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Footsteps is a not-for-profit organization based in New York City that provides educational, vocational, and social support to people who have left or want to leave an ultra-Orthodox or Orthodox Jewish community in the United States.[1]

Footsteps logo.png
Formation December 2003
Founders Malkie Schwartz
Legal status not-for-profit organization
Purpose support for people leaving the U.S. ultra-Orthodox Jewish community
Headquarters New York City



According to its website, Footsteps provides educational, vocational, professional, social, and legal support to those seeking to enter or explore the world beyond the insular ultra-religious communities in which they were raised. Some people from the ultra-orthodox and Chasidic communities who choose to enter mainstream America may feel like cultural immigrants. They may face cultural disorientation and isolation coupled with a lack of practical and marketable skills. Founded in December 2003, Footsteps aims to assist individuals who choose to make this difficult transition. Individuals frequently refer to themselves as “off the derech”, or OTD, reclaiming the dismissive term given to leavers by members of the orthodox communities they have left.[2][3]


Footsteps was founded in December, 2003, by Malkie Schwartz, a former Chabad Hasid from Crown Heights, while enrolled as a student at Hunter College in New York City. According to Schwartz, 20 people showed up to the first meeting, announced on flyers around the Hunter campus and through word of mouth.[4] Footsteps began as an informal social group and soon developed an educational study group and a sex education and relationships group, members finding they had been denied access to basic sex education instruction within the ultra-orthodox community.

As the organization grew it became a 501(c) non profit with a broad remit of support and education for ex-ultra orthodox Jewish individuals and their families.[3] Footsteps can also provide counseling and has partnered with New York Legal Assistance Group to provide legal assistance and advice in divorce and custody cases.[5]

As of summer 2015 Footsteps has a permanent staff of 10, a membership of over 1000 and an annual budget in excess of $1 million.[5] Its current director is Lani Santo.[2]


Muslimish' ex-Muslims president Noura Embabi explains how they cooperate with Footsteps' formerly Orthodox Jews.

Footsteps provides an array of services for its members. The Footsteps offices are known as "The Space" and are situated at an unpublicized location due to privacy concerns,[6] contains a computer lab, library, meeting space, kitchenette, and lounge, where members can work and hang out. Members gather for various groups, events, and workshops on topics including dating and sexuality, navigating the college admissions process, career advancement and painting.[7]

Footsteps also holds several annual events, which are open to members and guests. Events include: Thanksgiving dinner, Passover Potluck, and an annual camping trip. Since 2009, "Footsteps Celebrates" has been held each year in June, to celebrate graduations, accomplishments, and leadership roles.[8] During summer months, Footsteps organizes a weekly soccer game in Prospect Park. During Winter, an indoor game of basketball takes place bi-weekly.[9]

Footsteps has also holds annual art shows in which it exhibits works by Footsteps members.[10]


Lani Santo serves as Footsteps's Executive director. Footsteps' senior staff includes:

  • Rachel Berger (Director of Community Engagement)
  • Bekah Dickstein (Director of Individual Giving)
  • Tsivia Finman (Director of Operations)
  • Betsy Fabricant (Director of Support Services)
  • Chani Getter (Program Manager)[11]

Board members include Author Shulem Deen, businessman Steve Eisman, Debra Fine and Malkie Schwartz.[12]


Footsteps has been featured in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, PBS, NBC, and many others. The book Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston relates the story of the founder of Footsteps and some of those who have gone through the organization as part of their journey to leave the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox community. The National Geographic program, "Inside Hasidism," included a segment about Footsteps and some of its members.[13]

See alsoEdit

Notable membersEdit


  1. ^ Ari Shapiro. Young Ultra-Orthodox Jews Struggle Against Tradition, All Things Considered, August 8, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Lavin, Talia. "Off the Path of Orthodoxy". New Yorker. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Brodesser-Akner, Taffy. "The High Price of Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Life". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  4. ^ Orli Santo. The Departed,, August 17, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Clark, Amy Sara. "Lani Santo, 35". Jewish Week. Times of Israel. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  6. ^ Halime, Farah. "Life after conservative faith: the defectors who leave ultra-Orthodox communities". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  7. ^ Libby Copeland. Google vs. God: What’s causing all these Hasidic Jews to flee their community? Smartphones,, August 21, 2012.
  8. ^ Josh Nathan-Kazis. The 'Footsteps' of Those Leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy,, June 8, 2012.
  9. ^ Josh Nathan-Kazis. For Ex-Orthodox, More Than a Game,, June 29, 2012.
  10. ^ Shulem Deen. Ex-Haredi Artists Grapple With Their Pasts,, April 27, 2011.
  11. ^ "Staff". Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  12. ^ "Board of directors". Retrieved 7 October 2017. 
  13. ^ "Inside Hasidism". Fox International Channels. Retrieved 2015-05-31. 

External linksEdit