Every month, OMGWTFBIBLE snags some pretty great guests. But there’s never enough time in the podcast to discuss everything our guests our up to. Our Meet The Guest series puts the spotlight on each month’s guest.
Episode 20: Leah Vincent
All it took was a sweater. 16 years old, Leah Vincent was living in a seminary in Israel, clinging to the hope that she could prove herself observant enough to find a place in her ultra-Orthodox Jewish family’s community. When word reached her mother in Pittsburgh that, on a whim, she’d bought a sweater too tight for her family’s incredibly modest dress code, her dream unraveled. Furious that, on top of committing the sin of writing letters to boys back in the states, Leah had publicly flaunted the strict Yeshivish codes of modesty, her mother cut her off.
Left without a support system, Leah embarks on a harrowing journey from Israel to Brooklyn and, finally, graduate school at Harvard. As a young woman lacking a formal or cultural education, Leah captures the peril she faced in her memoir, Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood. While the severity of her parents’ reactions shocked me, I found a lot I could relate to in the black-and-white thinking she described in the more right-wing branches of Judaism. It’s that thinking that left Leah so adrift after leaving her faith. She wanted an unexceptional life; merely to live outside the restrictive culture that is the Yeshivish lifestyle. But within the world she left, any other way of life is considered wrong in an absolutely way that can be very dangerous.
Leah’s OK now. She’s successful, married, a mother, and, to top it off, is a future podcast guest. But after managing to rebuild her own life, she realized the necessity of helping others in her situation. As she describes in this interview with Katie Couric, Leah has become involved with Footsteps, an organization devoted to helping those considering leaving ultra-Orthodox communities find a support network and gain the essential education they need to function in the outside world.
I can’t pretend to offer an exhaustive list of Leah Vincent’s many interviews, media appearances, and essays. Recently, she wrote a haunting piece for The Jewish Daily Forward that demythologized stories of Holocaust survival and made a case for re-imagining the Jewish story of once of strength, not submission:
The Jews of the Torah are Miriam, who was Moses’ sister and led the people in dance and song; Tamar, who was rewarded for dressing as a prostitute and seducing her father-in-law with a child who became King David’s ancestor; Samson, who, in between falling in love with gentile women, fought his enemies with foxes, a donkey’s jawbone and a suicide attack in a temple; Yael, who pounded a nail through the enemy general’s brain, and Devorah, who was judge, military strategist and poet. Not fearful individuals who hid from the world, but archetypes of verve and power who lived fully in it.
I can’t wait to hear what Leah thinks when we read about Joseph together at Beauty Bar on April 28!