Supporting Former Haredi Single Mothers
The program exemplifies how the right intervention at the right time can make a significant difference by helping vulnerable women achieve stability and economic security.
Once an individual makes the very personal, difficult decision to leave his or her religious lifestyle, separating from an ultra-Orthodox, highly segregated and secluded Haredi community involves a difficult, complex process, especially for single mothers–some of whom have suffered abuse. All former Haredi mothers face financial challenges and distress while they learn the necessary skills to navigate their new world as independent women and mothers.
In 2013 through 2016, the Jewish Community Foundation funded Hillel – The Right to Choose’s “Support for Former Haredi Single Mothers in their New Beginning.” The program exemplifies how the right intervention at the right time can make a significant difference by helping vulnerable women achieve stability and economic security.
Tammy Montag had always been a rebel who dared to challenge the strict Haredi dress code, which, among other rules, forbids colors and dictates skirt lengths. Through a Shidduch, she was married at 18 to a man she had met only once. At 19, she had a son. When Tammy’s mother, a stringently observant Haredi woman, underwent a surprising, extreme, and instant change in 2009 that resulted in her divorcing Tammy’s father and leaving Haredi life, Tammy quickly followed her mother out of the community. Their entire family, including five sisters, disowned and severed ties with their mother and sister. This transition from Haredi life was very difficult. As a single mother, Tammy had no childhood friends or family members to support her. Suddenly, she faced financial challenges and was forced to learn how to manage on her own.
Today, as the 24-year-old mother of a 6-year-old son living in Tel Aviv, Tammy is pursuing her dream to become a fashion stylist. While the separation from her family still pains Tammy, she’s using her experience to help support other former Haredim by offering fashion styling workshops so they learn how to dress for their new living environment.
Tammy recently gave a workshop in the framework of Hillel’s customized program for former Haredi single mothers. Women in the program participate in customized weekend workshops, complemented by mentoring and psychosocial support. In 2013, approximately 30 single mothers and 60 children participated in our program, which expanded to 39 women and 75 children in 2014.
Another example of the program’s positive impact is Mirel, a former Haredi single mother who has now been accepted to nursing school after her enormous efforts to fill the colossal gap in required prerequisite education. Thanks to Hillel’s scholarship program, the number of single mothers that are now able to go to school and become self-supporting has grown exponentially.
To help ease their financial burden, the mothers receive a small subsidy for rent. They also participate in joint parent-child bonding activities to promote better communication and openness, as well as cultural and educational recreational activities designed to develop personal finance, life, and parenting skills; self-help strategies; and a positive self-concept.
Over time, the program has successfully fostered a supportive community of women who regularly share information and resources, offering each other practical aid, such as babysitting and a WhatsApp group for real time information and mutual consulting about shared issues. One of the mothers, for example, consulted with the group about whether she should allow her 8-year-old son to watch the news everyday, feeling the daily events were overwhelming for him but also considering the world knowledge and enrichment the news offers. This question led to the women discussing the difference between a secular education directed by parents to a Haredi upbringing where children are “wrapped in cotton” to preserve their innocence until a relatively old age.
Most participants appreciate the practical focus on parenting skills and children’s literature, giving them greater confidence to raise their children after having become secular while their children’s fathers remain ultra-Orthodox. This program has helped these women find paths to successful integration in their new world, while supporting their children through a major adjustment process.