Malke grew up in NYC, in Queens, in the 8 blocks of the Lubavitcher sect. These are the same group of people who have the “corporate” side called Chabad. She is the oldest of 8.
Following her high school studies she went to Israel for a year. For most of her life she lived without TV, radio, movies, secular books or anything secular including college. While in Israel she learned about college and loved the idea of going someplace to study. However, this is not permitted.
When she came back home, she did not forget about college and could not help but feeling sad all of the time. One thing led to another and she left Queens to go live with her Grandmother in Manhattan. She did not even know how to read the subway maps – she never had to.
She started college and thought that she was the only person to leave the Chasidic community. After a year or so she started meeting other refugees. All of the people who leave have similar challenges to refugees from other countries:
- English is their second language – many are illiterate in English
- many do not have basic math skills
- no one has ever had to live their life by their own rules
- they never had to look for an apartment
- they have never had to apply for a job
- they do not have any pop culture references – who is Madonna? Brittany?
- they do not know the cultural norms in the secular world
- they have never encountered the freedom of sex, drugs and rock and roll
- they get severely depressed and have other mental issues
- although they are several miles from home many do not feel they can go back (even to visit)
Malke has set up a program to help these refugees. She now helps over 500 people.