New Belz organization helps people who leave the community

The suicide of a former Belzer Hasid inspired the rebbe to launch the initiative

Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO

May 31, 2023 3:55 PM


A new initiative of the Belzer Hasidic sect is helping people maintain their family ties after they have left the Hasidic lifestyle, according to reports in Israeli media and the Haredi news site Vos Iz Neias. The new organization is called Ahavat Kedumim.

According to the reports, the Belzer Rebbe, Yissachar Dov Rokeach, was inspired to launch the initiative after a former member of the Belz Hasidic community died by suicide when his parents and community members broke off relations with him.

Mendel Roth, a Hasidic rabbi and musician, in a post on Facebook, called the initiative “important and exciting.” He pushed back against critics who he says reached out to him saying that people who leave the community should be shunned, arguing that people who leave the community aren’t selfish, but should be embraced, as they have likely experienced trauma.

According to Hebrew-language sites Israel National News and, the organization recently sponsored a trip for 30 people who’ve left the community so that they can connect with each other. They traveled around Europe, including to Belz, the city in Ukraine where the Hasidic sect was founded.

Currently, U.S. organization Footsteps, and Israeli organizations Hillel and Yotzim LeShinuy, are the three major organizations helping Haredi people who leave the community, who are sometimes referred to as yotzim in Israel and “off the derech” in the U.S. All three organizations were founded by people who left the Haredi community. Ahavat Kedumim is the first initiative of its kind to be founded by the rabbi of a major Hasidic sect.

Haim Yakovzon, a spokesperson for Yotzim LeShinuy, said they welcome the development. “Yotzim and Haredim are one family, parents and children. So it's only natural that we behave as a family,” he said.

Lani Santo, CEO of Footsteps, expressed a similar sentiment. "We’re heartened to hear about this development, considering the deep need for support most formerly ultra-Orthodox people face as they build new lives for themselves.”

Avi Neuman, the chief development officer of Hillel, said he is cautiously optimistic about Ahavat Kedumim’s mission.

“It remains to be seen whether the organization will truly support people who’ve left the community in their transition processes and address the underlying causes of self-harm and suicide,” Neuman told Shtetl. “One can only hope that they go beyond merely alleviating discomfort within the ultra-Orthodox community and take meaningful steps towards preventing such tragic events.”

The new initiative adds to the Belzer rebbe’s reputation as a maverick.

Last year, the rabbi, who lives in Israel, approved the inclusion of secular education in Belz elementary schools so that they could qualify for more government funding. Later, however, when then-candidate Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to increase funding for Haredi schools regardless of their curricula, Belz decided not to move forward with teaching secular studies.

Before that, in 2005, the rabbi made waves when he said in a speech that men who don’t excel in religious studies should learn a trade instead, so that they can make a living. 

Belz is one of the largest Hasidic sects, with thousands of families in New York. It is unclear if the new initiative will have a branch in New York, and a Belz representative did not respond to Shtetl’s questions in time for inclusion in this piece.