Heidi Moses, the daughter of MK Moses – chairman of religious right-wing Yahadut Hatora party in an exclusive interview with WDG, on her bold exit from Orthodox society with two small children, coming out of the closet and joining politics as a lobbyist promoting social issues regarding women and the LGBT community
Heidi Moses, 34, grew up in Viznitz neighborhood in Jerusalem, as the eighth child of a ten-child Hassidic Viznitz family. Her father, Menachem Moses, who spent his entire life in politics, now functions as chairman of the right-wing religious party Yahadut HaTorah.
“My father, Tati, undoubtedly gave had last word in the house. We had such respect for him, to the extent that we never referred to him in the first person, but in the third person – ‘Tati hungry?’. Once I called him ‘you’, and he was shocked … so I found myself explaining to my father that even in our prayers we say “Blessed are ‘you,’ G-d…” and certainly he should feel equally respected. I was very attached to him; they called me ‘Tati’s Heidi.’ I remember that at night he was working late, and I so enjoyed seeing the light in his room lit, I used to come near the doorpost as much as possible, only to feel his energy. ”
And your mother?
“I always said that if my mother had not grown up ultra-Orthodox she would have been a scientist today. She is smart in an unusual way. When I was young she suddenly bought herself an accordion and taught herself to play in no time. The relationship between my parents was exceptional. It’s a relationship of true love, respect and dedication. This atmosphere permeated our home always and is how I plan to be with my partner.”
Why are such relationships considered exceptional the in Haredi society?
“Look, in Hasidic society there are many beautiful things. The songs – the music – still brings a tear to my eye. But it is very deceptive. In a detached and centralized society like this, where everyone behaves the same, dresses the same, the border between community life and a cult is thin. Viznitz for example, is simply, definitely a cult, if perhaps a benign one.”
What can make a Hassidic community a harmful cult?
“It’s what happens behind closed doors. When leaders exploit the title ‘Hassidic,’ while they do despicable things, and while others disregard or even assist them. Sexual harassment, incest, extreme repression of women, cruel psychological violence and much more. Such things unfortunately happen all the time and no one lifts a finger to stop them.”
Have you ever felt a sense of belonging to such society?
“I felt I belonged when it came to family, but I had quite a few conflicts between what is acceptable and my natural instincts, and I’m not talking about my sexual orientation, which I discovered of course at a later stage of life. For example, that I loved to play soccer with the boys, and that was certainly frowned upon.”
According to Heidi, when a girl turns 16 hassidic parents make a ‘Shidduch’ for her, finding her a man and assuming that the girl will commence the cycle of birth and family and everything will follow naturally. There’s no love involved. “One morning I was told about Itzhok, my match,” Heidi recalls. “I cried and begged them to leave me alone, that I’m just a girl who’s only 16 and 9 months old. my father told me that the wedding will be in a year, but for now we are only toasting ‘Lechaim.’ I trusted Tati.”
“Then he came, they put the two of us together in a room, and we both stared at the floor for two hours and didn’t exchange a word. Suddenly everyone came in and shouted ‘Mazel Tov!’ And an engagement celebration began. Before I realized what was happening, I had phones pinned to my ears with calls congratulating me. At this point… I became apathetic. I’ll never know… maybe they put something in my glass of water?”
Did it pass by the time of the wedding?
“So in the 7 months between the engagement and the wedding the couple does not speak or see each other, and I actually enjoyed it, maybe because I didn’t know what was waiting for me. And then the morning after the wedding, they shaved my whole head. Bald. And right after that they put a wig on my head. Needless to say, I had no part in choosing the wig.
“Married life, if one can call it that, was just hell. We both didn’t want to touch each other, there was no communication. It reached a level that he was constantly suggesting that he is from another Hassidic branch in order to evade commandments, for example on the wedding day, he invented that he was a Gur Hassid, a small segment of 5% of the hassidic population who do the commandment “fruitful and multiply” while fully dressed (I call it ‘homosexuals in denial’). I contacted a ‘groom’s guide’ to tell on him! Either way, two years later, at the age of 19, I had already given birth to my son Shlomi, and at 21 I had my daughter Ricky, my dear and beloved children.”
At this stage did you stop and ask how Tati let this happen?
“Of course. I was very disappointed. Here I had to accept that we are actually hurting the people we love most. Up until today, I never understood how you can hurt your child like that.”
So a 21-year-old Hassidic woman + 2 small children, in a relationship that destroys you?
“Exactly. And then began my deliberations, thoughts… terrible pain, feelings that cannot be avoided. Everything was black around me, and not because of the Hasidim. This feeling penetrates your bones, a feeling that doesn’t allow you to stay where you are for a moment, that treats you like a puppet on strings and causes you do the impossible: get up and leave.”
“Did I tell you I always knew that I was living in an oppressive society? So now I discovered that I was living in a cruel one too. The commandment titled “Nest disassemble” , in case you’re not familiar with it, I’m introducing it to you now: According to this commandment, if you want to eat the eggs in a nest, you must first remove the pigeon and only then take the eggs. So that’s what they did with my children. They separated them from me in the most cruel and inhumane way that you can imagine.
And I… I’m not willing to live in such a society that dismisses women. You can talk endlessly about how much religion is beautiful, but there is no oppression in the Torah that I know. The rabbis invented religion, took the Torah and use it as a tool to dig with. In my Torah, the Torah that I love, it reads “ways of pleasantness.” Between that and what really happened… there’s no connection ”
After a long fight, Heidi managed to bring her son and daughter to her and struggled to support them and raise them by herself. “Luckily today my parents accept our way of life, even accept the fact that my children don’t speak Yiddish. To their credit, they never really disconnected from me. They couldn’t. The disconnection was on my part, I never agreed to be in touch with them after what happened.”
It seems like you forgave them.
“Yes. Although no one ever apologized. But I have forgiven – for my life, for my children, my tranquility. You can’t carry such a heavy load. Also, today I understand that without these pains I wouldn’t have become who I am today, and I wouldn’t have had the privilege to help women escape from similar situations.”
The help Heidi is talking about is given by her to everyone who contacts her and wherever it’s possible. “Wherever I have something to give, I make sure to be there. For example, even today anxious LGBT teenagers call me and I listen to them, and, if necessary, support their process of coming out. And of course in politics… as a lobbyist in the Likud certain things are expected from me, but I allow myself to take my position, to places where I feel it’s important and I focus on the social aspect – especially on issues related to the LGBT community and to women.”
How do you see your story fitting your political activity?
“Let’s start with the fact that the focus of my activity is primarily the Ministry of Social Affairs. I want to establish a regulator for all the chaos that’s going on there. Until I achieve that I’m working to be elected, and when that happens I’ll change a few shocking habits, like establishing a ban on shaving brides in the Haredi community. In the LGBT community I have a strong interest in establishing legally recognized parental rights for LGBT parents. And when it comes to women there are endless things that need to change.”
So much work, is there time for love?
“Today I have a very great love, but it’s only in my heart. Unfortunately it is not realized, but I live with it and understand that it was sent to me at the time, for me to be able to taste it and feel for the first time what it means to hover over love. It reminds me of something – when I called the groom’s guide about my husband, he said, ‘You know Heidi what it is to sit in front of a person and cry from happiness and love?’ I didn’t understand then what he meant. When I met “her,” everything connected. Once when she came to visit me in the Knesset, we asked for someone to take our picture together with the knesset in the background. The second he took the picture we kissed. The picture came out amazing.”
Women at your age often dream of success, money, relationships, family, what’s your dream?
“To be selected to stand in the Knesset, to give my first speech, and to see my father in the audience and also my mother, Ricky and Shlomi, and “her”… with her charming kids who I love so much.”