After deciding to leave the ultra-orthodox Belz community in Stamford Hill, in 2012, Emily faced a long, lonely and difficult process of integration into mainstream society.
She also had to navigate and fight her way through the English court system for the right to send her children to a mainstream Jewish school, where they would get a full secular education, which would give them life choices. Her case ended up in the Court of Appeal, and resulted in a landmark judgement in her favour.
Emily realised that there was no support available to people like her and so decided to set up an organisation to help others making the choice to leave. She founded GesherEU in December 2012. It was registered as a charity in 2014.
Growing up in the Chasidic community, Emily felt increasingly frustrated and restricted. Despite expressing the desire to go to college and study, she was persuaded to agree to an arranged marriage at the age of 20. While raising her young children, she studied for her bachelor degree through correspondence courses: “I did this at night, when my children were asleep, and subsequently managed to gain a Postgraduate Masters in Education using a hidden internet router. My day job was teaching. I worked to become Head of English in a local Chasidic Girls School.”
Emily now lives in Harrow with her six children and is Head of English at a large, mainstream secondary school. She says: “My aim is to use my own experience of leaving to help others who make the same choice, and to show them that it is possible to leave the community and live a successful life.”
Trustees and Volunteers
GesherEU is run by a Board of Trustees, currently comprising four members who come from the ex-Charedi and wider (non-Charedi) Jewish communities. Board meetings are held quarterly.
The trustees are supported by an active volunteer support network. New volunteers are always welcome.
Thanks to funding from the National Lottery, GesherEU has been able to employ three part-time members of staff, in addition to our many volunteers.
Vicky Jones – Welfare Support Officer
Working directly with our members, Vicky provides practical advice and support, as well as a sympathetic ear. She helps our members to integrate into mainstream society, advocating on their behalf and liaising with bureaucratic organisations – such as benefits agencies, local authorities and family courts – and with other specialist support groups. She’s also helps members access counselling, and is responsible for safeguarding.
Vicky has worked as a disability employment adviser and as an outreach worker for homeless people. She’s also worked in women-only services and with sex workers. She lives in East London with her partner, stepson and their cat.
Moishy Wajnsztok – Community Coordinator
Moishy organises regular and varied social events for GesherEU, including pub and restaurant meet-ups, Friday-night dinners, online lectures, residential weekends away and trips to the theatre or concerts – many of which will be novel experiences for members.
He’s also in regular contact with members, checking in on them if they’re ill, marking their life events and helping them to connect with each other and build relationships. His aim is to foster a community within GesherEU, which will ultimately become self-sustaining.
Moishy grew up in the Charedi community in Belgium and London, before leaving eight years ago. He has worked in the housing sector and has three children. He now lives in North London.
Hilary Freeman – Media and Communications Coordinator
Hilary’s role is to raise GesherEU’s profile in the media and to maintain our position as an authoritative voice within the Jewish community.
She interviews members to share their stories, reports on GesherEU’s activities, writes content for our website and looks after our social media. She also liaises with journalists to get coverage in the general media and works with the trustees to develop our communications and campaigning strategies.
She’s an experienced freelance journalist, agony aunt and broadcaster, and the author of seven novels. She lives on a houseboat in East London, with her partner and their daughter.