Louise Leach: my journey from secular to Orthodox
The former singer tells her story to Freddie Sayers — and it's the opposite to the one you'll see on Netflix
Over the last year, two big Netflix series have featured women in Orthodox Jewish communities. ‘Unorthodox’ told the fictional story of a young woman from a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, outside New York, who escapes to Europe to join her mother and pursue a career in music. ‘My Orthodox Life’, tracks a real life fashion entrepreneur who begins her life in the orthodox community but decides, rather like the heroine of Unorthodox, to leave the community behind.
In each case, the communities are presented as somewhat sexist, conformist, stifling — and the happy ending consists of the women leaving them behind and being liberated to pursue their dreams in the secular world outside.
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But what about the opposite journey? It may not be featured in Netflix shows, but what about people who begin life in the secular modern world and choose to move into an orthodox community?
On this week’s UnHerdTV, Freddie Sayers meets Louise Leach, a former singer and star of the talent competition ‘Pop Stars’ who decided to join the Orthodox Jewish community after years of living what she describes as ‘the high life’.
She tells Freddie about her journey, what her commitments mean to her, and her hopes and fears for her five children growing up in the fast-paced, ultra secular city of London.
Thanks to Louise and we hope you enjoy.
This was very interesting to watch – thank you. It makes me think how the dominant paradigm wokeism is unable to prescribe what ought to happen, say, unlike Orthodox Judaism which has a clear set of rules, precedents and traditions. Wokeism is only able to describe what shouldn’t happen (i.e. oppression), and the only direction it can offer is being pro-woke (e.g. antifa).
Fantastic interview. Mirrors my own journey back to Christianity, albeit not one of belief in the literal truth of the stories, more the example of Christ’s life and death. Life has to be about something other than work and money and self, none of which makes you happy at the end of the day. I want a common system of belief, a sense of community, a life where gratitude, awe, understanding of duty and love are prioritised above everything else.
What is the word ‘awe’ doing in there? What do you mean?
Excellent, Freddie. Thank-you for this. I’m a 57 year old secular (atheist? not always sure just how to categorize myself these days) American man and yet I got a lot out of the conversation. I continue to be curious about connections. Things like this that seem to be a bit like gravity – something slowly pulling people from very different backgrounds in a common direction without them quite knowing why. Well done.
Fascinating to listen to this lady – clearly a warm, open and honest individual – in counterpoint to the prevailing ‘woke’ sentiments of secular (il-)liberal life. She, a strict orthodox adherent of what is often portrayed as one of the more ‘closed’ religions, seems to me much more open and accepting than most of the culture voices we hear in the media today.
Perhaps the deeper message here is that secularism is ultimately a moral vacuum, one which nature abhors. It is in this vacuum that we find the sweeping debris of religiosity – face coverings as a type of habit, critical race theory as a form of flagellantism, vaccination mandates as a form of crusade… – yet haphazard, lacking the codification and grounding of a formalised religion.
I would not be surprised if, in the coming years, we see the return of formal religions to the mainstream, for:
“Is not the greatness of [killing God] too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” (125, The Gay Science, F Nietzsche)
Perhaps the madman with the lantern came too soon, (as he himself ponders)? Perhaps we are not yet worthy of secularism. Perhaps we never will be.
Couldn’t finish the interview. Half way through, I don’t think she had much to say, nor had Freddy much to ask! Maybe I’m missing the point but …… So What! Some make one choice, others make a different one. I don’t get it. It was boring.
For myself, no thank you to the orthodox & brow beaten traditions and cultish way of living. I don’t believe that religion/ orthodox gives meaning/ grounding. It’s personal responsibility to you yourself that does. All I need to do is live responsibly and be accountable to that philosophy . I don’t need religious bodies to give me that authenticity. I am sure there are tons of people just as grounded without the need for religious boundaries or need to flock to them.
Anyway – it’s true that some aspects of the society seem to be changing with such force that it seems difficult to make sense of them. That hardly means orthodoxy is the answer. Everyone can join their preferred club. The real point to take from the bit I listened to was – am I not lucky to be living in a country where I can speak freely and not be shut down? I can carry on expressing my thoughts even if I am cancelled or loose my job . I shouldn’t but at least I can speak. Despite the big tech and the cancelling culture I am grateful to be here.
I think it depends on what you value. I’m guessing from your post that you see religion only as a source of repression and judgment. Others see it as a freeing them from materialist and individualist values they cannot subscribe to. It gives them a different source of meaning, a way of belonging, and some continuity with their culture and their past. They need to belong. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are any freer than they are. You are just compelled by different things. We ALL have our gods. But as long as you can find purpose and happiness through your own compulsions, good luck to you. Nothing is perfect and I take your point that the downside of shared traditions is the judgment you risk from the community when you break the rules. But as Louise sees it, she gets peace and fulfilment from the submission of her own ego, in order to play a part in something bigger than herself. That is not just the message of Judaism but of all religions. I’m guessing you are still young. In time you may come to understand the benefits of her view. I am not Jewish btw.
Of all the religions I find Judaism the most attractive. I like the sense of strong community, support and commitment and the fact that it is not a missionary faith. Plus they are generally very clever people. I do not include orthodox in this.
There is quite an enormous gap between ultra-Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy. That was not really explored. Any woman who actually wears a sheitel all the time is identifying with ultra-Orthodoxy. But she stays on the surface of things. Freddy’s questions were good and should have led to a more in-depth discussion, but she kept deflecting them. Too bad. Could have been a far more interesting discussion if the subject had been capable of a deeper dive.
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