Reply All: #23 Exit & Return, Part I
May 7, 2015 7:23 AM - Subscribe

In 1996 Shulem Deen was a 22-year old Hasidic Jew living in a small, isolated community in New York. He bought a computer and innocently installed America Online from the included floppy disk, and had his first 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.
posted by radioamy (6 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting to note that the village Shulem lived in (New Square) is part of the East Ramapo Central School District, which has previously been covered on This American Life.
posted by noneuclidean at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Although I suppose the basic story behind this episode is as old as time, this was still heartbreaking. Especially since it sounds like Shulem didn't even mean to start exploring, he just stumbled upon it. Hearing him talk about his daughter's wedding was painful.

I can't believe that he lived basically a double life for seven years. That's a long time to deal with that amount of cognitive dissonance. His wife must have known what was going on. That must have been so stressful. I wonder if it was actually a bit of a relief when he was finally confronted.

I'm dying to hear next week's Part II. Also, it's nice to hear from Sruthi, although I am glad there was a healthy dose of PJ & Alex since they really "make" the show.

noneuclidean, thanks for the TAL link, I'll have to check that out.
posted by radioamy at 3:40 PM on May 7, 2015

Heartbreaking indeed. The part of the story where he was on the bus reading a book was especially powerful I thought. I think the thing that surprised me most was that they stated (I think) that he is now atheist. I guess I would have expected him to become less (or non-) orthodox instead of full on nonbelieving. Next week's episode should be very interesting.
posted by noneuclidean at 4:36 PM on May 7, 2015

I think the opening where they were talking about the Hasidim in Williamsburg was a little confusing - at first, I thought that Shulem was currently living in that community (after leaving the community in New Square), and was wondering how that would go. I actually listened to the beginning again just to verify that they hadn't said anything about him living there.

This was something that I hadn't even thought about - especially it taking until 2002 for them to start to classify computers and the internet differently. I mean, in retrospect it's not that surprising that an isolated community wouldn't quickly grasp the implications of new technology, but the internet is literally for connecting to different people and more information. And I know people who grew up in isolated religious communities, but none that were quite this isolated.

I'm really curious about next week.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:23 AM on May 8, 2015

I'm about halfway through the aforementioned This American Life episode. The Hasidim there are...intense.
posted by radioamy at 10:02 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

The descriptions of elders getting red in the face from anger, spitting at him, slapping books out of his hand -- it's like a gothic fairy tale of abuse.

I live in Amish country and there are similar stories, but without the physical violence (as far as I know). The culture gives you an opportunity in your teenage years to explore the "English" world and opt-out of Amish culture. But if you do, then you can't ever return. It's a complete cleaving, a banishment.

I can't imagine waking up one more and having thoughts about religion that would force everyone I know to stop interacting with me completely. What a mindfuck.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:06 AM on May 10, 2015

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