Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
Unorthodox is a fascinating new book by Deborah Feldman. Deborah grew up in the Satmar hasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The book describes her upbringing in the home of her very religious grandparents, her marriage and eventual departure from Hasidism. It gives an unflinching view into the Hasidic culture - the strict rules, the history, the all encompassing adherence to religion.
Deborah's desire to further her education, experience more of the world and save her son from the cloistered life that she led leads her to break with the Hasidic way of life. One must admire her brave decision and hope she finds happiness and contentment on the Outside.
I learned a lot about the Hasidim from Unorthodox. I did not realize that the insulation of the community derives from the horrific experience of the Holocaust when one couldn't trust neighbors and friends. Nor did I realize that the rebbes mandate rules which can change frequently. Furthermore, the role of girls and women simply to be obedient wives and mothers is anathema to everything I know to be fair.
Also interesting as a subplot is the neverending and all-probing use of gossip among the Hasidim. No areas of life seem to be private - sex, menstruation, relationships between spouses, illness, privacy. Every aspect of life seems to be governed either by Hasidic rules or community protocol - quite excruciating to think about!
Although I am Jewish, I don't know any Hasidim and my interest in the Hasidic world is the same as the one I have for the Amish (see my blog "Horse and Buggy"). I did take a tour of a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn (see my blog "A Tour of Crown Heights") so I have seen with my own eyes a Hasidic neighborhood - the mikvah, the temple, the Torah scribes,a restaurant. That tour explored the Lubavitcher neighborhood of Crown Heights. Unorthodox describes the Sitmar neighborhood of Williamsburg which is an even more isolated community.
Especially interesting to writers is Deborah's self-promotion of the book. By now you may have seen her on The View and other talk shows. She has a great blog with pictures, videos, commentary, etc.. I 'liked' her on facebook and she appears on social media everyday to get the word out about her book, her appearances, related stories and the response of the Hasidic community to her authorship. I am fascinated by her ability to publicize her book relentlessly and in fact the book is now on the New York Times bestseller list. Go Deborah!!
An adjunct to the book is the response by the Hasidic community. Apparently she is getting a lot of backlash and even death threats. It's hard to believe that a group whose culture is based on religion and spirituality would be so vengeful. I do know that I received a nasty comment from someone on facebook after I "liked" Deborah. In fact, this blog might even incite a comment. That's how wide reaching the negative response to Unorthodox is! Terrible!
Real Estate Hint - It continually surprises me that folks with kids in college or older insist on purchasing a home with bedrooms for everyone including their grown children. Perhaps understandable if your child is still spending summers at home, but I have sold houses to families with children who are fully employed, have an apartment, and probably will never live with their parents again who will not purchase a home without Susie or Billy having their own room. I am convinced that the the depression caused by their child's independence is influencing their home-buying decision.