On Thursday morning, I was alerted to a Facebook post by Pearl Perry Reich that effectively outed someone who currently lives in the orthodox community as a lesbian and secretly OTD (off the derech aka not religious). My first response was to call Pearl but I got no response. When I messaged her she blocked my number and my messages weren’t going through. I then messaged her husband Shauli who was tagged in this post but his response was even more troubling. He essentially told me that because the person in this post had spoken negatively about Pearl five years ago when Pearl was going through her custody saga, she deserved to be outed this way.
When Pearl became famous a couple of years ago she was seen as a hero to many people who lost their children in custody battles because they chose not to stay religious. The outcome of many of these cases had nothing to do with whether the parents involved were good or bad parents but rather which one had enough support from their religious community to fight their ex with years of legal proceedings and legal fees that range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then there was Pearl Reich: she and her boyfriend sat proudly on National TV and finally said what so many of us were thinking, that parents shouldn’t lose custody over their children simply because they chose not to live a religious lifestyle anymore.
But what felt like a moment of triumph in OTD history of finally fighting back, what was almost like a Stonewall moment created something that would finally come back to haunt us and is now knocking on our doorstep. By being so public about their journey, Shauli and Pearl acquired thousands of followers. The fact that Pearl was never shy about her looks helped this too (I personally have no issue with people showing off their assets if they can benefit from it). They became very popular in many circles but at the same time as was frequently the case when speaking out against religious communities years ago, they became even more hated and talked about, which in turn only made them even more popular in the online communities. This created the brand that would become known as “Save Penina’s Children” which was talked about as a support group that was supposed to help people going through similar custody battles. Perl Reich’s formal name is Pennina and the group was spearheaded by her and Shauli.
Fast-forward to three years later. Tens of people have come forward to me personally and said that Pearl or her organization didn’t in fact ever help them or anyone they know. I have yet to meet someone who was able to provide a reliable example of how Pearl actually helped them even though she had a Facebook group with over 2,000 members that was rumored to have been turned into a nonprofit that helps parents fighting religious communities over custody (Save Penina’s children). During these last few days, since my open letter to them on Facebook that I called out Pearl Reich for this terrible “outing”, a few people popped up on my Facebook page to claim that they were helped somehow by Pearl but couldn’t provide any legitimate examples of how. It was obvious that these people just wanted to defend Pearl’s disturbing post. In the meantime, there are many many parents in the OTD world that are going through terrible custody battles and the group that was once updated hourly by Pearl about all the people they were supposedly helping is nowhere to be seen or heard from in these custody cases. They aren’t featured on the Doctor Phil show or on the second page of the New York Post.
The thing is, with all this popularity comes a very powerful tool and that’s the ability to send a message to thousands of people within seconds by posting it publicly on your Facebook page or twitter feed. This is a tool and a privilege that needs to be used responsibly but has not been in the case of these people.
I can cite so many examples of outrageous statements that they’ve made over these last few years but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, there are basic rules, golden rules as some call them, that you NEVER EVER break under any circumstances. A golden rule in the LGBTQ community, a rule that I broke accidentally when I was young, new and stupid but never publicly, is that you do not out someone, ESPECIALLY not publicly. What was even worse, the person that was outed was also described by Pearl as OTD (off the derech) which put this person at risk of losing her own child.
Some have said that this was a personal fight and it was not our place to get involved, I disagree. When more details about the personal fight emerged, it became clear as day that Pearl’s decision was made AFTER this person had apologized for speaking negatively about her years ago and AFTER she begged Pearl not to disclose this information to the world. She even offered to pay them not to release this information but they responded by saying that the only way for the past to be in the past is for them to get even.
Some people have correctly pointed out that there isn’t an official OTD “community”. We are just a bunch of people who happen to be on or off the same path, depending oh how you describe it. But don’t be fooled, none of us represent each other or are responsible for the choices of others who live the same lifestyles as us.
Most of us were prepared to put this in the past having known that we did what we felt like was our responsibility to call out an immoral act that was being perpetrated by someone who claimed to have high moral standards. By outing this person, Pearl Reich put this person’s custody of her child at risk. Is that really the only way for one to be forgiven? The only way to receive penance from Pearl Reich is to let her do to you exactly what you did to her? And either way, what this person supposedly did to Pearl five years ago was FIVE years ago and this person repeatedly apologized for it. Gandhi once said that “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” That quote is very appropriate for this situation because if Pearl was really intent on making sure that this person was accountable she would have been a grown up and showed her that this is how you publicly treat people, like a mature responsible adult with grace who knows how to forgive. After all, isn’t that what’s supposed to make our community unique? But, the choice to out this person in the way that she did, she acted exactly like the community that she escaped and has criticized relentlessly over these last few years.
Finally, on Thursday evening, Shauli threatened a married couple that was once friends with them. They warned this couple that unless they removed their posts about Pearl and Shauli, they would release graphic sexual material of this married couple for the world to see. In some circles that is called revenge porn, some people call it blackmail, and our legal code calls it a crime that could land you in prison. To make matters worse, they are still threatening this couple as of 430pm today (January 2nd) demanding that they better meet them or else they will “publicize everything they know about them.”
Is this the type of dirty behavior that we are supposed to emulate? Are they the types examples of having successfully left the religious community and successfully kept their children?
I want people to know that it wasn’t easy to come to this decision to write these things but I truly believe that this information must be known to the world. This needs to be a moment in our history where we look around at ourselves and ask: is someone automatically fit to be a good parent just because they decided to go Off the Derech? Because based on the way Pearl and Shauli have chosen to treat so many of their peers, I can only hope that they aren’t raising their children to treat people in the same way.
To Pearl and Shauli, I’m not sorry that the truth is finally coming out but I hope you will use this as a lesson in life to never blackmail anyone ever again. We are not a mob, we are a group of people who believe in right and wrong the same way you claimed to have all these years, and we know that what you did on Thursday morning and the subsequent threats were wrong and are not something we are willing to tolerate. If you choose to release any sexual or graphic images of anyone please know that the authorities will be involved and you will be charged accordingly.
If you really want to put this behind you then you need to publicly apologize for your behavior and take responsibility for your actions and your actions alone. The person who you outed took responsibility for what she did to you a long time ago by apologizing to you numerous times and begging for your forgiveness BEFORE mercilessly outed her. I’m sure that had you not decided to publicly reveal such private details of her life, she would’ve considered apologizing publicly to you too. But it’s too little too late now and the only way history will ever have any mercy on you is if we know that you and others understand that using people's sexual orientation or other private details like their current religious status that they revealed to you in confidence, is not a card that you get to play without very serious repercussions.
I hope that in the coming year, we as a community will come together not for tragedies and public fights like this one, but rather to celebrate our accomplishments and better moments. It feels like too frequently we are coming together for a funeral or memorial, or a major online debate like this one that has dominated our lives over these past few days.