For religious cultists who want out of the cult and into the secular, the biggest challenge once they abandon their white button-down shirt and black pants is meeting girls. If that's you, you need to meet Israel Irenstein, the Tommy-Hilfiger-wearing 29-year-old ex-Orthodox Jew who, in this interview on Slate by Diana Spechler, explains how he coaches former ultra-Orthodox Jews into meeting girls and dating them.
According to Irenstein, lack of self-confidence pervades the recently ex-Orthodox, who refer to themselves as OTD, or "Off the Derech" (derech is Hebrew for path). Once they've gone off the path, for a variety of reasons including loss of faith, distaste for the lifestyle, and longing to educate themselves beyond the Jewish texts, OTD'ers are like immigrants in the secular world, unsure of the language and customs of dating, battling the voices of their parents and rabbis, who warned them that touching the opposite sex before marriage would incur God's wrath.
"There are three problems specific to the ex-religious when they first try to date," Irenstein says. "Inexperience, having no identity, and having no understanding of the opposite sex." That makes sense when you consider how insular the Orthodox communities are. Premarital sex, even premarital touching, is prohibited. And there is a rule for everything, including which shoelace to tie first and what to do with one's facial hair. OTD'ers who come to Irenstein never had the awkward, albeit formative, experiences the rest of us had -- slow-dancing with some height-inappropriate partner in seventh grade, locking braces with someone in the back of a movie theater, getting to "second base." Their questions for Irenstein range from the peculiar such as, "Is it OK to pay a girl $80 to go out with me?" to the commonplace concerns of men on the New York dating scene: "How many dates before I should allow her to split the check?"
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