This week’s guest is Shifra Lowen. Shifra grew up in a small, well-controlled Hasidic community in Canada. As a girl, Shifra wanted to do everything according to the rules of their village. At the same, she desperately wanted forbidden things, like a kitten or a pet bird.
At 17, her marriage was arranged to someone she knew and even liked, and Shifra was on Cloud 9 for a while, though suspicious of her own happiness. Then her husband did something unthinkable.
“…Imagine my shock and fear when I found out that my husband visited a library.”
Visiting a Jewish library was only the beginning of Shifra’s world coming apart, but slowly she would realize it was all for good—for the good of their whole family.
Years later, after much learning and growing, Shifra and her family are thriving, living in accordance with their own values and not someone else’s rules.
Finding Our Way Podcast
“I was told from a very young age that libraries are a bad thing.”
“What greater danger—in a sheltered community—than to be aware that there is something else outside of this little bubble that they’ve created for you?”
“We were not told about mental health, nothing…I just understood that there was something else going on.”
“Now take this to the next level, when things really got hard: Imagine my shock and fear when I found out that my husband visited a library.”
“One day, my brave little boy had enough, and he ran away from Heder…Once he had the courage to run away, he gave me the courage I needed.”
“…my husband’s first transgression, so to speak, of trying not to hit our children had started us on the journey of liberation.”
“Imagine what happens if a whole family leaves a [small religious community], they open up a door for other people to do that!”
“The most joyous day of my life, aside from the day I got married, was the day that I was able to see my kids, the first day of school, going into a place where…they’re going to have the childhood that we wished to give them, that we never had.”
“…I do not consider myself an atheist; I do consider myself an atheist of the cruel monster-god that I was taught.”
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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11 This is the graceful atheist podcast United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Thank you to all my Patrons for supporting the podcast. You too can have an ad free experience of the podcast by becoming a patron at patreon.com/graceful atheist. If you're experiencing doubt, the dark night of the soul or deconstruction, you do not have to go through it alone. Join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous and become a part of the community. You can find us at facebook.com/groups/deconversion last week's guest was Holly Laurent, she's incredibly funny and she is the comedic mind behind mega the podcast mega is an improvised satire in the world of a fictional megachurch. They've just released the first few episodes of a comedy investigative miniseries inside the world of their own show called The Rise and Fall of twin hills. The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is a hilarious riff on the self important to seeking that happens around church scandals and the twisted psychology of those who are inside them. This mini series is chock full of ridiculous scandal. If you think the real mega church pastor improprieties we've seen over the last few years are bad. Get ready for the outlandish high jinks of Pastor Steve Jetson. If you're a fan of great comedy parody or just want a light hearted take on deconstruction, then go check out mega and their new mini series that started on May 21. Look up mega now and follow them. You're not gonna want to miss the rise and fall of twin hills. It's on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. Our lien interviews today's guest Shifra Schiffer grew up in Hasidism, a very orthodox Jewish tradition. She was very highly constrained and what she could do. A part of this theology was that any pleasures experienced now in this world would be subtracted from those in paradise. So no pets, and no seeking after pleasure. She talks about hitting the lottery in an arranged marriage, her husband turned out to be a great person. Her and her husband began to, in our words, deconstruct asceticism, her husband's great sin was going to the library, one of her husband's other deconstructed ideas was that of not spanking their son. And the culmination of that came when their young son was being abused at school. And in the schools, the teacher Raby would have a lot of power, and ultimately was using corporal punishment against shivers will, and that brought things to a head and she has this great line where she says, so if you come to think about it, my husband's first transgression, so to speak of trying not to hit our children, has started us on the journey of liberation. Today, Shiva has more spiritual but not religious. She has a YouTube channel at Shifra Lowen. As well as an Instagram, @yiddishe_, of course, links will be in the show notes. Here is our Arline interviewing Shifra. Arline 3:53 Shifra Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. Shifra Lowen 3:56 Hi, thank you so much for having me. Really excited to be here. Arline 4:00 I'm excited to get to know you better you and I connected last year when I was on an Instagram Live with Robert affinis, who's also been on the podcast. And you and I connected after that. And we've chatted off and on in shared books. And so I'm excited to hear your story. Shifra Lowen 4:15 Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. So I was born in the US actually. But my parents moved to Canada when I was a little baby. So my story starts in a little village outside of Montreal. Okay, back. And I was raised very sheltered. Hasidic in a Hasidic. So, my education was in a religious school so we didn't have like secular studies. Like Rick curriculum in a public school, we had our own censored version of Whatever it is, we had to learn if it was geography, if it was phonics, whatever it is, they hired people to censor out pictures of television, of dogs stuff like that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I vividly remember, as a second grader, I think it was when we still had those goetia books, the second year books for reading, and there was a full like, picture book, basically. So it was a picture of a dog and a family enjoying their pet. And it felt so I don't know, like, otherworldly, you know, to have a dog to enjoy, like, it sounded. So I don't know if I if I wished to be in that story. But it was like an adventure to find out things that did not exist in my world. You know, in our world, there was no such a thing as a pet. We were not allowed to have dogs or cats, because they are not a kosher animal. A bird is allowed, supposedly, but in our community, people did not have any pets at all. And the funny thing is, one of the other reading books had like a whole family of kittens that were born. And I was so jealous. Yeah, I literally wish that I could have a kitten. And I came home to my mom. And I don't know if I begged her something. But she was like, right away, adamantly saying like, this is not allowed for us. And she told me that when she was growing up, and she visited her grandfather, they had a little bird in the like, in a cage in the house. And she I don't think she promised me to buy a bird. But I wish that one day, she would at least a bird you know. So back to the censoring the books. So as I grew older, it became a lot more strict to not expose the children to anything outside of the world of this little village. And we only had Jewish reading books that speak about doing good deeds that are all, like part of the religious curriculum, but just in in the English language, you know. Okay. So basically what happened is, I was told from a very young age, that libraries are a bad thing. Arline 7:48 Oh, wow. That would make sense, though, because they can expose you to everything that you're not allowed to Shifra Lowen 7:55 access. It's a source of information, like what greater danger in a sheltered community than to be aware that there is something else outside this little bubble that they created for you, right? Yes, absolutely. So I still remember as a kid, this huge poster that was in the hall of the school, I might, I must have been in first grade. And I hardly could read what it said. But I asked someone and they explained to me that it said that libraries are forbidden. And even the ones that call themselves Jewish libraries, because next to Taj, the little village that I was raised in terrier stash, like a half an hour away is Montreal, and they have a Jewish public library where even religious Jews come to find some reading material for the kids. But this community was very strictly Hasidic, and they were very against going to a library altogether. So on that poster, as a one as a grade, one student, I've just like, took that in so seriously, like it said clearly that it's the trap of the devil and like you should stay away. As I grew older, I was a very diligent student took in everything very seriously. And I actually started writing songs to glorify this lifestyle, because I believed in it so wholeheartedly, and I wanted so badly to encourage people to stay on the right path. And not just to stay on the right track, but like to give themselves away for God like, because what we were told is that this world was not ever meant to be enjoyed. It's just a passageway. and it's a place to acquire our rightful place in paradise. So basically, every moment of our lives has to be dedicated to accumulate as many good deeds as we can. For every good deed will earn us more joy in paradise. And even more. So, if you are enjoying on this world, then it will be subtracted from your. In other words, it wasn't like taught in a straightforward way like, yes, it was very cleverly taught to the kids in a way where when you say to somebody, something straightforward, they have a chance to question it right? And to think like, does that make sense. But when you say to somebody something subconsciously, if it's like, between the lines, and they just constantly repeat this message in different ways, then it becomes accepted as natural. Like, this is the wage just it's Arline 11:13 that's a fascinating point. I don't know that I could have ever articulated it that way. But yeah, you you hear messages, they're not explicit, like, I don't know, that I ever heard, I went to Christian churches don't know that I ever explicitly heard. If you do X, you will go to hell forever. But all the messaging around Hill gave me the impression that there are certain things if I did those, we didn't necessarily believe in losing our salvation, which you know, the all these little phrases that you learned, and whatever the religion you're in, but I knew there were certain things that were definitely off limits, and no one necessarily had to explain it. So I know what you mean, as far as they don't say it explicitly, because like you said, then you can question it. And they do not want you to question it. Shifra Lowen 12:00 Sure, not? No. And actually, my husband was told, like ever, even like the time that spent swallowing your saliva has to be dedicated for studying Torah. Otherwise, you're going to pay a price, you know. So that's like a whole nother level that the boys are taught a very different way than the girls were in separate schools. Like, you can't even call the school. It's like a learning center or whatever. But they call it a school. For the girls and the boys, they call it a hater. For the longest time, I've been so conditioned to try to find joy in serving God, and trying to encourage others about the joy they will merit for sacrificing their life for God. And then, at 17, my marriage was arranged. And I got married to a wonderful young man who happened to be the brother of my best friend. Okay, so I was lucky that yeah, it was set up, like very many people in the community, got married to somebody in New York. And for me, I had actually, somebody who lived in my neighborhood, I was already familiar with a family. I already liked the guy because he seemed to be a very kind hearted person. So I was like, not just open to the idea, but I was actually excited to be part of my friends, family and all that we got to meet for somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes. I don't remember exactly. Obviously, you know nothing about life, you're so sheltered. So what the discussion is, it's just an official date, to say that you met your future partner, because the law in the, in the scripture or whatever says that you are not supposed to marry somebody before you see them. Hence, if they if they are ugly, and you hate them, and it's not fair to them, that you're you're gonna stay married, and, you know, so basically, we had a we had a date, but we didn't talk about our lives together. We just spoke about scripture, stuff like that, you know? And I remember this glorious feeling like while he was talking like something felt so right, like, I felt like at home with him, you know, like it felt safe. And for the first time, I was like, after after the after the arrangement was set like yeah, out, there's there's a ceremony where you break a break plate and you shout, mazel tov. So it's like to celebrate that this engagement should be complete and and it's also to commemorate the broken temple. It's a whole it's a whole custom the way they they do the marriage arrangements. And what happened was I felt very much like I finally have somebody who I feel I can ask anything. That's awesome. Because growing up, some things were off limits, but it felt like this person is so safe for me. I was like, overjoyed. I was so grateful. The way my my arrangement happens. It was really, really like, I don't know if it's one in a million that like, really you have somebody you can click with because it's, it's it's randomly paired up, like there's a matchmaker, and they just see if the family is matched. So it's like really not. Wow, yeah. It's really not so simple. So as I was saying, I was overjoyed. And we got married. And I was so ecstatically happy that I felt guilty coming to school, I worked at the school at the time, I felt guilty coming to school every day, and like seeing that people have the regular kind of life that I've lived till now. And I wanted them to have this kind of joy that I Arline 16:34 have. Oh, wow. Yeah, that makes sense. Shifra Lowen 16:38 And then my mother got concerned because she saw me like, literally glowing. And she was afraid that my bubble is gonna bust I'm gonna come down from from space, and I'm just gonna wake up to a different kind of reality. So she actually warned me she's like, like, I shouldn't not not only her, I remember my cousin also telling me like after the seven days of celebration, like the bells stop ringing, ringing and it's like, all the glory fades. And I was like, I didn't know what she was talking about. And then my mother was like, I saw the concern on her face. And she was like, sometimes it takes like, three months, and then you come down from the clouds. The honeymoon was, I was laughing in my heart, because to me, it made no sense. Like, I know, who am I married? I'm overjoyed to be with this person. I can try I feel safe with them. I feel at home with them. Like what better thing can? Like? Can I wish for like, Why? Why are you thinking that this has to go wrong? You know? Yes. Yeah. But even though she didn't understand who I married, she ended up being right, because marrying this guy in a place like Tosh was a recipe for disaster. Oh, Arline 18:13 no, Shifra Lowen 18:14 because he did not fit the mold. He did not. He was not a person who was going to thrive in this environment. So something had to give it started being really, really hard, because in that culture, the expectation of a young man is to wake up extremely early, go to prayers. If if you have work like in some families, the newly wed husband can go to work. But most families, they have to sit and learn at least for the first year or two. In colo so you got to be staying in cola all day and just be very, very good learner, like study the Talmud all day long and stuff like that. And my husband, he had a very troubled childhood like traumatic, like next level, very abusive and domestic. Like a lot of turmoil, basically, his parents were fighting constantly and and it's no big surprise because his father grew up in a home that was like straight out of the Holocaust. His father's father spent six years in the Holocaust he was actually a gendarme. Outside of the Auschwitz crematoriums, he had to carry the bird bodies. The Yeah. Like that's that's the that's the level of trauma that was brought into his family. Obviously, his wife was also from Berlin, she witnessed the Christiana. And that was my husband's father. Yeah. And it was an arranged marriage. So obviously, not everybody's as lucky as me. And he married the oldest of 15 kids who came from a very traumatic home as well. Her older brother had fallen down as a kid and hit his head and was not functioning properly. And she always had to not just take care of this big family of 15 kids, but also had to cope with taking care of that child. And she was uprooted from her childhood, home at the age of 11, leaving all her friends behind all her family and her most beloved grandfather, everything behind because her father believed that staying in Israel was a sin, and they have to move to England. There are a group of people called the Torah Carta. Okay. And they go protest against the State of Israel. Okay, because they believe that you cannot live in Israel, and celebrate the State of Israel, as long as the Messiah hasn't come. Arline 21:43 Oh, okay, because it's the Messiah who will reinstate Israel, not like government, people Shifra Lowen 21:48 are correct, because there are three warnings, curses, or whatever it's called, vows that that God made that you should not take back by force, Israel, something like that. In any case, take a child who has been through so much trauma, match them up with another child who grew up straight out of the Holocaust, and forced them to live together. While they are incredibly incompatible. Yeah, you can just imagine what kind of disaster that was not just that, in this community. There was no such a thing as birth control. So she had one child after the other literally, when my husband was seven years old. He already had six siblings. Arline 22:39 Oh, my heavens, as a mom, and how difficult having little tiny kids was for my mental health, and I only had two. That's a lot on your body and your mind and your family. And that's a lot. Oh, my heavens. Shifra Lowen 22:54 Yeah, he was seven or eight years old. And he literally was the oldest, the only son of six sisters. So as I said, he came from so much trauma. Yeah, he was suffering from depression. And from what they diagnosed as OCD. And he was supposed to in that state function as if nothing is going on, as if he had not gone through any trauma and just function like a robot wake up at this in this hour. Go to the synagogue, get there on time for study. He was such a devote devoted member of the community. But his his body didn't cooperate with all these demands, you know. So that's like the smallest challenge that we had, but it was a big one, nonetheless. So it was a constant. What is it called like? Juggling? I was going to school hoping that he's going to have a left to synagogue by the time I get home, to prepare lunch. And then I prepared lunch and everything. And I was so excited if I found that his bed was empty, because sometimes the depression was too strong. And obviously he so then you had and I did not know about anything, right? We were not told about anything about mental health, nothing. But I just grasped I understood that there was a lot more going on and I didn't like think oh, he's lazy. That's that's not what how it was. So that was a good thing. Yeah, that's good. And when I got home, and he was there, I was devastated obviously. But even if he wasn't there, I would call him up ask if he's coming home for lunch because that was the hour that I had off from work at school. The school was just around the corner. And I was waiting You're waiting. And he was, I would call him to the cola. And he will say, yeah, he's on his way. But maybe he was still in the middle of prayer that he had to finish. But he couldn't share with me because he was so stressed and worried about that. So he's on his way, and then he didn't arrive. So there was always this kind of juggling because he had to finish his obligations in the synagogue before he got home to eat. He couldn't eat before he finished prayers and all that. And I had to get back to school. So we were like, missing each other. And I had warmed up the food and then, gosh, it's gonna be cool. By the time he gets home. Like, that was like the beginning. Right? When when when the bubble was busted, and it was all thanks to the structure. It was nothing with us, right? Yes, it was because of the unrealistic high demands that were put on this young couple. Right? Yeah. Now take that to the next level, when things really got hard. imagine my shock and fear when I found out one day that my husband visited a library. Arline 26:20 So I was thinking, you're about to say you're pregnant, or Oh, my gosh, she had an affair. Buddy went to a library, which is just like this. Shifra Lowen 26:31 I love the example for your give. Yes, yes. Yes, exactly. That, exactly that if I was pregnant, that would have been a joyous occasion, because in the community, like, if you're not pregnant by by the year, then something is wrong. And you gotta go to the doctor and check if it's a bit at a bad sign, you know, Arline 26:51 oh, my goodness. But he went to a library. Oh, now a Jewish library, which has Jewish ivory, but okay, but we're at least you know, at least he didn't go see all the, all the the heathens with their public library. Okay. Shifra Lowen 27:06 So that was like a shock. Yeah. And at the same time, it was maybe exhilarating to because, like, teetering on the edge, like, like, like, I love the thrill of like, not staying in the stagnant. Like, box, you know, so, I was happy that he was actually introduced to the library by his dad. Oh, wow. And I was only worried that my family shouldn't find out because that would be terrible, you know, like, he would be considered like, something is wrong with him. So I'm gonna fast forward to when I had my first child turned three years old. Okay, my husband comes home one day. And he's like, since our child is already three years old, we're starting to teach them the laws and like, all the things that he they should do making a prayer before the food and after the food and, and not touch any of the electronics on on Shabbat and stuff like that. I want us not to hit our children. So I love the smile, you're looking at it. That's so beautiful. And I was horrified. I felt like he just fell off from the moon. And he's coming to me with this outrageous idea. That makes no sense at all. Because like, how else will I ensure that I do right by my children? My teachers have taught us and if you do not hit your children, they will grow up wild animals. How can I sacrifice and jeopardize the future of my children? And they will not grow up to the God fearing. Good people? If I do not hit them. Okay, Arline 29:17 I have a question real quick. So, at this point, did you know what he had grown up in yet? Or did you not know any of it? Shifra Lowen 29:26 Yes, I did know a little bit like even now, how much is there that? I don't know. Right? But like, Yeah, I had an idea. Yeah. Arline 29:33 Okay. So you didn't know that. The reason I ask is thinking of what he's coming from when it comes to hitting children. But I also my husband and I very much were taught that we needed to hit our children in order to make sure that they knew they were under authority and obeyed the first time and all this stuff. And so, anyway, go ahead. I want to hear how this plays out. Shifra Lowen 29:57 So thankfully, my husband is like them. Almost a patient teacher, like he, right away knew that my resistance, and my anger was not because I didn't love our children just as much as he did. It was because of this fanaticism that I was raised with. And he just needed to find a way to open my eyes and explain it to me. That's exactly what he did. So he patiently explained to me, he showed me in the holy books, how the rabbi's say that you got to treat your child in their younger years, with so much care and to even spoil them in the first five, six years of their life. Because that's the foundation of the person they become. Give them so much love and and shower them with, like, all the comfort that you can. So that was a relief for me that I am backing in the holy books, even though it's very radical to my family, but at least I have something I have a ground to stand on. Right. So I agreed. But obviously, I had no reference point like how do you discipline a child without hitting that stormy journey? Like? Not easy at all? Because you don't have a library to find parenting books from right. Arline 31:29 Oh, yes. Good point. Yeah. Shifra Lowen 31:32 So basically, it was not easy. Eventually, we're going to skip a big part of the story where my husband was ostracized, and persecuted in the community, a whole long, traumatic experience. Eventually, we moved away from that little village of carrier stash. And we moved to Montreal. Arline 32:05 Oh, wow. That has to be a huge culture shock. Shifra Lowen 32:08 It was actually inside of a Hasidic community in Montreal. So the culture was not yet so drastic. Arline 32:18 So it's, it's changed, but not quite correct Shifra Lowen 32:22 as drum like, it was a relief that I was not under the nose of so many villagers who could see my business every second of every day, I was like, starting a new life felt more liberated. I'm outside in the world, I can just walk into a pharmacy, I remember that first night after the moving truck left. And I had to pick something up from the pharmacy, I literally felt as if I had just went on adventures to Safari or something, you know, like, my goodness, I could walk the aisles and just meet with people from all walks of life. And just like, just be, you know, like, I don't have people staring down like, it's like free, like, like, you just have a chance to be in the world not like boxed in somewhere, you know. So basically, I enrolled my kids in a Hasidic school in Montreal in a Hasidic hater, my boys. That's a whole long story as well, because at first, my husband wanted to send them to a place where they can learn English. And I was not ready for that, because I felt I needed my parents moral support, I really needed my mom's moral support, even though we didn't talk much, but just knowing that she's on my side, and not to alienate her with such a big, like, drastic change. You know, she already was very, not happy about how my husband was conducting, you know, things and, and the community had, like, really carried his name through the mud and all that. So I really needed her still very much. And I couldn't afford that kind of big step, you know? Yeah. So I put them into a hider. That was supposed to be very good, according to the chief rabbi in Montreal. And in the beginning, it sounded like it wasn't wonderful. My son came home smiling. He had things that he didn't have in touch they in the summer, they had daycamp, which was not something that existed in touch at the time. I was in seventh heaven, things are finally working out. I could breathe a sigh of relief. So I thought the beginning of that school year of that hater year was after the High Holidays, and obviously, they came was over and he got a new teacher who was very strict. And he did not come home very happy. But I was in denial and left just hoping that I'm like praying that things will somehow sort themselves out because I cannot cope now with any new hurricanes, you know, I had enough. My ship was almost broken. I can, you know? Yeah. And then he came home one day and he said his Rebbi, which is what they call the teacher and hider Robbie slapped him in the face. Arline 35:25 Oh, wow. Shifra Lowen 35:28 So I was horrified to hear that because I had specifically made sure to keep close contact with Robbie, check in with him every week or second week, because I was told growing up that when you have a contact with Robbie or the teacher, then they pays close attention to your child. And that's the way to, to make sure that your child is well taken care of. And this rabbit has ensured we every single week your child is a an amazing kid. He's at Sadek. He's the best kid in class and all that. Like, how does that happen? Yeah, yeah. So I called up the rugby that night. And I tried to be diplomatic about it. But I was very firm. Like, I wanted to know, like, what's going on here? You know, I didn't say it that way. I was like, I'm so shocked, because you're telling me that my son has a tattoo. But then he came home today. And he said, You slept and like, what I want to understand what's going on? And he's like, Oh, no, don't worry. Don't worry. It was just that the kids were so rambunctious, it was like, right before pouring. They're so excited. And I had to discipline them. So I made him an example. Just don't worry. Tell your child. He's still excited. He's still the best kid in class. I hardly touched him. I hardly touched him. That was this great. House. Thanks. So angry, but like I do here, you know, like, hopefully this guy got the message, right? Don't hit my child. Obviously, he didn't. So this continues to happen again and again. And anything that I did I call the administrator. it only got worse because the rabbit was angry at my child for telling his mother literally had to beg my child to go to school or basically not beg. I almost forced the child. I promised him good things when he comes home and it was horrible. Because like literally forcing my my child into the lion's den he was every day that something happened in class. He was traumatized. Even if it wasn't him. That's being kid. Like just watching the kids getting hit. Yeah. And one nice to he, my brave little boy finally had enough. And he ran away from hater. Oh, wow. So I was home, minding the in the kitchen and stuff. And suddenly the door opens. And I'm like, that's early, one or two o'clock, like what's going on, and I see my son in the door. And that was it. Once he had the courage to run away, he gave me the courage that I needed. Because I did not have the booth to make that decision to take on another like, unimaginable task of finding him a school in a place that I knew nothing about. Like I had just arrived. I had nobody to ask. I did not know how to go about anything. And now that he had the guts to run away from hater, it was like, yes. Thank you. We're not ever sending this child back to that theater again. Yes, yeah. It was a wonderful feeling of like, being able to tell my child we are going to find you a better place a better school like rain or shine, we will have to figure this out. So if you come to think about it, my husband's first transgression, so to speak, of trying not to hate our children, has started us on the journey of liberation. Oh, wow. Because this child was not raised in a place where it was normalized to be hit. Although I did from time to time still hit my kids. I did lose it sometimes. But it was not a thing that was okay. That it is the way it's supposed to be. Right. And that gave him the courage to No, no, this teacher was wrong. He had parents who believe that was wrong, right? Even if they did selves messed up. So, thinking of how much that courageous step of my husband to have the patients and explain to me why this is important? Actually, this freed me for life. Oh, wow. It saved our whole family. Yeah. Because what happened afterwards was even more challenging and more scary. Because the community started rallying against and that's not the whole community, per se. But like the leaders, the activist, the ones, the agents that are in charge of taking care that the the the bubble stays completely closed. Arline 40:56 They were Shifra Lowen 40:58 trying everything they could to stop us from leaving this bubble. Imagine what happens if a whole family leaves a place like that. And they open up a door for other people to do that. Yes, absolutely. Yep. So they put everything they could into this case, we became a case, right. And they basically went and made a claim against us to Child Protective Services. Oh my gosh, because after a while that we were trying to find a school we didn't find because they made sure to tap our phones, which I didn't know about. And they were calling the schools to tell don't accept our their kids, they're crazy. They don't know what they want from their life. Like, don't start with this family. It's like a bad a bad idea. So we were left without any options within the religious community. And that was the goal. And when the child protective services got the claim that my child is being isolated and abused, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and a whole long list of lies. They had to investigate. So they sent us a letter that we should respond. But because I was constantly warned by the activist in the community, that child protective services will come after you your children will be taken away, we have already been living in this trauma that people will take our kids from US legally, we were told it's possible to do that. Because in Canada, there's a law that if the grandparents are denied access to the children, and the children are used to having the grandparents in their life, then they can claim that you're abusing your child at home. I don't I don't remember all the details. But it was serious. I knew that I had no language to defend myself, I hardly knew a word of English. Like I could tell you. I like the color red. But I couldn't express my thoughts, eloquently like to try to understand how to find the words to say what I want to say, right. And I knew that they did, they had everything in place to make sure to fight me on this, right. So for a long time, I've lived with this fear. And now when I got this letter was written in handwriting, no letterhead. So I was like, Oh, this is just the what they call in the community, a posh Courville it's just a random guy trying to scare me. And I got a second letter. And this time it was typed up. But the names of the kids were like, so hilariously spelled, like instead of Le mela that was Ella jumbo like, like, a stupid mistake that didn't make sense that if it's a government agent, they should have my names in the records and not mess it up like that. Right? Wrong, actually, because CPS does not necessarily check the registry of the Medicare. You know, it's like they're two different departments. So they just write down whatever the person who call tells them. It's, you know what I mean? If they make a claim, you know, Arline 44:31 and they spell things as best they can. Okay, I see. Shifra Lowen 44:34 So what happened was, I didn't take that letter seriously either. Then I got a third letter. And this time it had a letterhead and it was typed up, and it said, If you don't call us up as soon as possible, we will have to go to court and get a warrant. Wow. So I had no clue what a war weren't was I was a girl who grew up in a sheltered community like carrier stash, but I didn't know what court was. Yes. So I came to my husband very frightened. And I'm like, they want to take us to court. And I was like, literally, almost like trembling, right? And my husband called me down. And he's like, What are you worried about? You're not in the wrong here. You are protecting your child, you just tell the judge the truth. Okay, so I breathe. And I'm like, okay, but what's still there? They're saying, like, I have to call them and he's like, so call them what's, what's the problem with that? And I'm like, I don't know, I don't want to call them. I already had experience in the community so many times that when you give a finger, they take a hand, I don't want to open the door to that kind of abuse. I don't know who it is. I don't trust them, you know? So my husband says, so don't call them like, what's the worst that can happen? Oh, dear. I didn't know what a warrant was. So what's the worst that can happen? They're gonna take us to court. Okay. I'll tell the judge what's going on, right? obviously wrong. And one nice day, there were police banging on our door. Oh, wow. Open up. This is the police. And I was convinced that it was people from the community pretending to be the police. So first of all, I knew from my end that you should never open the door for the police. Because once you open the door, you allow them to interrogate you, legally, you have a right to refuse to open the door. So I told them, I am allowed to refuse to open doors and said, okay, but we're going to have to break down the door. So stay away. Because they're starting. And I'm like running into my bedroom, picking up the phone and calling 911 people are breaking into my my house. I thought it was speaker from the community. So I was as I was holding the phone, talking to 911. My bedroom door opened up, and whom do I see? blue uniform police. So here I had escaped trauma from a community hoping I came to the city where there is some kind of accountability, you can just do with people what you want, like in the community, right? If you're in danger, you can call police. And now who are those who are attacking me? People who are supposed to protect me? Yeah. Thankfully, because I had that experience I can. I can't really grasp but I can have a glimpse of an idea what people of color go through, right? Because it was never meant to protect them. But for me, that was the most traumatic day of my life. Because everything was like topsy turvy, everything, like my whole my whole world turned upside down. So thankfully, I kept my calm and I explained to them, I showed them the letters, I explained to them what was going on. So that was a miracle that I was able to hold it together and they saw my kids were happy. There was no abuse going on. They were like, okay, so Okay, so now everything is understood. You're gonna cooperate with us? Yes, sure. Of course, now that I know that it's real, you know, that it's real. Yeah. And eventually, I did find a school for my children. A whole long story with that, because the Child Protective Services didn't want to close the case so fast. Oh, haul, long story. I'm not gonna get into it. But the most joyous day of my life, aside from the day that I got married, was the day that I was able to see my kids. The first day of school, going into a place where they are actually going to be allowed to be kids are actually going to be able to have an education that helps them that gives them tools in life. They're going to have the childhood that we wish to give them that we never had, you know. That's awesome. Yeah, so I must point out because this podcast is called graceful atheists that I do not consider myself an atheist. I do consider myself an atheist of the cruel monster God that I was taught. I see. So that's in short, and I do love a lot of the things that I was thought in my childhood that I now recycled and I'm using it to enrich my life instead of stifling my life. You know, Arline 50:08 there are things within Christianity that like things Jesus said or things I learned at church that like I can, I can keep some of those things. There's a singer named Derrick Webb and he was on the podcast, and he said, God doesn't get everything in the divorce. You know, like, we should be able to keep some of it. So yeah, so where are you now as far as what what does spirituality look like for you? What is? What does it look like for your family? Like, where's your hubby at work? Shifra Lowen 50:37 So I wouldn't say that my hubby believes in God, or my kids believe in God, you're gonna have to ask them. I'm just talking about me. I believe in a benevolent God, I don't call it God. I call it the universe. It's just because it's triggering. You know, I understand. Yes, we are members of a community. That's called Reconstructionist. Judaism. So we love it there because the focus is not on the rituals, like my husband made me realize while I was still living in carrier stash, how people are not important, only the rituals are important. Like, you take the parchment that the Torah is written on is a lot more revered than actual human. Wow. You know, yeah. So so that's what really excited me about this synagogue, that it's not about the rituals, the rituals are aside ornaments, so to speak. We celebrate the holidays, for me, the High Holidays, whatever it is, but it's the focus is not that you have to get those things exactly. As a certain way. You know, the focus is community. And that's what I love. I love community, I grew up in a little village. So there's nothing I love more, you know? So there is such an option of having your cake and eat it too. Arline 52:04 Oh, that's awesome. Yeah, we talk a lot on the podcast about community is a human need, like we are mammals, and we need other we need other people around us. And there are a lot of people who stay in whatever their religion is, simply because if you leave, you will not have anybody, you may not have anybody, even different people that I've interviewed and heard their stories on the podcast. Like finding people in real life is still hard. They have lots of found lots of people online, but finding just in real life people is difficult. So that's awesome that you guys have a synagogue that where your values align, instead of being in conflict. So Shifra Is there anything that I have not asked that you that you would want to talk about that I haven't hit on? Shifra Lowen 53:02 There's so much to talk about, but I don't want to like waste another hour because like we can't pack it all in? I'm writing a book right now. And the interesting thing is that you just mentioned about the loneliness. I recently uploaded a short video on my YouTube channel, which is on my name on my legal name. Clara Wasserstein, actually, but you can also Google Shifra alone, and you're gonna find it as well. Basically, I shared my journey from utter isolation how I found community again after having lost my faith in humanity. Yes, yeah. And how I was shocked, actually, because after 12 days, I didn't even expect it. Then I opened my channel and I see it has over 4000 views already. It's like such a basic human need, right? Connection is such a basic human need. And people are unfortunately, we live in a world where loneliness is so rampant because of this. What is it called? pretense of connection that we have on social media? That is like really not the way that we were meant to be connected in real life? You know? So people are, I don't know, it's like starving for connection, basically. Arline 54:20 Yes. Yeah, I agree. Do you have any recommendations, books, podcasts, YouTube channels, anything that has been helpful to you over the years or is right now just something you're loving? Shifra Lowen 54:31 So right now something that I'm really loving is a podcast called finding our way. It's by Prentice Hemphill. I really love how it grounds me it's really has a unique perspective on things that are happening in the world. And she interviews like, I don't think that they are still continuing the podcast. I think it had like, two or three seasons during COVID And she's interviewing changemakers and real incredible trailblazers. So it's phenomenal. Like it feels healing to me to listen to that podcast. I'm not a podcast listener, like, it sounds unfair that I'm on a podcast. But I'm not like, I don't really listen to podcasts often. And that's one that I really love to go back to. Arline 55:23 That's wonderful. Well, thank you again, so much for, for being willing to tell your story and for your authenticity. And thank you again, Shaffer, I really enjoyed this. Shifra Lowen 55:35 I really enjoyed it as well, thank you. Arline 55:43 My final thoughts on the episode, I really appreciated Schiff for his willingness to, to hear new ways of thinking about things. So when her husband mentioned, not using physical discipline with the kids, like this was a completely new thing than anything she'd been taught her entire life. But she trusted her husband's judgment, they were willing to have a conversation, he was patient with her and like, her kids are growing up in a situation where they know their parents will, will fight for them, and not fight with them, love them care for them. And just do things differently. Because because it's better rather than sticking with the things they always knew. Because that was just tradition. And the willingness of her and her husband to venture out find a new school for their kids to join a completely new synagogue, a new version of Judaism that aligns with their values that isn't in conflict with the things that they hold dearest, is just awesome to be able to watch a family to hear about parents who are willing to do whatever they can for their kids, even if it flies in the face of everything they've ever known. So Shifra thank you so much for being on the podcast, it was such a little light. We had lots of crazy internet issues, but we made it work and it was wonderful. And I really, really appreciate you being on David Ames 57:24 the circular Grace Thought of the Week is about freedom or autonomy. Often in the segments, I say, the truth will set you free. But here I want to talk about the freedom that we experience on the other side of deconstruction or the other side of deconversion. Obviously, the great irony is that within our religious traditions, we are told that freedom comes by being committed to our tradition being committed to the community being committed to the belief system, being committed to Orthodoxy. And the irony on this side is that letting go of that orthodoxy letting go of that, restraining tradition, we actually experience real freedom. Another way that freedom is misused is in the hard right sense of rejecting any sense of obligation to community writ large, or the world in general. I do think on this side of deconstruction, we become members of the community of the world. We have escaped the high demand traditions that we are a part of, but then we can voluntarily embrace our commitment to humanity in general and the people around us out of our secular Grace out of our concern for people, rather than the obligation of the tradition. Next week is community member Ben, you're not gonna want to miss that episode. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show, email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com. This restful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network Transcribed by https://otter.ai