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#23 Exit & Return, Part I


Shulem Deen was a 22-year old and ultra-religious, a Hasidic Jewish person, when he bought a computer and signed up for America Online in 1996. Until then he'd never had a real conversation with someone outside his community. Sruthi Pinnamaneni tells the story of how the internet ruined his life and how it might save it.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode is brought to you by better for him a new podcast from eighty people. In each episode Francesca Ramsay talks to visionaries in business leaders about mistakes. They ve made how they work their way through them and came out better for it. Listen on Spotify Wherever you get, your pot casts. from gimlet. Reply all show that the internet amounts given this we ve got an amazing story from our producers treaty amendment. Eighty guys, Asia, Thee it's I dont want oversell it, but I would like for you to help us out done. This. Is a story the internet, destroying someone's life completely and is the story of the transforming someone's life for the better and it it's the same person, Sir, that you take. The story from here
send a part of Brooklyn where I live in this neighborhood called Williamsburg. There is the expected kind of Brooklyn. Is there is a hipsters on bikes in a vintage shops and tattoo parlors, and just a couple of blocks down from that? There's this entire other thing happening. It's as if you stepped into the one thousand eight hundred it's. The people here are all hasidic their orthodox choose and they all dressed in a particular way. So the man are weighing long like coats and hats, and they had these alongside locks that fall just about the ear, the whim wearing wigs or headscarves, and everybody speaking Yiddish, I used to live near always at night nightly at night. I would go running and I would run through the neighbourhood. I guess when Sir ravening, and I felt like I was a ghost. The future out. Just like passing through. Nobody reacted to me lake. I didn't exist yet and that's the kind of community I'm talking about here and story is about this man does.
Early morning, person sure I'm the day I met him. It was beautiful spring weather. He was standing outside this house. Eating eggs out of a star from container and he had short cropped here, and was wearing a leather jacket. I mean the trick me from wrong, but it's, not the outfit over of a historic. Do right right he's an ex has said, but he comes from an altar or knots community, that's even more orthodox than the one where I live in Brooklyn, it's called new Square and its miles north of New York City. He says the news: where has it? I'm actually see Brooklyn racism as to cosmopolitan these senior cities buses there? They engage with the surrounding culture too much larger degree of cinnamon news Are there they're just completely separate there's something very almost storybook like about their place.
Sure and me was literally built to recreate a shuttle from the old world, the guy who founded a rabbi. Out of use of wanted it to be a complete oasis from the decadence or temptation of the outside world. The Yom, because here were bigger men, women walked and different sides of the street. The house's looked like cottages and everyone here was Hasidic Shoreham loved. It owes very attached to My religious studies outs, ready for hours and hours. I would never miss. A Tisch attaches a religious beast Hunter of men, stand on bleachers all around a dining table where the rabby, their spiritual leader, sets They sing and e people too. So why there's something about that night being part of this? massive organism. We are together going to create this oneness
so that was his world a study from eighteen eighties until one day and ninety ninety six, when Schuller bought a computer, it was working with children at the school. I thought that I would use a computer he'd worksheets, particularly to teach children, had difficulty with with Tom and study the has. It can He does use technology there, not like the Amish, but they won't you. New technology that brings in the outside world really are banned, Sarah TVS, cars or frowned upon, because you DR somewhere you're not supposed to. Basically appliances are fine, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, photocopiers and when computers first came out, they were treated like up, I so his new computer arrived and show them open the box and Dover into them
actions. One of the things that came with the computer was three point: five floppy disk we AOL trial. So I put in this floppy Can it says, welcome you ve got mail, and this is all world this news, their shopping, there's chat rooms, Sean's mindless blown he'd, never seen anything like it. He showed his wife looked there all these people, you can talk to them and his wife said so. It's like a telephone except you have to type in short like well, you can speak to strangers and she said why You want to do that social and go online with the only person as family who shared his interest his three year old daughter. He was also mesmerized by the fact that you know this is a computer and this is printer and she would like keep saying that over and over again pewter printer pewter printer
was s mesmerized by a well as I was. Show started his explorations as close to home, as he could on this new thing called the internet and AOL chat. Called the jewish community I'm jewish I'm good time with you, but here are the Jews. So you know that's have a conversation with its. Let's hear what they're about cuz I'd assume that if your mission- you're, not observant its proper We because you just don't know all we need whose get somebody to teach you the laws and show you and then you'll be totally on board and suddenly like hear people now, then all about it. They they d They were not ignorant at all. They know he does. He has different different version of Judaism was a very, very, very new kind of thing. For me to hear shown, discuss You liked hearing new kinds of things. Any
to hear more of them, which meant he got into his car and throw it to a place. He was never supposed to go. The one place that contained everything the people of New Square were trying to keep out I drove to the public Library and Spring Valley. Just sat. There likened the children section. I can name next to a little kid paging furiously through Bernstein bears. I was reading about you know whatever the encyclopedia offered than I was paging around and then realize always alphabetical. So yes omen for the J book in the J Book this these Jews and these Judaism and I went for the eye book to see what they say about Israel There's so much information about Jews, look at how the gleam look at like they know about Jews too, it was very fascinating to me, to see how the writers of a second encyclopedia perceive Jews and the Jew religion. They were talking about Jews, as if like
Albert Einstein and an Sigmund Freud were important. Jews into me apply sound Sigmund Freud when important Jews, important Jews were like Russia and the US some sulphur and the Bolshevik of language they bringing these people like Theatre, hurt, saw an important jus like since, when after Jews, Judaism and Israel Shillin looked up, see for computers, and then he looked a pop culture, the Beatles Bruce Bring scene and then countries, Botswana, Brazil. It wasn't? Just acquiring information was experiencing exposure right. It was only- I was travelling if there was ever any doubt but the library was a dangerous place for the people of new square show. Em was exhibit a just a couple of months. Have first visit to the library he got even deeper, into the secular world. He watched a movie, first time Beethoven, the one about the lovable Saint Bernard and it didn't stop. There are certain to block. Was due to your movies, there's something about it,
into a new place. That gave me anxiety, I wasn't sure like, Did you do it? How did you behave and so gal? I first went to blockbuster was really weird, because I looked like a facet incomplete The garb and browsing the Isles of Black was there, and I was absolutely certain that the guy behind cancer had his eye on me. Were you worried? many- would see you- oh god, yes, there was a babies. Are us right there? and many a hesitant women came to shop and babies around. As always paranoid that there would be some some minivan somewhere with some hasidic guy from Muncie dropping his wife of babies are us and they would catch a glimpse of me going into blockbuster. He bought his own tv smuggled out of costs, go in a black garbage bag and hidden and
home in a closet, then he started reading the New York Times in the back of his car. He was in deep and constantly worried that someone would catch the stench of secularism on him around we're getting out of my car and I had to blockbuster boxes. In my arm, and I would usually like stick it into my coat under my arm so that you can see and was one time where I was just coming out of my car with those boxes and they fell on the floor. Just as two men were passing and I was absolutely horrified it's like being naked in public, I quickly sort of grab them pick them up and struck them back under my arm. They didn't give it a second glance they they didn't know at the blockbuster logo was Two thousand too, though they did know what the internet wise and they knew it was dangerous. People put apply. New square, laying out a new rule, no computers
in short community. When a rule was passed, it was a big deal, but the way those rules, were actually enforced, might surprise you, enforcement with strict but also informal, and that's because the people in charge, keeping you in line were usually your neighbours, which was easy, has new square is very close net people actually old houses in each other's backyards. If someone found You had a secret tv, a volunteer organ, station called the Modesty Committee might decide to break into your home and confiscated, and most people welcome this. After all, the rules were in place to help them hold onto their faith, to keep them safe from the very thing that happened to show em just six years after he'd first bought that computer, He was still living like a house said dressing like one, but he didn't feel like one of struggling with. All these Questions like this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense, but maybe maybe It live as some sort of cognitive dissonance, and maybe I can make my peace with that now remember
One morning I sort of still have image. In my mind I was getting ready for prayers. I was no longer praying at the synagogue, but I was like yeah. I still have to pray it didn't pray, my wife would get pissed and so on. In our dining room, trying to just do my prayers and to fill in straps, put them on really quickly and putting my echelon and- and I had this thought- like I'm, not a believer But just now- and with something both liberating about that about like realising that ok struggles over, like I just no longer believe, but at the same time felt like there was this chasm opening up between me and but he out, and that was getting wider and wider and that was strange and unsettling because I didn't want to be different.
I really didn't want me different. I didn't want to see the world in ways that everybody around me sought: the complete opposite and most scary of all. There were people he lived the other side of that chasm. His family, his five children. Even if we did want to leave? Where would you go? I didn't have the concept of liking I'm too tired or New York. Meme got didn't Boston right now that those things like think that way. When you're in acidic world, you need to be attached. I felt like I could really communicating negotiating, was still a lot more comfortable to me. I'd lacked just basic references. And now I was feeling imprisoned and I was getting angrier angry. An angrier by the day had nobody to speak to you about it.
After the break, Joan finds people, lots of people actually, and the twenty first century in the nineteenth century. Finally collide. This episode is brought to you by better for it a new podcast from HTTP hosted by Francesca Ramsay. We all make mistakes better food of visionaries and business leaders and helps them think differently about what their working for you'll hear from an entrepreneur who ventured out on his own, and so I went out. I took seven hundred dollars. I had in the bank, but my own pickup truck took some flyers business cards and a week later I had a business and in each our rules. Later I had a business and in each hour, rule breaker, whose learn
while we all care about work in the first place. You are proud of the work You want to be able to tell your friends about it. You want to be able to feel like you're, making a different you'll hear how they work their way through their mistakes and came out better for him. Listen on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And now back to the show, so before the break, she dean had lost his faith, and he didn't have anybody to talk to about it, except he did have someone to talk to the internet. He did what will do when their frustrated online. He started a blog sure I'm Dean DA blog spot dot com and then the first thing I did was you know, I posted a couple links of something Firstly, in the news it was uninjured, nobody is waning, and then one day I really angry about something happened. It happened and Williams word.
Sure, I'm being shown, the thing that made a mad was complicated and religious it had to do with OZ of Sabbath during Sabbath. There are things that order. Shoes are not allowed to do outside their homes. No carrying objects something smaller keys, no pushing problems, but in I'm orthodox communities they put up. What's called an air of literate. A long piece of string around a big section of the neighborhood to turn it into a private space. See you're sort of inside your home, a lot of Knox communities do this? There is an error in Jerusalem, but the Arab can be controversial to some orthodox. Communities. Think it's cheating, so this group decided they were going put up in Arabic. Williamsburg so that people can carry, and then this other group decided that they can and there were these- you know weekly scuffles and people which is beating each other up and
spitting at each other? People would be yelling at women who were pushing baby strollers and then one saturday there was some intense fighting people got arrested and the new times wrote about it really really really angry youth You shouldn't have an air of sir don't use it. I wrote it and just settle what the fuck is going on, and why our society, so dysfunctional, so messed up. The blog got a lot of it Pension from the outside world newspapers wrote about it so to protect himself change the blog title to pseudonym hasidic rebel, but even if people community didn't know that he was blogging, they started to know. So there was something off about him like one day riding the hasidic bus openly reading us gondolas book. What's the book the books called one people two worlds, and orthodox rabbi under a form rabbi discuss the issues that divide them the man next time- someone he knew asked about the book and so his
the question was whether this is interesting for you. This I was like yeah, I'm coming We to see your nose, fastening discussion back and forth now. Go and it keeps saying. But but how can you read this, but its heresy He said screaming at me clearer These are big, Ursus and Human, red in the face, and then he sort of like lunged at me, and try to grab the book out of my hand, and we we have had like a tug of war like back and pushing Emily's pushing me. I just like elbowed him in the chest and got the book back and grab my briefcase and then just went to the back of the bus Once behaviour continued to deteriorate, it was like he was becoming news whereas version of Lindsey low hand, he stopped, Having synagogue enduring prayers He would hang out in an empty classroom where couple other young, hesitant men. So doubters started to turn up people in his commission. Were whispering that he was as Seddik rebel.
And then one Sunday evening in two thousand five shillings, dinner with this family when you got a phone call, a man asked if he could. To the village council that night. I thought they. Whenever chat with me, There were rumours they wanted to get to the bottom of it. I was anxious. I knew this would not be and in the room, there's a table of seven men, rabbis and village elders should firstly, set as we hear rumours that you're not believer. They said I need to leave. Matters like give up. Your God. Membership of the ordered me to move so my house get out and get out of town, and I didn't see that coming. Joan tied to reason with them to buy himself more time- and I said, I'd have to go home and shoot my wife and see how she feels about it. They were expecting this one of those rabbis suited nodded
signal to another one and the other one took document out of his pocket and said read this, and it is a document that, like an open letter, to the orthodox jewish community, saying that this person should indeed has been found to hold heretical views, and is it agitator in an instigator which is a traditional term of homework term for people who try to turn others away for people trying to corrupt others, therefore just stay. From him and you know: don't employ him, don't let him into your home, then let him into your school. So I'm going to run to your synagogues that they, like don't let your kids be friends with his kids. At that point, I realized okay they're, not messing around. They want me out of here. Social and left he moved with his family, to another historic town near by, but his wife couldn't get comfortable there. His He didn't have any friends, and then Mr Old Home and his wife, understandably resent
Show him for all this for drag her along on his shameful journey into secularism. So after a few years Suleiman his wife agreed to divorce. The kids would visit on weekends storm was an atheist at this point, but he played the part of a good Hasidic, a father His kids visited. I would wish a stronger more. Would we are you know the long coat in a sort of foe, still kind of thing that you were in the same ascend? I will take them too sure we would have the sharpest meals and we would sing songs and I would tell them when they're doing something that is a violation of the laws of the Sabbath. He didn't tell them. At the world, but at times you tempted like when his this daughter, then twelve told him she was practicing dance recital at area Shiva. It seemed to me. Like you know. These kids are like they ve, never seem real dance, and I wish I could show them the dance sequence in fiddler on the roof I really wanted my daughter to see website story. Why
like. What did you think would happen if she saw it look? What do you think would happen in her? If she would be delighted I wanted her to be delighted, but but, could never show them. Those things like that that I couldn't do by it didn't after that show em tried to shield his kids from outside influences. He'd become one of those outside influences. Nobody trusted him anymore slowly one by one is kid set they didn't want to visit so sure I'm ended up going to family court. Forces ex wife to send them. The court ordered them to come and they came- and they simply would not engage their wooden look at me. They would not speak to me, they would not eat any of my food. They had I'm very suspicious of me love my children, like I like I mean you have children, anyone who has children and your attached to them. You loved them right. They will look at me. They wouldn't speak to me. I asked. Did you really never want to see me again? I guess that actually
you want that. That's that was my question to them and they said yes, that's what they said and so I made this decision to say to them. I'm not gonna force you in hindsight, I still don't know if that was the right thing to do. Maybe an and sometimes I think like. Maybe I shouldn't have given it. Maybe I should have been like no court ordered you to be here. I don't care? If this kills, you you spend two hours in my home every single week for the rest of your childhood life right. But I didn't think this would be final. I actually I could not. I could not have imagined it When I met you last night at the seven years since he seen his kids, he does I'll keep tabs on him. Now there are couple guys in new square that he does favours for and in return for as favours these guys secretly photograph his kids when
they see them in public. Gets the photos on his found. So he just send me this. Allow hillocks, like you pictures of one son at the grocery store? I'm almost ready for his bar mitzvah pictures of him other son, his youngest biking down the street and others eldest daughter, the one that sat in his lap when he served AOL chat rooms. He watched you're getting married well you sure you, though wedding that Rome crying children spend spent that evening and of his computer. He had his spies. You on the girl side to the boy side, a and photos The wedding was happening. I dont know how to describe that feeling of getting those first photos this is actually her getting married. I haven't seen her, just a little sullen angry teenager now.
The bride it was in and to me- and I was sitting There- and like, and then I get more photos and had all I can do is just sit. There, look the photos and cry I mean: do you think it was like. The finality of the situation or a me. What what's the thing tat was most Drastic it was, it was my kids, my family, having celebration without his back And here is my daughter and an eye sufferers of my other donors and my sons and happy, even though I'm not bear my house How could she be so happy, and you know Hell selfish, like like. I shouldn't be thinking TAT weird thing is I don't of other people? Have this their oldest once it was so
thing, about when she was born. That was that had lifted me out of a pretty dark, some getting married to someone- I didn't really want to get married to one of things. Happened when I saw those photos. Until then, I missed my daughter in a way that I thought I loved her so much. They thought that somewhere underneath ask me some magic wait, a sort of female get that spark rekindle right, midnight somewhere. She still who members me as a father. And done As for those who are, maybe she does care, etc. Slack There was something that was over.
I am sure I am given everything that happened if he ever wished. He hadn't put that AOL floppy dusk in his computer, look so much, I don't speak out what I went through in the three four or five years. I was quasi home for a while. I was living in a place where I had to you industrial strength, poison to get rid of the mice and when they left wing rats literally. But you need to take the journeys that you need to take an, and I think that staying No, now you do not want to stay ignorant. You do now now I want to stay in a world. Where were you no information but like if you knew today that you would never get your children back, that there will never be a point in time for the of your life, that one of them would call you reach out to you would use I feel that way
put in the air while this scope wasn't miserable. At that point, I was pretty ok within the community. And if I really knew the slipping in that disk, if it meant giving up my children meant losing those seven years. No, I would not have chosen it because I would have been too weak to do that. If you asked me, was this the right step for you? Of course it was of course it was that's where it is meaningful to say in children will come back show me: Kids are now firmly on opposite sides of the chasm about trap, thereby the things they now believe shall I can't go back to believing what used to so. Instead he's traded one kind of faith for another. He now
to believe that one day, his kids, some them anyway will join him on his side, yeah thirdly bimini as a producer of Russia next week or actually Can you show em story? We find out how the very internet, the ticking away from his family, can torn from his community. How that Europe might actually bring him back and will hear the other side of this how stories like this one look to the historic community. That's right or doing our first partner, miles hosted by me, PDA vote announced common reduces. By TIM, Howard, shrewdly Bimini and edited by Alex Bloomberg, were mixed by David Herman children a book about his experience, has taught us all who go do not return. You violet to buy it on our website. If you're interested special there two Sylvie Douglas Emma Jacobs, James Homework and nearly Gillis
that leaves a window and room reading. Think there was one hour. Music by the mysterious master, cylinder and add music is by build, invite more areas you also an extra materials at the sub aside at dig dot com. Extra materials from this episode at dig dot com. Our website is reply, all diamonds which is designed in partnership with athletics. Thanks for listening, we'll see you next Wednesday.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-13.