Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Inside NYC's Social Club For The Formerly Devout 

Last Christmas, a 51-year-old woman from the Upper West Side walked into a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan and introduced herself to twelve strangers.

A victim of a highly-publicized rabbinical scandal, she'd recently shed the daily routines of Modern Orthodox Judaism for good. There to greet her was a group of former Mormons, Hasidic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims. "There's a bazillion different appetizers and there are 12 people at the table, so I go around the table and say, 'Who eats treif? Who eats vegetarian? Who eats meat but not treif?'" she recalled. "Because when you leave, your what-kind-of-Chinese-appetizer cues are no longer defined by the system."

For the members of Formerly Fundamentalist NYC, a meetup group for New Yorkers who have left strict religious communities, perusing a menu is an exercise in post-religious decision making.

"I don't want to go to a dinner party that's a therapy session. I have a therapist," the woman explained. "But I want to meet like-minded people, and that's exactly the point of the group. You can say nothing, or you can hang out and talk about the presidential race, or you can spill your guts."

Todd Kadish and Isaac Carmignani came up with the idea for Formerly Fundamentalist in November 2013, over coffee at the Starlight Diner on 34th Street.

Carmignani, a 47-year-old ex-Jehovah's witness from Queens, was nervous that his social circle would always be limited to ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Kadish, a 42-year-old ex-Modern Orthodox Jew from Connecticut, had watched his private Facebook group, Formerly Religious, balloon to more than 1,000 members, and become more of a repository for memes than a substantive sounding board.


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