Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Posted by nliakos on December 8, 2015

by Deborah Feldman (Simon & Schuster, 2012; ISBN 978-1-4391-8700-5)

This book is a shocker. Deborah Feldman was raised by her father’s parents in the Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg (Brooklyn), New York after her mother left the community and her mentally-ill father was unable to care for her. The book describes Feldman’s feelings of alienation and her desire to experience the forbidden world outside the community beginning when she was a child. Reading forbidden books she borrowed or bought, Feldman learned just enough about the non-Hasidic world to know that there might be options available to her in the future. But a husband is found for her when she is just seventeen (and a newly minted English teacher at the local Satmar school). Her unsatisfactory relationship with her husband results in her dreaming of leaving the community, as her mother did; realizing that her son will soon be taken from her influence and brought up in the Hasidic way precipitates her flight. The memoir is her instrument of escape, enabling her to support herself and her son.

Despite being Jewish myself, and despite having read other books about Hasidic life (The Romance ReaderThe Marrying of Chani Kaufman), I was appalled by Feldman’s depiction of life among the Hasidim, who believe that God sent Hitler and the Holocaust to punish European Jews for assimilating and “being enlightened” and whose views of gender roles would please the Taliban. Feldman constantly questions whether God is really so petty as to demand that Hasidic women wear their clothes or hair in particular ways. But it takes time for her to discover that goyim do not all hate her, and there is a place for her in the secular world. Feldman does not mince words; she is brutally honest, even when honesty must have been very hard. But she somehow manages to separate her present self from her former self, as she writes about signing the contract to write this book: I sign a contract to write a memoir about a person who no longer exists…. My two identities have finally split apart, and I’ve killed the other one, murdered her brutally but justly. This book will be her last words. (pg. 244)

An amazing book.

2 Responses to “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots”

  1. Have you read Shulem Deen’s book? It’s a bit more in depth, I guess you could say. You might enjoy it.

  2. nliakos said No, I have not heard about it. It looks intriguing. Thanks, Tree Hugging Humanist.

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