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Unorthodoxly Orthodox

Social Work Student Yisroel Isaacs Seeks to Treat Secular and Religious Alike

November 19, 2012

“There are a few elements of why college is a no-no [in ultra-Orthodoxy],” he explains. “Universities are generally a co-ed place…. One other element is…when you go to college, you’re going to learn about the things that don’t necessarily agree with the Jewish religion. They think you won’t be a God-fearing believer that believes that the world is 5,773 years old. I am a God-fearing Jew, so you can tell me the world is however old you want to tell me, and I know I’m not gonna believe it. But not necessarily everyone would be as strong-minded as me.”

To even arrive at Post and, eventually, Touro, Isaacs had to demonstrate a thick skin, and let the concerns among Borough Park neighbors and peers roll of his back. But as he describes, “I was determined to receive an education to better my future career and self. My high school was very upset when they found out I was going. I believe for a better chance to be successful in life, a well-rounded education is important. I was a good student in religious studies, but I was always paying attention in class to have a good secular knowledge.”

As it happens, Isaacs first entered undergrad with the intention of majoring in business. Before long, he demonstrated flashes of that independent spirit by determining his passions lay elsewhere, even if it were in a significantly less lucrative area. “I was taking business classes because that’s what my friends were doing, so it was convenient for me to go with them,” he remembers. “Business wasn’t my calling, so I took classes in psychology, and that’s what I really felt was my calling, so I knew I wanted to be in the mental-health profession.”

His friends were among those who encouraged the transition. As Isaacs tells it, he’d long enjoyed being a source of consult and consolation for the people in his life, and it was clear that he ought to be nurturing that ability and pursuing a related occupation. “I was always helping people and interested in how the mind works,” he says. “And giving therapy to friends and random people who I would come across. It sort of came naturally to me.”

As he works toward maturing his readiness as a therapist and earning an MSW from Touro, Isaacs has begun musing about opening a private practice, one that treats patients from the secular and religious worlds alike. “My door will be open to everyone,” he offers. “As a social worker, that’s only fair and right. He also acknowledges, “I do speak Hebrew and Yiddish, so I could benefit more to that community. There are not a lot of therapists that speak those languages,” but reinforces, “That doesn’t mean I can’t work with anyone. I can have an ultra-Orthodox family coming to me, and I cannot relate in any way because the situation they may be dealing with is so tragic. Then I can have somebody who’s not Jewish come to me with a case that I have experience in helping with. So it goes either way. I would be a jack of all trades.”