Jewish and Individualistic: Leah Vincent


Raised in Pittsburgh in an ultra-Orthodox family, Vincent was cast out as a teenager for exchanging letters with a boy, and sent to New York. After years of struggling with her identity and sexuality, she has become an advocate for young women and people in oppressed communities; along the way she attended Brooklyn College and earned a master’s at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Earlier this year, Vincent published a well-received memoir, “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood” (Nan A. Talese).

“I promised if I survived I would bear witness to my story,” she says. And after hearing about the suicide of someone else who had left the ultra-Orthodox fold, she was spurred into action.

Vincent has worked within the OTD (off the derech, or no longer religious) community in addition to reaching beyond it to advocate for women’s rights; she has been active in Footsteps, an organization that provides support for Jews who have left ultra-Orthodox communities.

And her own journey is far from over. Vincent is currently adjusting to her identity as a cultural Jew, and rejecting ultra-Orthodoxy’s claim to Jewish authenticity.

“I think my experiences bring me irreverence,” she says. “And I try to bring my irreverence to everything.”

Vincent’s next project reflects her re-examination of her religious roots; she is writing a children’s picture book (with Samuel Katz and illustrator Aya Rosen) of Talmud stories, to reclaim the ones she feels are seen as uniquely Orthodox.

“There’s something beyond Israel, Holocaust and holidays” for Jewish children’s literature, she says.

Vincent has been thrilled at the reactions she has received since publishing her memoir, especially from Jews of varying backgrounds.

“I thought people would hate me for talking my truth,” she says.

Vincent is no longer ultra-Orthodox, but she is still working to influence that community to change and provide support for those, especially girls, who feel oppressed or trapped.

“The biggest problem is that the realm of women is centered around tznius [modesty],” she says. “You have to give girls something.”

Natural woman: Vincent is a partner in Handsome Brook Farm, which supplies organic produce to the NYC market.