain Hasidic, and when he returned to New York at age 18, he studied for his GED. At 19, he left the ultra-Orthodox way of life and went to college. He was helped along the way by Footsteps, an organization that supports individuals seeking to leave the Haredi communities they grew up in.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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