What does it mean to leave a religious community? How does it affect the lives of those who decide to withdraw? Kate Riep’s recent book ‘Godbye’ tells the story of Chaya and Dudi, two young Israelis who abandoned Ultra-Orthodox Judaism at different points in their lives. In 2016, Kate accompanied their personal quest of looking for a substitute for a close relationship with God.
“There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
Leaving God is a complex process which either breaks the person who goes through it or allows he or she to grow. Judaism, like other religions, is now divided into various communities and movements. The variety of traditions, rituals, and lifestyles resulted in noticeable differences in how believers worship God. In the state of Israel, most movements coexist, and the Orthodox are now the majority. Part of it is the Ultra-Orthodox community, or “Haredi”, which has sustained an attitude of seclusion to avoid the influence of modernism and secular education. It is paradigmatic for Ultra-Orthodox Judaism to radically honor the traditions and rituals of the Torah. This is reflected in uniform clothing, archaic gender roles, community institutions and even the dishes served for Saturday dinner. Reality is defined and dictated by religious rules and a sense of autonomy and individuality is threatened. The Rabbi is empowered to take decisions in all areas of life. This strict way of life often leads people to question the rigid values of the community, creating cracks in the “Haredi” wall.
Yet, despite their lack of faith, many people find it difficult to leave the Ultra-Orthodox way of living, which represents not only their immediate family and friends but also the requirements of God. For an Ultra-Orthodox, leaving their religion also means being excluded from their social environment. The “Yotzim” (Hebrew word for people who have left Ultra-Orthodox Judaism) face the need to reshape their lives without the leadership of a greater authority. Therefore, many “Yotzim” adopt some of their old social practices to reduce the sense of isolation. Organizations such as the Israel-based “Hillel” serve as a substitute community for newcomers. They are the first stop for many who choose to leave; a place to meet people with similar experiences, to get social and psychological support, and shelter until they find a new place to live.
The two protagonists of this book come from different communities in the “Haredi” world and are at different stages in the process of leaving their religion. Chaya, 19 years old and now divorced, left the strictly religious “Satmer” community in November of 2015. At first, she stayed at the Hillel-shelter in Jerusalem for a few months, while doing an internship in a Kibbutz. She now lives in a shared flat in Tel Aviv and started her first job as Real Estate Agent. Dudi, 32 years old, left his religious life over four years ago. He now lives with his orthodox brother in Jerusalem. His brother respects his choice of leaving but requires him to wear a Kippah at home. Dudi regularly visits his daughters in the Ultra- Orthodox neighborhood of Modi’in.
Taken over the course of six months, Kate Riep’s photographs explore the emotional complexities of a process of deep transformation, recording how two individuals reinvent themselves from the ashes of what they once were. As a metaphor for this process, Chaya’s and Dudi’s personal stories are told in reverse chronology in a carefully designed bi-folded book with one side in English and one side in Hebrew. In Kate’s narrative, there are no answers, no conclusions. There is only an honest depiction of two people trying to find an alternative to God.
Artist: Kate Riep
Year of publication: 2016
Size: 19 x 25cm, 72 pages
Languages: English and Hebrew
Self-published in a limited edition of 50 copies
Kate Riep is a photographer and sea lover who lives and works in Berlin. She recently graduated with her final work ‘Godbye’ at the renowned photography school Ostkreuzschule in Berlin. Over the years, her work has been exhibited in the UK at “Of The Afternoon (London and Leeds)” and “One Eyed Jacks Gallery (Brighton)”; in The Netherlands at “Acreati” and in Germany at the Ostkreuzschule in Berlin. A solo exhibition in collaboration with the Goethe Institute Tel Aviv will take place in Israel in 2017.
All Rights Reserved. © Kate Riep