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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

ratings:
4.5/5 (276 ratings)
Length:
369 pages
6 hours
Released:
Feb 14, 2012
ISBN:
9781439187029
Format:
Book

Editor's Note

Raw intensity…

Deborah Feldman writes with raw intensity in this memoir about her life as a member of a very stringent sect of Judaism. Netflix based its miniseries of the same name off of Feldman’s chilling experiences growing up as a Satmar Hasidic Jew in a New York City, seemingly so far removed from modern life.

Description

Written by Scribd Editors

Unorthodox is a story set in the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, later adapted to a Netflix Original series based on the novel's success. Unorthodox is Deborah Feldman's personal memoir of growing up in a family and culture of strict traditions and religious fervor.

Raised to not speak to others outside her community, to not be seen, and arranged to marry a man she did not know at age 17, Deborah Feldman felt trapped in a family she loved but wasn't fully a part of. She constantly wanted to know more about the world, both longing for and mystified by the cultural bustle of the big city.

After reading the books of Jane Austen, Deborah became committed to pursuing a more independent life. After giving birth at age 19, Deborah decided she and her son would escape from her community and family's traditions, to give herself and her son access to all the world could offer. Unorthodox is a charming, heartfelt book that combines joy, sadness, peace, and hope.

Released:
Feb 14, 2012
ISBN:
9781439187029
Format:
Book

About the author

Deborah Feldman was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She lives in Berlin with her son.

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Unorthodox - Deborah Feldman

Prologue

On the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday I interview my mother. We meet at a vegetarian restaurant in Manhattan, one that announces itself as organic and farm-fresh, and despite my recent penchant for all things pork and shellfish, I am looking forward to the simplicity the meal promises. The waiter who serves us is conspicuously gentile-looking, with scruffy blond hair and big blue eyes. He treats us like royalty because we are on the Upper East Side and are prepared to shell out a hundred bucks for a lunch consisting largely of vegetables. I think it is ironic that he doesn’t know that the two of us are outsiders, that he automatically takes our existence for granted. I never thought this day would come.

Before we met, I told my mother that I had some questions for her. Although we’ve spent more time together over the past year than we did in all my teenage years put together, thus far I’ve mostly avoided talking about the past. Perhaps I did not want to know. Maybe I didn’t want to find out that whatever information had been fed to me about my mother was wrong, or maybe I didn’t want to accept that it was right. Still, publishing my life story calls for scrupulous honesty, and not just my own.

A year ago to this date I left the Hasidic community for good. I am twenty-four and I still have my whole life ahead of me. My son’s future is chock-full of possibilities. I feel as if I have made it to the starting line of a race just in time to hear the gun go off. Looking at my mother, I understand that there might be similarities between us, but the differences are more glaringly obvious. She was older when she left, and she didn’t take me with her. Her journey speaks more of a struggle for security than happiness. Our dreams hover above us like clouds, and mine seem bigger and fluffier than her wispy strip of cirrus high in a winter sky.

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted everything from life, everything it can possibly give me. This desire separates me from people who are willing to settle for less. I cannot even comprehend how people’s desires can be small, their ambitions narrow and limited, when the possibilities are so endless. I do not know my mother well enough to understand her dreams; for all I know, they seem big and important to her, and I want to respect that. Surely, for all our differences, there is that thread of common ground, that choice we both made for the better.

My mother was born and raised in a German Jewish community in England. While her family was religious, they were not Hasidic. A child of divorce, she describes her young self as troubled, awkward, and unhappy. Her chances of marrying, let alone marrying well, were slim, she tells me. The waiter puts a plate of polenta fries and some black beans in front of her, and she shoves her fork in a fry.

When the choice of marrying my father came along, it seemed like a dream, she says between bites. His family was wealthy, and they were desperate to marry him off. He had siblings waiting for him to get engaged so that they could start their own lives. He was twenty-four, unthinkably old for a good Jewish boy, too old to be single. The older they get, the less likely they are to be married off. Rachel, my mother, was my father’s last shot.

Everyone in my mother’s life was thrilled for her, she remembers. She would get to go to America! They were offering a beautiful, brand-new apartment, fully furnished. They offered to pay for everything. She would receive beautiful clothes and jewelry. There were many sisters-in-law who were excited to become her friends.

So they were nice to you? I ask, referring to my aunts and uncles, who, I remember, mostly looked down on me for reasons I could never fully grasp.

In the beginning, yes, she says. I was the new toy from England, you know. The thin, pretty girl with the funny accent.

She saved them all, the younger ones. They were spared the fate of getting older in their singlehood. In the beginning, they were grateful to see their brother married off.

I made him into a mensch, my mother tells me. I made sure he always looked neat. He couldn’t take care of himself, but I did. I made him look better; they didn’t have to be so ashamed of him anymore.

Shame is all I can recall of my feelings for my father. When I knew him, he was always shabby and dirty, and his behavior was childlike and inappropriate.

What do you think of my father now? I ask. What do you think is wrong with him?

Oh, I don’t know. Delusional, I suppose. Mentally ill.

Really? You think it’s all that? You don’t think he was just plain mentally retarded?

Well, he saw a psychiatrist once after we were married, and the psychiatrist told me he was pretty sure your father had some sort of personality disorder, but there was no way to tell, because your father refused to cooperate with further testing and never went back for treatment.

Well, I don’t know, I say thoughtfully. Aunt Chaya told me once that he was diagnosed as a child, with retardation. She said his IQ was sixty-six. There’s not much you can do about that.

They didn’t even try, though, my mother insists. They could have gotten him some treatment.

I nod. So in the beginning, they were nice to you. But what happened after? I remember my aunts talking about my mother behind her back, saying hateful things.

"Well, after the fuss calmed down, they started to ignore me. They would do things and leave me out of it. They looked down on me because I was from a poor family, and they had all married money and come from money and they lived different lives. Your father couldn’t earn any money, and neither could I, so your grandfather supported us. But he was stingy, counting out the bare minimum for groceries. He was very smart, your zeide, but he didn’t understand people. He was out of touch with reality."

I still feel a little sting when someone says something bad about my family, as if I have to defend them.

"Your bubbe, on the other hand, she had respect for me, I could tell. No one ever listened to her, and certainly she was more intelligent and open-minded than anyone gave her credit for."

Oh, I agree with that! I’m thrilled to find we have some common ground, one family member whom we both see the same way. She was like that to me too; she respected me even when everyone else thought I was just troublesome.

Yes, well . . . she had no power, though.

True.

So in the end she had nothing to cling to, my mother. No husband, no family, no home. In college, she would exist, would have purpose, direction. You leave when there’s nothing left to stay for; you go where you can be useful, where people accept you.

The waiter comes to the table holding a chocolate brownie with a candle stuck in it. Happy birthday to you . . . , he sings softly, meeting my eyes for a second. I look down, feeling my cheeks redden.

Blow out the candle, my mother urges, taking out her camera. I want to laugh. I bet the waiter thinks that I’m just like every other birthday girl going out with her mom, and that we do this every year. Would anyone guess that my mother missed most of my birthdays growing up? How can she be so quick to jump back into things? Does it feel natural to her? It certainly doesn’t feel that way to me.

After both of us have devoured the brownie, she pauses and wipes her mouth. She says that she wanted to take me with her, but she couldn’t. She had no money. My father’s family threatened to make her life miserable if she tried to take me away. Chaya, the oldest aunt, was the worst, she says. I would visit you and she would treat me like garbage, like I wasn’t your mother, had never given birth to you. Who gave her the right, when she wasn’t even blood? Chaya married the family’s oldest son and immediately took control of everything, my mother recalls. She always had to be the boss, arranging everything, asserting her opinions everywhere.

And when my mother left my father for good, Chaya took control of me too. She decided that I would live with my grandparents, that I would go to Satmar school, that I would marry a good Satmar boy from a religious family. It was Chaya who, in the end, taught me to take control of my own life, to become iron-fisted like she was, and not let anyone else force me to be unhappy.

It was Chaya who convinced Zeidy to talk to the matchmaker, I learned, even though I had only just turned seventeen. In essence, she was my matchmaker; she was the one who decided to whom I was to be married. I’d like to hold her responsible for everything I went through as a result, but I am too wise for that. I know the way of our world, and the way people get swept along in the powerful current of our age-old traditions.

August 2010

New York City

1

In Search of My Secret Power

Matilda longed for her parents to be good and loving and understanding and honourable and intelligent. The fact that they were none of those things was something she had to put up with. . . .

Being very small and very young, the only power Matilda had over anyone in her family was brainpower.

—From Matilda, by Roald Dahl

My father holds my hand as he fumbles with the keys to the warehouse. The streets are strangely empty and silent in this industrial section of Williamsburg. Above, the stars glow faintly in the night sky; nearby, occasional cars whoosh ghostlike along the expressway. I look down at my patent leather shoes tapping impatiently on the sidewalk and I bite my lip to stop the impulse. I’m grateful to be here. It’s not every week that Tatty takes me with him.

One of my father’s many odd jobs is turning the ovens on at Beigel’s kosher bakery when Shabbos is over. Every Jewish business must cease for the duration of the Shabbos, and the law requires that a Jew be the one to set things in motion again. My father easily qualifies for a job with such simple requirements. The gentile laborers are already working when he gets there, preparing the dough, shaping it into rolls and loaves, and when my father walks through the vast warehouse flipping the switches, a humming and whirring sound starts up and builds momentum as we move through the cavernous rooms. This is one of the weeks he takes me with him, and I find it exciting to be surrounded by all this hustle and know that my father is at the center of it, that these people must wait for him to arrive before business can go on as usual. I feel important just knowing that he is important too. The workers nod to him as he passes, smiling even if he is late, and they pat me on the head with powdery, gloved hands. By the time my father is done with the last section, the entire factory is pulsating with the sound of mixing machines and conveyor belts. The cement floor vibrates slightly beneath my feet. I watch the trays slide into the ovens and come out the other end with shiny golden rolls all in a row, as my father makes conversation with the workers while munching on an egg kichel.

Bubby loves egg kichel. We always bring her some after our trips to the bakery. In the front room of the warehouse there are shelves stocked with sealed and packed boxes of various baked goods ready to be shipped in the morning, and on our way out, we will take as many as we can carry. There are the famous kosher cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles on top; the loaves of babka, cinnamon- and chocolate-flavored; the seven-layer cake heavy with margarine; the mini black-and-white cookies that I only like to eat the chocolate part from. Whatever my father selects on his way out will get dropped off at my grandparents’ house later, dumped on the dining room table like bounty, and I will get to taste it all.

What can measure up to this kind of wealth, the abundance of sweets and confections scattered across a damask tablecloth like goods at an auction? Tonight I will fall easily into sleep with the taste of frosting still in the crevices of my teeth, crumbs melting into the pockets on either side of my mouth.

This is one of the few good moments I share with my father. Often he gives me very little reason to be proud of him. His shirts have yellow spots under the arms even though Bubby does most of his laundry, and his smile is too wide and silly, like a clown’s. When he comes to visit me at Bubby’s house, he brings me Klein’s ice cream bars dipped in chocolate and looks at me expectantly as I eat, waiting for my remarks of appreciation. This is being a father, he must think—supplying me with treats. Then he leaves as suddenly as he arrives, off on another one of his errands.

People employ him out of pity, I know. They hire him to drive them around, deliver packages, anything they think he is capable of doing without making mistakes. He doesn’t understand this; he thinks he is performing a valuable service.

My father performs many errands, but the only ones he allows me to participate in are the occasional trips to the bakery and the even rarer ones to the airport. The airport trips are more exciting, but they only happen a couple of times a year. I know it’s strange for me to enjoy visiting the airport itself, when I know I will never even get on a plane, but I find it thrilling to stand next to my father as he waits for the person he is supposed to pick up, watching the crowds hurrying to and fro with their luggage squealing loudly behind them, knowing that they are all going somewhere, purposefully. What a marvelous world this is, I think, where birds touch down briefly before magically reappearing at another airport somewhere halfway across the planet. If I had a wish, it would be to always be traveling, from one airport to another. To be freed from the prison of staying still.

After my father drops me off at the house, I might not see him again for a while, maybe weeks, unless I run into him on the street, and then I will hide my face and pretend not to see him, so that I don’t get called over and introduced to whomever he is speaking to. I can’t stand the looks of curious pity people give me when they find out I am his daughter.

"This is your maideleh? they croon condescendingly, pinching my cheek or lifting my chin with a crooked finger. Then they peer at me closely, looking for some sign that I am indeed the offspring of this man, so they can later say, Nebach, poor little soul, it’s her fault that she was born? In her face you can see it, she’s not all here."

Bubby is the only person who thinks I’m one hundred percent all here. With her you can tell she never questions it. She doesn’t judge people. She never came to conclusions about my father either, but maybe that was just denial. When she tells stories of my father at my age, she paints him as lovably mischievous. He was always too skinny, so she would try anything to get him to eat. Whatever he wanted he got, but he couldn’t leave the table until his plate was empty. One time he tied his chicken drumstick to a piece of string and dangled it out the window to the cats in the yard so he wouldn’t have to stay stuck at the table for hours while everyone was outside playing. When Bubby came back, he showed her his empty plate and she asked, Where are the bones? You can’t eat the bones too. That’s how she knew.

I wanted to admire my father for his ingenious idea, but my bubble of pride burst when Bubby told me he wasn’t even smart enough to think ahead, to pull the string back up so he could place the freshly gnawed bones back on the plate. At eleven years old, I wished for a more shrewd execution of what could have been an excellent plan.

By the time he was a teenager, his innocent mischief was no longer charming. He couldn’t sit still in yeshiva, so Zeidy sent him to Gershom Feldman’s boot camp in upstate New York, where they ran a yeshiva for troublesome kids—like regular yeshiva, only with beatings if you misbehaved. It didn’t cure my father’s strange behavior.

Perhaps in a child, eccentricity is more easily forgiven. But who can explain an adult who hoards cake for months, until the smell of mold is unbearable? Who can explain the row of bottles in the refrigerator, each containing the pink liquid antibiotics that children take, that my father insists on imbibing every day for some invisible illness that no doctor can detect?

Bubby still tries to take care of him. She cooks beef especially for him, even though Zeidy doesn’t eat beef since the scandal ten years ago, when some of the kosher beef turned out to be not kosher after all. Bubby still cooks for all her sons, even the married ones. They have wives now to take care of them, but they still come by for dinner, and Bubby acts like it’s the most natural thing in the world. At ten o’clock each night she wipes down the kitchen counters and jokingly declares the restaurant closed.

I eat here too, and I even sleep here most of the time, because my mother never seems to be around anymore and my father can’t be depended on to take care of me. When I was very little, I remember my mother used to read books to me before I fell asleep, stories about hungry caterpillars and Clifford the big red dog. In Bubby’s house the only books around are prayer books. Before I go to sleep, I say the Shema prayer.

I’d like to read books again, because those are the only happy memories I have, of being read to, but my English isn’t very good, and I have no way of obtaining books on my own. So instead I nourish myself with cupcakes from Beigel’s, and egg kichel. Bubby takes such particular pleasure and excitement in food that I can’t help but get caught up in her enthusiasm.

Bubby’s kitchen is like the center of the world. It is where everyone congregates to chatter and gossip, while Bubby pours ingredients into the electric mixer or stirs the ever-present pots on the stove. Somber talks take place with Zeidy behind closed doors, but good news is always shared in the kitchen. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always gravitated toward the small white-tiled room, often fogged with cooking vapors. As a toddler I crawled down the one flight of stairs from our apartment on the third floor to Bubby’s kitchen on the second floor, edging cautiously down each linoleum-covered step with my chubby baby legs, hoping that a reward of cherry-flavored Jell-O was in it for me at the end of my labors.

It is in this kitchen that I have always felt safe. From what, I cannot articulate, except to say that in the kitchen I did not feel that familiar sense of being lost in a strange land, where no one knew who I was or what language I spoke. In the kitchen I felt like I had reached the place from which I came, and I never wanted to be pulled back into the chaos again.

I usually curl up on the little leather stool stashed between the table and the fridge and watch as Bubby mixes the batter for chocolate cake, waiting for the spatula that I always get to lick clean. Before Shabbos, Bubby stuffs whole beef livers into the meat grinder with a wooden pestle, adding handfuls of caramelized onions every so often and holding a bowl underneath to catch the creamy chopped liver oozing out of the grinder. Some mornings she mixes premium-quality Dutch cocoa and whole milk in a pot and boils it to a bubble, serving up a rich, dark hot chocolate that I sweeten with lumps of sugar. Her scrambled eggs are swathed in buttery slicks; her boondash, or the Hungarian version of French toast, is always crisp and perfectly browned. I like watching her prepare food even more than I like eating it. I love how the house fills with the scents; they travel slowly through the railroad-style apartment, entering each room consecutively like a delicate train of smells. I wake up in the morning in my little room all the way at the other end of the house and sniff expectantly, trying to guess what Bubby is working on that day. She always wakes up early, and there are always food preparations under way by the time I open my eyes.

If Zeidy isn’t home, Bubby sings. She hums wordless tunes in her thin, feathery voice as she skillfully whisks a fluffy tower of meringue in a shiny steel bowl. This one is a Viennese waltz, she tells me, or a Hungarian rhapsody. Tunes from her childhood, she says, her memories of Budapest. When Zeidy comes home, she stops the humming. I know women are not allowed to sing, but in front of family it is permitted. Still, Zeidy encourages singing only on Shabbos. Since the Temple was destroyed, he says, we shouldn’t sing or listen to music unless it’s a special occasion. Sometimes Bubby takes the old tape recorder that my father gave me and plays the cassette of my cousin’s wedding music over and over, at a low volume so she can hear if someone’s coming. She shuts it off at the merest sound of creaking in the hallway.

Her father was a Kohain, she reminds me. He could trace his legacy all the way back to the Temple priests. Kohains are renowned for having beautiful, deep voices. Zeidy can’t carry a tune for the life of him, but he loves to sing the songs his father used to sing back in Europe, the traditional Shabbos melodies that his flat voice distorts into tuneless rambles. Bubby shakes her head and smiles at his attempts. She’s long since given up trying to sing along. Zeidy makes everyone sing out of tune, his loud, flat warblings drowning out everyone else’s voice until a melody becomes impossible to distinguish. Only one of her sons inherited her voice, Bubby says. The rest are like their father. I tell her I was chosen for a solo in a school choir, that maybe I did inherit my strong, clear voice from her family. I want her to be proud of me.

Bubby never asks how I’m doing in school. She doesn’t concern herself with my activities. It’s almost as if she doesn’t really want to get to know me for who I truly am. She’s like that with everyone. I think it’s because her whole family was murdered in the concentration camps, and she no longer has the energy to connect emotionally with people.

All she ever worries about is if I’m eating enough. Enough slices of rye bread spread thickly with butter, enough plates of hearty vegetable soup, enough squares of moist, glistening apple strudel. It seems as if Bubby is constantly putting food in front of me, even at the most inappropriate of moments. Taste this roast turkey at breakfast. Try this coleslaw at midnight. Whatever’s cooking, that’s what’s available. There are no bags of potato chips in the pantry, no boxes of cereal even. Everything that is served in Bubby’s house is freshly made from scratch.

Zeidy is the one who asks me about school, but mostly just to check if I’m behaving myself. He only wants to hear that I’m conducting myself properly so no one will say he has a disobedient granddaughter. Last week before Yom Kippur he advised me to repent so I could start the year anew, magically transformed into a quiet, God-fearing young girl. It was my first fast; although according to the Torah I become a woman at age twelve, girls start fasting at eleven just to try it out. There is a whole world of new rules in store for me when I cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood. This next year is a sort of practice run.

There are only a few days left before the next holiday, Sukkot. Zeidy needs me to help build the sukkah, the little wooden hut we will all spend eight days eating inside. To lay the bamboo roof, he needs someone to hand him each stick as he perches on top of the ladder, rolling the heavy rods into place on top of the freshly nailed beams. The dowels clatter loudly as they fall into place. Somehow I always end up with this job, which can get boring after hours of standing at the foot of the ladder, passing each individual rod into Zeidy’s waiting hands.

Still, I like feeling useful. Even though the rods are at least ten years old and have been stored in the cellar all year, they smell fresh and sweet. I roll them back and forth between my palms, and the surface feels cool to the touch, polished to a sheen by years of use. Zeidy lifts each one up slowly and deliberately. There aren’t many domestic tasks that Zeidy is willing to take on, but any form of work related to the preparation for the holidays he makes time for. Sukkot is one of my favorites, since it is spent outdoors in crisp fall weather. As the days begin to taper, I soak up every last remnant of sunshine on Bubby’s porch, even if I have to wrap myself in multiple layers of sweaters to keep off the chill. I lie on a bed arranged from three wooden chairs, tilting my face up to the sun that falls haphazardly through the narrow alley between a cluster of back-to-back brownstone tenements. There is nothing more soothing than the feeling of a pale autumn sun on my skin, and I linger until the rays peer weakly above a bleak, dusty horizon.

•   •   •

Sukkot is a long holiday, but it has four days in the middle of it that are somewhat nonceremonious. There are no laws about driving or spending money on those days, called Chol Hamoed, and they are generally spent like any other weekday, except that no work is allowed, and so most people go on family trips. My cousins always go somewhere on Chol Hamoed, and I’m confident that I will end up tagging along with some of them. Last year we went to Coney Island. This year, Mimi says we will go ice-skating in the park.

Mimi is one of the few cousins who are nice to me. I think it’s because her father is divorced. Now her mother is married to some other man who’s not in our family, but Mimi still comes to Bubby’s house a lot to see her father, my uncle Sinai. Sometimes I think our family is divided in half, with the problems on one side and the perfect people on the other. Only the ones with problems will talk to me. No matter, Mimi is so much fun to be around. She is in high school and gets to travel on her own, and she blow-dries her honey-colored hair into a flip.

After two antsy days of my helping Bubby serve the holiday meals, carrying the trays of food from the kitchen to the sukkah and back, Chol Hamoed is finally here. Mimi comes to pick me up in the morning. I am dressed and ready, having followed her instructions perfectly. Thick tights and a pair of socks on top, a heavy sweater over my shirt to keep me warm, puffy mittens for my hands, and a hat as well. I feel swollen and awkward but well prepared. Mimi is wearing a chic charcoal-colored woolen coat with a velvet collar and velvet gloves, and I am jealous of her elegance. I look like a mismatched monkey, the weight of the mittens dragging my arms down comically.

Ice-skating is magical. At first I wobble unsteadily on rented skates, grasping the wall of the rink tightly as I make my way around it, but I get the hang of it very quickly, and once I do, it’s like I’m flying. I push off with each foot and then close my eyes through the smooth glide that follows, keeping my back straight like Mimi said to. I have never felt so free.

I can hear the sound of laughter, but it sounds distant, lost in the rush of air whipping past my ears. The sound of skates scraping over the ice is loudest, and I become lost in its rhythm. My motions become repetitive and trancelike and I wish life could be like this all the time. Every time I open my eyes, I expect to be somewhere else.

Two hours pass, and I find that I am ravenous. It is a new kind of hunger, perhaps the hunger that comes from delicious exhaustion, and the emptiness inside me, for once, is pleasant. Mimi has packed kosher sandwiches for us. We hunker down on a bench outside the rink to eat them.

As I munch enthusiastically on my tuna on rye, I notice a family at the picnic table next to us, specifically a girl who looks my age. Unlike me, she appears suitably dressed for ice-skating, with a much shorter shirt and thick, brightly colored tights. She even has furry earmuffs on.

She sees me looking at her and slides off the bench. She holds out a closed palm to me, and when she opens it, there’s candy, in a shiny silver wrapper. I’ve never seen candy like that before.

Are you Jewish? I ask, to make sure it’s kosher.

Uh-huh, she says. I even go to Hebrew school and everything. I know the aleph-bet. My name’s Stephanie.

I

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  • (4/5)
    A memoir by the author, this is a beautifully written and clearly expressed description of a young woman growing up in an extremely conservative ultra-orthodox society. So why did I give it only 3.5 stars? Maybe I should omit the stars. The reason is that I watched the Netflix series first. The power of the acting and the made for TV storyline is part truth, part fiction. While some of the events described in her hometown of Williamsburg, NY are true, others are altered for the sake of the Netflix series. The problems faced by Deborah Feldman in her memoir are similar, but far more complex than could be portrayed on the screen. How it happened and what exactly happened is not clear because Ms. Feldman does not describe her present life at all. One experiences more acutely the pain and suffering of not being able to fit into her own society and knowing from when she was only a young teenager that somehow she would find a way to leave. In the meantime, she is forced to marry someone who has no real emotional attachment to her and we learn the pain of her troubled marriage, problems with having a child and the isolation that she faces having to lie to her husband about reading books, going to classes and other activities that are normally acceptable for women in American culture. The pain, and perhaps the low stars, come, as others have said, because there is no obvious happy ending. Perhaps that comes in her second book, Exodus. I highly recommend it, but didn't find it as artful as the fictional account in the Netflix series. I think that is unfair, but I can't do anything about it now.
  • (4/5)
    I purchased Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots after watching the entrancing Netflix series that is very loosely based on this memoir by Deborah Feldman. I have discovered that Esty, the heroine of the TV series is entirely fictional; this book is about Deborah and her struggles within the Satmar Hasidic sect, which is congregated in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn, New York.The Satmar Hasidic sect is much more orthodox and rule-heavy than the Hasidim I have read about. There are rules for absolutely every moment of one's waking life, and almost no joy or personal satisfaction. The sect is devoted to the repopulation of the world's Jews to make up for the six million murdered by Hitler. Because of that, a girl's education ends at grade eleven, as there is no point in educating her further if she is to spend her life reproducing and serving her husband. It is a faith that has no other role for women, and I found myself rebelling against it even as Deborah does so.The focus on women as temptress and unclean is, in some ways, not far from our own. Women are covered entirely except for their face and hands: this modesty is to save men from sin. One of Feldman's teachers tells the class of girls: "every time a man catches a glimpse of any part of your body that the Torah says should be covered, he is sinning. But worse, you have caused him to sin. It is you that will bear the responsibility of his sin on Judgement Day."I was absolutely horrified by the fact that until a month before her wedding, Deborah knew nothing of sex to the extent that she didn't know that she had a vagina. I was disgusted by the fact that women's bodies are considered to be dirty, so there are two weeks of the month where the couple may not even touch hands, let alone anything else, and that somehow, out of this unclean vessel that is a Satmar female, comes a baby that is valued more than anything. How is that logical? Should not women be venerated for her ability to bring forth the new life that is so greatly desired?I got sidetracked. I'm not supposed to be reviewing Satmar Hasidic Judaism, but the book. However, you can see that it made me passionately angry, which tells you that the book was written well enough to bring on strong emotion in this reader.The characters were extremely lifelike and fully formed. I really liked Deborah's Bubby (grandma).What dissatisfied me was that the author was really coy about how she funded her escape from the sect. Part of her money was from selling her engagement ring and her wedding ring, but the rest? She had expenses. An apartment, gas and maintenance for a car, tuition at Sarah Lawrence, daycare for her young son. I don't know how she funded it, and yes, it matters. After reading all the very intimate details of her upbringing and her marriage, I felt that suddenly not telling the reader how she's funding this expensive new life was akin to untruth and it made me uncomfortable.If you are interested in different religions or Judaism as a whole, or in the suppression of women within in religious sect, this is a good book for you. I certainly found it an interesting and well-penned memoir.
  • (5/5)
    excellent. easy to read. glad she did this. thank you
  • (5/5)
    So sincere and realistic that it hurts. I loved how she resolved her conflicts.
  • (5/5)
    If you like books about crazy cults, or memoirs, this is a good book. I enjoyed it and read it very quickly. And then when you're done reading that you can get on Netflix and watch the 4-part mini-series. Amazing Story have a young woman who defied all odds to break away from an oppressive culture.
  • (4/5)
    بهترین آموزشگاه آرایشگری در اصفهان | خدمات تخصصی میکروبلیدینگ در اصفهان
  • (3/5)
    I was excited to read this book after watching the Netflix episodes- I wanted to hear about the author’s experiences of going out on her own and leaving the Hasidic lifestyle behind. Unfortunately there was absolutely none of that but instead we got pretty much every detail of her early teen years - not at all what I wanted to know that much about, so I’m very disappointed.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A good story about how a person is able to change her life for better, out of all the nonsense oppressions based on religious customs that are not a reflection of the love of God toward His sons.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (2/5)
    The story of one woman growing up as a Hasidic Jew in Williamsburg. The opening chapters, comprising Feldman's childhood, are strong and interesting. But once she gets older, the story starts running into problems.

    First of all, it seems a little generic: Feldman's problems with Hasidism and her Satmar relatives are the exact same ones commonly talked about in the media (such as sexual ignorance, mocking "immodestly" dressed women, the shunning of survivors of sexual abuse, disliking her "Jewish" nose and wishing to be blond&blue-eyed, etc). Obviously I have no way of knowing the truth, but I was a little suspicious with some of the anecdotes that Feldman shared, because they were so perfectly stereotypical and uncomplicated. She recounts seeing a young black man get beaten up by a bunch of Hasidic men who blame him for a recent burglary, for instance, but the tale seems told by rote, without any distinguishing details. I was more interested by the cultural nuances not displayed in news headlines, like her grandmother's cooking, the gift exchanging period between young people who are engaged, or the details of a mikveh.

    The other problem I had with this story is that the ending gets very vague. She says she leaves the Hasidic community and starts living on her own in New York, but there's no information on whether this was hard or easy for her, where she got the money to do so, or what it felt like to be suddenly cut off from a culture, community, and family she's been embedded in all her life. This book seems to have been written very shortly after leaving, and I think perhaps with more distance from the subject she could have done it more justice.
  • (3/5)
    An interesting look into a troubling world.
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    It is extremely difficult to break out of an insular community, to have to leave everything behind and start anew. On that level, I commend the author for her courage to write about her experience. It's a small peek into the Williamsburg Satmar community, but I have also learned not to take everything in memoirs at face value. In the end, what I took from this book is a young woman who was deeply unhappy in an insular community that can be very rigid; a community that values the preservation of the collective over individual freedoms.

    The ending did fall flat. Most of the book was dedicated to her middle/late childhood (sixth grade onwards). The end of the book, when she leaves the community, is covered in so few pages, one is left wondering why. How was she so easily able to take her child with her? Especially when she claims earlier in the book that no one has ever been allowed to leave the Satmar community with their children. The way this section is written is so matter-of-fact, sterile, even cold...it makes me think the author undertook the writing of this book too soon after she left.

    Ultimately, it was an interesting read, but one I also took with a grain of salt.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)
    A very brave book. Feldman used courage, skill and flair to write this amazing memoir of her life.

    It is so unflinchingly honest and heartfelt. Like many other memoirs it tells the secrets of religious cults such as the Satmars.

    Read this book and be amazed
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Fascinating/horrifying/myopic in the way that you might expect a 25 year old who has lived her life in a very sheltered religious community to be. Worth reading if you are interested in the Satmar/Hasidism/strict religious communities.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A young woman shares her upbringing and rebellion against her insular society. A picky point: she doesn't explain how she was able to afford to do so. Like Shulem Dean, who wrote All Who Go Do Not Return, her background is not typical of most people in her community.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)
    Shocking. Unbelievable. A disturbing kind of eye-opener. I had no idea about the rigid life of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews. Hard to believe that such communities exist here, in this country... No books, no singing or music even for children, and as for women - inconceivable rules of distorted behavior. The wigs! Not being able to show their own hair but in front of their husbands, having to shave their heads, but that's not all - the intimacy issue and rules about that, the mikvah ritual, etc. It defies all imagination. Some might say that there is a certain security about that kind of community - protecting its members from the "evils" of modern society, but at what cost!!! The author comes to "the conclusion that a society" (she means the regular society, not her rigid Hasidic community) "that was honest about its perils was better than one that denied its citizens the knowledge and preparation needed to fend off their approach".All this made Deborah Feldman, even as a young woman, "hungry for power, but not to lord over others; only to own myself" - a thing which she could in no way do in her present situation. She had to break off... It's really strange to see a memoir coming from a young woman of just 24. But it only shows how much she was "burning" to tell her compelling story and there was so much to tell...
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    A brave woman wrote this book and her spirit shines throughout. It takes exceptional courage to break out of the only life you've ever known, especially one as repressive to women as Hasidic Judaism seems to be. The story is a fascinating look inside this closed community where, like all communities, there is both good and bad. The author knew instinctively that she couldn't thrive where she was planted, and she knew this at a young age.

    The book is her journey from childhood to adulthood and how religious repression kept her from knowledge of even basic things. Women are kept mostly uneducated in Hasidic life, to such an extent that a young woman has no idea what to expect on her wedding night. Some women suffer from extreme lack of self esteem. Male children are taken into religious training at age 3.

    I applaud the author for saving her son and herself and for her courage in the face of fear and the unknown. She's wise enough to understand that some parts of her background are valuable and yet she can move forward with a spirit of adventure and freedom. Every non-Hasidic reader will learn intimate details of a cloistered religious segment of the population.

    The writing is straightforward and I would have liked to see more dialog. I liked the references and bits from other famous literary works.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I swallowed this book in two gulps -- I needed a pause at one point because the quiet, subtle, barely revealed horror of it required some digesting and distance. Deborah Feldman is writing a disguise for those she left behind, trying to tell the truth without hurting anyone too much, which means a good deal of what she went through is veiled, softened with gauze and Vasaline on the lens. So I could read a fair bit without realizing what I was really reading. It built up graduatlly, subtly, until it got heavy and fell on me.

    What is it like to be born and brought up in a community built entirely on the idea of not being part of the larger world, of being all the same in its difference, united in its rejection, holding itself up and proud because it was once despised and destroyed. And what if you, born into that community, were marked by its members already as not quite belonging, as requiring more than the usual hammering to fit into the mold? Wouldn't that excessive hammering actually cause you to spring out, spill over the mold's edges, maybe squeeze from beneath the hammer alltogether?

    That's how Feldman's journy struck me -- she was hammered and pressed and squeezed by what was said to her and about her, by the secrets kept, by silence and denial and "keeping things quiet" even though in the community nothing was ever really private. It was just necessary that certain people didn't know certain things, even if ignorance killed them, even if the gossip drove them mad, even if the silence permitted abuses and torments.

    A surprisingly easy book to read, I should say, until those steel jaws of realization snap closed.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    I absolutely loved this book. Not knowing much about Williamsburg's Hasidic sects, despite living in New York City, I came in hoping to learn about the community and why its cult-like oppression drove the author away. This book did all that and more. I loved the way she showed how many things in her early life she did love -- her grandmother's cooking, for instance, made my mouth water every time! -- but how distant she felt from everything. I was righteously horrified by the number of crimes covered up by the community solely for the sake of being insular, and I felt like I was right there with the author as she moved further and further from the disturbing ideal of a Hasidic woman: an empty receptacle for babies whose only interests are cooking and gossip. My only complaint about the book is that we don't learn much about her actual departure. Perhaps this is for legal reasons (I wonder if it occurred recently enough that there are still custody issues in the courts, something not addressed in the book), but I would have liked to see more about how she left, where she went, how she took her son with her when it was earlier implied this would be impossible, even how she reunites with her mother. (Her mother is introduced in the opening chapter but we don't see anything about their reunification at the end of the book, something I would have liked to learn much more about, especially given the revelation about why her mother left the sect herself.)I learned a lot from this book and I enjoyed the storytelling the whole way along.

    2 people found this helpful

  • (5/5)

    2 people found this helpful

    I can foresee that this book is going to be very controversial. It's an insider's look into the insular community of the Satmar Chasidim (a sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews). The author of this book is a young lady who grew up within this community and decided that its strict laws were not in keeping with her individual sense of freedom. I caution those who read other reviews to be aware that some might contain retaliatory sentiments.Personally, I thought this book was fabulous. I have read, on other book sites, how some of this story was "fabricated". As this is an autobiography, I'm not sure if this is true or not. However, the element of this writing that was most important to me was its feeling, what it expressed. I think that the author presented how she felt candidly and bravely. It's difficult to openly express opinions that stand in opposition to a very tight and controlling community.With that being said, I very much liked how the author educated her readers about this community. Many (though not all) of the Yiddish expressions were either translated or explained. I don't think that what was written was meant to be a diatribe against Chasidic Judaism but rather a plea for the ability of the author to have her own freedom away from intense scrutiny of others. This is so real! For those who have not read The Romance Reader, a novel by Pearl Abraham, I encourage you to do so. Abraham's book is a novel about a young girl in an ultra-Orthox Jewish community. For those who love books and reading, both Abraham's and Feldman's stories should be very appealing.For its content, writing style, and controversial subject, this book should easily hit bestseller lists and be the recipient of multiple prizes. I look forward to seeing where this book goes and more writing by its talented author, Deborah Feldman.

    2 people found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I lived on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg for a while. I was one of those reviled "hipsters". I have always been a little obsessed (in a research way) with religious extremism so finding myself in the middle of the Satmar community was very interesting (I'm not even remotely Jewish in any way). I had years before met a lesbian woman who'd left the Satmar community (wonder if it was Rachel Levy?). Devoured this book in a matter of hours - not simply because it was such a window into this world but she has a sharp and beautiful way with words. I was actually reading passages of this book out loud to my girlfriend.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Deborah Feldman got dealt a pretty bad hand in life; not the worst hand imaginable - others have endured far, far worse - but a pretty bad one nonetheless.

    I had a problem being straightforward about my review of her book because before having a chance to pick it up and see it for myself, I had already been inundated with various public opinions of her book, her message, her subject matter, her exposes of private cultural matters and the like.

    Still, I tried to bat all the biases out of my mind and did my best to view her book independent of outside influence. I found that the opinions of the many did not mirror my own. There seemed to be a begrudgingness the general public had to her material that I did not. Perhaps because I have a great deal of empathy for her, particularly sharing an extreme desire for enlightenment.

    I read that she was ineloquent. I found this not to be so. True, because of her cultural bearing she speaks a bit like Yoda, but I find this forgivable because clearly, she tries so damn hard with her flowery ye olde linguistic tendencies.

    I read that she lacked empathy for her community. Not so. She has loads of empathy for wherefrom she came, explaining all traditions to the best of her ability, no matter how much any such detail annoyed her to no end.

    However, I did read that she lacked empathy for her husband and other family members. I found this to be true. Every significant family member in her life is described as monstrous in one degree or another, zeroing in on that facet of their personality. Her husband is painted as a dogma-spewing spineless opinion-less Hasido-robot set on autofuck. I would venture to think there's more to him than is reported in the book.

    Interestingly, when she allows fuller descriptions of the human beings in her life, I find her reporting to be accurate. Why? Because I know several people in the book, know others who know several people in the book and have been in the company of of some as well. Her father is as described.

    There is an untruthiness problem in the book, however, which raises my brow. It seems that for the sake of sensationalism, she took poetic license by either a) creating some obvious fabrications and b) sinning by ommission of facts.

    To the first point, she describes Hasidic circle jerks, a homicide that would be an international-headlined sensation if it had a hint of truth to it, and too-coincidental numerological happenstance.

    To the second point, for curious brevity, she leaves out massive mounds of information, like the true history of her schooling, the existence of a sibling, and for the love of God, how on EARTH did she manage to get custody of her son, when several others in her position have flatlined in the attempt? Inquiring minds need to know!

    And this is what I mean by not having the worst hand imaginable. She did not get a 2, 7 offsuit. She got a 2, 6 suited and made a flush. Ultimately, this is a book about the quest for freedom, which she achieves. Good for her, she got what she wanted, at a young age, nonetheless. She has her son, she is free, she has a published book when others (like me) suffer years of rejection before either giving up or finally making it. (She knows how lucky she is in regards to her freedom and her son and her enlightenment, but I wonder if she knows how lucky she is with her book - yes, this is the jealous me talking).

    She did break my heart though, as she a) told too many whoppers in her book and cannot attain full credibility. b) took up smoking (Why? What for? Ugh!) and c) concludes the book with a grammatically incorrect sentence. Most of all, I cannot look past that.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I lived in NYC for 15 years and was exposed to the Hasidic community by working close to the Diamond District. Also travels to Williamsburg to go to Peter Lugars. I found this book facinating and terribly sad at the same time. I remember walking to lunch and seeing these women in their long skirts, thick tights and the wigs they had to wear in the dead of summer in the city... All I could think was I was wearing a tank top and a skirt and was overheated so I sypathized with the women and girls who had to wear all of those layers. The women always struck me as sad because they never smiled the men on the other hand as reflected in the book were dirty, rude and would literally knock a women down on the street if you didn't get out of their way.... I was always brought up to respect all cultures and religions but when I made a trip to Williamsburg to go to a restaurant there shortly after moving to NYC I go lost and found myself in a small grocers looking for directions. No one would speak to me and infact I was told to leave and this I must say clouded my perception of the community. Nothing in the book surprises me at all and I am so happy to hear that she had the spirit and the knowledge of her self worth to make a life outside of the backwards and ingnorant community to give herself and her son a better life....

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)
    I found this book fascinating. What a brave woman! I recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated with other cultures and faiths. It is a real eye opener and breaks down the barriers of the mystery and secrecy of particular orthodox religions.
  • (4/5)
    Feldman's memoir covers quite a lot of ground, for the subject matter is not something everyone is familiar with. Those who complain that she did not explain enough about Hasidim and the Yiddish terms I think fail to understand just how much she did actually explain. A memoir is not like other non-fiction, and I never feel like the person has to explain everything like in a dissertation (read: if you don't know what something is, look it up!)

    I've had many questions about the ultra-orthodox Hasidim, and Feldman answered many of my questions. In fact, she hit the nail in the head with most. Aside from personal and familial drama, which is no better or worse than any other small, closed community, there is a lot of meat in Feldman's memoir. How come, I always wondered, they can even feed their million children when all the men have to do is to study all day? And how come they are anti-Israel? And how much do those hats cost? (I would have NEVER guessed those things cost so much!) And what's up with the wigs? And how do they justify Yiddish, this very new language, to be the sacred, pure language of the most correct way of being Jewish? (Oh, but to look for logic here is asking too much.) Feldman explains many of these mysteries. What's more is she goes on to describe the very many different levels of ultra-dom or ultra-ness that exists. To the outsider, Hasidim is Hasidim. Just like the gentiles who all look alike to Feldman with their shaved faces, the Hasidic all look the same to us. But oh, my, the internal rivalries, the levels of moderation and libealism, the generation differences... The all exists in Hasidim, too. And that means no matter how hard they try to keep the outside world out, it gets to them (otherwise there would not be any generational differences, and of course, compared to the liberal regular world, they have very few and slight ones.)

    I didn't feel that Feldman was putting herself in a better light than she deserved. In fact, I can't say that I liked her much, as she seemed as judgmental, superior, and cold as some of the people she described. But to have reached the level of awareness as she did as a Satmar, to be able to critically evaluate the situation she was in from the inside as much as she did, she must be very smart and certainly, very different. In a way, being very different from the beginning must have really set her apart enough to allow her this point of view and awareness. Of course, it seems to have really damaged her in other ways.

    So that brings me to the most interesting thing I found about what she talks about and what she doesn't: her mother, as what happened with her mother really sets her apart from all the other "normal" children from the beginning. I really expected her to explore more about what happened to her mother, and who her mother is now, but there is very little about this. In the beginning, she has lunch with her mom, and not much is revealed about anything. And towards the end, she obtains a bit of information about what happened to her mom, why she left the community, etc. And then I realized perhaps she actually doesn't know, she has not actually explored this yet, or maybe she never will (just because you left Hasidim, doesn't necessarily make you open-minded and all accepting of others...)

    All in all, Feldman's book is the story of a slow and painful escape. I still found it to be a page turner. I would recommend to those who are curious about Hasidim and all the crazy things closed, isolated communities allow to happen, which is different than the crazy things open societies allow to happen.
  • (4/5)
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  • (2/5)
    First off, kudos to the author for leaving the cult. It takes some courage to leave everything and everyone you have ever known. Good on her. All that said, this is not a very good book.Though the topic is interesting, the telling is dull as dirt. There is no overview of life in the community. Feldman focuses on discrete events that reflected her discomfort with the ways of the Satmars, but it is not clear why those life experiences were so important. As a Jew, and someone who lived very close to Borough Park for some years, I understood the import of some of these events, but most readers would not have that background knowledge so they would connect even less. Also, I did not see how her repetitious tales of perceived repression served the narrative.. We get that she loved to read and it was forbidden, but the endless stories of reading and hiding books under the mattress add nothing and are (sorry for overusing this word) dull. She never explains why she thinks it is important that she tell us over and over in great detail (down to what bus she takes) about clandestine trips to the book store and library. Feldman does not explain anything at all actually. It is as if she is writing the book for herself to read. She uses a fair number of Yiddish words without defining them (and where context does not do the work of defining) which is also problematic. Again, I knew the words, but most readers would not. The book is not helped by the writer's narcissism. It is astounding how she brazenly states her superiority as if it is not open for debate. Her future husband's family gets her "hideous" gifts, but her gifts to him were all impeccable because she has perfect taste. She really says that. When her brother in law is despondent over the breakup of his relationship with a Sephardic Jew because the parents of each disapprove of mixing Ashkenazi and Sephardic, no one can get a handle on the situation until she takes control. She knows exactly what he needs to do because all women will react to stimuli in the same way (of course we do!) Her masterful solution is based on a view of female behavior straight out of Bronte. We all know how things ended up for every Bronte heroine, so she might want to rethink that. Sorry about that digression. The point is that the author is absolutely certain she is right about absolutely everything, and everyone else is always wrong. I feel confident everyone in her family is better for her having gone. I don't need to like my memoirists, but dull and narcissistic is a bad combo. Best to avoid this one.
  • (4/5)
    I have been dying to get my hands on Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman for a while!I got a copy of the book recently, and was absolutely delighted to see that Unorthodox compared itself to Escape by Carolyn Jessup, since that is a book that I recommend to soooo many people (and if you haven’t picked up Escape, I’m recommending you to do so now)!Anyway, on to the book itself.Deborah Feldman grew up in a strict Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. Her grandparents raised her because her parents were outcasts from the society. Rules were strict and relentless, and included such topics as clothing, haircuts, what was allowed to be read, etc.As Deborah grew into her own, she started questioning and wanting more freedom, which was highly looked down upon. She married young, and because of this unhealthy marriage, developed severe anxiety.At the age of 19, when she had a child of her own, Deborah found the courage to make some changes in order to secure her own happiness and the future of happiness for her child.I was raised in a conservative Jewish household. We kept Kosher, I went to Temple, had a Bat Mitzvah, went to Hebrew School a few times a week. But I grew up able to wear shorts, have a proper education, go to college, and marry who I wanted to (who happens to not be Jewish) with plenty of happiness from my family.I cannot imagine growing up in a strict household where the majority of the choices made on a daily basis were not my own. And once Deborah Feldman was able to look more critically at her own life, she realized that she did not want to either.That doesn’t mean that being a strict religious Jewish person is a negative thing, it’s just that it wasn’t for Deborah. Just like my career choice of being a teacher isn’t for everyone.Unorthodox allows you to enter the world of the Hasidic Jewish community of Satmar in Brooklyn. It also tells the tale of a woman brave enough to make changes in a life that she was unhappy with.Here are some of the powerful quotes that spoke to me:“I am not aware at this moment that I have lost my innocence. I will realize it many years later. One day I will look back and understand that just as there was a moment in my life when I realized where my power lay, there was also a specific moment when I stopped believing in authority just for its own sake and started coming to my own conclusions about the world I lived in.” – p. 29“Bubby scoffs at my question. A Jew can never be a goy, she says, even if they try their hardest to become one. They may dress like one, speak like one, live like one, but Jewishness is something that can never be erased. Even Hitler knew that.” – p. 96: When Deborah as a child and her grandmother are discussing Jews and non-Jews.“For a while I thought I could un-Jew myself. Then I realized that being Jewish is not in the ritual or the action. It is in one’s history. I am proud of being Jewish, because I think that’s where my indomitable spirit comes from, passed down from ancestors who burned in fired of persecution because of their blood, their faith.” -p. 251I will recommend this book to others, both Jewish and non-Jewish, because in essence, it is a tale of breaking away from a strict society.How am I supposed to write my review when Tilly is napping on top of the book?Thank you to my friend over at Touchstone Books for this amazing Simon and Schuster read!Have you read any other “breaking out of the mold” books?Thanks for reading,Rebecca @ Love at First Book
  • (2/5)
    Author writes of her travails with orthodox Judaism and seeking to break the bonds of religious traditions. Did not quite ring true to me -- intentional exaggerations for publication purposes?
  • (2/5)
    UNORTHODOXDeborah FeldmanThe subtitle of UNORTHODOX, THE SCANDALOUS REJECTION OF MY HASIDIC ROOTS, sums up the rest of the book.Following the divorce of her parents, author Deborah Feldman was raised by her grandparents in the Orthodox Satmar community in New York City. Her father was mentally disabled. Her mother, originally from England, left the while Deborah was a small child partly because of the way she was treated by her husband’s family. Her grandfather was very strict and her grandmother, though she seemed to be a little more liberal, deferred to him. One of her aunts by marriage played a strong role in Deborah’s life.The insular Satmar sect is called extreme Orthodox by many, Jews and non-Jews. The men wear high fur hats, the women wear wigs and many shave their hair (to prove they are even more pious to please G-d and prevent another Holocaust), the girls do not finish high school, and Yiddish is the common language. Many cannot speak English very well even though they were born here. They are anti-Israel because they believe only G-d can provide the state, not the Zionists. From early childhood, Deborah had a strong yearning to learn, something that was not encouraged for Satmar girls. There was a fear that if they were well-educated, they would not be content to be traditional mothers and wives. She was considered rebellious and used to buy English language books, starting with THE CHOSEN and sneak them home, hiding them under her mattress. She fiercely longs for education and independence but is compelled to marry at age 17. In one very funny episode, she remembers helping her grandmother make kreplach. She looked at the picture of a woman on the bottle of olive oil and the words extra virgin. She asked her grandmother, “What’s a virgin?” Her grandmother is shocked, asks her where she heard the word (Deborah, noticing the reaction said she didn’t know) and tells her little girls shouldn’t know that word. Deborah turns the bottle around so the offending word is hidden. If her grandmother had answered the question, Deborah would likely have been even more confused.Observant Jews do not carry things outside their homes during Shabbat. In order to allow them to carry keys or push a baby carriage, many communities developed eivuvs, a system of wires enclosing a large area to make it qualify as the residential area. Some in the Satmar community wouldn’t accept the variance. Showing some liberalism, her grandfather tells her “A good rabbi is one who can find the loophole in the law that allows for flexibility. A rabbi who lacks sufficient knowledge of the Talmud will always lean toward the stricter side because he is unsure of his own ability to find the loopholes.” But, he adds, we don’t use it because others may think we are sinning.I found contradictions as well as unanswered questions in the book. A week before her arranged marriage at age 17, she learns about sexual intercourse. She said she has no hole in her body that resembles what she is told. She has menstruated, has seen pregnant women, and new babies. Didn’t she ever wonder where they came from?After her marriage, she goes to Sarah Lawrence. She has said they couldn’t afford maternity clothes for her and, later on, needed tires for their car. How could they afford collage expenses and day care for their son?She eventually leaves the community and takes her son with her. One of her first acts is smoking a cigarette. Is she trying to emulate the Orthodox men?She leaves a lot of unanswered questions about her mother and her father’s relationship with her as she grows up. What about her relationship with her ex-husband and his family.She presents a couple paragraphs about an honor killing but I couldn’t find any information to back it up. The book did provide some interesting information but I found it to be more of a collection of gripes.
  • (4/5)
    This is the story of Deborah Feldman, raised in an Orthodox Jewish household that forbade reading and was replete with cultural restrictions on women's movement, comportment and behaviour. An interesting look at a world I would never willingly join, the story is a satisfying one because Feldman ultimately escapes the oppression of her upbringing to live as a modern and independent woman. I was filled with a certain sadness when reading this book, however, because this kind of gender-specific religious oppression is by no means over, or even rare.