Unprecedented Attendance Levels at Annual Footsteps Celebrates Gala Event in Noho
Footsteps, the organization that serves the needs of recent haredi expatriates, is recently seeing explosive growth. An unprecedented crowd showed up for its annual “Footsteps Celebrates” event, whose purpose is to celebrate achievements in the lives of Footsteps community members — individuals who have been aided by Footsteps in their quest for education, career training, counseling, fashion, art, courting and more.
The opening act after a half-hour of socializing was the Footsteps choir, a newly organized group of singers, harmonizers and composers. They sang a rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” in partial Yiddish and a specially composed song that poses the question “Which God” do you believe in to drive home the message of plurality and choice in religion. The lyrics were composed by Shauli Grossman, an ex-belz Hasid, who was an accomplished composer and singer in the Hasidic world before he left it for the free world. The theme of the “I’m Still Standing” song was that Foosteppers (aid recipients) are still standing on their two feet after leaving their highly strictured and structured past, having found alternate ways of living their lives without recourse to their erstwhile communities.
LYRICS OF “WHICH GOD”? (by Shauli Grossman)
In what god do u believe in, mine loves us both the same
Tell me which air you breath in, that you can’t just feel the pain
Don’t you hear the silent screaming, desires locked within
Scriptures can be twisted, and pictures cropped in
If you care, how I fare, if my soul really mattered to you
Would you stare, compare, would it matter what I do
If you walk, instead of talk, if you helped me all along
If you reach out like you preach about, I wouldn’t sing this song
Opening remarks were made by Mark Goldberg, chairman of the board, who is more accustomed to speaking before small groups of Footsteppers and prospective donors. At the gala event on June 7, however, he faced a crowd of about 300 ranging from Rabbis to reporters to donors to friends and family of Footstppers and of course the Footsteppers themselves whose accomplishments were being feted.
Later, the eminent writer (–unpious.com, and a memoir scheduled for release next year) and recently orator Shulem Deen talked about what it takes to dispel the myth that ex-haredi individuals are invariably “screw-ups”, as posed to him many years ago by someone in the community wary of leaving due to the bad rap system drop-outs were getting in the community.
Amy Klein, who alongside Mr. Deen recently engaged in a 92nd Street Y Friday night meal discussion regarding their religious pasts, spoke next. Mrs. Kelin is an accomplished journalist and presenter and is ex-orthodox but is not a product of a an Ultra-orthodox community.
Leadership awards were then meted out to Footsteppers. In the weeks leading up to the event Footstepppers got a chance to submit nominations for a slew of awards including impact within Footsteps, impact without Footsteps, mentoring & tutoring, welcoming newcomers and advancing voice and literature. Footstepper committees were then formed to choose the winners in each of the categories, which were awarded on June 7 by previous year’s recipients in the respective categories.
Closing remarks were made by the tirelessly dedicated executive of the organization, Lani Santo, who is involved in multiple initiatives to revitalize and reorient the organization to meet the burgeoning demand by people from all over the globe for its services.
The 2012 Footsteps Celebrates will be remembered as the first Footsteps event in which social media promotion by members and journalists was encouraged, as per a recent rejiggering of the organization’s policy. This, curiously, coincides with the Haredi community’s recent imposition of new, draconian strictures on everything Internet, banning social media altogether.
Footsteps Website: http://footstepsorg.org/
Lani Santo on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lanisanto.footsteps